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Transitioning to Mixed Games

Prior to 2002, the first exposure that most people had to poker was a dealer’s choice home game – you know, the type where a bunch of people get together, drink beer, and play all sorts of poker variants involving wild cards, passing cards, buying cards, chip declares, and whatever else comes to mind. Even though we’re in the hold’em era, these dealer’s choice games still happen. Usually they’re played at stakes low enough such that people can buy-in with their change jars, but I know of some dealer’s choice games where you need to be armed with some (or several) Big Bens.

With all the apparent craziness, these dealer’s choice games appear to be nothing more than a luck fest. But they are games of skill where most of the players haven’t done their homework. And though HORSE is a more tame mixed game, many players are lacking in the ORSE department.

All the poker variants may seem wildly different, but fundamentally, poker is poker. Here are a few concepts that apply whether you’re playing hold’em, 7-card stud, Omaha 8/b, razz, anaconda, baseball, follow the queen, blind man’s bluff, or whatever:

1.) Reading Your Opponents

Poker is a game where people interact. Your opponents cards matter as much as your cards–if not more. Regardless of what game you’re playing, you should be able to pick up betting patterns and physical tells that allow you to put your opponents on hand and action distributions.

2.) The Numbers

You need to know the odds against you hitting various types of draws–that way you know if the pot is laying you a good price. If it’s your first time playing some crazy poker variant, it’ll be hard to know your precise odds of hitting a hand with n cards to come. But with some basic probability know-how, you should be able to come up with some rough estimates–estimates that you should check rigorously post-session. 3.) Betting for Value When you have a good hand, know your opponents’ calling ranges. If you have 99% of your opponents’ hands beaten, but your opponent will only call you with the 1% that beats you, betting is a bad play. Similarly, look for opportunities to raise draws for value. Typically, these will be situations in multiway pots where your raise won’t really shut any players out of the pot.

4.) Opportunities Where the Cards Don’t Matter

Many games have standard plays that you can run regardless of your precise hand. For example, you’re playing razz. A king brings in. You’re first to act, and you’re showing a 3. Everyone else is showing face cards. You should complete no matter what your downcards are. Keeping these concepts in mind should help you adapt any poker variant. The ability to adapt brings greater game selection, and greater game selection brings greater profits.

Tony Guerrera is the author of Killer Poker By The Numbers

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