This Week in Poker History March 24th – 30th

Poker History Weekly

Every week I’m able to dig up a number of interesting stories form poker’s past, but this week offered one of the best assemblages of interesting poker stories I’ve come across.

This week’s journey starts out in 1988 with Jack Strauss winning what would be the last poker tournament of his career. From there we’ll move on to Tunica, Mississippi in 2000 for the inaugural Jack Binion World Poker Open.

I’ll also examine the first poker bot AI, whether Warren Harding really lost the White House China in a poker game, and a whole lot more in this installment of This Week in Poker History.

March 1988: Jack Strauss goes out in 1st place

When Jack Strauss won the Cajun Cup at the Las Vegas Hilton  in 1988 nobody expected it to be the last win for the Poker Hall of Famer, but Strauss’s death just months later at the age of 58 (which occurred while playing poker) took one of the all-time great poker players away from the poker world far too early.

This was Strauss’s last tournament score and his second highest tournament cash behind his 1982 World Series of Poker Main Event title.

March 28, 2000: The inaugural Jack Binion World Poker Open

On Tuesday March 28, 2000 the first annual Jack Binion World Poker Open began with a $500 Limit Holdem tournament; the first of 17 preliminary tournaments that would lead up to the $5,000 Main Event.

The World Poker Open was Jack Binion’s version of the World Series of Poker (which is why the schedule resembled the WSOP’s) and was created after an ugly split with his sister Becky Behnen-Binion sent Jack off to Tunica, while Behnen-Binion ran the Horseshoe in Las Vegas.

During the opening events of the WPO a few poker legends made some great runs, including John Bonetti who finished second in the $500 Pot Limit Holdem tournament to Dewey Weum, and Scotty Nguyen who bested Howard Coke for the $500 Seven Card Stud title.

I’ll bring you some more results from the 2000 WPO in next week’s column.

March 26, 2001: Researchers already working on AI poker bots

While most of the world knows about chess playing computers, fewer people realize there is a lot of work being done to create the perfect poker playing computers, and some of that work can date back to Graham Kendall’s early trials with artificial intelligence that imbued his poker bots with the ability to adapt.

“Kendall and Willdig [KEN01] have carried out some investigations into an adaptive poker player. Their work alows a poker player to evolve by playing games and adapting its play based on whether the adaptive player wins or loses. They show that a player that, initially, plays poorly is able to adapt its play over time so that it eventually is able to win against its opponents.

Poker is interesting, from an artificial intelligence research point of view, as it is a game of imperfect information… Unlike complete information games where the techniques to solve the games (computational power allowing) have been known and understood for a long time (such as mini-max search and alpha-beta pruning), games of imperfect information have not received the same sort of analysis and, doing so, could prove relevant to many other areas such as economics, on-line auctions and negotiating.”

Did Warren Harding bet the White House China in a poker game?

One of the most infamous poker stories of all time is the urban legend that Warren G. Harding lost a set of White House china in a poker game. While the story cannot be confirmed, it does have enough legs to warrant its inclusion in many historical books.

The reason the story is widely believed to be true is that Harding was definitely a poker player and held many poker games inside the White House with his cabinet and other high-profile power players.

In Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker (if you don’t own this book go buy it now), James McManus calls the story “embroidery” but also notes Harding’s penchant for poker, and even quotes the just elected President as saying the reason he won was because “we drew to a pair of deuces and filled.”

Also from the archives…

March 30, 2010: PokerStars announces the Big Game

On March 30, 2010 PokerStars announced one of the most interesting televised poker concepts to date, The Big Game.

The Big Game’s premise was that an amateur player would be staked to play in a cash game against a group of pros, and could keep whatever he or she won over their initial stake.

The first season was a pretty big hit as far as poker programming goes, but Black Friday completely disrupted Season 2, which only appeared online.

It would have been nice if the show could have continued on as I thought it was one of the best formats for poker on TV to date.

Happy Birthday to…

  • Canadian poker pro Peter Jetten. Jetten was born on March 26.
  • Joe Sebok, who was born on March 25. Sebok, who is Barry Greenstein’s stepson, was one of the darlings of the poker world until he fell from grace after taking a job with Ultimate Bet to ostensibly find out what really happened during the Super User scandal.
  • Future Poker Hall of Famer Allen Cunningham, who was born on March 28.
  • Vietnamese poker pro Minh Ly. Minh was born on March 24.

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