Henry Orenstein, the oldest living member of the Poker Hall of Fame, passed away on Tuesday in New Jersey at age 98. Orenstein was the inventor of the hole-card camera, which revolutionized the industry by transforming poker into a game very watchable on TV. Orenstein first implemented the hole-card camera — a modified “lipstick cam” embedded within a cushioned poker-table rail — on Channel 4’s “Late Night Poker” in England. His good friend Mori Eskandani then brought Orenstein’s hole-card camera to US audiences via the success of the World Poker Tour on American television.
Orenstein was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame in 2008, and he was more than just an inventor and TV producer. He also played the game himself, and he did so against elite competition. Orenstein won a bracelet in 1996 at age 75, taking down the WSOP’s $5,000 Seven-Card Stud title. He also made deep runs in the Main Event twice in his early 70s, finishing 12th at age 71 in 1993, then making the final table and finishing eighth in the main event in 1995, at age 73.
Orenstein’s fourth and final WSOP cash was special as well, when he made the final table of the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud Championship in 2014, at age 92. Orenstein earned more than $232,000 in those four career WSOP cashes.
As a TV poker producer, Orenstein is best known for his role in creating the late-night hit “High Stakes Poker.” He also produced the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament.
Orenstein held over 100 patents, invented Transformers
Orenstein was an inventor by profession and held more than 100 patents, many of which turned into successful products. His mainstream fame came not from poker, but from being the inventor of the popular Transformers, which took the U.S. by storm in the 1980s after Orenstein sold Hasbro on the toys’ marketability.
Toys were Orenstein’s primary business line for decades. After arriving in the U.S. in 1947, he worked for a food company, then saw a chance to manufacture a line of dolls. Orenstein plugged away in that industry for more than three decades before his giant Transformers hit came along. Before that, he’d created several doll and toy startups, including Topper Toys, but the huge success eluded him. Transformers changed that and ensured his lifetime success.
Orenstein was a Holocaust survivor
Orenstein was indeed fortunate even to have the chance to achieve his later life successes. Born Henryk Orenstein in Poland in 1923, he and his family — his parents, one sister, and three brothers — were interred by the Nazis soon after that country invaded Poland. Both of his parents perished in the camps, as did his sister and one of his brothers. Orenstein himself survived stints in five different concentration camps through the course of the war.
He was relocated to the Soviet Union after being freed as Nazi Germany fell, along with many other survivors of the Polish camps. Two years later, he emigrated to the U.S., moving in with an uncle that lived in New York City. That led him to finding work at the food company and being inspired to follow his inventing dreams. Those in turn led to the popularization of poker itself, a game Orenstein only took up when he reached his 60s.
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