Mixed Games at MGM National Harbor

Last week I ventured to MGM National Harbor casino in suburban Washington, DC in the middle of the week. On Tuesday, I jumped into the $8/16 mixed game.

What’s that? Glad you asked… (with apologies in advance for the TL/DR nature of what follows).

All of the mixed games are played with a fixed limit betting structure. During the first two rounds of betting, all bets and raises are in increments of $8. You can bet $8, raise to $16, or re-raise to $24. In the third and any later betting rounds, the bets and raises increase to $16 (making raises $32 and re-raises $48). There are no bet sizing decisions to make. Each round is limited to an initial bet and maximum of 4 raises.

It’s fascinating any time I see a youngster who’s never played fixed limit poker give this a try. The simplicity confuses them. All you have to do is say “bet!” or “raise!” without worrying about how much. It’s either $8 or $16. Once I played in a limit game with a drunk Brit who was so befuddled by the betting simplicity that he started tossing out larger denomination chips and saying “I’ll have a go at it,” then waiting for the dealer to make change.

MGM’s mixed game offering starts with a rotation of six games, each played for one orbit around the table and then switching to the next game. If the players at the table unanimously agree to add more games, the poker room allows it. The starting mix is H.O.R.S.E. + 2-7 Triple Draw. After awhile, my table added Badugi and Badacey.

H = Texas Hold’em

In $8/16 limit Hold’em, the blinds are $4 and $8. Pre-flop and flop bets are $8 and raises are $8 more. Turn and river bets and raises are $16 and $16 more. Otherwise the flow of the game is the same as no limit Hold’em.

With A♠K♠ in the small blind, I re-raise to $24 and get three callers. The flop is A♣6♠4♠, giving me top pair, top kicker and a nut flush draw. I bet $8, as that’s my only option and I think I have the best hand. The BB raises to $16 and the button calls. I re-raise to $24 and both call.

The turn is an off-suit 7. I bet $16 and both call. Now the pot is $216. The river is an off-suit 5. I bet $16 once again and now the BB raises. The button calls $32. Sigh! There’s no way my hand is still good, yet how can I fold for $16 more when there’s $296 in the pot (comprised entirely of $2 chips)? I call, and both players have an 8 to make a straight and chop the pot. The BB has A8o and button has 87s.

Welcome to limit Hold’em!

O = Omaha High-Low 8-or-better

In $8/16 limit Omaha, also known as Omaha-8 or simply O8, the highest hand and the lowest hand split the pot. You get four hole cards and the flop, turn and river are the same as in Hold’em. Your 5-card poker hand must use exactly two of your hole cards and exactly three of the community cards. Different combinations may be used for your high and low hands.

Low hands have extra rules. You can only win the low portion of the pot if you qualify with an 8-high or better low hand. An ace is treated as a 1 (i.e., as a low card, lower than a 2) in determining a low hand. It does not count against you if your lowest hand uses five cards in sequence or five cards of the same suit, even though that’s also a straight or flush for purposes of your high hand. But… a low hand cannot contain a pair. So the weakest qualifying low hand is 87654, while the best low hand is 5432A.

If there is no qualifying low hand, the highest hand wins the entire pot.

When comparing low hands, you start with the highest of the five cards and work down from there. An easy way to do this is to arrange the cards from highest to lowest and pretend the result is a number. The lowest number wins. 76,543 is lower than 84,321.

Blinds and betting procedures for Omaha-8 are the same as for Hold’em.

At the river, the board reads T84-9-7. You have A2xx, so your low hand of 87,421 is the best possible low given these community cards. There are three players remaining so you bet and raise the maximum amount. One of the other players has QJxx to win the high half of the pot with his Q-high straight. The other player also has A2xx to make the same low hand as yours. Each of you gets one-half of one-half of the pot, or 1/4. Since you put in 1/3 of the chips, despite having the nut low hand, you actually lose money.

Welcome to limit Omaha-8!

R = Razz

Also known as lowball, Razz is a 7-card stud game. The lowest hand wins the entire pot, and there is no 8-or-better qualifying requirement. Otherwise, the low hand rules are the same as in Omaha-8, as straights and flushes do not count against you, but pairs do. And hands are compared beginning with the highest of five unpaired cards and working down until any tie is broken.

In 7-card stud games, each player places a $2 ante and is dealt two hole cards and one up card. There is no button to worry about and the dealer always starts to his or her immediate left. The up cards are specific to each player as there are no community cards in any of the 7-card stud games. The first round of betting starts with a “bring-in,” a mandatory $2 bet required of whichever player has the highest initial up card. Other players may call the bring-in bet, or complete a full bet of $8. Once a player completes, any remaining players (including the bring-in) must also complete or else fold.

After this round of betting, there is another up card dealt to each remaining player, followed by more betting which starts with whichever player has the strongest (i.e., lowest) two exposed cards. Then another… and another… and one final down card.

At the showdown, you will have three hole cards and four exposed cards, and there will have been five rounds of betting (two rounds at $8 per bet and three rounds at $16 per bet).

After four cards, you have A3 in the hole and 42 showing. This is super strong and you bet and raise as much as possible. Another 3 comes next, pairing one of your hole cards. Not worried, you bet and raise as much as possible again, as nobody else knows you have a pair and your 423 showing looks mighty strong. The sixth card is a K, so you tap the brakes, perhaps check-calling.

The last card is slid to you face down. As you peel it back, you see another 4. Removing the pairs, your best low hand is K4321, which is shit and you have to fold.

Welcome to Razz!

S = 7-card Stud 

In regular 7-card Stud, the highest 5-card poker hand wins the entire pot. The dealing, antes, bring-in and betting are the same as in Razz, except the lowest initial up cards has to make the bring-in bet now.

Your initial up card is a queen, and you have another queen and a 5 in the hole. Your fifth card is another 5 giving you a well-disguised two pair. You think you have the best hand and raise, getting called by a nice lady who’s highest up card is a jack. She calls you again after the sixth card.

Your final hole card is another 5. Despite not having a pair showing, you have a full house, 555-QQ. The nice lady bets $16, so you raise to $32. She furrows her brow, then calls. As you proudly show your hand, she turns over JJJ-77 for a higher and equally well-disguised hand to sink your boat. Then she says, to no one in particular, “I didn’t want to re-raise because maybe he could have had Queens full.”

Welcome to 7-card Stud!

E = 7-card Stud, high-low, Eight-or-better

This game takes the low hand qualifying rules from Omaha-8 and applies them to 7-card Stud. The lowest initial up card must make the bring-in bet.

It’s possible to have a high hand with showdown value after the first three or four cards, with a strong two pair or trips. But it isn’t possible to have a qualifying low hand until you have at least five cards, unpaired and none higher than 8. So the high hands bet relentlessly, hoping the poor suckers chasing low hands never qualify. Sometimes a high hand backs into a qualifying low hand to scoop the whole pot, or a low hand backs into a straight or flush to scoop.

Every hand of the Eight-or-better rotation you get one or two low cards and at least one high card, something like Q74 or 932, followed by a card that pairs your lowest card, or another high card that doesn’t connect with anything. Except one hand where you start with a 3-card straight flush that never improves.

According to the rules, every hand has at least one winner. Yet for some reason you can play for hours and never even come close.

Welcome to 7-card Stud, Eight-or-better!

2-7 Triple Draw

Generally spoken as “deuce-seven Triple Draw” and sometimes shortened to just “deuce-seven,” this is similar to Razz in that the lowest poker hand wins the entire pot, with no 8-or-better qualifying requirement.

The differences end there. In deuce-seven, you are playing 5-card draw, like in the old Western movies. There is betting after each player is dealt five hole cards, then three rounds of draws, each draw being followed by another betting round for a total of four betting rounds.

Deuce-seven is a button game, with blinds of $4 and $8 similar to Hold’em and Omaha-8. After the initial betting, each player has the option to replace as many cards as he or she wants, i.e., the “draw.” No crayons required.

In this game, aces are treated as high cards and straights and flushes do count against you. A winning low hand must not have any pairs (unless everyone else has a higher pair), must have at least one gap in the card sequence, and must have at least two suits represented. Think of it this way: while you are drawing to try to make the lowest possible hand to win the pot, at the showdown you will arrange your cards as if you are making a high hand. The worst high hand wins!

The lowest possible hand is 75,432. This beats 65,432 (which is a straight) or 64,32A (as the A cannot be used as a 1 for a low card). 7♠5♣432♣ beats 75432 even though the numbers are the same as the latter is a flush.

Got it?

You are dealt 66432 and draw one card to replace a 6. It’s an 8, so you stand pat (i.e., decline to replace any cards) on each of the next two draws. 86,432 is a pretty good low hand and everyone else is still drawing, so you bet or raise at every opportunity. One player draws three cards, then two more, then a single card on the last draw. You are heads up and in position. You make one final $16 bet and he check-raises to $32. After your crying call, he tables 85,432.

Instead of calling this game “triple draw,” you think it should be renamed “chase.”

Welcome to 2-7 Triple Draw!

Badugi

Of Korean origin, the word Badugi means “black and white spotted dog.” Badugi is a variation of the Korean name “Baduk” for the popular board game Go, which uses black and white stones. Aren’t you glad I told you that?

Whereas deuce-seven is a five card triple draw game in pursuit of the lowest possible hand, Badugi is a four card triple draw, also in pursuit of the lowest possible hand and a single winner of the entire pot.

The wrinkle in Badugi is having two cards of the same suit counts against you. A “Badugi” hand is any four cards that are unpaired and include the full rainbow of suits – one each of spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. If multiple players have a Badugi, the lowest hand wins (with aces being treated as low cards). If nobody has a Badugi, the lowest 3-card unpaired hand with three different suits wins.

So 4♠32♣A would be the nuts. K♠J8♣4 is a Badugi and therefore beats 7♠532♣. And K♠4♠32 beats 6♠55♣A.

Got it?

This is another game of chase. In reality, when you take the time to counts your outs, you realize how futile is the effort. If you have 32A rainbow and think an 8-high or lower Badugi hand is needed to win, you have exactly five outs, the 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4 of whichever suit is missing.

Welcome to Badugi!

Badacey

In order to explain Badacey, I have to first explain Kansas City lowball, a/k/a California low, a/k/a ace-to-five lowball. Kansas City lowball is simply 5-card triple draw (like 2-7 Triple Draw) with traditional low hand rules in which an ace is a low card and straights and flushes don’t count against you (like low hands in Razz or Omaha-8).

Badacey is a 5-card triple draw game with a split pot. One-half of the pot goes to the best Kansas City lowball hand. The other half of the pot goes to the best 4-card Badugi hand. For Kansas City lowball purposes, suits don’t matter. For Badugi purposes, and full rainbow of suits is required.

It’s chase on steroids. When you look at your initial five cards, if there are enough low cards to justify chasing half of the pot, you frequently have to decide whether to pursue a Badugi hand first, or whether to pursue a Kansas City lowball hand. Suppose you have A♠2♠37♣Q♣. You are definitely going to replace the Queen. But the ace and deuce are both spades. To pursue a Badugi, you must toss one of those cards. To pursue a Kansas City lowball hand, you should keep them both.

You decide to chase the Badugi and draw two, discarding the 2♠ and Q♣. The dealer gives you the A and 4♣. Had you discarded the A♠ instead of the 2♠, you would have a nut Badugi hand with a 74,321 Kansas City lowball hand and be in perfect position to scoop the entire pot. The second and third draws are no help.

Welcome to Mixed Games!

BTW, I was still there when the game broke shortly after 6:30 a.m.

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2 Comments

  1. I first learned to play Texas Hold’em in fixed-limit games. One of the interesting things to me when I ran the math back then is that you are almost always priced in to chase straight and flush draws in that game.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes Mark, chasing draws is a common pattern in fixed limit games. The price is almost always good, although one-way draws in split pot games can be costly. You chase a lot, usually miss, but get paid reasonably well when you hit. Others chase a lot, and hit often enough to drive you crazy.

    One option, when there are multiple villains AND multiple possible draws, is to just keep the pot as small as possible. 4 villains, two possible flush draws after the turn, several ways to make a straight, unable to price them out… save your chips! (Why didn’t I think of that last week?)

    Liked by 1 person

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