How to Set Up a Mixed Games Poker Tournament
It is becoming much more common for live poker tournament operators to include one or more mixed games tournaments on their schedules. This is great news for those of us who like to show up at the poker table to play mixed games! This article is aimed at operators and players: I hope to give operators an idea of how they can offer the best experience for players and also talk about factors that will be useful for players thinking of getting involved in mixed games poker tournaments.
First, let’s look at what games to offer in a mixed games poker tournament.
HORSE, HORSES or Bigger Courses?
Here are some tips for people looking to set up an online poker tournament for mixed games players:
The More Turbo Your Structure, the Fewer Games You Should Offer
If your poker tournament clock forces blinds up to make players feel short stacked before they have had a chance to play their favorite poker game, they will not be too happy! Let them have some poker chips left throughout one entire orbit of games. The most turbo structures might be better with only two or three variants – like OE (Omaha Hilo 8-or-better and Seven Card Stud 8-or-Better – a.k.a. Stud 8) or Triple Stud (Razz, Seven Card Stud and Stud 8).
Quick but not super turbo tournaments can probably work best when offering around 5 games, like HORSE, or HORSES.
If you want to host a poker tournament with more games in the rotation, like 8 Game or 12 Game, you need to offer a fairly slow blind structure. In fact, one of the poker calendar’s most prestigious tournaments, the WSOP Poker Player’s Championship, is a 9-Game mix and obviously with a $50,000 buy-in the structure is very slow.
What should players learn from this? If you choose to play a turbo structured tournament with more than just a couple of games in the rotation, expect to be eliminated before you play your favourite game: otherwise, ensure you can re-enter several times, and come prepared with the bankroll to do so!
Separate the Most Similar Games as Much as Possible
This tip applies to the mixes that offer 5 or more games. A criticism of the long-established HORSE rotation is that the three stud games all follow each other. This can lead to players making errors because they never noticed the game change, so they still think they are playing Razz but they are actually in a hand of Seven Card Stud, and then the same applies after the game changes to Stud 8. With only five games and three of them being lookalikes, it is impossible to completely separate them, but there are card rooms that have changed the order of games and renamed the mix HEROS. This is an improvement – the change from Stud 8 to Razz is likely to cause the least egregious errors out of those possible from the distracted player who didn’t notice the change of game.
Before I go on – some might say that the player must pay attention and if they miss the game change it is their own fault. While that may be true, the less attentive players will be caught out anyway and adding further hurdles by structuring the tournament in a potentially tricky way is not really a true test of poker skills.
Some operators have also added a sixth game to the five within the HORSE rotation and thereby enabled full separation of the Stud variants. Two examples of this are HORSES and HETROS. The former adds Fixed Limit Sviten Special to the mix and the games will run in this order:
All the above are to be played as fixed limit poker games, and this mix will be offered for the first time at The Festival Series in Bratislava, running from 26 November 2023.
The HETROS mix is spelled out in the order in which the games will be played, with 2-7 Triple Draw being the game that has been added to the original five games. So here again the Stud variants (E, R, S) have all been separated.
The 8 Game mix is one in which some operators run the order of games in a particularly bad way. I include PokerStars in this, where the order of games is 2-7 Triple Draw followed by HORSE and then No Limit Texas Hold Em and Pot Limit Omaha (PLO). Not only does this keep all the Stud variants together, but it also keeps the two big bet games together. Imagine losing a big pot when playing PLO and then the game changes to a fixed limit game: you are faced with the prospect of six consecutive games fixed limit poker games with your newly short stack!
The WSOP has a much better method of ordering the games in an 8 Game mix, as follows:
- No Limit Texas Hold Em
- Seven Card Stud
- Omaha Hilo 8-or-Better
- Pot Limit Omaha
- Limit Texas Hold Em
- Seven Card Stud Hilo 8-or-Better
- 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball
You can see from this list that the Stud games are all separated, the two big-bet games are split apart to the maximum and there is a different number of cards dealt every time the game changes. Even high/low games are maximally separated, as are low only games. This works!
Choose the First Game at Random
As a host of a poker tournament, you would prefer to see most players turn up as early as possible. If you run the order of games in exactly the order advertised and the players all know which game will be dealt first, it will encourage those who don’t particularly enjoy the first game or two to show up late. As an extreme example, those who love Stud games and plan to play a HORSE tournament will often try to miss the first two games, so they show up ready to sit down and play their favorite game straight away.
The way around this is to select a game at random at the start of the tournament. Just like you would select one table to draw for the position of the dealer button, you would also ask the poker dealer at one table to choose a game at random to be the first game, which will then be announced so that all tables can start with that game. For example, if you are running a HETROS tournament, the dealer will extract cards A – 6 from the deck, shuffle them and place them face down then ask a player to pick on of the cards. If the card is an A, the first game is Limit Texas Hold Em, a 2 then it is Stud 8, and so on.
Mixing Fixed Limit and Big Bet Games
When there are both fixed limit and big bet (no limit and / or pot limit) games in a rotation there is a tricky conundrum regarding sizes of blinds and bets. The issue is to make sure one type of game is not going to make a much bigger impact on the outcome of the tournament than other game types. As such it is necessary to make big blind sizes in big bet games smaller than the big blind / small bet in fixed limit games. But what is the appropriate size difference?
To answer this question I turned to Allen Kessler, well known Las Vegas poker player and expert as far as all things mixed games poker tournament structures are concerned. His clear advice is to make fixed limit blinds twice the amount of no limit and pot limit blinds – so for example when the blinds for No Limit Hold Em and Pot Limit Omaha in an 8 Game mix are 100 / 200, in the Limit Hold Em, Limit Omaha Hilo and Limit 2-7 Triple Draw games at the same level we should adopt 200 / 400 blinds – and therefore 400 / 800 betting limits.
Other Structural Considerations
Some other points that can be considered are:
Stud Games – Who Pays the Ante?
Traditionally, when playing Stud games, all players pay an ante. This can slow the game down as the dealer has to prompt players to pay their dues, and in fact the practice has been changed completely in live No Limit Texas Hold'Em tournaments as the big blind tends to pay an ante on behalf of the whole table. Some live tours have recently started experimenting with a “button ante.”
In this case the button still makes its way around the table despite the fact the dealer always deals from seat 1. The dealer only collects an ante from the person with the button, the amount being a good amount bigger than it would have been if all players have to pay an ante. Thus the dealer only has to prompt one player to pay an ante – and the button can be used to track the timing of the game change as it will happen when the button returns to seat 1. In this case the button position for the first hand of the tournament will always be seat 1.
Big Bet Games – Use a Big Blind Ante?
As mentioned above, live No Limit Texas Hold'Em tournaments have been using a big blind ante for some years now. This has also recently been adopted in Pot Limit Omaha tournaments, where the ante is not counted as part of the pot preflop but is included post flop and beyond. In my opinion, the use of a big blind ante in big bet games where fixed limit games are included in the mix interferes with the difference between fixed and big bet blind sizes, so I prefer to leave them out.
Stud Games – Ratio of Ante: Bring In: Small Bet?
Just as a hand of Texas Hold'Em starts with blind bets (and maybe a big blind ante), Seven Card Stud and other stud games start with an ante. Without these forced bets there is no incentive for a player to play any hand except the nuts. Similarly, if these bets are too high there is too much incentive for a player to get involved with absolutely any kind of hand. So what size of ante is appropriate for a stud game?
A good rule of thumb is to make the ante (if everyone at the table is paying it) around 10% of the size of the big bet. So if the betting limits are 400/800 then the perfect ante size would be 80: but in a tournament there smallest chip size would probably not allow this, so if the event is using 25-chip values, the ante can be 75 chips, but if the smallest chip is 100 then the ante would probably have to be rounded up to 100.
If we adopt the use of a button ante as described above, then we can adjust the ante size. In practice the ante is probably going to be equal to one small bet – so at that 400/800 betting limit level the ante would be 400.
What about the bring-in? This is the forced bet that gets the action going once the ante is already in and everyone has their first three cards. Particularly in Razz and Seven Card Stud it can be a punishing experience to have to pay the bring-in as that responsibility lies with the person with the worst card showing! The amount should probably be around 2 – 3 times the ante, but no more than half the small bet: the 400/800 level with a 75-chip ante would make 150 a good bring in amount, and if the ante is 100 then 200 seems the best amount.
A key point for players in preparing for tournaments with Stud games is to be aware of the ratio of ante: big bet. As a rule, and assuming there is a full table, if the ante is more than 10% of the big bet, you should tend to play a slightly wider range of hands because the pot size compels you to do so. On the opposite side, if the ante is lower than 10% of the big bet you should probably tighten up. You need to adjust according to just how far away from the middle ground the antes are and the number of players at the table.
How Many Players at The Table?
The number of players you can fit at the table will depend on the games in the mix. I have played (more than 20 years ago) a Texas Hold'Em tournament with fourteen players at each table. This is possible with two cards per player, a board consisting of five cards and a need to burn three cards. The size of the poker table needs to be considerable, too!
Of course, other games cannot be played fourteen handed. Stud games can easily be played 8 handed as it is rare for enough players to see the later streets for the deck to run out of cards. In fact, in this rare case, the Tournament Directors’ Association rules state:
- If the required number of cards can be reached by adding the three prior burn cards, the current stub will be scrambled with the prior burn cards to create a new stub. The new stub will be cut, a card burned, and one card dealt to each player face down.
- If there are at least 3 cards in the current stub but adding the prior burns would not reach the required number, the dealer will burn the top card of the current stub and deal the next card as a community card in the center of the table.
- If the current stub has less than 3 cards, it will be scrambled with the 3 prior burns for a new stub which will then be cut, a card burned, and the next card dealt as a community card.
- If a community card is in play, the first player who would act on 6th street will be first to act on 7th street.
- This means HORSE tournaments can be played eight handed.
Adding draw games to the mix means the number of players must be reduced below eight. Badugi is the one exception, if you offer a mix that includes this as the only draw game it can still be played eight handed. Other draw games, particularly 2-7 Triple Draw, Badeucey and Badacey should be played six-max.
Sviten Special (a.k.a. Drawmaha) can be played seven handed, but this can mean there is a reshuffle a little too often depending on the players in the game. This game might also be better to stick to six handed.
When offering draw games, the operator should be ready to cope with situations where there are not enough cards in the deck to complete all the draws. There should be written rules to deal with this scenario, that ensure that no one can be given back the cards they have just discarded. Also, the last card in the deck should never be used but reintroduced with the muck and shuffled back in before continuing with replacing cards.