HORSE is a mixed poker style that combines several games into one play session. The name “H.O.R.S.E” is an acronym for five poker games:
- Texas Hold ’em
- Omaha Hi-Lo
- Razz Poker
- Seven Card Stud High
- Eight or better Seven Card Stud High-Low (sometimes called simply “Hi-Lo”)
In a HORSE tournament the game type changes periodically. In casinos this switch is normally done after the dealer buck has been passed around the table. Tournaments may use this method or they may switch after a set number of hands or within a specific time period. “Turbo” competitions raise the limits on the games periodically to speed up the tournament.
The World Series of Poker introduced HORSE tournaments in 2002. In their version games switch each hour with a final round of No Limit Hold ’em ending the tournament. This was originally a minor event, but in 2006 a tournament was added with a record buy-in of $50,000. Chip Reese won this tournament, and after his death the following year the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy was introduced. This trophy is awarded to the winner of the HORSE tournament.
There are several variations which add additional games:
- THORSEHA includes the HORSE games plus Two–Seven Triple Draw, No Limit Hold ’em, and regular Pot Limit Omaha. PokerStars added THORSEHA to their championship lineup in 2008. When the World Series of Poker was replaced by The Poker Player’s Championship in 2010 the Chip Reese championship changed into a THORSEHA tournament.
- CHORSE adds either Crazy Pineapple or Chowaha.
- CHORSEL adds Lowball to the CHORSE lineup.
- HOSE and SHOE are both HORSE without Razz.
In all these variations the games are played in their letter order: HOSE tournaments play Texas Hold ’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Seven Card Stud High, and Eight or better Seven Card Stud High-Low in that order while SHOE tournaments play Seven Card Stud High, Texas Hold ’em, Omaha Hold ’em, and finally Eight or better Seven Card Stud High-Low.
Playing the Games in HORSE
Each player gets two downcards called “hole cards” at the start of the game. The next card is burned and three community upcards are placed on the table. Players bet three times, adding two more community upcards to the table. Hands are made by combining the community cards with the player’s two hole cards.
Omaha Hi-Lo Poker
Omaha works much like Texas Hold ’em except players get four hole cards. Two of the four cards must be played in each hand. In this hi-lo variation the low hand cards must be 8 or lower while the high hand cards must be 9 or higher. The pot is split between the high hand winner and the low hand winner.
Seven Card Stud High
Each player has their own hand beginning with two downcards and one upcard. After the first three rounds of betting each player receives an upcard. The players receive a final downcard after the fourth round for a total of three downcards and four upcards. Hands can made using any combination of cards.
In this variation of Seven Card Stud the goal is to get the lowest cards. The ace is low. The best possible hand is Ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The best suit is spades followed by hearts, diamonds, and clubs.
Eight or Better Seven Card Stud High-Low
This combines Seven Card Stud’s dealing procedure with the split hands of Omaha Hi-Lo. Like Omaha the pot is split between the best high hand and the best low hand.
A solid knowledge base of all five games is key in being a successful HORSE player. However, this play style adds some unique challenges to these games.
It can be easy to lose track of which game is being played. This can be used to your advantage: If an opposing player has face cards for their upcards in Razz and they don’t fold you can lead them on in betting.
Few players are strong in all of HORSE’s games. While almost all poker players are familiar with Texas Hold ’em, Razz and Hi-Lo are rarely played by themselves. So few people play Razz that outside of tournaments it’s often removed changing HORSE into HOSE or SHOE.
All the games used in HORSE are limit games. This changes the flow of the games considerably: Draws are common and pots are smaller. Bluffing isn’t as important as there are no giant game-winning hands. Playing for statistical advantage is key.
The margins are very close: The difference between a winner and a loser in a tournament will often be just a few hands. In professional tournaments this difference can be as little as two or three hands for each hour of gameplay.
The limit also means the only way to get chips is to try and get the max bet on as many turns as possible. Raising at the middle or end of a hand may be enough to sway the other players to put more chips down: They won’t fold immediately as they would if you place a large bet at the start, while they will also be less inclined to automatically check each turn. Slowplaying won’t generate the chips needed to stay in the game.
Once you get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of your fellow players, change your seat so that you can bet after the more experienced and bigger betting players have passed the buck. This leaves you in a position where you can decide if it will be worth paying in to see the end of the hand while also pushing weak players to make bets.
Tells are important but not in the way you’d normally think of them: If a player seems to drift off during one game and pays attention during another game you can bet that they’re weak on the first game and strong on the second. These quick observations can help you find the right seat early in the game.