Henry Orenstein, the man who revolutionised the way we watch poker by inventing the poker hole card cam, has died aged 98. The sad news was confirmed by Henry’s close friend and colleague, PokerGO President Mori Eskandani. Phil Hellmuth was among the first to pass on his condolences.
This is BAD news for poker community. Henry Orenstein was a class act, nice guy, and beloved in the poker world! Henry spent $500K of his own money to develop a poker table that showed hole cards. He revolutionized poker! He loved 7-Stud, and was tough as nails! Thanks Henry, RIP https://t.co/fuFotmNtcd pic.twitter.com/9zIF2VUNed
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) December 14, 2021
Orenstein and his ground-breaking idea
Poker was a rather boring game to watch on TV until Orenstein devised the hole card cam. It allowed viewers to get a bird’s (or rather, mole’s) eye view of the players’ cards.
Orenstein’s invention was patented in 1995 – as US patent number 5,451,054 – although its first use came in the UK in 1999, when Channel 4’s Late Night Poker utilised the ground-breaking idea in its first season (won by Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott).
The hole card cam wasn’t a one-off from Orenstein, who held more than 100 patents. He is widely credited with bringing the Transformers toy line to the wider world.
Orenstein’s fascinating life began in Poland in 1923, he and his family – as Jews – suffering under the German occupation, resulting in them being transported to various concentration camps.
His parents, brother Felix and sister Hanna were all murdered by the Nazis during this time. But Henry and two other brothers, Fred and Sam, survived.
Orenstein would later write and publish his memoirs, in 1986, entitled I Shall Live: Surviving Against All Odds 1939-1945.
Emigrating to the USA after the war, Henry soon found a career in the toy industry. He worked for Hasbro, where he brought what would become the Transformers range to his employers’ attention. Henry eventually set up his own Topper Toys company, which produced the “Johnny Lightning” range of cars and “Suzy Cute” dolls.
Orenstein wins a WSOP bracelet
A love of poker led to his invention of the hole card cam, after becoming bored by the televised version of the game, but it was far from his only contribution to the game.
Orenstein won the $5k Seven Card stud bracelet event at the 1996 World Series of Poker. He defeated Humberto “The Shark” Brenes heads-up.
As the owner of Poker PROductions, Henry also produced the hugely-popular High Stakes Poker series (as well as fan favourites such as Poker Superstars and the NBC Heads-Up Championship) alongside Mori Eskandani.
Eskandani recalled his friend’s hole cam contribution: “The very first time Henry wanted to do a show he said it should be live. Henry said, ‘They’re playing now, so people should be able to see it now.’”
NBC Head of Sports, Jon Miller, told Newsweek that Orenstein’s contribution was immense: “This one man is the reason poker is as big as it is. The reason poker is a multibillion-dollar business is because of this one man.”
Henry Orenstein was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2008, the same year Dewey Tomko was inducted, on the back of his hole card cam invention and multiple other contributions to the game.
He is survived by his wife, Susie.
VIP Grinders offers its condolences to Henry’s family and friends.
RIP Henry Orenstein (1923-2021)
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