Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nixing Mixed Games

For some time now, I’ve been leaning towards doing a post about Mixed Games. Finally, the time has come.

You know what I mean by Mixed Games, right?  That’s when the specific type of poker that is played is changed every so often, usually once an orbit.  Instead of a steady diet of Hold’em, you’ll see all kinds of poker games….Omaha, 7-Card Stud, Razz, Badugi, Badeucy, Big O (not nearly as exciting as it sounds) 2-7 Triple Draw, etc.  Then there’s variations on those games, some can be played hi-low, or you can have multiple boards.  Or three flops, two turns, one river. Some games can even be played with an “ocean.”  I think that means there’s one more community card after the river. 

Badeucy?  What the hell is Badeucy?

Hell if I know.  And I’ve played it.

Here’s the thing.  It seems that when groups of friends get together to play poker, a lot of times they want to play Mixed Games instead of hold’em.  For one thing, it’s easier to get everyone in the group at the same table.  Yes, you can get all your buddies together at the same hold’em table in a casino, but it ain’t easy, as I’ve described here.

But if you and your buddies want to play a mixed game, and there’s enough of you, you can pretty much have a table to yourself.  Especially if you arrange it with the poker room before hand.

Thus, for certain occasions, I’ve found myself playing mixed games in Vegas.  I guess you could consider those birthday games I’ve described in the past (see here and here, for example) as mixed games.  But just switching back and forth between Crazy Pineapple and Omaha Hi doesn’t get to the crux of what a mixed games session is all about.  Mixed games usually mean a lot more variety, and a lot more obscure games, games that are much more different from hold’em than are Crazy Pineapple and Omaha Hi.

And after the original TBC Invitational, I played H.O.R.S.E (see here).  But at least all those games were games I had played before and kinda knew most of the rules for (except maybe Razz, but that isn’t really very complicated).

Anyway, I’m frequently invited to play in these mixed games, and I try my best to say no.  It’s not that I don’t like mixed games.  It’s just that I hate them with a fiery passion.

OK, that’s not entirely true.  I don’t hate them in theory.  It’s just in practice that I hate them.

You see, by the time I started playing poker in casinos, going on 10 years ago now, hold’em had taken over the poker world.  I had played stud (both 7-card and even 5-card) back a zillion years ago, but I had to learn hold’em if I wanted to play poker.  Approximately 99% of the games dealt in Vegas are hold’em. 

So I read up on the game, and of course, learned by playing it.  It’s the only game I’ve actually studied how to play.  First I learned the rules, then I studied the strategy.  And studying hold’em strategy is a never-completed process.

But most of those games in a typical mixed game session?  Not only didn’t I know strategy, I didn’t know the rules.  In fact, I’d never even heard of a lot of the games before I was actually playing them—with actual real money on the line. And those games where low is best drive me crazy.  Sometimes an Ace is high only, sometimes it’s low.  I can never keep that straight from one game to the next.  In some low games a 9-high could win, but other games, the high card can only be 8 or lower.  Huh?  Then there’s a game where you have to have low cards in four different suits. WTF?

I should never, ever play these games because I not only don’t know the strategy, I don’t know the rules.  It’s like sitting down to the poker table for a game of NLHE and not knowing cold whether or not a straight beats a flush (see here).  No sane person would do that.  And no sane person would sit down to a real money mixed game where both Badeucy and Badugi were being played and not be able to tell you the difference between the two.

But I have done just that, so I must be insane.

I’m not sure, but I think the first time I played mixed games it was at the Tropicana, shortly before that room closed.  They had a regular weekly mixed game.  Poker Grump knew I was in town and invited me to play.  When I said I had no idea how to play those games, he said that no one was really an expert on them anyway, and it would be fun to learn.  Like a fool, I believed him.  Not the last time Grump suckered me (see here).

It was miserable for me.  I didn’t know half of the games.  I never even heard of them.  I got a 30 second explanation as the game changed and then I was on my own. 

Around the same time I guess, there was an AVP (now Poker Atlas) mixer I was in town for, so of course I showed my company spirit by showing up for that event at Treasure Island.

Last year I attended at least two more of these.  One was another PokerAtlas get together at the Mirage.  And then there was AnteUp ambassadors get-together at Treasure Island.  Both of these were during the WSOP. 

I never wrote about any of those sessions because I really wouldn’t have known what to say.  I didn’t take notes, cuz I couldn’t.  I somehow won some hands but mostly I lost.  I was too confused to anything other than fold most of the time.

But the worst part was losing because I didn’t know the rules of the particular game I was playing.  Of course, even with Omaha, I’ve called (or bet) on the river thinking I had a big hand, only to have to be reminded that you have to play two cards from your hand.  But some of these other games, especially all the low-ball variants, just drive me crazy.  I’ve lost plenty of money because I thought an Ace was low but it was only high in that particular game.  And you know, it’s not really a good idea, right in the middle of the hand facing a bet, to ask, “Is Ace low or high?”  It’s like asking if a straight beats a flush. 

So bad enough I’ve done zero studying on these games to learn strategy.  But worse is not even knowing the rules of the particular game.  And losing because of that.

Of course, even when I know the rules, because I never studied strategy, I never get the most value for my good hands, or lose the least amount of money for second best hands.  So sometimes, I’d show a monster and people would ask, “Why didn’t you bet?” Or “Why didn’t raise?”  Umm….because I wasn’t sure I had that good of a hand….or because I didn’t know the strategy for that game to get the most for it.  Then there were other times when the right thing to do was to stay in and I folded because I was just too confused.

These games are just guaranteed money losers for me.  Not knowing what I’m doing, it would be almost impossible for me to come out a winner.  I’d have to get lucky beyond belief.  And the money I’m losing is real.  Sure these are usually low limit games—2/4, 3/6—but believe me, that adds up fast.  Especially when you get a few aggros in the game.  When the friends get together, it frequently starts out tame but sooner or later, the buddies get into a dick-measuring contest and start raising and re-raising with crap—or without even looking at their cards.  And I get caught in the middle.

In that Tropicana game, there were a couple of real sharks who knew the games and made it impossible to ever see a limped flop. I don’t blame them for trying to use their knowledge and skill to take advantage of the weaker players—that’s why we play poker.  But as a beginner, it was frustrating beyond belief.

And for good measure, some of those mix games I’ve played include No Limit games, so the money can get really big. 

I recognize that some of these games are fun to play, once you know the rules.  I get that.  And too, playing oddball games with a bunch of friends can be fun.  I’ve had plenty of laughs at these games.  Until I look down at my dwindling stack. 

The thing is, I would absolutely love to play these type of games around a kitchen table, for quarters and half dollars.  So that at the end of a really bad night, I’d be out $25-$50 tops.  That would be worth it.  It would also be a great way to learn these games.

But playing them in a real casino for real stakes is quite a bit different.  Dropping a few hundred bucks in games like this is not fun.  I can’t afford to just throw money away like that.  Plus, there’s the opportunity cost. If I’m playing a mixed game where I am sure to lose money, it means I am not playing in a hold’em game where, believe it or not, I actually have a chance to win money (don’t laugh, it happens).  True I could also lose money, and I could lose even more than I would like likely lose at a mixed game.  But at least I have a chance to win.

So you might be asking why I don’t take some time and study those games, learn them, read a few strategy articles on them (after memorizing the rules).  Well, the thing is, I don’t have enough time to study and improve my NLHE game.  Since I’m going to play that 99% of the time, any time I have to study poker is best spent studying that.  It wouldn’t make sense to use the precious little time I have to improve my skills at NLHE by trying to figure out the difference between Badugi and Badeucy. 

So why do I ever play in a mixed game? Well, to be sociable, sometimes. If all my buddies or colleagues want to do it, what can I say?  If there’s an official game sponsored by my employers, I want to a team-player.

So why am I bringing this up now?  Well, as you might have guessed, there’s going to be another one of these mixed games coming up soon after the WSOP gets underway.  A group of Ante Up columnists are going to have one, just like last year. A bunch of the old AVP’ers who love the mixed games will likely join us. They’re all great people and I look forward to seeing them all again, and having some laughs at the poker table.  I know I’ll have a good time—until I get a hand which I don’t know how to play for a game I don’t know how to play. 

I’ll be there.  Wish me luck.


  1. Never been a fan of mixed games. The main reason I play poker is to win money and I can't do that in games I don't know/understand.

    I enjoy the social aspect, but wont sacrifice the opportunity to make money by playing games I don't know/understand.

    I do think mind Omaha or pineapple, as they are variants of hold em that I can at least understand.

    Just my opinion.

    1. Thanks, Nick. You only play poker to make money? Not for fun?

    2. I always like to have fun at the poker table. Mainly, fun is when I'm winning, or with friends and not losing too much...However, if I were playing games I didn't know or understand the rules of, with little to no chance of winning, that would not be fun. I'd play for quarter ante stakes at a friends house, but not at a casino.

  2. The 8-game mix on Stars was a challenge, fun, and for me slightly profitable. The trouble with the aggressive bands of marauding mixed game enthusiasts in Vegas is they insist on playing hideously contrived split-pot draw games, multi-board bastardizations of the holy game of Omaha, and then compound the entire disaster with a blind/ante structure that ruins the stud variants. I will now get off my high HORSE. Thank you.

    1. "Marauding mixed game enthusiasts"....Indeed. Thanks for the great comment, Kat.

      Yeah, the standard versions of the games are confusing enough, then they seem to go out of their way to make them even crazier.

  3. From my experience dealing at the WSOP most the dealers don't know the differences between badugi badeucy and badacey either... or much other than hold 'em and omaha...

    1. That's true, but if you are playing with a bunch of mixed game enthusiasts, they pretty much run the game themselves,and just have to make sure the dealer deals the cards correctly.

  4. Is it possible to show up for the mixed game, appear to be a team player merely by your presence, have a few laughs, and just not play?

    I'm afraid I would just make them mad because every time it got to a game like badeucy that I had no clue how to play, I would probably just walk until that orbit completed. (Although that might be a problem if I didn't understand the rules of any of the games they were playing.)

    1. I actually intended to do that once or twice,but there weren't enough players to fill the game so they pressed me into playing! And then, sooner or later, I would get antsy and want to do something other than just watch. It's a leak in my mental game.

  5. The only other game I know ow to play besides Hold 'Em is Fizbin.

    Tough to find a casino that runs it though - mostly only Beta Atares 3

    1. LOL....awesome reference, DWP.

      So tell me, what is your hourly at Fizbin?

    2. I'm $17/hr on Fizbin. Except on Tuesdays, when I'm $14/hr. Unless it's at night, when I'm $19/hr...

    3. LOL!!!!

      That is an awesome response, Sir.

  6. There is indeed a steep (and expensive) learning curve to mixed games. Want to read about the stupid mistakes I made my first time trying a mixer?

    1. Thanks, Grump,. I'll be sure to read that today and get a few good laughs.

      But I note you don't tell me any of this before you roped me into that mixed game at the Trop a few years back....

  7. Some people may enjoy the extra advantage they have from playing games their opponents are complete beginners at.


  8. NL is challenging enough and I have a hard enough time trying to learn Omaha. The mixed games just aren't popular enough for me to take seriously, and there are way too many games I'm unfamiliar with.

    1. Totally agree....I don't feel like I'll be able to study NL hold'em enough, it is such a complex game.