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As with most poker games, the facts surrounding the birth of Omaha are somewhat murky, but we can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: The game was not invented in Omaha, Nebraska. Some things are deceiving. After all, lead pencils don’t contain any lead; they’re filled with graphite — and in any event, there are no truth-in-labeling laws where poker games are concerned.
It’s a relatively new game too. In fact, it’s so new that Doyle Brunson’s classic Super/System: A Course In Power Poker, one of poker’s seminal works, makes no reference to Omaha at all. David Sklansky’s 1983 masterpiece, Winning Poker (now called The Theory of Poker) contains an appendix with rules of play for various games. Those games were: Five-Card Draw, Seven-Card Stud, Hold’em, Five-Card Stud. Lowball, Razz, and High- Low Split. The latter did not refer to Omaha. Back in 1983, the term “high-low split” referred to five-card draw, five-card stud, or seven-card stud games in which the best high hand and the best low hand split the pot, not to the game we know today as Omaha/8. Indeed, Omaha was not included in Sklansky’s appendix at all. Moreover, each of the games listed in the appen dix was defined in a glossary of poker terms that followed it. Once again, Omaha was among the missing.
So what happened? Did guys as astute as Brunson and Sklansky simply forget to include Omaha in their books? Not at all. The game simply hadn’t arrived yet. and a glance at the appendix to Sklansky’s Winning Poker showed us just how much things have changed in the poker world in but a few decades. Some of the games listed in that appendix are almost never played today, and others just occasionally. But Omaha, which was not even a blip on poker’s radar screen back then, has become one of the most popular games played in casinos today.
But despite Omaha’s lack of popularity in casinos thirty years ago, similar games were staples of home games for quite some time, and were known by a variety of names. There were ver-
sions in which players were dealt four private cards — just as they are in Omaha today — and others in which players received five cards. The five-card form of Omaha limits the number of participants to eight, and while that may not be a drawback for most home games, its an important issue for casino poker, where nine-player or ten-player tables are standard for most games.
Omaha — the four-card version we know today — was intro duced to Las Vegas casinos in 1982. It was an instant success and soon became a staple of tournament play, side action games during tournaments, and regular casino cash games. Because of its reputation for creating plenty of action, and because many aficionados were hard pressed to find a four-card starting hand they wouldn’t play, Omaha was nicknamed ‘The Game of the Future.”
Back when Texas hold’em was first coming into prominence, there were a couple forms of the game. The most popular vari ety — the game that’s still played today and is currently the most popular form of poker in the world — allowed players to use any combination of their two personal cards and the five communal cards to form the best five-card poker hand.
Another version of hold’em, not nearly as popular and never played in casinos today, required a player to use both cards in his hand in combination with three of the five communal cards to form the best possible hand. That game was referred to as “Omaha,” so when four-card hold “em was introduced in Las Vegas, it was called Omaha because the game required each player to use precisely two of his own cards in combination with three of the communal cards to form his hand.
Nevertheless, how that old version of Texas hold’em requiring players to use both hole cards came to be known as Omaha is still a mystery. You never know; it might just have been a rogue version of Texas hold’em played in a home game in someone’s basement in Omaha. Nebraska, and when it was introduced else where, that city’s moniker just tagged along with the game. But there’s no way to know for sure.
In a way we’re lucky. Imagine if the game had been invented in Intercourse, Pennsylvania.