Mixed Games Grow in Popularity

Texas Hold'em first made its appearance in Las Vegas more than 20 years ago. When Sam's Town and some of the other casinos began training its dealers to deal the game, the most popular card games in town were five-card low-ball draw with a joker and seven-card stud.

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I heard about Hold'em while living in Phoenix. Nobody knew much about the game, much less any winning strategy. All we knew was that you got dealt two cards and had to make your hand from those cards and five community cards on the table.

My friend Dave Molina said, 'Hey, Buddy, any two cards can win. Why don't we go to Las Vegas and try the game out.'

And so we drove to Las Vegas. Dave had reserved a room for us at Sam's Town, a popular casino on Boulder Highway that had a western theme. I always liked Sam's Town because of its country western band, the good looking cowgirl cocktail waitresses, and the loose slots and video poker machine.

A photographer friend named Paul DeGruccio was in Las Vegas that weekend. Paul was visiting his parents who had retired to Las Vegas and agreed to meet us at Sam's Town. He showed up with his mother, a brash New Yorker who was a video poker junkie.

There was only one table dealing the new Texas Hold'em game and all the seats were full. Dave and I signed up for the game and decided to try our luck at the video poker machines just outside the poker room. Paul and his Mom joined us.

We agreed to a three-way split if any of us hit the jackpot. After about 30 minutes at the machine, I was down to three quarters. I played them -- and hit a royal flush.

The payoff was considerably less than $1,000 and divided three ways, it was even less. Still, I felt lucky. Maybe Lady Luck was smiling on us I thought as I parceled out the money.

About that time I heard my name announced over the loudspeaker. A seat was open and I went to the table and took my seat.

In seven-card stud or five-card lowball, you had certain starting hands. Since I knew nothing about Texas Hold'em, I decided to start off by playing any two cards and hoping for the best.

Lady Luck was on my side. In short order, I was up $80. Paul and Dave came by the table and I took a temporary leave of absence for a food break.

'What do you think of the game?,' Paul inquired.

'It's crazy. Whoever invented it must have been high on something,' I said. 'But it's fun and it does have a lot of action.'

I can't remember if I was a winner or loser that day, but I had a ball and have been a Hold'em player since. Over the past two decades, I have had many winning as well as losing sessions at Hold'em. The game undoubtedly is the riskiest poker game around. When you have a table of 10 players each receiving two cards out of a 52-card deck, you have many different hand possibilities.

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Today Texas Hold'em has become almost passé. Yes, the game can become boring and that's why I often try to change my luck by playing in mixed games which many poker rooms operate.

There are H.O.R.S.E games, for example, that feature Hold'em, Omaha High-Low, Razz, and seven-card stud high-low. The dealer deals a round of each game before switching to the next game.

I think it's a good sign that poker rooms recognize the limits of Texas Hold'em. A growing number of rooms are adding other games to the mix and the players are responding in a positive fashion. In fact, some players are demanding that the poker rooms add the new games and that can only be good for poker.

The great poker legends -- people like Sailor Roberts, Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim -- prided themselves in the variety of poker game they could play well. It was a challenge for them to learn new strategies to cope with the rules of the various games and they spent many long hours learning the odds and coming up with winning strategies.

I have found some opportune situations in mixed poker games. I learned, for example, that Texas Hold'em players did not always adjust well to the high-low games. That can make for a very lucrative situation if you wait for the right hands. I have probably won more money against weak mixed game players than against solid players in Hold'em.

My advice is to check out your local casino and find what games the poker room is spreading. Then if the room adds a mixed game, size up the competition and give it a try. None of the other players will have much of an edge and your chances of winning will be as good as theirs. Good luck. Let the games begin.

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