If you started playing poker over the last couple of decades, you probably learned No-Limit Texas Hold'em and perhaps Pot-Limit Omaha.
While there is nothing wrong with these games, there are plenty of other forms of poker out there.
At the highest levels, including the biggest games in the world, other variations of poker are often played as top professionals look to compete and make the games more dynamic.
This competition and desire to make poker more entertaining has given birth to mix games, which combine different poker games into one.
HORSE poker has been the most common mix game variation out there for many years.
Today, this mix is often expanded with the addition of other games, but HORSE is the foundation of the mix game as such.
For those unfamiliar with mix games, I have decided to explain what HORSE poker is, what games are included in it, what skills you will need to play it, and how the game actually works.
Before we jump into anything too technical, let’s talk about what HORSE is and how it is played at the fundamental level.
What is HORSE Poker?
You may have heard of many poker variants but are perhaps still wondering, what is HORSE Poker? This is because it's not actually a single game but a mix of five different variations of poker.
The name stems from the names of the original games themselves, as each letter stands for one of the games. There are five games in the mix in total, and they are:
- Texas Hold’em
- Omaha Hi/Lo Split
- Seven Card Stud
- Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo Split
With the exception of Hold’em, the games younger players may be used to are not in the mix at all.
However, even Hold’em is played in the limit form, which means no big bet games are in the mix.
In most cases, HORSE poker rules dictate that one full orbit of each game is played. The dealer will announce which game is being played and will deal them in turn.
Since all games are played as limit poker, the stakes in HORSE are often higher than those you would find in a regular no limit or pot limit poker game.
The five HORSE poker games are rotated at all times, and players must be skillful in each format.
This is why mix games such as HORSE have long been considered the toughest around, and the Players' Championship tournament at the WSOP is decided over them.
The Games in the HORSE Poker Game Mix
So now that you understand how the HORSE card game works, it’s time to discover each of the games in the mix.
The truth is that very few players in the world are proficient at each variant played in HORSE, which is exactly what makes it so difficult and competitive.
Before you can even sit down at a HORSE table, you will need to learn the fundamentals and basic poker rules of each game in the mix. I will briefly describe all of the five games in the mix, which will be the foundation you can build upon.
Limit Texas Hold’em
No-Limit Texas Hold'em is the most popular poker game in the world, but it is quite a bit different from the limit version of the game.
The basic rules of the game are the same, as each player is dealt two hole cards, and five community cards are dealt over three dealing rounds.
The big difference comes in the betting pattern.
While players can make bets and raises of any size in no limit, the limit version of the game limits the size of each bet and raise.
I will explain the betting in an example. Let us imagine we are playing a $2/$5 Limit Hold'em Game. In this case, the initial blind bets will be $1 and $2, posted by the two players sitting left of the dealer button.
Once the initial cards are dealt out, players will be able to make raises in increments. The first raise will be to $4, the second to $6, and the third and final raise to $8. There can be no more raising.
On the flop, players will be able to bet in $2 increments, all the way up to $8. On the turn and river, the stakes double, which means bets of $4 can be made, up to a total of $16.
As you can see, the bets and raises in the game of Limit Texas Hold’em are much smaller compared to no limit. This means higher stakes can be played as the pots remain under control.
The nature of limit games is also different, and they are much more games of math and less of bluffs, reads, and decision making.
Omaha Hi/Lo Split – 8 or Better
If you have played Pot Limit Omaha, you are familiar with the basic rules of this game. Each player is dealt four hole cards, followed by the five community cards on the flop, turn, and river.
The betting patterns of Omaha Hi/Lo are the same as those of Limit Hold'em and all other limit games. However, this is not the main difference between this game and PLO.
As the name says, this is a split game, which means the pot is split between a “high” and a “low” hand. The low hand doesn’t always have to exist.
The best high hand is the one that is best according to the traditional poker hand rankings. However, the best low hand is the lowest possible combination of cards that does not include a pair.
This makes the low straight, often called the wheel, the best possible low hand. Holding a wheel in this game is often good for both the high and the low half of the pot.
A hand can only qualify as a low if the highest card in it is an eight or lower. If no player has a combination of five cards lower than an 8 (no pairs), the entire pot goes to the high hand winner.
This game can also be played in pot-limit format since so many pots in it are split, but in the HORSE poker game, it is played in the limit format.
Razz is the low variant of the Seven Card Stud, which is also a part of the HORSE mix. This game is all about making the lowest possible hand and is also played in the limit format.
Like all stud games, this one also starts with each player being dealt two cards down and one card up. A betting round ensues, after which another up card is dealt.
Cards are dealt one at a time, face-up, until players have six cards each. The final card is dealt face down, and the last betting round can start.
Once all the betting has been done, the winner is determined based on which player has the lowest possible combination of cards.
The low straight or the wheel is the nuts in this game.
If no player has this combination, other low combinations may take the pot. Pairs do not count towards one’s hand, but straights and flushes are ignored.
Seven Card Stud
Seven Card Stud is the original version of the game and is played with the exact same rules as Razz, except the object of the game is to make the best possible hand by the regular poker hand rankings.
The game starts with each player posting an ante. When the first three cards are dealt to each player, the one showing the lowest possible card has to “bring in.”
The “bring in” bet is worth half of the regular bet.
Players can then opt to call this bet or complete, meaning they raise to one full bet. Further raises can be made, up to four bets.
After the three initial cards, the cards are dealt one at a time, face-up, with the final, seventh card dealt face down.
The winner of the hand is the player who can show the best poker hand or the last one remaining with cards if all other players fold theirs.
Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo – 8 or Better
The rules of Seven Card Stud and Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo don’t differ much, other than the fact this is a split game, which means half of the pot is assigned to a low hand if there is one.
Just like O8, only combinations of cards lower than an 8 (not including pairs) can win the low half of the pot. This means many pots still go just one way.
In Stud 8, players often look to start with low connected cards, which allow them to make both the low and the high hand by the river, allowing them to scoop the entire pot.
Stud Hi/Lo is probably the most dynamic of all Stud games and is very fun to play with many different things to look out for.
7 Tips for Playing HORSE Poker
I have covered the games that you will be playing while sitting at a HORSE table and the basic HORSE poker rules. But that doesn’t help you too much in becoming a better player overall, does it?
For that reason, I am also including a few quick tips that will actually help you win more at HORSE poker, especially if you are playing against opponents who are new to the game, like yourself.
Some of these poker tips can actually be applied to every format of the game, so I suggest you keep them all in mind and remember to apply them at the tables.
1. Play tight but aggressive
While playing tight in big bet games is a thing of the past, and most good players have expanded their ranges significantly, playing tight in limit games is still the right way to go.
Since your bets are limited in size, it can be very hard to make players fold their cards, especially once they realize you are playing too many hands.
For that reason, playing a fairly tight range of starting hands in every game is usually a good idea. However, when you do get involved, make sure you come in for a raise and keep on firing.
As long as you believe you have the best hand, keep making those bets since there are only so many you can make. Don't be too worried about people having monsters, because they usually don't.
2. Play in position
Positional play is important in every form of poker, and limit games you will be playing during the various HORSE rounds are no different.
Being in position gives you the advantage of going last and being able to control the action more than the other guys.
You should only play the really strong hands from earlier positions and try to play looser once you get into the better positions. Still, even in a good position, remember that you will not be able to scare people with your bets too much.
3. Learn every game
To be solid at HORSE, you don’t have to be an actual master of every game. By default, most people are better at some games than others, and that’s OK.
However, you can't allow yourself to be so bad at one game that you are consistently losing at it. To be good at the HORSE poker game, you have to at least learn the basic strategies for every game.
The Stud games all have some similarities, but some tricks can be applied to each of them individually. Find good resources for each game, and your win rate will thank you.
4. Keep a healthy bankroll
The limit games are not as variance-heavy as the no-limit ones, but there is still some variance in play. You must make sure you don't go bust because of a bad downswing, which means keeping a good bankroll.
Of course, keeping a healthy bankroll is always a good idea when playing poker or gambling in general. The HORSE stakes will often be relatively high compared to no-limit games you may be used to, so get ready for that.
5. Keep track of the games
This one goes without saying, but at times you can get carried away and forget which game is being played. This won't happen on Hold'em and Omaha rounds but can happen with the three Stud games.
More than once, I have seen players expecting to get half the pot, only to realize they are playing regular Stud or a round or Razz.
Always be attentive, not only to the game that's being played but also to the way others are playing, their wins and losses, and their general demeanor.
6. Force the action in your top game
If you have a top game, and you probably will, you should make sure to play as many hands in that game as possible.
This does not mean playing trash hands that will get you in trouble, but it does mean pushing it a little bit, especially when in position.
If you can get players who are weak at your top game to come along for the ride, you should be making a significant profit during those rounds.
7. Realize others’ weaknesses
Just like you likely have some games in the mix that you are weaker at, so do the other players. You should make sure to keep a mental note of that and try to exploit it.
If you are attentive enough, especially in a live game, there will be many ways to tell if one player is bad at a particular game.
In many cases, people will actually talk about sucking at Omaha, Hold’em, or the Stud games, so make sure you remember that and try to push them to play as many hands of those games as possible.
Start Playing HORSE – the Elite Form of Poker
Poker is a game played by millions around the planet, but the HORSE poker games bring together the world’s elite to compete at the highest levels.
You will surely not be able to sit down with the best of them right away, but getting involved in some lower-stakes games could prove to be extremely fun and possibly lucrative.
Now that you know HORSE poker rules, you can start playing online right now or look for a casino that spreads them at lower stakes.
I recommend starting out small and moving your way up as you learn the different games and get better since you will need some time to catch up with the tricks that the best poker players have been coming up with for years.