Winning Poker: Five Strategic Considerations for Mixed Games

6 min read

Public poker rooms don’t spread many mixed games these days. Instead, they tend to focus on the most popular forms of poker, chiefly No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha. But if you go to Las Vegas in May, June, or July, you’ll have an opportunity to find many mixed games, both in tournaments and in cash games.

Mixed Game Plaques Playing mixed games can be a fun — and profitable — diversion from the seemingly endless games of No-Limit Hold’em spread in Las Vegas during the WSOP. (Image: Cardplayer Lifestyle)

They’re offered at the World Series of Poker, as well as at other casinos that tend to spread similar, though lower-stakes tournaments at the same time. During the WSOP, you can also find mixed-game tournaments at the Orleans, Resorts World, Golden Nugget, Aria, Wynn, and Venetian.

What is a mixed game?

Mixed games play a rotation of different games, often in a specific order that changes with every orbit of the table. Each game is often listed by an acronym or by initials that represent the different poker games in the mix. For example, HORSE is a five-game mix that includes five, limit-poker games: Hold’em (H), Omaha Hi-Lo/8  (O), Razz (R), Seven-Card Stud (S), and Seven-Card Stud, Hi Lo/8 (E).

Other mixed games, using the same poker games and initials in different order or combinations are HOSE, SHOE, OE, and ROSES. You can figure out the specific games and their order just by looking at the initials.

Casinos offering other mixed games, like 8-game-mix or 12-game mix, just list the number of different games that are played in the rotation without listing the specific games (though, of course, they’ll tell you what games they’re spreading if you ask). These typically include all of the different Seven-Card Stud games, as well as draw games such as lowball (Badugi, Badaci), and no-limit and pot-limit versions of Hold’em and Omaha.

Another form of mixed game that’s commonly spread is Dealer’s Choice. In the casino tournament version, there are typically dozens of games identified on placards that the player may select for the table. These poker variations may include games you’ve never even heard of, such as Archie, Super-Stud, Razz-dugi, or Chowaha. These poker games are then spread for an orbit, or for some timed duration (typically 30 minutes). Upon their completion, the next player around the table gets to pick the game.

Few of us are experts at every form of poker. Even so, there are certainly strategic considerations, applicable to playing multiple games in rotation, that will help you in these mixed games. Here are the five strategic considerations that have most helped me.

Learn the basic strategy for every game you’ll be playing

Though you’re unlikely to become an expert in every game, you can at least learn the strategy basics in every game you play. If you don’t, you’ll have a huge hole that’s exploitable by your opponents.

It’s a huge disadvantage, for example, for you not to know that a basic strategy in 2-7 Triple Draw is not to play a hand without a 2 in it. Similarly, you should know that in a high-low game, you should generally go for a low hand since, unlike nearly every good starting high hand, a good starting low hand can become a two-way winner.

Against someone who knows nothing about the game, even basic knowledge like this — in every game — can give you a significant edge.

It’s not very hard to learn some basic winning strategies for every game you’re going to be playing. There are strategy books on even some of the most obscure games. And if there isn’t a decent book, look for articles or chapters within books. (Ken Lo’s book, “A Poker Player’s Guide to Mixed Games,” has been especially useful for me.) And for most games, there are many instructional videos and strategy poker articles.

Know your strengths and weaknesses, and play accordingly

You’ll surely have some games in your arsenal that are stronger than other games. Recognize this in advance of your mixed-game session.

Of course, you’ll want to work on strengthening your weaker games, but it will also help you to know where you stand relative to others in each game you’re planning to play. You’ll then be better able to make strategic adjustments based on your relative strengths and weaknesses, and your assessment of your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses as well.

For example, you’ll want to tend to avoid confrontations in your weaker games. Tighten up your starting standards when you think your opponent is likely to broadly have the best of it.

There’s no prize for taking on the best players in a game and finishing a strong second.

Even so, be aware of overconfidence and over-aggression from those who view themselves as experts in other games. Just because an opponent may be better at a particular game, doesn’t mean you may not wake up with a truly superior hand. Work to trap your opponent into being overly aggressive.

Don’t try to bully players in your best game

Your profit in your best game will come from your opponent’s weakness more than from your strength. You’ll want to take maximum advantage of large differences in the quality of your starting hands rather than aggressively push small advantages.

You’re not looking to trick opponents into making incorrect plays when you’re more likely to extract value by playing strong hands strongly. Be willing to play more hands in your best game, but resist the temptation to push the action in close situations.

Exploit the timidity of others in unusual games

This is especially true in games with many unusual variations, like 12-game mix and Dealer’s Choice. You’ll have opponents who have never played some of the games and who will know little or nothing about the correct strategy. They may be folding, literally, every hand of that variation.

Against players like that, who may well decide not to play at all, you can be much more aggressive than usual and play as if you’re competing against dead stacks. Be careful that you don’t run into a strong player, however, as you’re only looking to exploit those who have chosen not to play.

Help to run out the clock

As a final consideration, remember that you don’t have to act instantly in your weakest games, especially when you’re playing each game for a set period of time. While this might be viewed by some as angle shooting, it’s within the rules of the game to take at least a little longer to act in the games in which you’re least familiar.

This is useful as a ploy to help run out the clock if you’re playing timed rounds (as opposed to playing a fixed orbit for each game). Even if your delay only diminishes the number of hands dealt in your worst game by one deal, that single hand of playing a game you know better might prove significant.

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