HORSE poker is not actually a single type of poker, but rather a mixed game: a collection of the most popular poker games. Because of this, successful HORSE poker players must be proficient at not one, but all of the different rules they will encounter. HORSE is an acronym for:
These five poker games are very unique, and it takes a very skilled player to excel in a HORSE game. Luckily, if you are able to play each game at a high level, then HORSE should be a pretty simple game to jump into.
In a HORSE game, the specific rules pertaining to betting order, hand rankings, and betting rounds, change as you switch from game to game. If you are already comfortable with each of the five games, then you don’t even need to think about this. The one thing that is generally held constant among all of the games is the limit structure. While you may see a no limit, or pot limit HORSE game, these are very rare. The most popular way to play, by far, is with fixed limits.
There are two distinctly different ways to progress throughout these different games. If you are playing at a cash table, every time the dealer button completes one full rotation around the table (generally 5-10 hands) then the dealer can go ahead and change he game. If, however, you are playing in a HORSE tournament, then the game will change every time the blinds increase. Regardless of the method, the games go in the order specified by the acronym H.O.R.S.E. This means that Hold’em is first, then Omaha, Razz, Seven Card Stud, and finally Eight or Better. This rotation can continue as long as necessary, and in the case of a cash game, it is never ending.
These HORSE games follow the traditional rules, so the same strategies you would normally employ in each game will continue to work just as well in a HORSE game. There are, however, a few pitfalls that you should be sure to avoid. To start with, you need to understand that all players have game preferences. If you try to get a feel for your opponents too early in a game of HORSE, you may be deceiving yourself. The same player who opened up aggressively while playing Hold’em may suddenly become completely passive when you move into Omaha. Until you’ve seen each player in a wide variety of situations, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to ‘play the man’.
If you feel like you are great at a few HORSE games, but could use a little practice with the others, there is a very simple strategy to follow. Basically you will want to play aggressively in your favorite games, and then as passively as possible in your weakest games. Ideally a few big wins in your favorite games can offset the small losses later on in the other games. While it is true that the player who has the most proficiency in the most different games will, more often than not, come out on top, every player has their strong games and their weak games. By learning how to leverage these differences, you can swing the odds in your favor.
Even the most skilled poker players face one daunting challenge when playing HORSE. After a few hands in any one of the five games, it is easy to get into a rhythm and play perfectly. In the short term, this might land you a few big wins, but if you are going to win at HORSE in the long run, you need to learn how to quickly change gears. Some of the must crucial HORSE plays take place right after you move to a new game. This is when everyone is still getting their bearings, and if you aren’t as easily jarred by the change, then it is the perfect time to strike. It can take years to develop the poise necessary, but if you want to succeed at the game of HORSE, then you’ll need to focus on the first few, vital hands of each game.
HORSE has been popular in backroom games for a while, but it only recently made its way into the limelight. While it had slowly been getting more exposure in the online poker community, the real ‘breakthrough moment’ for HORSE was in the 2006 World Series of Poker. Because HORSE is such a unique game, this event offered a totally new experience for the average viewer. To make the game even more notable, the largest WSOP buy-in of all time, $50,000 was instituted.
When it came down to the final two players, Andy Bloch and Chip Reese, the game set another record. After seeing 286 hands over the course of seven hours, these two players set the WSOP record for the longest heads-up battle ever. In the end, Chip Reese took the $1.7 million first prize and waltzed into the history books. After this incredible display, HORSE was given new life, and today is a widely loved and respected form of poker.