Mixed Games: Do They Belong in Poker's Past or Present?
Once upon a time, due to ESPN and the World Series of Poker, non-hold'em games got their share of attention. Those times are long gone, and while some poker tours offer a slate of smaller buy-in non-hold'em events as part of their series, you'll be hard-pressed to find stakes big enough to bring out the big names that we now only see during the WSOP.
This week, during the US Poker Open at the ARIA Resort & Casino, there were both a $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha and $25,000 Mixed Game event on the schedule. The Pot Limit Omaha event drew 64 entries while the Mixed Game Championship had 44 entries to create some of the biggest prize pools these types of games see all year.
Yet, Mixed Games are rarely offered these days at high buy-in price points, so does that mean we're closer to the end of their run, or is there something to be said for future growth?
During the $25k Mixed Game Championship, we spoke to big players, ambassadors, mixed game purists and aficionados on a variety of topics relating to the exposure, or lack thereof, that non-Hold'em events are getting.
Flying 2,000 Miles
"As far as the game of poker goes, it's important to have a tournament like this," Matt Glantz said about the US Poker Open including non-hold'em games. "It's gotten me to fly 2,000 miles. That's rare. I don't fly for tournaments anywhere, so I'd love to see more of these. I like playing all the games because they are more fun than No Limit Hold'em."
Glantz: "For the last ten years, most of the poker world has been focused on no-limit while before that, it wasn't always like that."
Glantz came down to Las Vegas from the East Coast for the $25k Mixed Game in particular, and he gave some perspective on the state of televised mixed games.
"We have all these tournaments out here, pretty much everywhere in the world, and it's all no-limit. For the last ten years, most of the poker world has been focused on no-limit while before that, it wasn't always like that. The case for No Limit Hold'em is that it's the most television friendly game, and that's why it's the premier game."
The $25,000 Mixed Game event at the U.S. Poker Open drew a field of 45 entries, creating a prize pool of $1,125,000, making this the biggest mixed game tournament of the year outside of the $50,000 Player's Championship at the World Series of Poker.
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|$5,000+ MIXED GAMES EVENTS IN 2017|
|17-Apr||Mixed Game High Roller I||Bellagio, Las Vegas||$25,000||25||Ben Lamb||$281,250|
|18-Apr||Mixed Game High Roller II||Bellagio, Las Vegas||$25,000||10||Daniel Alaei||$125,000|
|22-May||Mixed Game High Roller III||Bellagio, Las Vegas||$10,000||15||Mike Gorodinsky||$75,000|
|23-May||Mixed Game High Roller IV||Bellagio, Las Vegas||$15,000||11||Pat Madden||$68,785|
|08-Jun||Dealer's Choice||WSOP||$10,000||102||John Racener||$273,962|
|15-Jun||H.O.R.S.E. Championship||WSOP||$10,000||150||David Bach||$383,208|
|02-Jul||Player's Championship||WSOP||$50,000||100||Elior Sion||$1,395,767|
The Excitement for Mixed Game Tournaments
On the turnout of the event, Isaac Haxton said, "It's been a huge success. I think the biggest thing is that the Vegas cash game scene is not so much about No Limit these days, it's about mixed games and Pot Limit Omaha. You saw it with the PLO tournament as well. When you run tournaments in formats that people are used to playing in cash, and all the cash regs show up and play, and that creates great fields."
Ohel: "It feels almost like I'm not a part of certain aspects of the community."
While Haxton still plays primarily No Limit Hold'em and Pot Limit Omaha, giving him plenty of action to chase after, a player like Randy Ohel is in a different spot.
"It's so great to see something on a schedule like this that someone like me would be interested in playing. Sometimes it sucks to see only no-limit, and it feels almost like I'm not a part of certain aspects of the community," Ohel said.
"I think it's great," Event #3 winner Stephen Chidwick said about the inclusion of non-Hold'em events.
"I really enjoy playing non-No Limit Hold'em games, even though I might not be the best at them. I'm probably pretty rusty at the moment, but I think it's always fun. I don't know if the ratings are lower on those but you'll see some really entertaining content and, hopefully, it sparks some interest in other games and they become more of a fixture on poker festivals in the future."
Winner of the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha at the U.S. Poker Open and former $50k Player's Championship winner, Mike Gorodinsky, emphasized the lack of mixed games available at high price points and his desire to see more of them.
"Most of us are cash game professionals," Gorodinsky started the comparison between mixed and No Limit professionals. "There's not enough mixed tournaments for someone to be a professional mixed game tournament player. It's different in that way. There's not really this kind of stuff at our price point aside from the World Series. One of the things that I like about this is that it's a higher buy-in for mix, which you don't really see throughout the year. I'm personally excited there's a $25k mixed event outside of the summer and I'd like to see more of them."
Exposure is the key for Gorodinsky who said, "Usually these kinds of stages are reserved for No Limit events, and it's nice that PLO and some mix are getting a little bit of a stage. Maybe the games can bloom from here, so it's exciting in that way. The reason I made this Vegas Trip was to play this PLO tournament, some cash on the side, and then the Mixed event."
Unfortunately, things didn't go well for Gorodinsky on Day 1 of the event, as he quickly fired out two bullets to end his Championship hopes.
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|$5,000+ POT LIMIT OMAHA EVENTS IN 2017|
|11-Jan||PokerStars Championship PLO||Bahamas||$25,000||4||Isaac Haxton||$49,867|
|27-Feb||LAPC Pot Limit Omaha||Los Angeles||$5,250||23||John Racener||$68,130|
|05-Apr||PokerStars Championship PLO||Macau||$10,200||36||Ka Kwan Lau||$122,277|
|01-May||PokerStars Championship PLO||Monte Carlo||€10,300||60||Imad Derwiche||$190,161|
|28-Jun||PLO Championship||WSOP||$10,000||428||Tommy Le||$938,732|
|05-Jul||PLO High Roller||WSOP||$25,000||205||James Calderaro||$1,289,074|
|06-Jul||Goliath PLO High Roller||Planet Hollywood||$5,000||43||Dustin Goldklang||$58,676|
|02-Aug||Fennia Grand Slam PLO||Ray Casino Helsinki||€5,000||15||Joni Jouhkimainen||$38,102|
|23-Aug||PokerStars Championship PLO||Barcelona||€10,300||111||Sylvain Loosli||$278,366|
|14-Dec||PokerStars Championship PLO||Prague||€10,300||26||Niklas Astedt||$96,003|
Room for Growth?
While high limit Pot Limit Omaha players have seen the frequency of events increase over the last few years, the frequency of mixed games on offer has not. Whether the lack of exposure is the cause or vice versa, is left for debate, but the players universally agree that the frequency of these types of events should get increased in order see potential growth.
Gorodinsky: "There's not enough mixed tournaments for someone to be a professional mixed game tournament player."
Matt Glantz said; "You can probably do this every quarter. There's probably 25 guys that live in Vegas that will play every time; there's probably 15 to 20 guys that don't live in Vegas like me, and fly out. I come all the way from the East Coast, but there are guys all over the country who'd come out for this. I think you can have one at the World Series and three others around the year."
Haxton echoed Glantz sentiment, "I think that, in Vegas, you can run a lot of these type events and they're reasonably likely to do well. The Bellagio had a couple of mixed game high rollers before and they've gotten not quite this turnout, but a decent one. I think you could regularly have mixed and PLO events in the $10 to $50k range, and get decent fields."
While wanting, and thinking, the economy can support more mixed games in tournament formats at high buy-ins, growing the interest for the game (and ultimately the fields) is not something everyone agrees on.
"I don't know if there's a way to grow the mix games," Glantz said. "I think they just are what they are at this point. We tried so many things for the last 10 to 15 years, and it just doesn't catch on. It doesn't televise well, and there are too many new rules for amateurs to learn. There's a lot of amateurs that like playing the games, but for TV purposes, it's not an easy game to transition to."
Haxton has different thoughts on the matter and sees a future in the growth of non-Hold'em games.
"If you look at the longer history of poker, it hasn't always been about No Limit Hold'em. I think that the future of the game is not going to be entirely about that. The sooner we can expose casual players to other games, the better. I think other games are more fun than the No Limit Hold'em a lot of the time, and it's great to see them offered."
Chidwick, 2012 $50,000 Player's Championship finalist, adds that becoming good enough to beat serious competition, is far more doable than in No-Limit Hold'em, which should add to the willingness to learn for recreational players.
Chidwick: "The skill gap is smaller in mixed games."
"The skill gap is smaller in mixed games. These days, poker software is so advanced for No Limit Hold'em and people have really powerful tools. Combined with the discipline to study a lot, they can get a really strong theoretical understanding of the game. For a game like Stud, as far as I know, there are no solvers out there. For six-max Stud, that would be ridiculously complicated. And those games, in my eyes of at least, are a lot more about figuring it out as you go; being at the table, being in hands, and making reads. I think the barrier to entry is not that high for non-Hold'em games and I would encourage people to try them out."
For many years, game formats such as H.O.R.S.E. and 8-Game have been set rotations, but perhaps it's time to try something new and give different or smaller rotations a chance.
"Everything in poker should be adjusted to better the game all the time," Glantz said. "I'm always open-minded, and I think that you want to adjust the structure and the discipline of games to what will bring out the most people playing, the most amateurs and recreational players especially. If last year Badugi was popular and this year it's No Limit 2-7, you want to have to get the popular game in there just to get those recreational players in the game. The more you can make everyone happy, and you're always going get the pros, the better it is long term."
Haxton added to that, "There was a mix that ran pretty consistently in the summer of 2016. We were playing a four-game mix of Limit Omaha 8 or Better, Limit 2-7 Triple Draw, Pot Limit Omaha, and No Limit 2-7 Single Draw. That ran at high stakes just about every day, all summer. I think that's a really nice shorter mix that attracts a lot of different players that people enjoy.
Glantz closed out with, "If you want to find out who the best poker player is, and who's the best in all the disciplines of the game, then you need more events like this."
Some of the game's best are clashing at the final table of the $25,000 Mixed Game Championship at the US Poker Open, starting at 4pm ET on PokerGO. Daniel Negreanu just missed out on making another final table, but Stephen Chidwick, Phil Hellmuth, Isaac Haxton, and others will return to battle it out for $382,500. Live updates are provided by PokerNews in case you can't watch it all, but if you have the time, sign up for PokerGO and see the first big televised mixed game final table of the year!
* All photos courtesy of Drew Amato/PokerCentral