Gambling and pinball, part two: Poker!

Gambling and pinball, part two: Poker!

Written by robin, published July 25th, 2008. 13 comment(s).

In this second story in our series about gambling and pinball (here is the first one), Gotta love the marketing for this 1932 machine: "Shoot a ball into the hole and up comes a real -honest-to-goodness playing card." will tell you why you won't need to learn poker strategy to play a poker themed pinball machine. We'll have a look at poker in general, the poker community and the popularity of the poker theme in Pinball.

In the last four decades, starting in the mid-seventies, the game of poker  went through a series of developments which lead to poker becoming far more popular than it previously was. Mind you, the game of poker has been around since the 15th century, but it took 400 years to become the worlds most favourite card gambling game.

Another reason for poker being such a popular and social game must have been the 'invention' of the poker variants with open cards such as Seven-Card Stud. In these poker types players are able to see parts of their opponents’ holdings and don’t have to guess, by just examining physical tells, what they are up against. 

Shortly after World War II, community card poker was invented in which one or more of the cards are dealt face up and shared by all players. The most popular poker variant today, "Texas Hold'Em Poker", has no less than 5 of these community cards.

The 1933 Bagatelle game "Poker Ball". Image Courtesy of Harold Balde.Lindstrom "Poker Ball" (1933)

If we look at poker in pinball we have to go back in time, way back,  to the first pinball machines. The early thirtees. A pure mechanical Bagatelle game with the name "Poker Ball" was released. You had to plunge balls into one of the 56 holes and make the best poker hand. Exciting? It must have been back then.

Gottlieb "Poker Face" (1953)

Want flippers? The next game we take a look at, was built 20 years later. "Poker Face" had a rather wacky theme: Native Americans playing Poker. Now how do you come up with THAT? The playing fields shows the happy bunch puffin' away while one of them makes card symbol shaped smoke signals. The lovely lady here on the left was the backglass' main attraction but she seems to be havin' a good hand as well. Or is that her poker face?

Smoking aces get a whole new meaning with this theme!

Recel "Poker Plus" (1978)

The rather dull looking "Poker Plus" was the first solid state pin with a poker theme.The first solid state pinball featuring the poker theme, "Poker Plus", was built in 1978. The game had an incredible single popbumper and overall a rather dull  layout. The coolest thing about it is probably the card symbols laid out over the playfield and the two women in space suits (who seem complete lost) flanking the slingshots. Not particularly the most enticing pin ever built, but I had to mention it since it was the first solid state poker pin and to show the huge difference with two other poker games that came out that year, from Gottlieb and Williams.

Gottlieb "Joker Poker" (1978)

Yep, much more interesting than the previous game was Gottliebs effort at a solid state poker themed pin. It looks like it's good fun!

Joker Poker first came out as an EM game but was then also produced as a SS version. More than 9000 games were produced and the game was full with features.

For starters, it did something  new, which we would see in many more poker pins to follow: card symbols on drop targets. And this game has loads of them! There's one bank of 5 drop targets (four aces and a joker, making a "Joker Poker"), a bank with four kings, a bank with three queens, a bank with two clubs and one single drop target representing a 10 of hearts. 15 drop targets all in all. But did Gottlieb built the best poker themed pin that year?

Williams "Pokerino" (1978)

The flippers on this one will deceive you. This is hard to get a handle on.

The last manufacturer that year to build a poker pinball was Williams. Their "Pokerino" looks a lot more mature in it's artwork, which was done by Constantino Michell, and has the most advanced game layout. The game is a wide-body game with two pairs of in-line flippers (double action flippers) which always make for hilarious gameplay. The Steve Kordek design had only 1500 units built but remains a much sought after game, partly due to the poker theme and the girls that hide behind the various card symbols on the playfield. Beautiful!

Not the sexiest girl around. Or is this a bloke?

Williams "Alien Poker" (1980)

Another Williams pin, "Alien poker", is a very different piece of work compared to the colored cheerful nature of Pokerino. The playfield is darker and features some less attractive figures in its center. Ugly bigheaded aliens. Yuk! Some of the unsexiest females in pinball artwork live in this machine and that is not a compliment. Never played this one, too scared to do so (just kidding).

Alvin G. "Pistol Poker" (1993)

A totally different (and more fitting to poker) is the wild wild west based "Pistol Poker". "WHO WANTS TO PLAY SOME P-P-POKER?"This was the last game from manufacturer Alvin G. that made it to production and a mere 200 units were ever built. This is the first poker themed pinball machine with a Dot Matrix screen but I don't know how this was put to use. The game featured some great cartoonish artwork on the playfield, Artwork on the back of the backbox!with lots of details everywhere you look. I personally love the crazy donkey, the wanted posters and the card playing bunch of cowboys who can be seen depicted near the jet bumpers. And  what about that backbox? Alvin G. was the only manufacturer to ever figure  out that not all pinball machines have their backbox placed flat against a wall and decided to do artwork on that side of the cabinet as well.

Stern "World Poker Tour" (2006)

With her on he backglass this game should practically sell itself!

What can I say about "World Poker Tour"? Stern already did a gambling theme in their 2001 pin "High Roller Casino" which made it into part one of "Gambling and Pinball". And now, thanks to this 2006 machine, we'll finish the story with them again. This game has the most in depth implementation of the poker rules of any of the games featured in this article. Not too strange considering the possibilities of our modern time and Sterns brand new S.A.M. system, introduced with this machine.

WPT features two poker games: the immensily popular Texas Hold'Em and the slighly old-fashioned 5 card stud. Feature-wise the game is not overloaded, but definately the most complex of the bunch. We have a mini playfield with mini flippers, a secondary dot matrix in the center of the playfield and a whopping 16 drop targets with which you can make card combinations. Gary Stern says, "I remember card themed pinball machines of decades ago.  It was always fun to make hands by knocking down drop targets.   We modernized that concept by adding today's popular Texas Hold 'Em".


So there you have it. A whole history of poker inside a history of pinball. Personally, my money would be on the Stern machine because I think that a game such as poker deserves a deep rulesheet. Sterns WPT delivers in this aspect. But like I said when we started: you won't need to learn any poker strategy to play these games!

The holy grail for poker themed pinball machines?Honourable mentions

Yeah, I know I could have written about Data East's 1994 "Maverick", but decided that enough has been written about this game already. I could also have mentioned "Play poker with Ryker" video mode from "Star Trek The Next Generation" or maybe the Poker Night video mode from "Champion Pub" but I didn't have more time nor did I have any more space on this  already way to long page. Sorry.

Coming soon

The last story in our series "Gambling and pinball" is about... Slot machines!


6 years ago
From the poker pins, I only played the World Poker Tour, and to be honest this is not my cup of tea... I guess you have to be a poker player to appreciate this game.
6 years ago
Two more for that list: Lady Luck from Bally (1986, I think); and one of the worst games ever, Gottleib's Jacks to Open (1984?). That one certainly had the most annoying "music" in the history of pinball. All it was was the same twenty notes/four bars over and over again.
Jokerz! had a backglass roulette wheel which rotated three cards in the king's poker hand. Your score depended on what the king was holding when the wheel stopped. Sorry, I don't know if that last one really counts.
6 years ago
Excellent stories I can't wait till the next one, hope there will be a mention about Who Dunnit, I love this pin it's on my wish list!!!
5 years ago
I beat Riker every time! Love playin' poker.
5 years ago
Another poker pin is Hot Hand from Stern in 1979.
Hot Hand has a large rotating flipper at the top of the playfield.
A quite challenging and fun pin ..perhaps a litttle a one-dimensional.
Nice article.. my pick of the bunch would be Joker Poker and all those wonderful drop targets!
4 years ago
How 'bout williams' Jokerz?
4 years ago
Don't forget 1965 Williams "Full House" (also as add-a-ball "Top Hand") and Williams 1964 "River Boat" and Williams 1974 "Dealers Choice" (single player version: "High Ace").
4 years ago
I was never into cards but I do find myself playing more of these type of games at the big pin shows
4 years ago
Great story, bravo. I wish I had that knowlege...I do now. Thank you for taking the time to write it. On to part three.
3 years ago
Thanks for your good poker theme pinball article/story. Enjoyed reading it and looking at the pics. I have a Joker Poker (SS) and would also say it is my fav of the poker card theme machines, but I have not yet played Asteroid Annie and the Aliens (Gottlieb 1980, drop target game to make poker hands).
2 years ago
How far to stretch the Poker theme? What about Jacks Open, Royal Flush or even High Hand?
2 years ago
I agree with guys forgot one of the best poker games of all time JOKERS! By Williams on this one even the backglass move on the kings hand ....I own one and trust me I played the all of the games you guys put on the list (except pistol poker ) and they're not as fun as a JOKERSZ! ......
2 years ago
Very nice story !

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