It’s tournament time again in Las Vegas. The World Series of Poker might not happen for a few more months, but there are tournaments everywhere and that means my poker buddies are all calling me for advice on mixed games. Most of the no-limit players I know have made this call at some point, most of them assuming that playing mixed games might be a good way to snatch themselves a bracelet because of the small fields.
While it is true that many of the alternate game events have smaller fields, they also tend to be pretty tough if the field is small. In tournaments like the $1,500 buy-in HORSE you will certainly find a large number of amateurs, but that tournament also had 751 entries in 2019, and at least 100 of those people actually knew what they were doing. That’s no easy bracelet.
The bigger buy-in events are no easier. They have great structures that really give skill some time to work and most of the players will be skilled mixed game players. So, much like there are plenty of obvious reasons to play at the best casino sites when you gamble online, it’s similarly obvious that “thinking it’ll be an easy bracelet” is not the reason you should play mixed game tournaments. But there are, however, a host of other reasons.
Mixed games can make you a better poker player overall and help your hold’em game. Remember when only pot-limit Omaha players cared about blockers? Now they are a staple in every poker conversation. And once you learn about hand reading in stud, you will see that skill set in a whole new light.
Mixed games are also a ton of fun. You’ll be learning new things and facing new situations against people you have probably never played with before.
And when you go back home and tell people that you play mixed game events, you’ll get a new level of respect from the people who only play hold’em. Most alternate games are no harder than hold’em, but knowing how to play them gives you a certain credibility in the eyes of many players.
So how do I answer those questions from my friends and students who want to start playing mixed game tournaments?
First of all, if you don’t know the rules, ask the dealer. A simple mistake can be very expensive and there is no shame in asking about the rules. Everyone started somewhere. I’ve seen the best players in the world ask about the rules of games in $10k buy-in mixed games, so there is no reason you should be worried about doing it in a smaller event.
Let’s start with the assumption that you already know most of the important tournament stuff like ICM implications, payout structures, etc. and that you are a reasonably experienced no-limit hold’em tournament player. Then I can just talk about the differences for each game.
Preflop hand values change significantly in limit hold’em. You almost never want to slow play big pairs or Ace-King preflop, just get those bets in there. And big card strength is more important than the home run hitting potential of suited connectors and small pairs because when you hit those hands you can’t win nearly as much. As an example, I might fold to a button raise if I’m in the small blind with 33 in a fixed-limit event and reraise with it in a no-limit event. And if I held King-Jack in that same spot, I would definitely three-bet in a fixed-limit event.
After the flop you’ll be continuing with weaker hands like two overcards, especially with backdoor draws, because your opponent won’t be able to bet a big portion of the pot. You’ll take more hands to showdown and you’ll bluff more often when the time is right because you are getting such good odds on your bluffs.
Sometimes you will find that mixed game players hate the limit hold’em rounds and won’t play anything but premium hands. I actually raised six hands of limit hold’em in a row at the final table of the $10k HORSE event in 2014 (which I won) and took down the blinds every time because no one at the table wanted to play hold’em. If you find this is happening, take advantage of it. Even if they call you or reraise, you still get to see a flop. But if the table is very loose and aggressive, back off and let the hands come to you.
Limit Omaha Eight Or Better
Starting hand values don’t mean as much in O8 as in most other games. That doesn’t mean you should play every hand, but I know excellent players who play a ton of hands and others who are very tight. Post-flop play is much more important because preflop the hands are much closer in terms of equity than in most other games.
You should defend your big blind liberally to a single raise. You usually have enough equity to see a flop in that situation unless your hand is really miserable.
Don’t get attached to your preflop holding. Your aces are worthless on a board with low cards or three to a flush or straight. Don’t throw money away calling down when one pair can never win. Play ace-deuce almost all the time, and any hand with A3 or A4 where the ace is suited is also playable in almost any situation.
You should be bluffing less than you would in limit hold’em because you are going to be called down much more often. A few hours of play should help you understand how strong your hand needs to be in a typical situation to have a reasonable chance of winning. After that, fold anything that you are pretty sure is beat for both sides of the pot.
Know that your opponents will often hold A2. And don’t get caught in a betting war where you have a strong but not great holding in both directions and two players are raising each other. They probably have the nuts on each side and you are almost never going to get more than half the pot, so fold early as soon as you realize the betting war is about to start with you caught in the middle.
Last, avoid hands with a dangler. A dangler is any hand that contains a completely unconnected card. AKQ is interesting, but with an 8 as the last card. And 345 might be playable with another low card, but not 345Q, that hand is terrible and will just get you in trouble.
Second-best hands are your biggest fear here. A suited king is worth very little, because the suited ace will be out against you so often and you will pay off the nut flush much more often than a lower flush will pay you off. Play hands and draws that will make the nuts.
Razz is just 7-card stud played for low. Your best possible hand is A2345 and aces are always low. Typical starting hands are three cards with an 8 or lower, but be sure to take into account your opponents’ face-up cards. If there’s a 7 and a 4 behind you, your 852 is junk. If the cards behind you are all above an 8, then 852 is the nuts.
Understanding board locks is important in razz. There are many times when you know you have the best hand on fifth, sixth, and even seventh street. If your opponent is showing (XX)89J and you have (76)542, you not only have the best hand now, but your opponent can not beat you no matter what cards they catch, so you have a board lock.
You can determine your opponent’s best possible hand by assuming they have the best possible hole cards. On seventh street this means that you choose their two lowest face-up cards and think about what hole cards would be the best for them. If you can beat that best possible hand, don’t stop betting and raising.
Just as importantly, be aware of those board locks against you. If you hold the (23)894 and your opponent is showing 542, you almost certainly aren’t ahead, and you could potentially be facing a board lock. Even if it isn’t a board lock because they made a pair, they are still in good shape with a hand like (57)542, so your best hope is to be about a coin flip against them.
Like most stud games, you should usually be folding the odd numbered streets, though folds on fourth street are common as well when your opponent catches a good card and you catch a big card or a pair.
Reading your opponents board is key in this game. The hand reading will be more important, and more accurate, than you are used to in hold’em with such limited information. If you are facing a raise from a player with a Jack showing, you should fold pairs lower than Jacks unless your third card is above a Jack. And if you see a reraise from a low card, be aware that they may have a big pair in the hole.
Draws are heavily affected by the dead cards, so even if you can’t remember every card that was folded, take note of the important ones. If you have Ah9h4h and two other players are showing hearts, you may want to fold. But if there are no hearts and no aces showing, your hand is “live,” meaning your draw is much more likely to come in. Keep this in mind when you have a drawing hand and only chase that draw if the cards you need are still in the deck.
If you have a pair to start, you should usually fold when multiple cards above yours are still to act unless your kicker with your pair is big and your hand is live. A hand like 779 is junk with three face cards behind and a nine already in the muck.
7-Card Stud Eight or Better
This is my favorite of the common mixed games. The “Super” and “Tahoe” versions are especially fun, and similar mixes like Razzdugi are a ton of fun. You will also find that beginning players make really expensive mistakes in stud/8.
You are basically playing for low to start with in most stud/8 hands. A pair of kings can be playable, but I’d rather have A34. And if you are going to play a big pair, make sure there are no aces behind you because they are very likely to get involved and your hand will be tough to play.
Your best possible hands are A23 single suited or AA2, depending on the number of opponents, but any three connected low cards of three low cards that are suited make for a very strong hand. Don’t overplay hands like 852 where you can’t make a great low or a straight. And avoid danglers completely. A2Q is not a very strong hand and really only good for stealing if the Q is in the hole.
If you combine the board locks of razz with the high card hand reading of stud, you get a good feel for how to play stud/8. Fold the odd numbered streets most of the time. If you are folding an even numbered street, you probably made a mistake somewhere.
Pot Limit Omaha
Omaha played only for high is a post-flop game. Preflop hand selection matters, but not nearly so much as playing well after the flop. If you are playing a mixed game event, you will want to be very careful in the PLO rounds because the pots will be huge and the variance will be really big. You will also run into PLO specialists playing a ton of hands and outplaying their opponents after the flop and hoping to make up for the fact that they don’t play the other games very well. Don’t get involved with those players if you can avoid it.
Again, avoid danglers. Choose hands where all the cards work together. And don’t draw to anything but the nuts. Second nut flush and straight draws are very expensive and usually not worth it.
If you get short stacked in PLO, pick a hand that plays well to see all five cards and get it in. You’ll almost always have enough equity, even if you are against a strong preflop raise, to get your chips in and hope for a triple or quadruple up.
2-7 Triple Draw
This is 5-card draw played for low with three draws, but it’s not as complicated as that may sound. The fact that straights and flushes count against you is key in this game, especially the straights. 952 is actually a much better hand than 678, and 72K is probably better than either one. Having a deuce in your hand is key because you won’t make a straight as often and you can make so many more strong hands. Many players refuse to play a triple draw hand unless it includes a deuce. And having a 7 to go with that deuce makes it playable in almost every situation unless you are facing multiple raises cold, and some players will never fold 72 before the draw.
Pay attention to how many cards your opponent is drawing. If they draw three and you have made a 9 low, you should be betting. The chance that they made a better hand than yours is very low. If they draw one on the next street, you may want to slow down.
Because triple draw is a game, like hold’em, of very limited information, you are more concerned with the strength of your own hand than you might be in the stud games, but it’s still important to pay attention to what your opponents are doing.
Other Mixed Games
There are many other excellent mixed games, including PLO/8, five card draw, Archie, super stud variants, and a plethora of combinations of the games with odd names like Drawmaha and Razzdugi. Once you understand the basic components that make up these games, picking up the new variants won’t take long and you’ll find they are a ton of fun.
I love mixed games and would like to see them continue to grow. So when you get bored with hold’em, as we all do eventually, give mixed games a shot. One great place to start will be the Cardplayer Lifestyle Mixed Game Festival in October. You may get hooked just like I did, and if you study hard there is real money to be made because so many of your opponents will be making bigger mistakes than they do in hold’em tournaments at the same buy-in level.