[SS] “When you think of old-time poker, what game comes to mind?” Stan the Stat asked.
[RR] “Well, Five Card Draw, of course”, Roderick the Rock noted.
[LL] “Sure”, Leroy the Lion agreed. “Way before I was old enough to gamble legally, Bugs Bunny taught me how to draw a poker.”
[RR] “Five Card Stud is also a pretty old game.”
[LL] “It makes perfect sense that the two oldest games are the ones where you have five cards. Using five out of seven cards like in Seven Card Stud and Texas Hold ‘Em is obviously a later development.”
[SS] “And the history of the World Series of Poker reflects this. From 1971 to 1973 at least 40% of each year’s games gave each player just five cards. 1981 was the only other year it topped 30% (4 of 13 events). 1991 was the last year it reached 10%. This year it edges up slightly to just 7% (5 of 69).”1
[SS] “Also, Draw and Stud games, as opposed to Flop games, were more prevalent in the early days. Draw games peaked at 29% of events (2 of 7) in 1973. They’ve been in single-digit percentages since 1993, with the same 7% I just mentioned this year.
Stud games peaked at 53% of events (7 of 13) in 1977, have been in single-digit percentages since 2008, and are coincidentally also 7% in 2016.
Flop games started at 20% of events (1 of 5), reached 50% in 1989, and had crept up to 67% by 2003. When Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event though, the WSOP responded by greatly increasing the number of No Limit Hold ‘Em events, the game most popular among the surge of new players. Flop games peaked at 87% (40 of 46) in 2006 before dropping to 75% (41 of 55) in 2007. This year’s 71% (49 of 69) is the lowest since 2003.
Mixed games debuted in 2000 and have slowly but surely increased since 2007 from 9% (5 of 55) to 14% (10 of 69) in 2016.”
High Games vs. Low Games vs. Hi-Lo Games
[SS] “It actually surprised me that they played so much lowball in the early days of the WSOP. Except for 1972, which had just two events, both of which were high-only, lowball tournaments were at least a third of all events from 1971 to 1975, and again in 1977 and 1986. Low-only events only dropped under a fifth in 1991, and bottomed out at 4% in 2006 before climbing back to 10% this year.
Hi-Lo events debuted in 1976, surpassed Low events in 1995, and peaked at 21% in 2000 before sinking back to 9% last year and 10% this year.
[SS] “When I played poker as a kid, I didn’t even know that what we played was called limit poker. Those were just the rules of poker as I learned them.”
[LL] “Me, too! After years of playing limit, I didn’t fall in love with poker until I was introduced to no limit. Crandell Addington had a great quote about the difference: ‘Limit poker is a science, but no limit is an art. In limit you are shooting at a target. In no limit, the target comes alive and shoots back at you.”
[RR] “I find limit poker pretty boring, but some people still prefer it, maybe exactly because it’s so much steadier.”
[SS] “As you’d expect, limit poker dominated the early days of the WSOP. Initially only the championship event was no limit. Although no limit games briefly took over in 1975 (60%) and 1976 (63%), limit games were otherwise the majority of the events until 2000. From 2001 to 2004, limit still held the lead but had fallen under 50%. With the Moneymaker effect, however, No Limit Hold ‘Em alone pushed no limit games ahead to stay in 2005 (48%), accounting for over half the events since 2008 (54% this year).
In 1984, a year after Omaha debuted as a limit game, it became the first pot limit event at the WSOP. Pot Limit Hold ‘Em could have been played much sooner but didn’t appear until 1992, two years after the first Pot Limit Omaha 8 event.2 The popularity of pot limit games peaked from 1993 to 1999, hovering between 25% and 30% of all events. About one in six events has been pot limit since 2011, and limit and pot limit events have been roughly even since 2005 (17% and 16% in 2016).”
- In the strange year of 1999, when the total number of events dropped from 21 to 16, there were no five-card events. That’s the only time that has happened.
Note: Mixed Games are considered “Other” for most sections of this series of articles. Some Mixed Games are actually all Limit or Low-Only, etc., but it was too much work to figure them all out and wouldn’t have materially impacted anything. Maybe if I revisit this in 2017, I’ll go back and add them where they belong.
- The big question is: “Why is Omaha usually played pot limit, while Hold ‘Em is better as no limit?” The answer is that Omaha is the most exciting when players are chasing draws after the flop. In a no limit game, players would be correct to shove all in, or at least for much more than the pot, whenever they were ahead. People would be killing an ant with a stick of dynamite, but they’d be correct!