If you’re reading this article, 99 times out of 100 you’ve played Texas hold’em. It’s the game most poker players started with and one that spread like a brush fire thanks to the blossoming success of televised poker in the early half of the 2000s. Who doesn’t remember Chris Moneymaker famously pulling off one of poker’s greatest bluffs on Sam Farha in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event?
While it’s no secret that hold’em is poker’s most popular game, it also shouldn’t be a secret that it’s becoming increasing harder to win in this variant. The average poker player is better than ever, both online and live, and some even cry that the game of Texas hold’em has been “solved.” But that doesn’t mean you should drop your two hole cards and call up your local job recruiter, because there are plenty of ways you can stop yourself from plateauing in poker and find games that are very beatable.
Enter mixed games.
If you listen to the PokerNews Podcast — and if you don’t, what the heck is wrong with you? — then you’ll know Rich Ryan, Remko Rinkema, and myself focus our heavy poker talk largely on mixed games. That’s because, in our opinions, they offer a much better experience playing poker these days than your standard no-limit Texas hold’em game, and we encourage you to take the plunge.
Start By Riding the H.O.R.S.E.
The most basic mixed-game format is H.O.R.S.E. — hold’em, Omaha hi-lo, razz, seven-card stud, and seven-card stud hi-lo. These variants are the most basic mixed games and after learning them will help you branch out a bit to others.
Not only will stepping away from the monotony of no-limit hold’em provide a new spark where boredom may reign supreme, learning mixed games can actually help your overall poker game improve, and this includes no-limit hold’em. Trying something new will force you to focus harder, to tap into parts of your poker mind that you might no longer use or might’ve never even thought you had.
In your standard H.O.R.S.E. line-up, you’ll already know how to play hold’em, but look at how the other four games can help stimulate new thought processes for you.
Omaha hi-lo does two things. For one, it gives players four cards, instead of two, and that increases hand combinations. Your brain is forced to think about more possibilities for both you and your opponents, extending to more draws and redraws. Two, the hi-lo format of the game forces you to think both ways. You first have to become successful in knowing when a low-qualifying board is available and then you have to think about all of the possibilities for two-way options. Playing Omaha is generally the easiest next-step transition for hold’em players, and it’s a leap that can really help you see new things when you do go back to playing two-card poker.
The next game in H.O.R.S.E. is razz. Razz is a form of stud poker, played with seven cards in an entire hand, starting with two down and one up. It’s a very basic game, but that’s exactly why it can be good for those hold’em players out there who have gotten away from the basics that allowed them to succeed in the first place.
There’s lots of basic math that goes into razz. You have a lot of your cards exposed in a hand, but so do your opponents. It’s not rocket science to figure out where you’re at versus others and estimate your probability to make your hand, but it’s this basic math that can help you practice fundamentals. It also helps in razz that you don’t need to worry about suits or straights counting against a hand, which again, keeps it very basic and allows you to improve one of poker’s key fundamentals — simple math.
Next up in the rotation is seven-card stud. Like razz, seven-card stud involves a lot of relatively simple math, but the degrees are kicked up a notch or two because suits and straights are added into the mix. There’s also something to be said about being able to switch your mind from playing a round of razz to playing a round of seven-card stud, as one game is a lowball game and the other is a high-hand game.
Both razz and seven-card stud can really help you increase your hand-reading ability and memory. In both games, there are many exposed cards. From those exposed cards you will need to do two things. First, you’ll want to use the exposed cards to help determine the hands your opponents could be holding, or drawing to. Second, you want to keep exposed cards that were mucked in your memory so you can further work out hand combinations and the math behind those combinations.
See how this is all working together and continuing to add another level of thinking? Trust me, as a poker player that’s very, very good for you.
The last game in the five-variant mix of H.O.R.S.E. is seven-card stud hi-lo. Not only do you have to have your seven-card stud knowledge down, but you now have the added difficulty of hi-low strategy. In Omaha hi-low, you determine if the community board is low eligible, but in seven-card stud hi-lo you add a few more layers because you have to individually determine which players have low-eligible boards and which don’t. Like Omaha hi-lo, you’re looking for two-way hands that can allow you to scoop pots in seven-card stud hi-low, and the added degrees of thinking help expand your poker mind.
I can’t encourage people enough to take some time with mixed games. You’ll find new ways to play poker that aren’t the same old run-of-the-mill hold’em games, and you’ll help increase your arsenal by using your mind in different ways.
Benefiting from Lower Skill, Less Variance, and Fun
Generally speaking, most mixed games you’ll find will have a lower skill level for the average player when compared to hold’em. This is a good thing for you, especially if you can become proficient in the games. Where you might’ve thought hold’em was becoming too hard to beat, trust me, the mixed games are still beatable. You’ll be learning new things, keeping yourself interested more, and also winning — who doesn’t vote for those three things in poker?
Additionally, mixed games tend to provide less variance than no-limit hold’em. Most mixed games are played with a fixed-limit betting format and that allows you to stick around a bit more. In no-limit hold’em, or even pot-limit Omaha, you can easily go broke on one hand quicker than Phil Hellmuth can spell poker. Less variance can mean a less stressful playing experience and extended time at the tables to increase you abilities in the new variants.
Lastly, mixed games are fun. It’s that plain and simple. My friends and I play a lot of mixed games. In fact, mixed-game formats are all we play when we get a poker game up. We’ll often add a more more games to the mix than just the H.O.R.S.E. games, but even basic H.O.R.S.E. can be a fun, new environment that the players don’t see everyday. Atmospheres in mixed games are more loose, and they’re games that go well with a good beer or other drink of your choice.