The Poker Hole Card Cam and How It Changed the Game Forever


The Poker Hole Card Cam and How It Changed the Game Forever


A poker player pushes casino chips on a poker table.

The Poker Hole Card Cam and How It Changed the Game Forever


Hand holding two Ace cards.

Around the turn of the millennium, competitive poker transformed from a game in which few people were interested, to a TV sensation. These days, major tournaments and high stakes cash games are broadcast all over the world, either on television or via the internet. 

One of the biggest reasons for the increased popularity of online poker has undoubtedly been the hole card cam. But what is it, and how exactly did it change things?

What Is the Poker Hole Card Cam?

In Texas Hold’em, the most popular form of poker, the dealer provides each player with two cards at the start of every hand. These “hole cards” remain face down throughout the hand, protecting their secrecy. This prevents anyone else at the table from knowing their true value, introducing the essential art of deception and bluffing to the game.

However, this air of mystery also keeps viewers in the dark about potential hand values and strategies. This used to mean that a lot of guesswork was involved for commentators trying to give viewers an idea of what was happening. The answer to this problem was the hole card camera. 

Created by Henry Orenstein, a former poker player and entrepreneur, the hole card cam is a simple way to show viewers each player’s hand. Positioned under the table, the poker camera shows the hole cards of each player, revealing the big picture and adding a new level of enjoyment. 

The Creator of the Hole Card Cam

A hand holding playing cards with casino chips on the green felt table.

Henry Orenstein is the man behind the hole card cam, and it’s him we have to thank for revolutionizing the game. Born in Poland in 1923, Orenstein survived the Holocaust (Shoah) and came to the US after the war. Over the years, he filed more than 1,000 patents for various inventions, including one that would change poker forever. 

Orenstein became a toy maker and entrepreneur, but he also loved to play poker. He first patented the idea of the hole card cam in 1995, though it took a while to convince people to take it seriously. Early on, many top players dismissed it because they didn’t want their rivals to learn more about their game. Poker strategies, including check-raising and bluffing, were closely guarded secrets. 

How the Hole Card Cam Changed the Game

Poker was first televised in 1972. Back then, commentators could only guess which hole cards a player might have. As a result, viewers were clueless about the strategy and deception at play. While the game was popular, it never really took off prior to the hole card cam as it was simply too inaccessible. 

Orenstein himself was a big fan of poker but found that he was often bored when watching the game on TV. He pitched his idea for an under-the-table camera to his friend and TV producer Mori Eskandani. While Eskandani was initially skeptical of the idea, he tested it on the UK’s “Late Night Poker” show in 1999.

The show quickly became a huge success. Its unique camera setup gave now legendary commentator Jesse May more insight into what each player was doing. In turn, this helped viewers gain a better understanding and appreciation for the strategy involved in the game. Budding fans of poker could now learn how to play Texas Hold’em directly from the pros.

The Poker Revolution

Thanks to the success of “Late Night Poker” in the UK, shows in the US began implementing the same concept. Fans and players grew accustomed to the idea, even if some players were still hesitant about exposing their strategies. In 2002, ESPN chose to use the hole card cam for the first time at the World Series of Poker.

Being televised on such major networks helped poker grow, with an increasing number of players involved each year. This had a massive net positive effect on the game, as more players meant more money to win. It was a great time to be a fan of poker, whether you loved playing or just watching. 

Around this time, online poker real money sites were taking off, too, thanks to the Moneymaker effect. Enthusiasts could now try out the strategies they’d learned watching top players on TV from the comfort of their own homes. The prize pools at major online poker tournaments shot up, which in turn helped to attract new players to the game. 

Modern Alternatives to the Hold Card Cam

There’s little doubt that the hole card cam contributed to the poker boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Major televised events with huge prize pools showcased the game’s talent, making stars of players like Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey. Meanwhile, online poker tournament players like Chris Moneymaker helped to increase its mainstream appeal.

Fans of poker could now enjoy the game in a way never seen before, learning the strategies of the best players. However, modern technology has moved on. While the early hole card cam was important, it had its limitations. Unless the cards were properly positioned and flicked over, viewers might still have trouble seeing them. The whole setup relied on the players cooperating.

Today, poker shows use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips implanted in the cards. Poker tables used in televised tournaments have an RFID reader embedded in them. This means they instantly recognize and transmit the details of each card to the show producers, regardless of the player’s actions. 

This hole card information is provided instantly to commentators and shown to viewers watching the game at home. RFID technology is far more reliable and doesn’t require the cards to be in a specific position on the table. As a result, viewers can always see all of the hands in play. What’s more, they’re fully aware of any folded hands, combos, and blockers that would impact hand equity.

Playing Poker Like the Pros

A poker player pushes casino chips on a poker table.

The hole card cam helped to inspire a new wave of poker players and increased the amount of skill and strategy in the game. While viewing figures for poker events have dropped off since those glory days, the biggest events remain extremely popular. It’s also still possible for an average Joe to compete for the biggest prizes. Register to play poker online today, with countless freeroll and real money tournaments to join. On top of that, you’ll also find plenty of exciting online casino games to enjoy.