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Strategy Vault: Learning the Games of H.O.R.S.E. with Ville Wahlbeck

Strategy Vault

Digging deep into the PokerNews strategy archives can lead to a buried treasure, so we'll be unearthing a few gems for your viewing pleasure. In this edition of the Strategy Vault series, Ville Wahlbeck talks about learning mixed games and his top tips for beginners for each game in H.O.R.S.E.

When players sit down for the first time at a mixed-game table, what should they keep in mind?

When you’re playing on a mixed-games table like H.O.R.S.E., know which games are your weak games and which are your strong games. You should definitely play much tighter in the games you don’t play that well, and you can open up in the games that are you strong in. Examine your opponents, and don’t give them any unnecessary action in their strong games.

What’s the biggest mistake you see players making when diving into mixed games?

You should start at a level low enough. Once you beat that level, then you can move up, but there’s no sense in starting so high where the other players are more or less crushing you, or you’re making so many mistakes that you’re giving away a lot of value. After you learn, then you can you move up.

Let’s talk about each of the H.O.R.S.E. games, starting first with hold'em. It used to be that players started playing limit hold’em and transitioned to no-limit. Nowadays, players learn no-limit hold’em and then learn limit hold’em so that they can compete in mixed games. What advice do you have for them?

For players who are transitioning from no-limit hold’em to limit hold’em, I think they’ll be surprised by the amount of action there is and how many hands are going to showdown. In limit, more often than not, the hand is played all the way through. The difference in value of the hands in fixed-limit hold’em compared to no-limit hold'em 's quite big. Usually in the fixed-limit variant, if you flop middle pair you’re going to call down or get to showdown.

Playing tight in early position is important in no-limit hold’em, but it seems even more important in limit because of the lack of flexibility to be creative in order to bluff. Is this true?

That’s right. In early position, you should play tight. Also, the same as in no-limit hold'em, you can open quite liberally from the cutoff and button, but of course players are going to adjust and three-bet you.

Are there any other important strategic differences players should keep in mind?

I’d say in limit hold’em there is a lot of jamming or betting, and you just have to call down. In no-limit hold'em, you have to be much more careful because you can lose all the money in just one hand. Decisions are bigger in no-limit hold'em, whereas in limit they should be automatic.

Next up in the H.O.R.S.E. rotation is Omaha eight-or-better. What are common missteps beginners make in this game?

I’d say the biggest mistake would be people chasing bad lows in multi-way pots or staying in with less-than-great high hands. In a three- or four-way pot, if you don’t have much of a low hand and you’re in a raising war involving two other people, you just have to let it go. Too often players are staying in without a nut low draw and getting freerolled on.

Omaha can be a tough game, because even with the nut low it’s possible to get quartered. If you’re in a three-way pot and you have the nut low and there’s a lot of action, you have to be aware there’s a possibility of being quartered. I wouldn’t be jamming the flop unless you have a high redraw or a made high hand. If you just have the nut low, you have to just be careful and call down.

Now, it's time for some razz advice, the third game in the rotation. In terms of starting hands, what should you be raising?

The first obvious thing is that if you have the only low card up, you should be raising no matter what your hole cards are.

Even if you have a pair?

It depends sometimes, but if you have a six up and everyone else has a face card, yes, you have to raise. There are really no other tactics. On third street, you’re looking for two wheel cards like ace-deuce, ace-three, with an eight or something — those are perfectly playable. It really depends on your position during the round and what your opponents’ up cards are.

Razz is just a very pure form of poker in the sense that there’s very rarely anything to think about as to what your opponents are thinking. You just go with the hand as it develops. If you’re going to let the hand go, you should let it go on fifth street. If you get passed fifth street, you should usually just call it down the rest of the way unless you are still drawing and don’t hit anything.

Switching from a lowball game to a high-hand game, how do the strategies differ when play moves into the seven-card stud round?

In seven-card stud, as far as starting hands go you’re looking for three high cards, high pairs, and three cards of the same suit with a couple of high cards preferably. Small pairs with a high kicker are obviously much stronger than small pairs with a small kicker, and hidden pairs are much stronger than split pairs because hitting a set would be so hidden. Again, a lot of it comes down to your position during the round and those of your opponents. If you are up against an opponent who is jamming all the time, you’re forced to call him down with very marginal holdings sometimes.

The difficulty is learning when you can value bet just one pair on the end, or when you should check behind. Once you have an understanding of starting hands and positions, then you’ll start to learn how hands usually play out. When you start with a high card up and you raise and keep jamming and your opponent’s board doesn’t develop, you can keep betting. If you see his board develop, you have to slow down and see how he reacts. If he starts betting into you, you have to reevaluate your hand strength and decide whether you should call down or fold on fifth street.

The final game in the rotation is seven-card stud eight-or-better. Much like Omaha eight-or-better, this game is a split-pot one. What's your best strategy tip for beginners?

Obviously, in this game you’re always looking for hands that can go both ways, just like in Omaha eight-or-better, so that you can scoop the pot. Rubbish low hands like two-three-four are only playable in certain kinds of situations, but should usually stay out of the action in multi-way pots. Any kind of ace with a low card is generally playable.

High hands are dangerous in seven-card stud eight-or-better because anytime someone makes a low against you, they often have a gutshot or a pair that can be improved, so they’re either freerolling or close to freerolling. Those are the hands you should be really careful with. There’s not a lot of stealing and re-stealing in stud games, so hand evaluation and determining when to go to a showdown are key elements of the game.

Did you have any trouble learning any of the mixed games?

No, because poker is a pretty simple game. It’s like chess or something. You can learn the rules in one day or one hour. It’s about learning starting hands, becoming aware of how the game flows, and executing proper strategy. Those are the things that you learn with experience by playing the game.

This article was originally published on August 18, 2010.

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