Omaha Poker is frequently compared to Texas Hold’em because the gameplay and rules are very similar. The major difference is Hold’em players receive two cards at the beginning of play, which, along with the five community cards, are used to make a hand. In Omaha, players receive four cards at the start of play, and must use two, plus three of the five community cards to build a hand.
Other than the minor gameplay differences, both games share a common ancestry. They were also invented in roughly the same era and have achieved significant mainstream success. Had it been featured in the World Series of Poker at the start of the poker boom, Omaha Poker could have easily become the most prominent variant in the world, a position which is comfortably held by Texas Hold’em at the moment.
THE ORIGINS OF MODERN POKER
The earliest examples of gaming and games of chance date back to the Middle East around 6000 BCE; however, the first games with a ruleset resembling modern poker took a few thousand more years to be invented. A 10th-century Chinese domino game, and a 16th century Persian card game As Nas are currently the earliest instances and are believed to be ancestors of modern poker.
Similar to Mahjong, the Chinese domino game-used tiles, dominoes and leaves as playing cards. After an emperor and his concubines started playing the game, it became very popular, and spread all over China, then beyond, crossing multiple continents and cultures. Over time, different countries modified the concept with their own rules, resulting in variations on the original game.
The Persian card game As Nas also bears a resemblance to modern poker. As Nas was played with a 20-card deck, and five suits, as (ace), shah (king), bibi (queen) serbaz (soldier) and couli, (dancer). Each player received five cards at the start of play. The goal was similar to poker—make the best card combination and bet on the outcome. With no draw phase, nearly all strategies revolved around deciding whether to bet, fold, or bluff. When Western civilizations started trading with the Middle East, the concept made its way overseas through sailors and other travelers.
Like the Chinese domino game, over time, different rules were added to the format by other cultures, eventually resulting in early forms of poker such as Primero in Spain, Primiera in Italy and La Prime in France. The French created another variation called Poque, which also gave rise to Brelan, which used a deck of 20 cards and was one of the first to use community cards. There would be many more variations in between, but eventually, Omaha Poker would rise as yet another rule variation on the original games.
WILL THE REAL INVENTOR PLEASE STAND UP?
Nearly all modern poker variations were created in the United States. During the 1800s, many different peoples from all over the world immigrated to the country, bringing their games of chance with them. Eventually, rules were modified, concepts were melded together, and games like Stud Poker and Five Card Draw emerged.
In the following years, these original poker formats were modified, and more variants were created, but it wasn't until the 1980s that Omaha Poker would make its way into the mix. It's clear the game borrows its ruleset from previous forms of poker, but who the original creators were, and which country they hailed from remains a mystery.
More than a few people have come forward to claim Omaha Poker as their invention; however, there is no definitive proof, despite claims to the contrary. Robert Turner claims to be the original creator, and a few sources cite him as the inventor of the game. Plenty of others refute this, however, arguing that Turner encountered the game elsewhere and was simply the one who brought it to the United States.
There are reports of early formats of Omaha Poker in Midwest cities like Detroit and Chicago, but these games had five hole cards instead of four, or resembled the modern Omaha Hi-Lo, or Six-card Omaha. In addition, a similar game was supposedly played in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, American soldiers were allegedly taught the game by locals; when the soldiers returned home, they brought it with them.
While the true origins of Omaha Poker are not clear, it is known that the poker variant made an appearance in Las Vegas around the 1980s. California-based professional player and World Series of Poker winner, Robert Turner, introduced Omaha Poker to a man named Bill Walter Boyd, who was the manager of the Las Vegas Golden Nugget Casino card room. Boyd enjoyed the game enough to make it a regular at the tables, naming it 'Nugget Hold’em'.
OMAHA POKER COMES IN SECOND
During its early years, Omaha Poker was not overly popular, due in part to the variations on how many cards players received at the start of the game. Depending on the version, players could receive between two and five cards. Receiving two cards was too similar to Texas Hold’em, while five limited player numbers. Eventually, a variant that dealt four hole cards proved popular, due to the increased odds of making high ranked hands.
This feature helped Omaha Poker steadily gain a loyal following and spread beyond Las Vegas to other parts of the country, and overseas. Still, for many years, Omaha Poker remained a poker format reserved for high-stakes mixed games, tournaments were rare.
It would take the poker boom of the 2000s to propel the game to serious mainstream success. Just like its close relative Texas Hold’em, Omaha Poker was a major beneficiary of the poker boom, which kicked off around the time Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.
Texas Hold’em was by far the more popular because it was the game featured in the WSOP and had also spent several years as a plot device in popular movies, tv shows and literature, but Omaha still saw an influx of new players as a result of the poker boom. This rise continued long after the poker boom finished. Omaha Poker is still enjoyed all around the world in both live and online casinos, and is a close second to Texas Hold’em in terms of popularity.
This is an article referencing the history of Las Vegas. It is for information and entertainment only. It is not related to, nor a reflection of, Global Poker, its views, products, content, or its games.