Some suggested that it isn't a good idea to
play in mixed games, arguing that
Mixed games are to give each
player a chance to play a game (s)he is good at. I want to play
a game I am good and and not games other people are good at. Thereby
increasing my EV. I think this argument is ultimately flawed,
and I think most of the players in the Big Game would disagree. I am
not completely sure what their arguments against it would be, but I
have a few arguments against it that are likely more like to be
applicable to the small-time, recreational-but-profitable player.
Fundamentally, I believe this argument that you get maximum EV only by
playing your best game relies on two flawed assumptions: (a) the
relative popularity and competition of specific forms of poker don't
change over time, and (b) that poker games are so different that EV
from one doesn't transfer to the other. Were (a) and (b) both true,
one would usually be correct to select only games in which one is an
expert. You'd usually reach maximum EV in such a case.
In thinking about (a), I immediately remembered a two or three page
section of Jesse
May's book, Shut Up and Deal. I read this pre-boom book
many years ago, and it frankly is a lackluster tale of high stakes
limit HE. But this one section really stood out, and it has probably
influenced my desire to be good at all forms of poker as much as my
history of beginning my poker career in mixed games did. (I am
retelling it from memory as I don't have the book handy; forgive
errors, but the gist is right.)
In a brief first person description, May describes the difference
between him and the local casino's high stakes limit HE
“specialist”. May points out that this fellow sits in his
$50/$100 limit HE game and holds court. This fellow points out the nuances of
every play, and has opponents who are just a notch or two below him on
the skill pecking order. That specialist wins, most of the time, but fights to eek
it out while he continues to watch his competition catch up.
The hero of the story, on the other hand, isn't afraid to go sit in the
$20/$40 stud game. Sure, HE is his best game, and he's only a mediocre
stud player. But, the difference between his mediocre skills and the
abysmal skills of the opponents in that game makes sure he can win
more than the other fellow ever could against that tough lineup in the
$50/$100 HE game. Sure, they are both winning players, but who is
winning more? Our hero, despite the lower stakes. Who is the better
poker player? It's not even close — our hero.
Poker is not just about micro-edges. It's not just about whether or
not you can bet the right amount on the river to get a value bet paid
off by middle pair. Sure, you have to know how to do that to win in
poker. But, that's just a small part of the picture. The macro-edges
are where it matters, and the biggest macro-edge is game selection.
Indeed, I'd argue that the key macro-edge is long term game
What game the fish want to play changes over time. Do you want to be
the best HE player against eight people who are only make one mistake
every hour, or do you want to be an above average Stud/8 player against
eight opponents who each make two mistakes every other hand? What's your
best EV? The point is that if you plan to maximize your EV for your
poker lifespan, you have to be able to play every single game
well. You don't know — none of us do — what form of poker
will sweep the world next. We've seen, maybe not in our lifetimes, but
certainly in Doyle Brunson's and T.J. Cloutier's, NL HE go from being the
most popular game in the world, to only played in tournaments, to the most
popular game. That 30 year cycle can happen again, easily.
Think of the history of poker. At the moment, NL HE is by far the most
popular game. Just four years ago, limit HE tables filled every poker
room and NL HE was basically dead, except in tournaments on occasion.
Go back a decade, and, especially on the east coast, Stud and Stud/8
were the games most commonly spread. Stretch back two or three
decades, it was again NL HE. Two or three decades before that, it was
mixed five card stud and seven card stud. Once you stretch back back
to 1880, you find prominently five card draw with only a little bit of
Stud. Pick any 60 year span, and you're going to find at least four
different games that you'll need to be prepared to play.
Indeed, even since I started playing for serious stakes back in 2002,
the poker world has changed in this regard. The books that I
had to buy back then were Lee Jones followed by HEFAP.
Limit HE was where the money was then. I've watched the world shift
around me. Should I have never ventured and plopped down some cash
— with negative EV, mind you — in that early
River Street NL HE nuttiness to earn my chops in that game? If I
hadn't, I surely would be walking around like the rest of the limit HE
specialists desperate for a good game, fighting tight edges, and
generally not finding the games as lucrative as they once were.
Instead, I can make steady money with less variance because I play the
much weaker competition floating around the NL HE games.
Meanwhile, the last few weeks I've been hitting that sweet O/8 game on
Monday nights here in NYC — better EV than any NL HE game I
could find in the same geographical area. In other words, the poker
world shifts, and the money dumps happen in different places. You get
the best EV when you are poised to catch it no matter where it
This leads to the next point, and the refutation of (b) above. Poker
skill is transferable. Read Theory of Poker. There are
general principles that can be extrapolated from one game to the next. At
times, you even don't see how a concept works in one game until you switch
to another and see it applied there. What you learn in one game expands
your mind and teaches you how to think differently about another game.
A simple example: How many HE-only players really understand the
concept of a true freeroll and how dangerous it can be? This is a simple
concept for the PLO, O/8 and Stud/8 player, but many HE players can't
get it. But, I have, a few times folded a second-nut straight
precisely because I knew that my opponent most likely held the same
straight, but could very well have a freeroll against me. Sure
enough, when I've seen the hands shown down due to other player's
all-ins, I've seen people holding the same straight plus a gutshot or
the same straight with a flush draw. This situation happens extremely
rarely in HE, but if you have some PLO, O/8 or Stud/8 experience, you
can learn how to detect it and avoid it.
A more complex example: I spent years playing limit HE, and got very
used to the difficulty of the turn and the rising pot odds. Many
people take flops and turns in limit HE, and they often hit strange
two pair holdings and even sets. You often have to be prepared to
fold top pair or an overpair when you've taken a turn in a big
multiway pot and someone (min)-raises you and just can't be bluffing.
Experienced limit HE players will recognize this situation
immediately, but it's not a common one in NL/PL forms of poker.
However, I sat in NL HE games that play much like limit. Not at first,
of course, because you're making a pot-sized bet. But, against
extremely loose players, it doesn't matter that you are making
pot-sized bets, or even larger. You get
call all the way down the line. Now, when someone min-raises,
you are getting these amazing pot odds, and the player who grew up on
NL HE only is going to sit and think:
How in the world does someone
fold being offered 5-to-1?. But, the truth is, you're drawing
dead or near dead (3 outs or less). So, you let it go. It is only
because of my limit HE experience that I can recognize these
situations and let go of hands in these spots.
Poker is about adapting to changing conditions, not only on the
micro-level that we all think about daily, but also on the macro-level
over a period of years. If you don't expand your poker mind, and become a
bit of a Renaissance player, that EV in your “best game” can
The best players in the world are mixed games players. I meet a lot of
poker players who are much worse than me and a lot who are much better
than me. Generally, the ones who are much better play more than just
one game, even if it's just two. Almost every very strong player out
there has spent some time playing lots of different games. Even the
amazing limit HE specialists I know like roryk who have
resisted going to NL HE are usually branching out into other forms of
limit poker at the very least.
I have many times offered up my home game as a learning game. I want
to keep that feel to it. Everyone there is in constant search of good
EV, they wouldn't be good poker players otherwise. Yes, it's probably
not the best game to maximize your EV over the six hour period in
question. However, I assure you that playing mixed games at
reasonable but not high stakes against reasonably good
players will be a windfall for your long term EV. And, that's what
poker is about, isn't it, focusing on long term EV rather than
short term results?