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Ace in the Hole: How a tiny camera changed poker

A quick look at the hole camera and its wide-reaching effects on the poker world A single camera can change the world. That statement ma...

A quick look at the hole camera and its wide-reaching effects on the poker world

A single camera can change the world. That statement may be a bit hyperbolic, but there is no doubt that a tiny little camera introduced the entire world to one of the most popular spectator sports today: poker. 

Poker has had a long and storied history. It is generally considered to have been invented sometime during the 1900s, while some experts trace its beginnings back to as far as the 18th century. 

The game flourished as both a pastime and a particularly vicarious source of money for centuries, but major live tournaments remained largely insular attractions. It wasn’t until a poker player and entrepreneur by the name of Henry Orenstein invented the hole camera that poker stepped onto the world stage. 

A hole camera – sometimes called a lipstick or pocket camera – is a small camera used to display a poker player’s face down cards to viewers. It can either be located on the rail, showing the cards when a player slides them up to look at them, or located underneath a poker table. 

Poker players would never willingly reveal their hole cards before the final bet has been made, of course, so Orenstein faced some stiff opposition when he first unveiled his invention. He persevered, however, in order to bring poker to a much wider audience. 

"Poker is an exciting game, but without the hole cards, you can't see what's going on,” Orenstein told the Las Vegas Sun in a 2005 interview. “It becomes boring, and not many people were watching it." 

The hole camera’s use only became widespread after The Travel Channel used it in its coverage of the World Poker Tour, turning the tournament into a ratings leader even before partypoker took over as its main backer. ESPN also quickly followed suit for its World Series of Poker shows. 

With the hole camera, audiences finally gained a greater insight into what is going on at the poker tables. This led to increased interest in players’ reactions and decisions. It, along with Chris Moneymaker’s Cinderella-like win at the 2003 WSOP, was instrumental in kicking off the poker boom. 

Nowadays, major tournaments are starting to experiment with a new system: playing cards equipped with RFID tags. These electronic tags are read by RFID readers located in different parts of the table. The info embedded in the cards can then be used to display players’ hole cards. 

Playing card manufacturer Cartamundi started the RFID ball rolling when they introduced their RFID playing cards at the International Gaming Expo in London in 2010. The cards made their debut in last year’s WSOP. 

Although these new developments may soon make hole cameras a thing of the past, there will always be a special place in the poker world for the little camera that forever changed the face of poker.


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The Official Auki Henry: Ace in the Hole: How a tiny camera changed poker
Ace in the Hole: How a tiny camera changed poker
The Official Auki Henry
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