Game Development Reference
During the Civil War, someone created stud poker , named after the
horses used to pull artillery. Stud poker didn't allow drawing. Instead,
players were dealt cards one at a time, with betting rounds in between, and
three of each player's cards were dealt face up for everyone to see.
Stud poker has a very different information balance than draw poker.
In draw poker, it's hard to tell exactly what someone has by watching him
draw cards. A player who draws one card could be bluffing, trying to make
a pair, three-of-a-kind, a full house, or a flush. But in stud poker, players
got to watch one another's hands form card by card. A good player could
guess the two hidden cards from the three visible ones and the changes
in someone's betting patterns. You might see someone with four, five, and
six suddenly start betting high after drawing a particular card and guess
that he made a straight.
But the game's information balance had swung too far. Now there was
an information glut. In many stud hands, it's patently obvious who has the
best hand. Sometimes a winning hand is plainly visible in the three face-
up cards. For example, there is no reason to bet against someone showing
a three-of-a-kind when you're holding a pair, since you're guaranteed to
lose. What might have been an interesting decision has been erased by an
information glut that handed you the answer for free. So the game kept
In the mid-20 th century, someone invented community card games . In
these games, as in stud poker, cards are laid down one by one between
betting rounds. The difference is that some of the face-up cards are shared
among players instead of being held by individuals. Texas Hold'em is a
modern example of this kind of game.
The community card mechanic finally hit a perfect point of infor-
mation balance. The game rarely generates obvious or incomprehensible
choices. There is only a small amount of hidden information (two hidden
cards in Texas Hold'em) to keep track of, but that information is linked
closely to the community cards and players' betting patterns. The face-up
cards can't make winners obvious because everyone shares these cards —
if there are three aces face up, everyone has a hand with three aces. The
only question is who has another hidden pair, or the fourth ace, or a high
card? This perfect information balance means that nearly every hand gen-
erates fascinating decisions, giving just enough information to feed on,
but never so much as to make an answer obvious.
The basic mechanics of poker have mostly stayed the same over the
centuries. You get your hand, and you check, bet, or fold. But the game has
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