It’s amazing to look back now, in August 2023, and think that Cardplayer Lifestyle has successfully put on five Mixed Game Festivals. Back in late 2019, the idea was just a twinkle in my eye! Our first one was supposed to have been announced in March 2020 — of course we had to put things on hold for 1.5 years until finally announcing it. Fast forward some, and less than two years after staging our first one, we’ve now got a handful under our belts.
With each new Mixed Game Festival, it’s important to me to try and improve, tweak, and ensure that we do better than the previous time. I obviously have my personal goals to fulfill, but above all, my three aims always are that the venue enjoy hosting our players, that sponsors feel glad to have supported the event, and that our players have a great time. Beyond that, of course, the uniqueness of our festivals — versus other “meet up games” — is that they are designed to help promote and grow mixed game poker.
I’d like to believe that we once again achieved all of our goals with Mixed Game Festival V, which wrapped up a few weeks ago at Resorts World Las Vegas. I can’t help but smile and think back to a number of highlights where I believe we truly succeeded. I’ve put together my top 10 and have listed them below, as well as why I specifically believe these are highlights worth reminiscing about.
Poker Trivia Competition
A festival — by definition — needs to be festive. Beyond just playing poker, we try to incorporate some elements to ensure that our participants 1) show up on time to begin the cash games each day, and 2) have the opportunity to win some cool merchandise and have a great time. Historically, these have included pizza parties and poker book signings.
My daughter Abby suggested that I utilize the Kahoot! portal to create a poker trivia competition. It obviously took some time to prepare, but it was certainly a worthwhile endeavor. Admittedly, one of the most enjoyable parts for me was coming up with incorrect answers for the multiple choice quiz. Special thanks goes to Chad McVean, our Social Media director, who assisted me in running the poker trivia competition. We had close to a dozen people show up to play, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
How many questions (between 25-50) should it be comprised of?
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) June 19, 2023
Another new element we incorporated into Mixed Game Festival V was a scavenger hunt. I had put together a list of 20 items that participants needed to take pictures of and with. At first, only half a dozen people showed up for this one. However, once our cash games began, a wait list formed and rather than just sit and wait, another half dozen players mentioned they wanted to do the scavenger hunt, too, so we ran it back and did so.
It was pretty amusing to see the first hunt’s winner, Mike Patrick, hurtle himself down the final stretch towards the poker room after just 20 minutes, having successfully completed the entire list. It was great to see that every players took the hunt seriously, and put in just as much effort as they did at the felt to try and emerge victorious.
I was elated to see that all of the participants really enjoyed themselves even though of course there could only be a few winners.
Chuck brought us 4th of July donuts to help kick off the day alongside our new fan favorite, the Scavenger Hunt.
It was so fun that we ran two, which Mike and Giancarlo won. pic.twitter.com/HcJXQbjnwT
— Cardplayer Lifestyle (@PokerLifeMedia) July 5, 2023
Miami John’s unscheduled visit
Something else we try to do to enhance the player experience at our Mixed Game Festivals is arrange for some poker celebrity appearances. I’m grateful that we’ve had the support of many professionals in the poker community who have kindly come out to splash around with our players in the low-stakes dealers choice streets. With that said, I usually make arrangements for these appearances ahead of time, so when a poker celebrity shows up unannounced it’s certainly a welcome surprise.
Prior to Mixed Game Festival V, “Miami” John Cernuto had reached out to me asking if we would be staging any tournaments. I told him that this time it would be an exclusively cash game affair. He said “OK,” and we left it at that. So you could imagine my shocked expression to see him walk in on the second day of MGF V. As I stood up to greet him, John just said “I came to support what you’re doing,” and he proceeded to play $4/$8 limit mixed games with our players for the next hour while I enjoyed a lovely chat with his daughter Debi.
John Maley, “Mr. All-Nighter”
The grand prize for this festival was a PokerStars-sponsored EPT Cyprus Mixed Game Package valued at over $3,000. For every hour of cash game play, a player would earn one entry into the random drawing for the prize package. We’ve done this sort of giveaway before, so it’s no surprise that many players try to put in as many hours as possible. One player, however, took this to an entirely new level.
John Maley drove in from Southern California straight to the Resorts World poker room. He played throughout the day, continued playing throughout the night… and continued further throughout the following day. When he finally got up from the table, over 31 hours had passed and he still looked fresh as a daisy. Only then did John take his bags and check into his hotel room. Having a player that dedicated to playing low-stakes mixed games is just out of this world.
We have a new Mixed Game Festival record… by far!
John has been in the same seat for over 27 hours playing $4/$8 mixed games.
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) July 6, 2023
Eli Elezra comes to play my stack
I’m very fortunate to be able to say that over the past few years since I translated his biography, Pulling the Trigger, from Hebrew into English, Poker Hall of Famer Eli Elezra and I have grown to become very good friends. Eli has always been super kind to come and sign some books at our Mixed Game Festivals as well as splash around with our players. So, I knew he’d make an appearance this time around, but I didn’t know when.
While I was speaking with one of our players, he smiled and told me to turn around. What I saw is that Eli had suddenly appeared in the room and just sat down in my seat, where he proceeded to play my chip stack. I couldn’t help but laugh, but also head over to give him a hug and show my appreciation for his support. For those curious, after about 20 minutes, Eli had successfully added a couple dozen dollars to my chip stack.
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) July 7, 2023
Silent auction for two BBO Poker Table Tops
George Chao, CEO of BBO Poker Tables, has always been a supporter of our events. This time around, he contributed half a dozen portable table mats as giveaway items. On the last day of the festival, I still had two that I hadn’t yet distributed. So, I asked some players what would be a good way to give away the two remaining mats.
Someone suggested a silent auction, whereby it would cost a $1 chip to place a bid, and after all bids were submitted the highest one would win. That person’s winning bid plus all of the $1 chips collected would then be equally distributed among the dealers at our mixed game tables. We did this twice, and thus successfully distributed close to $150 in tips to our dealers!
Thanks, as always, to George Chao of BBO for supporting our events! pic.twitter.com/VsSw06Mubt
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) March 20, 2023
Higher stakes mixed games with Norman, Jan, and Linda
Prior to Mixed Game Festival V, our dealers choice mixed games had exclusively been for stakes of $4/$8 and $8/$16. This time around, Norman Chad agreed to host a special Omaha 8/Stud 8 game for his regular $20/40 stakes on the final day of our festival.
I was happy to see that close to a dozen players signed up ahead of time on the wait list. Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson and Women in Poker Hall of Famer Jan Fisher got seats at the table, too. I’m glad to see that our festivals were able to attract crowds interested in mixed games at multiple price points, and I hope this is something we’ll be able to replicate at future events.
Alek Gillies wins the EPT Cyprus Prize Package
To be fair, whomever would have won the grand prize package would have made this festival’s highlight reel. With that said, it gives me special pleasure that our grand prize winner is a 21-year-old who had never really played mixed games before.
I had the pleasure of playing with Alek for a couple hours, and while he readily admitted that he had no idea how to play mixed games, that nonetheless didn’t stop him from having a great, positive attitude and being willing to learn one new variant after another.
For poker to thrive, we always have to attract new audiences, which means “newly minted” 21-year-olds who can now play legally in poker rooms. Mixed game poker is no different, and it’s always good to lower the average age at the felt and see some 20-somethings enjoying themselves playing dealer’s choice.
Post-Festival Shawarma with Brian, Pat, and Matt
We don’t exactly have a “closing ceremony” for our festivals, so after the grand prize is given out, cash games just sort of continue until people get tired of playing and then go their separate ways. This time around, I wanted to celebrate with a nice dinner.
Rather than head to a kosher Las Vegas restaurant alone, it was a special pleasure to bring along some guys who’ve become close friends from one Mixed Game Festival to the next, Pat, Brian, and Matt. Sure, the food at Mother Falafel was great, but the company was what made the meal a memorable one.
Charity donations fund a Monday night feeding of the homeless
Ever since our first Mixed Game Festival, there has always been a charity component to our events. I had advertised ahead of time that a portion of proceeds from the poker trivia competition and scavenger hunt would go towards the volunteer-powered Poker Gives charity. Altogether, we were able to collect a total of $300, and a couple button clicks later, the money had been donated.
As promised, a portion of all scavenger hunt + trivia competition entries + some extra from me goes to @PokerGives.
We’ll be funding a “full Monday evening’s” food distribution. pic.twitter.com/X0xN6ez1Al
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) July 17, 2023
It’s one thing to just say the money is being given to charity, but it’s entirely another to witness the charity itself being given, and the gratitude from the recipients. I’m grateful that we were able to use Mixed Game Festival V as a vehicle for doing good for some needy people in the Las Vegas community, as you can see in the video below.