Malta is one of the premier poker destinations in Europe. Numerous live poker events take place on this Mediterranean island throughout the calendar year including, of course, the Malta Poker Festival, the spring 2022 version of which I’m currently attending.
Here at the Portomaso Casino, they’re fully equipped to handle large crowds with a combination of close to 100 poker tables spread throughout the property. in the main tournament room I counted 45 tables, with another 33 tables laid out in the secondary tournament room. Those get spread for large scale events like these. Throughout the year however a total of 20 tables are set up in the permanent casino area, split evenly between two different rooms.
While, as in most other poker destinations around the world, the main course is No Limit Texas Hold’em, with a side dish of Pot Limit Omaha, Malta also happens to have a thriving, I’ll be it niche, mixed game scene. Anyone who knows me understands that that’s music to my ears!
In my preview piece prior to flying out here, I mentioned that one of the top five things that I was looking forward to was participating in the Malta mixed game meet up. It did not disappoint!
Not All Mixed Games Are Alike
I have played in my fair share of mixed games over the last 20 years, the majority of which have been home games in Israel with the remainder having taken place throughout Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and a couple of other locales in the United States. I even inaugurated the concept of the Cardplayer Lifestyle Mixed Game Festival, the second incarnation of which will be taking place between this summer June 12-16 at Resorts World Las Vegas. So, you’d think that I would be prepared for anything.
Well, the poker scene in Malta had something special up its sleeve – Sviten Special – along with a few other interesting surprises.
Sviten Special vs. Drawmaha
Drawmaha is becoming increasingly popular in mixed game circles, with slight tweaks added occasionally to create even more niche variants like Drawmaha 49, Drawmaha 0, 2-7 Drawmaha, and Drawmadugi (A-4). For those of you who have never played it before, you can find a short primer in our excellent Flop Games Guide, written up by Cardplayer Lifestyle contributor Mike Patrick.
Sviten Special takes Drawmaha and adds a twist: if you choose to only draw one card, the dealer turns it to you face-up, and you have the choice whether to accept it or not. If not, that card is mucked and you’ll get a new (fifth) card face-down. To the uninitiated, that might seem like just a minor detail. Perhaps, but in a game where going after the draw half of the pot is critical, obtaining those occasional few bits of extra information from your opponents could really help guide your decision-making (or mess with it 😂) later in the hand.
As with all mixed games, the primary prerequisite for players is elasticity and flexibility of the mind. While it took a few hands of practice for me to get used to this new wrinkle that Sviten Special proffered, I quickly felt able to understand its ramifications quite frankly because of my years of mixed game experience.
Much like with a freezing pool of water, some people tiptoe in while others just jump right in, the latter of whom can do so because they’re just far more used to stretching beyond their comfort zone. Or, they just enjoy pain… I’m talking about folks who wouldn’t hesitate to call an abomination of a dealer’s choice game like “watermelon” and smile menacingly as the table endures a full orbit of it… but I digress. 😂
Dinging Players? No Problem. But Dealers, Too?!
As for those other interesting surprises I mentioned earlier? Truthfully, those were significantly less welcome and were significantly harder to get used to.
Firstly, while the rake was a pretty standard 5% of the pot, they take up to €10 shorthanded, and €15 in full ring games (7+ players). For folks like me, far more used to playing poker in the United States, that’s anywhere from 2x-4x the norm. I have of course played poker in Europe before and thus have been subject to this sort of rake, which is unfortunately standard in this part of the world — c’est la vie — but that doesn’t make it any easier when you’re used to being raked for far less. Again, to be clear, to the best of my knowledge these rake levels are on par with European standards, but when you’re used to just $4-$7 leaving each pot it’s quite the mental adjustment to make.
Secondly, dealers here only get to keep half their tips with the remainder going to the casino. That is NOT something I have ever heard of before and quite frankly a policy I have quite the beef with. I’ve played in places where tipping is not permitted (as dealers there are paid high wages), where dealer tips are pooled, and of course where tips are encouraged. I have never played in a place where tips are literally “discouraged” via a venue’s policy. When drink servers get to keep their tips but dealers who work just as hard have to sacrifice half of their tips to the casino – which is already raking €10-€15 per hand – that just doesn’t sit well with me.
Over a decade ago I wrote an article listing the top 10 reasons to tip poker dealers. If tipping isn’t permitted, fine – players can still be friendly, courteous, and kindly thank them for a job well done. But a venue should not allow players to tip only to then turn around and confiscate 50% of those monies from the dealers. Admittedly, when I learned this, I stopped tipping, which is a shame.
I rarely use this platform to level criticism, but when warranted – specifically on behalf of the dealers – some things just must be said publicly. My critique comes from a good place, and any casino with a policy like this ought to immediately consider revising it. You can’t effect positive change without speaking up about it; respectfully, of course.
Taking a VIP Experience on the Chin
I mentioned at the outset that Malta has a thriving, niche mixed game poker scene. What I hadn’t realized was that those who participate in said scene always play their games pot limit. I suppose that’s sensible considering the rake structure, but when coming to visit I was just looking to get a friendly game together with limits at which nobody’s bankroll would suffer too greatly in the event of a loss.
The locals were kind enough to accommodate and we set sail for a highly enjoyable €5/€10 limit dealer’s choice mix. The game lasted a whopping 12 hours, from 6pm until 6am. It was the longest session I had played in quite a while, and every moment of it was super enjoyable.
About last night… 😃
Thanks to everyone who came out to play in the €5/10 Malta 🇲🇹 #mixedgame Meetup.
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) April 29, 2022
We played 8-handed (and sometimes a bit shorter) with a revolving cast of characters, as some players checked out while others checked in throughout the session. I was quite flattered as, on multiple occasions throughout the night, I was recognized and approached by people who had heard I was in town and wanted to take part in a mixed game with me.
While I enjoyed everyone’s company immensely, I want to give a special shout out to my longtime friend and poker industry colleague Jason Glatzer, as well as another longtime friend via social media who I finally got to meet in person, Martin Smith, who were instrumental in “rounding up the troops” and making the magical Malta mixed game meet up happen.
Unfortunately, the cards were not as kind to me as the players were, as I recorded a “solid hourly loss” in spite what I felt to be reasonably good play. A couple of those who accompanied me throughout the full length of the mixed game session witnessed it with their own eyes and concurred that unfortunately luck just hadn’t been on my side. But they also were kind enough to send compliments my way about how I kept smiling throughout, despite what ended up being a €545 loss overall.
Lady Luck may not always be in your corner at the poker table, but in my view if you have the privilege of taking a seat in the first place, being surrounded by a group of wonderful friends, and having a lovely time, then life’s good fortune is most certainly smiling upon you.
Losses notwithstanding, I hope it’s clear from my descriptions and the pictures that I absolutely had the time of my life, and I think that everyone else who played at our table throughout the night did, too.
Wouldn’t it just be great if we could run it back and do it all over again?
Ordinarily I’d end off with “a guy can dream, eh?” but Malta is a place where poker dreams can come true quickly, so if anyone’s around tomorrow night and wants to join us, our group will be getting together again to make some more magical Malta mixed game memories. 😃
Top photo credit: Moshe Friedline Photography