As short a time as fifty years ago, Poker was illegal everywhere in America other than two places. Nevada and California. Irrespective of this, it was Texas where most of the high stakes cash games were played. This was in the days before poker tournaments.
It was during this era in Texas that a group of gamblers including some well known poker legends such as Jesse Alto and Jack ‘treetop’ Strans, used to regularly travel from town to town playing poker. These road gamblers specialised in a type of poker called Kansas City Lowball Draw, and a new form of poker called Texas Hold’em.
At this time, there was only one legal poker room in Nevada which was in the Golden Nugget Casino and was run by a Five-Card Stud player named Bill Boyd. It was nothing like the glamorous casinos of today. More like a backstreet décor wise. But it attracted all the top poker players from Nevada and California, who came to play Five-Card Stud, Razz and California Lowball Draw.
This soon changed though, when a group of Texans including legends Doyle Brunson, Sailor Roberts, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, Jack Straus and Crandell Addinton introduced No-Limit Hold’em.
This new game became very popular in the Golden Nugget, but as this was the only card room around at the time, there was no real chance for it to spread. It wasn’t until some years later in 1969, that the boss of the Dunes, a large casino on the Las Vegas strip, invited the poker players to start a high stakes game just outside the entrance to the Dunes main showroom, where they were able to attract a lot of passing trade from wealthy casino gamblers. This game was primarily Texas Hold’em. As the games became more popular in the late 60′s and early 70′s, it was normal for buy-in’s to range from $10,000 to $100,000 ($60,000 to $600,000 in today’s money).
Also in 1969, the owners of the Holiday Hotel in Reno staged a high stakes poker game, for all the best players and biggest bookies in America. This is known as the first ever major poker tournament and it drew around thirty participants, ranging from bookies to pool hustlers, as well as poker players. All of the Texas legends played, as did Charles Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, who is now serving life imprisonment for killing a judge in 1979. It wasn’t a true tournament as we know them today, as the players could re-buy in as many times as they wanted. The games consistently changed between Texas Hold’em, Kansas City Lowball Draw, Razz, Stud and Ace to Five Lowball.