H.O.R.S.E. Poker Strategy Doesn’t Have to be Hard

HORSE poker events can represent a real challenge for you and your skills, but this format also offers a lot of excitement and is a great way to step out of the Hold'em realm
HORSE poker events can represent a real challenge for you and your skills, but this format also offers a lot of excitement and is a great way to step out of the Hold’em realm

In the inaugural $50,000 buy-in HORSE poker tournament event at the 2006 World Series of Poker, Chip Reese beat out fellow high-stakes cash game players like Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey to take the title.

The event made headlines for bringing back professional purity to a tournament now known for being a lottery of online amateurs and many have taken an interest in this classic but obscure form of poker. HORSE is an acronym for mixed games.

What does H.O.R.S.E stand for?

The H.O.R.S.E. acronym stands for:

  • Limit Hold’em (H)
  • Omaha H/L (O)
  • Razz (R)
  • 7 Card Stud (S)
  • Stud 8/b (E).

While the wealthiest professionals often play mixed limit games in the biggest cash games in the world, HORSE can be difficult for the rest of us.

What makes HORSE poker difficult to play?

  • HORSE poker is a limit game. For tournament play (or even cash game play in my case) most of us are used to no-limit. This means that you can’t defend as much against draws or extract as many chips as you might have been able to in no-limit.
  • Many of us are unfamiliar with games like Razz or Stud Eights or Better, which are both incorporated as the R and E of HORSE poker. If you’re weak or completely clueless at certain games, you’ll have a major disadvantage.
  • You’re forced to switch between games every round. If you aren’t paying attention (especially with the Stud games) you could be playing a different game than the rest of the table.
  • All HORSE games are filled with draws. This can both work for and against you.
Due to games changing every round, HORSE poker will really require your full attention and concentration at a table
Due to games changing every round, HORSE poker will really require your full attention and concentration at a table

That being said, HORSE is an extremely fun and addicting form of poker. While I’m coming from the same area as most of my readers (playing strictly no-limit Hold’em), I’ve enjoyed learning how to play HORSE and I’ve played several small-stakes tournaments played in the mixed-game format.

As far as I know, HORSE is played in both tournament and cash game varieties at PokerStars. HORSE tournaments are also played.

While I haven’t become an expert at mixed games as of yet, I feel like I’m picking up the flow of the game and have been improving in my tournament results. I’d like to give some HORSE tournament strategy tips for those of you wanting to pick the game.

Playing different HORSE poker games

Limit Hold’em (H)

While many players are already regulars in limit hold’em cash games, many of us have come to prefer no-limit both in cash games and tournaments. If you aren’t in practice with limit, you should realize that draws are much more common, pots are smaller, and bluffing is much less important.

If you are unsure if you have the best hand on the river in limit, it is almost always worth it to call a single bet as you’ll frequently be getting 10:1 pot odds or better.

Finally, slowplaying rarely improves your value in limit hold’em (especially against multiple opponents) as there aren’t many opportunities to build a big pot and you’re voluntarily giving a free card to draws.

HORSE poker represents an interesting mixture of high, low, and high/low games
HORSE poker represents an interesting mixture of high, low, and high/low games

Omaha High/Low Split (O)

Omaha H/L is played like Hold’em but each player is dealt 4 cards and you must play 2 of them. The best high hand splits the best low hand and it is possible to have both. You can use different cards for the high and the low.

To qualify for a low hand, your hand must have 5 cards 8 or lower. The best possible low hand is A,2,3,4,5. While it is easy to play too many hands in Omaha, in High/Low you should restrict your starting hands to those that can win both the High and the Low.

Great starting hands include A,A,2,3 or A,K,2,3 with both suited Aces. That way, you can make the nut flush, a strong full house, and/or the nut low hand. Remember that pairs count against a low hand so there must be 5 unique cards under 8 to qualify.

Razz (R)

This is 7 Card Stud played only for the low. The best hand in Razz is A,2,3,4,5 and this can be a very tricky game. Otherwise solid mixed-game players can lose massive amounts of chips in this game if they aren’t careful. In fact, the nickname for Razz amongst pros is “The Hated Game”.

You shouldn’t even consider playing a starting hand that doesn’t contain 3 unpaired cards lower than 8. Remember that you need 5 low cards to even qualify, so you should easily release a hand if you’re drawing cards like Queens, Kings, or Jacks.

Some players don’t even know the rules to this game, so be on the lookout for clueless opponents who have 3 Queens and an Ace showing. In this situation, you might have the best hand with a 9 or 10-high.

If your attention slips while playing HORSE poker, you could end up playing a wrong game altogether
If your attention slips while playing HORSE poker, you could end up playing a wrong game altogether

7 Card Stud (S)

This is the classic high-card Stud game. The best possible starting hand is A,A,A and you can play this game with the drawing odds you’ve learned from Hold’em. Remember that even a pair of unimproved Aces rarely wins the pot.

The average winning hand in Stud is 2 pair, so continue to pay attention to your opponents’ betting patterns and their exposed cards.

7 Card Stud Eights or Better (E)

This is another name for Seven Card Stud H/L. This is the third HORSE game where you’ll need to pay attention to the low. As in Omaha H/L and Razz, the low hand must contain 5 unique cards 8 or lower to qualify.

The low hand splits the pot with the high hand and it is possible for one player to scoop the entire pot. Good starting hands in 7 Stud 8/b include A,2,3 or A,A,2. The best possible hand is a straight flush: A,2,3,4,5. A more realistic, and usually unbeatable hand, is just a wheel straight.

If there are any games from the HORSE poker rotation you are particularly weak in, make sure to learn at least rules and basic strategy before sitting down at a table
If there are any games from the HORSE poker rotation you are particularly weak in, make sure to learn at least rules and basic strategy before sitting down at a table

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Final HORSE poker tips

In HORSE tournaments, you’ll need to pay attention to the changes in games and adjust accordingly. Most HORSE poker events are Turbo, so the stakes will rise every few hands or minutes in order to speed up the game.

If you’re weak in any particular game, make an effort to learn the rules and watch to see hands that consistently win.

While it may initially be a challenge, HORSE poker is a great way to expand your ability to play mixed games, take a break from Hold’em, and perhaps find another type of game that you’re strong enough to play in cash games.

Josh H( Owner and Editor-in-Chief )

A lifelong poker player who moved online in 2004, Josh founded Beat The Fish in 2005 to help online poker players make more-informed decisions on where to play and how to win once they got there. He hopes to counter the rampant dishonesty in online gaming media with objective reviews and relevant features. Tech nostalgic. Cryptocurrency missionary. Fondly remembers the soup avatar at Doyle’s Room.

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