A Poker Player's Guide to Mixed Games: After 5 long years of research, simulation work, and writing, this labor of love will finally see the light of day, with a planned release in Spring 2014.
It's about time.
I have been a student of the game of poker for over 25 years. In that time, I have also served as a tournament director, dealer, educator, and coach. Over those 25 years, a lot has changed.
When I first started in the poker industry as a casino dealer and player, No Limit Hold'em was not even on the radar. Limit Hold'em and Seven Card Stud were the more popular games of choice then, and it was not until Moneymaker's win in 2003 did it all change. I was fortunate enough to make my fair share of profit online prior to the big boom. (I suppose I could claim having played "semi-professionally" in my student days before moving into what my parents would call a "real" job.) As many of you know, No Limit Hold'em games are much tougher now. In my view, this has created a barrier to entry, stunting the growth of poker as a whole. Interest in poker -- specifically No Limit Hold'em -- is plateauing, if not on a steady decline. If you love poker as much as do, whether a casual player or an experienced pro, I am sure you know, deep down, something has to change.
Today's players are yearning for more variety. They want to be a part of something new. Observe how popular Open Face Chinese Poker has now become. This is a game that many poker purists argue is not even "poker." Yet this game has caught on like wildfire. Why? Because it is new. Perhaps, more precisely, because it is not No Limit Hold'em! And also... because it is fun. I suspect many poker players find it fun because the game has not (yet) been studied to death. Players may presumably feel they are on roughly equal footing with (or not too far behind) everyone else. With a perceived "fair chance" at being consistent winners, any extra work and practice they might be willing to put into learning the nuances of the new game could give them a huge "first-mover" advantage, hopefully leading to a just reward.
Will Open Face Chinese Poker become the next No Limit Hold'em as the game of choice? I doubt it. It's a great game, but we'll never see it as a Championship Event at any poker tournament any time soon. With no multi-street wagering, no bluffing, and no folding, it just doesn't "feel" like poker in the traditional sense.
What I do see emerging is the mixed game format. In fact, when I think about the caliber of play in the early 2000s, I believe mixed games are now at a point in a growth cycle where No Limit Hold'em was before it got really tough. Assuming history were to repeat itself, there would seem to be a huge opportunity for poker players willing to put in the time and effort into learning mixed games now.
Today, mixed games are played largely by high-stakes cash game and professional tournament players. Limits of $40/$80 or $100/200 are common minimum stakes for cash games; a mixed game championship event might have a $25K or $50K entry fee. In both cash games and tournament play, the fields are relatively small, and primarily populated by experienced players. Most of these players will acknowledge that achieving success at mixed games comes with some prestige; professional poker players often tout mixed games as a superior test of overall ability, favoring players who are able to master a wide range of poker skills applied to a broad range of games.
In recent years, however, we are seeing more recreational and amateur players showing interest in mixed games, with greater numbers participating in low buy-in, live HORSE tournaments, and in small-stakes online sit-and-gos. Without a doubt, interest in mixed game events by poker players of all skill levels is burgeoning with many players loving both the variety and the challenge!
Certainly the resurgence of fixed limit games in these mixes has helped to retain those risk-averse players who might otherwise be intimidated by the variance typically associated with big bet games (such as No Limit Hold'em or Pot Limit Omaha). Some simply want to get in a decent amount of play for their buy-ins, and not risk busting in a single hand.
As recent as this year, major tournament organizers including those of the World Series of Poker* and PokerStars* Live events have made commitments to offering affordable, lower limit events in the mixed game format, as well as -- more generally -- a broader range of events covering games other than No Limit Hold'em. Indeed, this is welcome news for the aspiring mixed game player!
Providing a venue in which to play and practice mixed games is a critical part of the recipe needed to feed the growth of the mixed game format. In my mind, however, another very important, complementary ingredient is still lacking: player education.
For any new game to grow, it is crucial to sow interest at the grassroots level. Right now, newcomers (to mixed games) have been slow to join the movement, at least in part because few of the more experienced players seem willing to teach them. Certainly, we hear through social media how many of the pros love playing mixed games and the challenges they present, but few are going out of their way to teach aspiring mixed game players who are eager to learn.
This is understandable. If you are making a living from playing a game, why would you want to give away secrets to your potential competitors -- so they can turn around and beat you?
I am sympathetic to this position, but I also believe -- and some may disagree -- that for the good of the game and survival of the poker industry as a whole, it is to everyone's benefit if we all can help make these "new" games more accessible and welcoming to new players.
Despite the fact that most of the pros are keeping their secrets hush-hush, serious poker players who are committed to improving their skills have, fortunately, still been able to find ways to learn about mixed games. I'm sure many will tell you it has not been an easy task.
Some online training sites sell access to training videos: an excellent resource for sure, but these offerings are relatively rare. There are also a number of mixed game strategy books in circulation, written by well-respected authors, but in order to become familiar with all of the games of any contemporary mix, one is generally left with a choice: purchase 5 to 10 individual books to attain the necessary coverage, or rely on one or two compilations, based on original writing published nearly 35 years ago, that have not seen significant revisions in over a decade.
In this context, I set out to produce a comprehensive mixed game book for the modern era, with my intended audience being the novice/intermediate No Limit Hold'em player seeking to make the transition into the world of mixed games. If players are provided with a more accessible means to learn these games, the player fields will grow. In essence, we will all have more friends to play with in the proverbial sandbox.
More specifically, I wanted to provide aspiring mixed game students with a convenient and central resource wherein they would have everything needed to get started on the learning path -- with coverage of each of the games in the most popular mixes -- within a single volume. I also wanted this book to be affordable; for each game, the student should be able to learn its core strategies for about the price of a slice of pizza or a beer! Finally, while it would be impossible to provide "complete" coverage for every single game, given space limitations, the detail provided should be enough to potentially allow every student, with practice, to enjoy success -- at least at low-limit play. The book should also act as a solid stepping stone to more advanced studies.
So will we see a new beginning? One thing is for sure: the future of poker IS in mixed games. It is my hope that the Poker Player's Guide to Mixed Games will help support that growth, and revive the fun and excitement the poker world once knew, when No Limit Hold'em first took center stage not so long ago.
* World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, Inc. or its affiliates (collectively CIE). CIE does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with, the author/publisher.
** POKERSTARS is a registered trademark of Rational Entertainment Enterprises Limited (“PokerStars”). The author is not endorsed, sponsored, affiliated with or otherwise authorized by PokerStars.