If you’re a poker player but have only tried Texas Holdem, you’re missing out. One of the best things about the game is the number of ways to play. Each poker variant has a different niche – Omaha for methodical, draw-focused games or Short Deck for more consistent hands.
While Holdem remains the most popular way to play, not every poker pro makes it their specialty. Some are known for their skills in other formats, like Holdem and Omaha. If this comes as a surprise to you, you’re in for a treat. This article will cover three fantastic poker players specializing in variants beyond Holdem.
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Billy Baxter, Lowball Specialist
Billy Baxter is one of the most prominent and important figures in poker history. He’s known for being a die-hard gambler, having close encounters with the law numerous times throughout his life, one of which even led to his ten-month prison sentence.
Baxter’s biggest contribution to poker was his court case against the IRS. Back then, the maximum tax rate in the US was 50%. The IRS upped it to 70% against “unearned income,” money you got from interest payments. Notably, gambling and poker earnings fell under that umbrella too.
Baxter fought this, citing professional athletes that were exempt from the tax, arguing that he as a poker player worked for his income just as much as Jack Nicklaus worked by playing golf. Surprisingly, he won against the IRS, setting a legal precedent that benefits all professional poker players in the US today.
As a player, Baxter was also incredible. He held seven World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, but the real surprise is knowing they all came from lowball poker events. His first 27 tournament cashes were ALL in lowball events, speaking volumes about his specialty. He attributed this success to his ability to read others, “There is not nearly as much bluffing in Hold ’em. But in 2-7, you only have one draw. That lessens the likelihood of a guy improving his hand. So, you have to bluff — and you have to read bluffs.”
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Phil Galfond, Omaha Virtuoso
Phil Galfond is one of the most recognizable modern-day poker players, especially in the online poker sphere. He’s gone toe-to-toe with many big names, from Phil Ivey to Viktor “Isildur1” Blom. Galfond is also a poker coach, having founded the training site Run It Once, where he offers advice to up-and-coming players.
A large number of poker pros tend to focus on Holdem. There’s no surprise it’s the most popular format, with its action-packed gameplay. However, Phil Galfond is not like the rest. He has over $3 million in live earnings and 3 WSOP bracelets from Pot Limit Omaha. He’s widely regarded as the best Omaha player in the world, having cemented his reputation both in online games and offline tournaments.
At one point, Galfond took a break from the pro poker scene to focus on coaching. In 2020, he returned with a challenge. The Galfond Challenge was issued to the seven other professionals: If you can beat Galfond in insanely high-stakes ($100/$200) Pot Limit Omaha over thousands of hands, you win millions. As of now, Galfond has not lost, winning against four of his opponents and currently playing Daniel “Jungleman” Cates.
Michael Mizrachi – HORSE Genius
The $50,000 HORSE event of the WSOP, later renamed to the $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship, is widely regarded as the most difficult and prestigious events in the tournament, sometimes even eclipsing the Main Event.
This reputation is based on two factors. The first is the game’s format. HORSE is a blend of five poker variants: Holdem, Omaha, Razz, Seven Card Stud, and Eights-or-Better, a variation of Seven Card Stud. This means you must be proficient in many variants with different rules, increasing the difficulty exponentially. The event has moved to a nine-game mix in recent years, making it even more complex.
The second is the $50,000 buy-in. At five times the Main Event’s $10,000, the buy-in discourages all but the most proficient players from participating. Players joining the event have the skill to compete and the bankroll to cover their potential losses. There aren’t any recreational players – this is only an event for seasoned pros.
With all this in mind, you can imagine how much of an achievement it is for Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi to have won the event three times, more than any other pro in history. His Grinder title is deserved, having the perseverance and determination to come out ahead in even the most stacked final tables. Some examples include a 2012 win against Viktor Blom and Stephen Chidwick and a 2018 win against Phil Ivey, Dan Smith, and Brian Rast.
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Looking to try new variants? Play online!
Three exceptional pros have made a name for themselves outside of the Texas Holdem sphere. Online poker is the way to go if you’re interested in becoming a pro or just want to try out the variants mentioned.
The digital platform offers many advantages, chief among them being the ability to play from anywhere, anytime. Since it’s easier to host poker games online, it’s very easy to find any variant you want. They’re all available on the right site, from giants like Holdem and Omaha to more niche variants like Razz.