HORSE Poker Rules & Strategy Tips – Learn How to Play HORSE
While individual poker games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha may be the most popular, mixed games are widely considered the most skillful forms of online poker.
For many years, HORSE Poker was the most popular mixed game variation, first introduced to the general poker audience at the 2002 World Series of Poker.
The game of HORSE consists of five different poker variants, all of which are played separately at both the tournament and cash game tables.
If you are new to HORSE Poker, this guide is going to teach you how to play HORSE, which games you will need to master, and some basic strategy tips that you can apply in-game to get an edge over your opponents.
But before I can teach you how to play HORSE well, we need to talk about which games are a part of this popular poker mix.
Which Games Make Up HORSE Poker?
HORSE Poker is made up of five different poker variations, and the name HORSE is derived from the names of these games, with the letters distributed in a witty way to mimic the name of the animal.
The five games you will need to learn to play before you sit down in a HORSE event are:
- Limit Texas Hold’em
- Limit Omaha 8
- Limit Razz
- Limit Seven Card Stud
- Limit Seven Card Stud 8 or Better
If you are already familiar with some of these games, you will have an easier time adjusting to playing HORSE poker.
Yet, even if you are a complete novice, there is time to learn all five and become a master of HORSE.
I am going to go over the basics of each of the five games before I jump into some tips and strategies you can use to put it all together and be a good HORSE player.
Limit Texas Hold’em Poker
Texas Hold’em is easily the most popular variation of poker played these days, but it is most commonly played as a no-limit game.
That wasn’t always the case, though, as Limit Hold’em was the bread and butter game for many of the world’s greatest poker players, such as Daniel Negreanu.
Limit Hold’em is played with identical rules to No Limit, with the big differences coming in the betting patterns.
Like all limit games, Limit Hold’em only allows players to make limited-size bets on each betting street, which are predetermined in a cash game and escalate in a tournament.
Limit Hold’em is perhaps the easiest version of poker you will need to learn to play HORSE Poker if you are already a No-Limit player, which most of you reading probably are.
Limit Omaha 8 Poker
Pot Limit Omaha has become an immensely popular game in recent years thanks to its action-heavy nature and the opportunity to play many hands and generate some massive pots.
Limit Omaha 8 is a much different game, although it is played with the same number of hole and community cards per hand.
In this version of poker, players are looking to create either a high or a low hand, with the best high and best low hand splitting the pot at the end of the hand.
The game is also played with limited betting sizes, which takes away the opportunity to make big bets as you can in PLO.
Players like Mike Matusow built up their bankrolls and their fame playing Limit Omaha 8, but the game has lost much of its popularity thanks to the rise of the big bet games.
If you are going to learn how to play HORSE properly, Limit Omaha 8 is going to be one of the trickier games to master as it sticks out from the mix of the Stud games and is also quite a bit different than Limit Hold’em.
For this reason, I recommend taking some extra time to master Omaha 8 and make sure you are playing these rounds right, as more experienced players can seriously exploit you at it if you don’t know what you are doing.
Limit Razz Poker
The next game in the HORSE Poker mix is Razz, the popular lowball game which is based on the rules of Seven Card Stud.
Razz is played without any community cards, and each player receives seven separate cards, trying to make the “worst” poker hand possible.
That means you will be going for the low straight if possible, as this is the absolute nuts in Razz Poker.
Since Razz is strictly a lowball game, you will not be splitting the pot between low and high hands, so you should only be looking for low cards and always folding your big card combos.
The game is played in a limit format, and since only low cards really work towards making a big hand, many Razz hands end on early streets, making big pots rare.
Razz is not the game that is likely to make or break your HORSE career, so I highly recommend focusing on other games before you look too deeply into Razz.
Limit Seven Card Stud Poker
Seven Card Stud is one of the legendary poker games. Before No-Limit Hold’em was popularized, Stud was by far the most popular form of poker played in America and beyond.
Since Razz and Stud 8 are both based on Seven Card Stud, this game is going to be critical for your success in HORSE Poker.
Seven Card Stud is a game played without community cards and with each player at the table receiving seven unique hole cards. The limit format is the only widespread form of Seven Card Stud.
In this game, you will be looking for a high hand, with hand rankings identical to those in games like Texas Hold’em or Omaha.
Seven Card Stud creates many more bluffing opportunities than the previous game in the mix, making Stud rounds more exciting and volatile than Razz rounds could ever hope to be.
Limit Stud 8 or Better Poker
To close off the HORSE Poker mix, we have Limit Stud 8 or Better. This game is a clear mix of Stud and Razz, with the pot split down the half between the best high and the best low hand.
However, keep in mind that the low hand only counts in this game if the highest card in it is eight or lower, which means there won’t be a low in every single Stud 8 hand.
Yet, the importance of low cards in Stud 8 is critical, and you are best off playing hands that can make both a high and a low with high frequency.
The most experienced Stud 8 players try not to play hands that can only win the high portion of the pot unless they are super strong, while low cards are played at all times as they have the potential to make a low straight along with winning the low half of the pot.
The strategy for Stud 8 goes way beyond this, and it is overall one of the most entertaining games in the HORSE mix that you will want to learn and spend as many hours as you can mastering and getting the hang of.
Top 5 Tips for Playing HORSE Poker
This guide would become way too long if I tried to teach you how to play each of the five games in it, which is why I recommend you look at the individual guides for each game and only start playing HORSE once you are fully familiar with the rules of each.
This may take some time for some, but others are already familiar with all the games and maybe itching to get started on some HORSE tournaments or cash games.
If you think you are ready to start playing HORSE, here are a few tips and tricks from my own playbook that are going to help you do better at HORSE Poker early on:
1. Pay Attention to Game Changes
This may seem like a super simple tip, but it’s actually one that will serve every HORSE or mixed games player out there when first getting started.
The truth is that even more experienced players sometimes get confused over which game is being played once the Stud rounds kick-off.
You are going to be playing rounds of Razz, Seven Card Stud, and Stud 8 back to back without any special notice.
The dealer is going to change the game card in live games, and the table will clearly display the game you are playing online, but you will need to pay attention to this.
If you don’t, a game change may happen without you noticing, which can cause you to play for the low in Seven Card Stud or chase a split pot in a game where it doesn’t exist.
The number one top I can give you is to pay attention to the game that’s being played, as not doing so is a sure way to lose some money while also embarrassing yourself in the process.
2. Learn All the Games
There are players who try to play mixed games by being “specialists,” meaning they focus on just one or two of the games in the mix and neglect the others.
I highly recommend against this as HORSE Poker is a game of its own, and you need to play each game at least decently if you want to stand a chance against competent players.
Sure enough, you don’t have to be an absolute master of each of the five games, but if you suck at any one of them, you will have a big problem.
If you do find yourself lacking skills in one of the games, I recommend learning the most basic concepts of it and playing it as tight as possible when it rolls around.
This way, you will not be bleeding too much by playing hands you don’t know what to do with, and you may still break some profit with the very best starting hands in that particular variant.
3. Watch the Up Cards
Three of the five games in HORSE Poker are variations of Stud Poker, which means there are no community cards in play.
In all three of these games, watching the folded up cards of your opponents can have a pretty big impact on the way you should play your hand.
Mixed game players consider it second nature to always track up cards and know what everyone folded, but it can be a challenge to novice players.
I recommend making a conscious decision to always keep track of all the up cards during the Stud rounds and find a way to memorize the cards that work best for you.
4. Don’t Overestimate Yourself
If you are a good NLH or PLO player, it can be easy to overestimate yourself and think you are going to crush everyone at the mixed game tables as well.
However, you need to understand that players you will find at HORSE Poker tables are often mixed game specialists who have spent hundreds of hours playing these games while you haven’t.
It is important to take a humble approach and try to learn all the games one step at a time. Drop down in stakes while learning these games, and don’t think you are better than anyone.
In fact, if you are new to HORSE Poker, I recommend taking tips from the more experienced players while weighing everything they say against the broader poker strategy you are familiar with and common sense.
If the tips you are getting seem to make sense, you should definitely soak them up and try to adapt your game to incorporate the plays that other players are regularly making.
5. Poker Is Still Poker
The one thing that many old-school mixed game players won’t admit is that poker strategies developed by the more modern generations are superior simply because they are based on the actual math behind poker.
If you have the poker strategies for games like Hold’em or Omaha down quite well, you should not have a very difficult time adjusting to the various limit games in the HORSE mix.
You should not try to completely forget the lessons you learned while coming up as a big bet player and instead incorporate them along with the new stuff to become the best possible mixed game player.
At the end of the day, poker is still poker, and the best players in any format seem to have a pretty comfortable time transferring their knowledge and adapting to other forms of poker when the time comes.
Start Playing HORSE Poker Today!
Now that you know the rules of HORSE and the basic idea behind the game, the big question is, where do you play it?
Thankfully, several online poker sites offer HORSE Poker games, with PokerStars being the biggest one and the one with the widest offer of HORSE games.
When it comes to live HORSE games, you may find some in your local casinos, but your best bet is to go to Las Vegas during the summer or to other places when the big tournament series are in town.
You are likely to find a HORSE table or another mixed game table running, but the thing you need to understand is that HORSE doesn’t run nearly as much as big-bet games these days.
It is for this reason that you need to weigh the pros and cons of learning how to play HORSE against mastering other games, as the profitability of focusing on HORSE may be questionable.
If you do decide to spend the time needed to master HORSE Poker, you may just find yourself playing against some of the best players in the world someday at poker tables where mixed games are considered the only real form of poker competition left.