'Cross Training' for Poker Players

4 min read
'Cross Training' for Poker Players

Top athletes use cross training as a way of getting in shape using several different types of exercise, or playing different sports, as a means to develop complementary skills. While competitive athletes concentrate most of their training around their main sport, cross training provides a number of key benefits.

Poker players can "cross train," too, and gain similar advantages — that is to say, improve their overall games by "exercising" in different ways.

Let's explore cross training for poker players, assuming your base game is either no-limit Hold'em or pot limit Omaha.

Mixed Games Equals Cross Training

Many casinos now offer mixed games featuring fixed-limit betting structures. Each game is played repeatedly for one rotation around the table in a predetermined order, then the dealer switches to a new game for the next rotation. Such mixed games are also readily available online.

Rather than working different physical muscles — such as cycling, swimming, or basketball might do for a highly ranked tennis player — mixed games can shape up your mental muscles, improving agility and helping you stay motivated to play more poker.

A popular offering is the five-game mix known as H.O.R.S.E., which includes hold'em, Omaha hi-lo, razz, seven-card stud, and seven-card stud hi-lo. Most rooms will add other games such as deuce-to-seven triple draw, Badugi, Badeucy, Badacey, five-card Omaha, or Drawmaha as long as there is unanimous agreement among the players. (Be careful if they give you a spelling test.)

Cross Training Benefits

Many of the benefits from cross training apply in a similar manner to both athletes and poker players.

Cross training reduces boredom and enhances motivation.

While practicing, studying, and playing the same sport or poker variant nearly every day is necessary to excel, monotony leads to boredom. And a bored mind can miss important clues and lose its motivation over time. Learning mixed games provides motivation to study again and think carefully about each variant as you climb the learning curve.

Cross training conditions the entire body (or mind), not just specific muscle groups.

Each mixed game variant has its own rules and procedures to learn and master. The process of developing proficiency at understanding optimal starting hands, likely winning hands, opponents' betting patterns, when to push the accelerator and when to hit the brakes improves your all-around thinking about poker.

By conditioning their entire bodies, athletes greatly reduce injury risk. By conditioning your entire mind, you similarly develop a more holistic approach that benefits your no limit hold'em or PLO play, with broader recognition of all the variables affecting key decisions.

Cross training works some muscles while others rest and recover.

Long sessions of the same games leads to physical and mental fatigue. Sometimes it leads to sloppy shortcuts. And then there's tilt. If you are tilted from a rough stretch of big bet poker, fixed-limit mixed games allow you to continue to play while forcing the mind into the present moment of less familiar games and away from the causes of your tilt.

Cross training improves your skill, agility, and balance.

A mixed game rotation might include flop games, stud games, and draw games, some with a single winner and others with a split pot. Each variant introduces a different set of key questions. Much like the athlete who uses an exercise ball to improve balance and strength simultaneously, you may feel off balance a lot. This will improve your balance in the long run.

Cross training promotes active recovery and rejuvenation.

Figuring out winning strategies for mixed games feels like learning how to play poker all over again. Because mixed games are fresh and new, the mind goes into learning mode again and tends to remain in that mode when you first return to your main game, leading to greater energy and confidence.


Mixed games, as a form of poker cross training, push you out of your comfort zone, sharpening unused skills and helping you grow as a player.

Join a fixed-limit mixed game as a cross training exercise. Try to master each game in the rotation. Of course, do some homework in advance on the rules, relative hand strength, and betting strategies. Embrace the uncertainty as you discover the special camaraderie among regular mixed game players, who tend to be very welcoming and friendly to newcomers. Notice how the mind becomes actively engaged and less easily distracted.

Then when you do return to no-limit hold'em or PLO, it feels like going home. The discipline, agility, and concentration you practiced at the mixed game will make your main game seem to slow down with easier reads and obvious decisions.

David Bass mostly plays in live no-limit hold’em cash games and has been writing about poker since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @KKingDavidPoker or enjoy his blog, They Always Have It, at https://kkingdavid.com/.

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