Texas Holdem is the most popular way to play poker in the world by a mile. It’s easy to see why; Holdem just has everything. It’s simple to learn and impossible to 100% master, making it one of the premier variants for beginner players.
Holdem’s simplicity also makes it one of the more exciting formats in competitive poker. The audience only needs to keep track of five community cards and two hole cards per player, making Holdem the mode of choice for broadcast poker tournaments.
However, despite Holdem’s dominance, it’s not the only option. Omaha and Stud poker are fantastic alternatives to Holdem, even if their small player bases don’t reflect it. If you’re still skeptical, you should know that some pros even prefer those types to Holdem! Here are a few of the best poker players specializing outside Texas Holdem.
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Phil Galfond: The Omaha Specialist
Phil Galfond is one of the top modern-day poker pros. A force to be reckoned with both online and offline, Galfond has over $3 million in live tournament earnings from high-profile series like the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which he has three bracelets from.
Galfond is also a notorious online cash game grinder, regularly competing against the best in the scene, like Tom “Durrrr” Dwan and Daniel “Jungleman” Cates. His reputation online led to him participating in NBC’s iconic poker TV show Poker After Dark. Finally, Galfond has also been a poker coach, even founding his own coaching site, Run It Once Training.
Perhaps the most surprising part about Galfond’s achievements is that he doesn’t focus on Holdem like many others. Two of his WSOP bracelets come from Omaha poker, solidifying his reputation as one of the world’s best Pot Limit Omaha players.
Following the trend set by his friend Tom Dwan, Galfond has established the “Galfond Challenge,” prompting players worldwide to test their skills against him in high-stakes Pot Limit Omaha, giving a bonus to the winner. So far, Galfond is undefeated, having crushed four of his opponents.
Billy Baxter: The Lowball Master
If you know who Billy Baxter is, his lowball career may not even be the first thing that comes to mind. Baxter’s known as “The Robin Hood of Poker” for his court case against the IRS. The US had just passed new legislation concerning taxes, and this one ruled that “unearned income” from casino games like poker could be taxed up to 70%, a 20% increase from the prior 50%.
Baxter did not like that. Professional athletes were exempt from the tax increase, so he argued that as a professional poker player, he worked just as hard, if not harder for his money than players like golfer Jack Nicklaus. Against all odds, Baxter actually won the case, forever helping poker players in America keep a larger portion of their earnings.
See, that’s the famous part about Baxter. However, did you know that he has seven WSOP bracelets? He’s an exceptional player, but a shocking fact is that all those bracelets were earned in lowball events! Lowball poker means the hand rankings are in reverse order. This format is usually reserved for stud poker. If that wasn’t surprising enough, Baxter’s first 27 tournament cashes were all exclusively from lowball events! Talk about a specialty!
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Phil Ivey: The Tiger Woods of Poker
Phil Ivey is widely regarded as one of the best poker players in the world. He’s an insanely well-rounded player known for his tournament achievements and cash game prowess. He has over $38 million in live tournament earnings and ten WSOP bracelets.
Ivey’s also a regular at the Bellagio’s infamous cash games, where the stakes can go as high as $4000/$8000. He’s known for his heads-up prowess, once making $16 million in three days off Texan billionaire Andy Beal. All this success has led to him getting nicknamed, “The Tiger Woods of Poker.”
While Ivey succeeded in nearly every format poker offers, Omaha holds a special place in his heart. His first WSOP bracelet was from the 2000 WSOP’s Pot Limit Omaha event, and three of his ten bracelets are from Omaha.
Chip Reese: The Stud King
Finally, we have Chip Reese, the quintessential example of a poker gentleman. He had a pleasant, humble attitude at the table, a rare sight among poker players. He always kept his cool, earning the respect and admiration of all his peers. A family man through and through, he once left a $700,000 cash game just to catch his son’s little league game.
Reese had three WSOP bracelets and was widely regarded by members of poker’s old guard as the best all-around player ever. While he was skilled in all formats, there was one everyone agreed he was the undisputed number one at: Seven Card Stud.
Reese was a legend in Seven Card Stud, even authoring a chapter about it in Doyle Brunson’s essential strategy book Super/System. Two of his bracelets came from Stud, and the last came from the first $50,000 H.O.R.S.E event in 2006, now one of the most prestigious events at the WSOP.
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Give these variants a try!
If you feel tired of Texas Holdem, don’t hesitate to try out Omaha or some Stud Poker! These pros have shown that those variants are feasible alternatives providing the same competitive experience as Holdem. They can be the perfect way to rekindle your enjoyment of poker, or simply spice things up after playing Holdem for a while.