Omaha is now the second most popular variant of the game, but do you know where it came from? Despite its name, it’s not the old-time poker variant you’ve probably thought it was and, in fact, it’s a relatively recent innovation dating from the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, history has washed away a lot of the backstory, but we’ll try to construct a timeline for you.
Most Omaha poker experts believe that the game didn’t actually originate in Nebraska’s biggest city. The first well-documented Omaha poker games that were operated under that name were played in the early 1980s in a town you might be familiar with, Las Vegas. Some theorize that the game originated in Chicago or Detroit in the 1960s as a variant of a game called “Twice Three.” In Twice Three, each player was dealt five hole cards instead of four, but that limited the number of players who could participate because more cards were being dealt out.
After that, the game was found to best be played with four-card pocket hands and it began to spread across the country. Some of the early names for the game included “Nine Cards,” “Fort Worth” and “Oklahoma,” but they were all essentially the same game. The name “Omaha” may have been chosen as a compromise, considering how various names for the game featured locations scattered across the south and west.
The game started to be played in casinos in Las Vegas known places like The Sands offering the game back in 1982. Those old-time players who had grown a bit weary of looking at each other over the same Texas Hold ‘Em tables year after year jumped onto the new game quickly. They found the combination of variance and new strategic possibilities intoxicating. Omaha poker hands are more likely to be dealt more powerful combinations because of the number of cards in play and the excitement ensured that the game would be around for a while.
Unlike many other casino games, Omaha was never officially “invented” and the fact it mutated from earlier forms of the game means that there’s no clear lineage. Throw in the fact that authorities regularly cracked down on poker games in bars and cardrooms and you’ve got a formula for an obscure history. It doesn’t really matter, though, as it’s now firmly established, taking its place ahead of older games like Seven Card Stud.