Sports

Henry Orenstein, 98, Dies; Force Behind Transformers and Poker on TV

He began playing in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. His game was seven-card stud, in which four cards are face up and three are face down, or hole cards, and only the holder of the hand can see them. While watching a poker tournament on television, he realized that the excitement he felt while playing was not being conveyed.

“He said, ‘This isn’t the game we played,’” Mori Eskandani, a professional poker player who produces televised poker programming, said in an interview. “‘If everyone can see the hole cards, they’d see how great it is.’”

Mr. Orenstein spent six months developing a table with miniature cameras mounted beneath each player’s station — cutouts with non-glare glass that let the cameras look up — which would show the hole cards and transmit the images on television. He patented his idea of a hole-card camera in 1995 and got his first customer a few years later when the Discovery Channel licensed it for its “World Poker Tour.”

“We called the table ‘the Holy Grail,’” Mr. Eskandani said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Orenstein is survived by a son, Mark, and a daughter, Annette. His marriage to Adele Bigajer, whom he met in a displaced persons camp in Germany, ended in divorce.

In 2003 Mr. Orenstein — a competitive player who won the 1996 World Series of Poker seven-card stud tournament — cajoled Jon Miller, an NBC Sports executive, to use the hole-card camera table on the network’s programs “Poker Superstars,” “Poker After Dark” and “National Heads-Up Poker Championship.”

“He revolutionized the game for a whole generation of poker fans who would not be able to see it as it is without Henry’s creativity and ingenuity,” Mr. Miller, the president of programming for the NBC Sports Group, said in an interview.

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