HORSE is the original mix-game of the modern poker era. The name is an acronym for the games that make up the mix: Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, and Stud Eight or better. Although this challenging poker format is more commonly seen in tournament format, it can also be found in cash games, especially online, and often at high stakes. If you are not yet familiar with how to play HORSE, please read the Rules page on this site.
In order to be a strong HORSE player, you must have a good understanding of both flop games and stud games, and you must be proficient at playing high-only poker, high-low split pot games, and in the case of razz, a low only game. However, unlike the more complicated 8-game and 10-game mixes, all HORSE games are played with a limit betting structure (so you never have to worry about bet sizing) and all of the games that include a low are played ace-to-five, so you never have to be concerned about going for the wrong type of low at HORSE.
HORSE can be a very fun and interesting game to play because it draws in players from all different forms of poker, many of whom may not ordinarily get the chance to play together. When playing HORSE, it is very common to encounter players who are very skilled and experienced at one game, but who are quite amateurish at some of the others. In some cases, a few of your opponents may not even be sure of some of the games‘ rules! For this reason, before attempting to play this fairly difficult mixed-game, you might want to make sure that you not only know the intricacies of all of the rules of the different forms of poker involved in HORSE, but also that you are at least familiar with the beginner’s pitfalls in each game. Even if you are the best Hold’em player at the table, if you are completely incompetent at Stud or Omaha, all of the chips you win at the Hold’em portion can easily disappear during the other rotations.
When playing HORSE, one must pay close attention to each opponent, and attempt to determine which games your individual foes are strong at, and which (if any) are their weakness. Sometimes, the clues that someone is unfamiliar or unconfident at one game may be very obvious. For example, when playing a game they struggle with, players may take a lot more time making decisions or may play much looser or tighter than they do in their better game. If you’re playing in a live setting, they may repeatedly check their hole cards during the hand, turn over losing hands at showdown, or even ask the dealer or other players to remind them of a particular rule. Often, players will make make disdainful comments or bogus rationalizations about games they are not experienced or well versed in, blaming their poor results at a particular game on bad luck. When you see things like this, it almost always means they are weak at the game they are expressing distaste for, so it pays to keep your ears open for such clues (or eyes on the chat box if playing online).
Other times, weaknesses are more subtle and require a deeper understanding of the games to uncover. For instance, Stud players often overvalue their pocket pairs and go too far with them at Hold’em, while Hold’em players often forget to be mindful of all the dead cards from folded hands in Stud games. Furthermore, players who are used to single-winner games often make the rookie mistake of drawing to non-nut lows in multi-way pots (and vastly overvalue the low side of the pot in general) when playing the high/low games. And at Razz, it is common for the uninitiated to not understand the difference in strength between opening hands like A27 and 457 (you should try to draw from the bottom up), and often miss out on valuable but fairly routine opportunities to steal on third street when you don’t have a great hand, but have a decent up-card with all higher cards behind you.
Keeping in mind that you can expect many of your HORSE opponents to be uneducated on at least one game in the rotation, make sure to take advantage, especially when you have position on them. When you’re ready to take the plunge into playing HORSE, make sure you are comfortable playing all of the games, and don’t overextend yourself at the games which aren’t your strong points – if you play tighter in those games and stick to playing solid starting hands instead of marginal ones, you’ll find yourself in less marginal situations, with much easier decisions, and ultimately, a lot more chips. For tips on how to play each individual game in HORSE, check out our strategy section which offers articles on every poker variation discussed here.
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