Becoming a Mixed Game Player – Part 1

Learning new games and becoming a well-rounded poker player is very challenging but immensely rewarding.  Variety is the spice of life; as a kid I always begged my parents to get the cereal packs with all of the different flavors.  No Limit Hold’em is a great game, but often you will be packed in like a sardine at nine or ten handed tables and many players are the hoody headphone types.  In contrast most mixed games are six or seven handed so you get to spread out, feel like a gentleman, and enjoy a nice scotch if that’s your thing.  It certainly is mine.

If your goal is to reach the upper echelon of poker in terms of both money and respect, becoming proficient in all games is a great way to do it.  Many times the biggest game in the room is the mixed cash game.  It’s not unusual to see a $400/800 limit mix going while the biggest NL/PLO game in the room may only be $25/$50.

Mixed games primarily started as HORSE rotations but they stopped being cool back in 2005.  Deuce to Seven Triple Draw and Badugi arrived on the scene around that time and many players noticed that the draw games were more popular and created more action.  In order to keep players on their toes and hopefully extract more money from novices, split pot games such as Badeucey and Badacey were introduced and quickly spread like wildfire.  The pace has really picked up and new games are being tried all of the game as players enjoy the challenge and also wish to profit from those who cannot adapt quickly.  Some like Archie appear to have a lot of staying power while others go the way of Duck Flush and provide some entertainment for a brief time and then disappear soon after.

So what can you do in order to stay ahead of the curve and other players?  If you sat around and waited for Two Plus Two to publish Razzdugi for Advanced Players you will probably be waiting for a long time.  In order to be successful in mixed games the onus should be on you to successfully be able to quickly learn and play the newer exotic games well.  The following are a few suggestions on how to go about doing that:

Gain a Solid Background in General Poker Theory

In order to become a great all around poker player a superior grasp of poker theory is as essential as a solid foundation for a new house. A great place to begin is with David Sklansky’s groundbreaking Theory of Poker.  I’m guessing that I’m not alone in this, but the first time I ever read it I skipped every example that was not on Hold’em.  That was a clear mistake; it’s very important to think about poker more broadly and certain concepts are better illustrated in one game as opposed to another.

Sklansky also wrote a chapter on High-Low split in the original Super System that has a tremendous discussion on strategy for all split pot games.  Outside of the WSOP Dealer’s Choice event this game is not played very often, but the vast majority of new games that have emerged in mixed cash games in recent years are split pot.  The important principles outlined in this chapter are relevant whether you are playing Razzdugi, Archie, or Badeucey.

Published much more recently is Matthew Janda’s No-Limit Hold’em for Advanced Players.  It’s an excellent book that I cannot recommend strongly enough. The principles outlined in the book can be applied to any big bet game and as such I would consider it a modern Theory of Poker for no limit games and for all big bet games in general.  It doesn’t matter if you are playing No-Limit Hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha, or Big Bet Crazy Pineapple; this book will help you.

Deal Out Hands to Yourself

Dealing out hands is definitely old school but it is also a super easy way to gain “experience” in any game fast.  Quite simply you deal out six hands and one by one you put yourself into that player’s shoes and play out the hands.   In a mixed game rotation you typically play one round (usually six to eight hands) of any one particular game and then move onto the next one in the rotation.  If there are many games in the mix you may only get to play any particular game three to four times in a normal session.  Every time that you deal out and play one hand you’ve essentially played one round.  Obviously it is not the same as true experience but it is very valuable as it gets you thinking about situations and nuances you never would have considered just thinking about the game on your own.

Several years I was on my way to the WSOP and was planning on playing Badeucey and Badacey for the first time.  To kill time on the plane I dealt out hands to myself for several hours and took notes on all tricky situations for further analysis and reflection. I posted particularly tricky hands on the Two Plus Two forums for discussion under the guise that these were real hands played for money.  Many great mixed game players participated in these discussions (and still do) so by the time I sat down in the games I felt as if I was one of the strongest players without having ever played a real hand.

Certainly if the games are available online at a limit where you can afford to lose money you should do that instead.  There are a few sites that have a large variety of games; however, typically there is not a lot of traffic on them.

Develop Starting Hand Standards using both Math and Intuition

When formulating a default opening range by position it is important that you mathematically determine how often you are dealt what you intuitively consider to be the playable hands.  You can get some sense of this by dealing out a very large number of hands to yourself but it also important to work this out more precisely.  When developing your opening hand strategies by intuition alone you may find out that you are playing way too loose or tight in certain situations.

Different games have different considerations regarding the value of position, playability of certain hands, and the possibility of domination, however generally most games have opening ranges that fall within some normal parameters for each position.  For example, you would probably want to reevaluate your starting requirements if they would only have you opening 30% of your hands from the button or if they have you playing too many hands from early position and thus encountering many bad situations later in the hand.

This can be quite challenging as it requires a working knowledge of combinatorics.  Getting the Best of It, also by David Sklansky has some very illuminating lessons on both probability and combinations. In addition several posters in the Probability forum on the Two Plus Two website are extremely helpful.  Unfortunately one the best, a true gentlemen named Frank Jerome (aka Buzz) recently passed away but several highly intelligent and friendly posters remain.  They have helped me immeasurably over the years.  If you do some of these of these calculations in excel, the COMBIN function is quite useful in computing the number of combinations.

Calculate Equities of Common Matchups

When a new game arises on the scene there are no online calculators available so it is a very useful skill to be able to calculate the equity of various hand matchups.  In a previous article Introduction to Archie (Triple Draw High/ Low Split, I showed all of the details of a sample equity calculation for a somewhat common matchup of a low draw and two other players going high.  I did this to illustrate to the readers how these calculations were done as well as make it easier for others to review my findings.

When calculating equities it is good practice to list out every possible event and then calculate the probability of that event occurring directly.  The sum of all these probabilities should equal one because if they don’t something is definitely wrong.

Hot and cold equity is not the final word but being able to calculate equities can help identify clear situations to avoid.  For example, it was shown that in Archie a player holding the second best flush draw is a huge equity underdog in a multiway pot and thus this situation should be avoided at all costs.  Avoiding huge leaks in new games is a big key to being successful in mixed games.

Study all of the Games

Everyone learns in different ways; it’s always possible an important poker concept may be made clearer to you in one game than it is in another.  The more games you learn the shorter the learning curve will be when you add another game to your repertoire.  Even games that were considered dead, such as Five Card High Draw, are now making a comeback either on its own in or as a part of new split pot games such as Archie.

Most importantly, after you have studied many different games you will begin to think about poker more broadly and have a firmer grasp of the important considerations of any particular game.  For example, when picking up a new game you want to think about (among other things) the potential biggest leaks, value of position and initiative, domination concerns, and consider whether or not it is optimal to pull potential customers in or do whatever it takes to limit the field with any potential hand that you choose to play.  These considerations will be the topic of the next article.