Perhaps the most obvious way to trace the history of poker is to follow the evolution of the games that are the most popular at a given time.
Diving back into the mists of time, to the hazy early days of the game, it coalesced into primordial poker ooze as draw poker. Gradually, draw gave way to stud. Stud, in turn, transformed into hold'em, and then no-limit became the variant of choice.
Today, pot-limit Omaha has enjoyed a surge and become the high-stakes game of choice at many casinos across the world. Broadly speaking though, the age of no-limit hold'em continues.
Or does it?
At the highest stakes, a shift may be starting to materialize. Where nosebleed no-limit tournaments hit their apex a few years ago, things may be petering out a bit on that front.
For example, here at PokerStars Championship presented by Monte-Carlo Casino®, the €100,000 Super High Roller is down 10 entries from its 2015 peak of 71. The shift is most stark at Aussie Millions, where the $250,000 Challenge failed to even run this year and the $100,000 Challenge nearly got shelved as well.
Meanwhile, high-stakes mixed games are gaining prominence. While the nosebleed no-limit cash scene online has been at a standstill for years, $400/$800 8-game has been running on PokerStars. On the live side of things, Bellagio recently hosted a pair of $25,400 Mixed Game High Rollers.
PokerStars Team Pro Daniel Negreanu has been a driving force behind both of those developments, and he maintains a belief that mixed games are essential to the future of poker.
"For the most part, it's already happened," he said when asked by PokerNews how soon the shift to mixed-formats become widespread. "No-limit players today are finally understanding and realizing if they want to be successful, they can't just be heads-up no-limit specialists. Maybe there was a period where that wasn't, but it's definitely true today."
Mixed formats have been a part of high-stakes poker for decades. Specialists have long found that as they move closer to the summit of their best games, their prospects for getting action slowly dry up as other players become more reticent to sit in against them.
The solution? Play in a mixed game that includes their specialties so they can get action there while in turn giving action in their weaker games.
"Way back when, you had stud players and you had hold'em players," Negreanu said. "They didn't play together. Then, they said, 'You guys suck at stud, so we'll play that a little. You guys suck at hold'em, so we'll play that a little.'
"That's the only way you'll see high-stakes poker thrive in the long run."
Negreanu, who spoke to PokerNews on break during Day 1 of the €100K, was pleased with the turnouts of the Bellagio events, which drew 25 players the first day and then 10 the second. He called it "a good start" and said the numbers compared favorably to the early days of the ARIA $25K High Roller series.
Brian Rast, Negreanu said played an instrumental role in actually putting the events together after Negreanu himself suggested the idea. They plan to continue running the events on a monthly basis outside of the World Series of Poker.
Negreanu enjoyed an excellent pair of results, with runner-up in both events for a total of a little over $250,000. He gave some back in the online mixed game, winning about $6,000 the first day and then dropping about $19,000 the second day. He still believes he's a favorite in the game, but he's well aware that opinion is not shared by his opponents.
The Canadian superstar knows how the feel because he watched, amused, as the game instantly filled up when he sat in, complete with a waiting list. When he quit, the game broke in short order.
"I've been crushing that game for a long time," Negreanu said. " I don't play very often, but when I do, I've done really well.
"There's some great players in that. But I'm watching them going, 'There's a clear mistake in stud eight-or-better. That's wrong in Omaha eight-or-better.'"
A renewed energy for poker has filled Negreanu in recent months, inspiring him to put in extra work away from the tables and sharpen his game in advance of big events here and at the WSOP.
He's been studying different variants, doing math and using simulations to break down scenarios. Long an advocate of the power of a strong mental approach, he has also focused recently on his mindset.
Early in the week, he hosted a series of mental coaches on his Full Contact Poker Podcast in response to derision he said came from well-known poker authors David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth. He called it the most important podcast he's ever done.
"They were saying it's all a crock of shit," Negreanu said of Sklansky and Malmuth. "They were speaking from such a naivete and lack of understanding of what they're talking about."
He's even been working on his no-limit game by getting exposed to the play of some of the very wizards who Negreanu suggested need to broaden their poker horizons. With PokerStars All-Stars in full swing, Negreanu has begun hosting a weekly highlight tape where he spends a couple of hours going over some of the more interesting recent hands.
Getting a front-row seat to the modern no-limit scene has been eye-opening.
"It's very, very different from even just a year and a half ago," Negreanu said. "The meta-game for high-stakes online cash has changed.
"The bet sizing is vastly different. You have underbetting and way overbetting in a lot of different spots. It's really interesting to see how people are playing today, and I'm incorporating some of that into this tournament."
So far, so good for Negreanu as he bagged the second-biggest stack at the end of Day 1 of the €100K and remains in contention with an above-average stack after the first break of Day 2.
Negreanu knows even if he wins, the skeptics will remain out there, and some of them will be ready to swoop in and flood the table when he sits in for his next session of $400/$800 on PokerStars.
"They obviously feel like I'm the sucker," he said with a smile. "It's really kind of comical to me because I feel like I'm a favorite. So, one of us is wrong."
Negreanu plans to keep putting in the work on his best games and their best games. And if he's right about the future of poker, they'll be mixing it up in mixed games for years to come.