How to Play HORSE Poker | Official Rules of HORSE Poker

What does HORSE mean in poker? It can mean one of two things:

  • "HORSE poker" the mixed game, which is a game played with a specific rotation of different poker variants
  • "Horse" meaning a player funded by a backer, often among a "stable" of other players

This page explains the rules of HORSE poker, the mixed-game, so read on if that's what you're here to learn about.

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What is HORSE Poker?

As Holdem games have become tougher and tougher over the years many poker players have branched out to other variations of poker in search of both softer games and a new challenge.

Among the more popular mixed games players have jumped on to is H.O.R.S.E. - the famed game of the original $50,000 HORSE Championship at the World Series of Poker.

Among the top poker pros HORSE poker was considered the true test of a player's acumen. The winner of the first $50,000 HORSE Championship, Chip Reese (for whom the trophy is now named for), embodied exactly that.

The $50,0000 Poker Player's Championship at the WSOP was changed to 8-Game in 2010 but the legacy of HORSE poker lives on as high-stakes pros continue to play it in Bobby's Room, the private glassed-off private are in the middle of the Bellagio poker room in Las Vegas.

What are the Games in HORSE Poker?

How to Play HORSE
HORSE O.G. Chip Reese

The names of mixed games in poker are typically acronyms formed from the poker variants in the rotation.

The most commonly played mixed game is known as H.O.R.S.E. The letters stand for:

(Click on any of the above variants for its complete rules and game play)

Other common mixed-game variations, like HOSE or SHOE, drop Razz from the mix.

How to Play HORSE Poker

As you might have guessed HORSE poker is played by playing one orbit (a full rotation around the table) of each game before rotating on to the next.

It proceeds in the same order all the time - from Hold'em to Omaha Hi/Lo to Razz to 7-Card Stud High and finally to Stud Hi/Lo 8-or-Better.

How do you know when the game has changed? Well, when you're playing in a live game the dealer will both:

  • Notify you verbally
  • Have a card with the current game placed on top of the table
H.O.R.S.E. poker rules
H.O.R.S.E. a fav for the big guns.

If you play HORSE poker online the current game will be listed at the top of the table border.

The sharpest among you might also be able to tell you've suddenly been dealt a different amount of cards - although admittedly that's not much help for the last three rounds.

The standard HORSE game or tournament usually runs 8-handed.

HORSE Games = Limit Games

An interesting point to note is that all of the games in a HORSE rotation are typically played in their Fixed Limit variations

For No-Limit Hold'em fans, sadly that means no wild all in shoves before the flop to speed things along (although as mixed games have moved to 8-Game or 10-game lately No-Limit has creeped into the mix).

The Limits are also keep the same throughout the whole rotation of games so if you start with $2/$5 Hold'em it'll remain $2/$5 for all of the other games as well.

Also of note: When the game switches to Razz the button is held at the same spot so when the rotation gets back to Hold'em the blinds are still in the same spot.

Where to Play HORSE Poker Online

While HORSE is a regular offering at major live poker tournament events like the World Series of Poker and in some old-school card rooms around the world, it doesn't have a huge presence online.

Since it does require the software to have the capabilities for 5 different poker variants HORSE poker online is offered at very few sites. In fact, we currently know of just one poker site - PokerStars - that has HORSE in its yearly schedule.

You can compete for a HORSE bracelet during the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and occasionally in other PokerStars tournament series. You can also try out HORSE or other Mixed-Game Variants like 8-Game in PokerStars' free poker games and cash games.

Find out more here or click the banner below to jump right in:

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HORSE Poker Basic Strategy

If you're looking to jump into a HORSE poker game and try it out there are a few simple tips that'll help you stay above water as you learn the ropes.

Becoming an expert in HORSE, of course, requires you to become an expert in all of the specific poker variations played in HORSE so we'll refer you to our Poker Strategy section for more in-depth advice on each individual poker variation.

HORSE rules
Know which HORSE game you're playing.

In the meantime, though, here are a couple simple pointers to get you started on the right foot in HORSE poker.

1. Learn the Rules of All the Games

You might think this is a no-brainer but you'd be surprised at how many people on a HORSE table don't actually know the rules of HORSE poker!

And not just a bit fuzzy about the rules of one or two of the games. They might not even understand any of the games except Holdem.

This is shockingly not uncommon in HORSE poker games both live and online. So it definitely behooves you - and of course helps speed the game along - to have a thorough understanding of the rules of HORSE poker and its games.

So you should know what the bring is in Stud, what the best hands in Razz are, etc. Again: It seems simple, but it's essential. And not something every player will do. To immerse yourself in the rules of HORSE poker variations, check our full game guides here:

2. Find the Soft Spots in the Soft Games

If most players at small-stakes games aren't even familiar with the rules of HORSE poker, you can imagine what their general sense of HORSE strategy might be.

The answer: poor, at best. Most players, generally speaking, are familiar with Holdem rules and strategy basics. But Limit Holdem itself is another animal altogether.

A lot of visitors from the No-Limit realm don't really appreciate the nuances of Limit poker betting and find themselves at showdown with the worst of it quite often. If you're a Limit Hold'em expert, expect to find some soft spots where those used No-Limit don't get the intricacies of proper Limit Hold'em strategy.

Outside of Hold'em you'll find a ton of soft spots in Razz and 7-Card Stud Hi-Lo – games even the most diehard old-timers don’t play much of.  As you play you should be able to spot the weakest players at each of the games – and that’s where you should aim your attention in HORSE poker.

3. Play Biggest Pots in Your Best Games

While there are usually some very soft spots in a HORSE poker game, that likely applies to you in certain spots as well. If you’re a specialist in one or two of the games and not so well-versed in the others, you could find yourself in a big pot you have no business being in in a variant you’re not so great at.

How to Play H.O.R.S.E.
Steer clear of HORSE geniuses.

It’s poor poker etiquette to sit out or not play at all in the variants you’re least comfortable with but there’s nothing wrong with treading lightly in your worst games.

Avoid playing big pots in games where your clearly overmatched by a better opponent. Know where you can find your best edge and stay aggressive when you find those spots.

4. Stick to Solid Poker Fundamentals

Even if you don’t know the ins and outs of optimal Razz strategy, some basic poker fundamentals always apply in poker.

  • Playing in position is always better than being out of position
  • Making bluffs that don’t make sense is never a good idea
  • Don’t play every hand under the sun – stick to the better starting hands and all of your post-flop decisions become easier.

Make sure you’re well-versed in the best starting hands for each poker variant and you’ll be well ahead of many opponents at the HORSE poker tables – at least at the micro-stakes.

Related Reading:

5. Pay Attention to Stud Up Cards

If you’re an inexperienced Stud player the first thing you should work on is remembering what up cards you have and haven’t seen. Stud is definitely a showdown game with very few hands won on big bluffs on the turn and river.

If you’re aware of the cards on the board that really helps narrow down your opponent’s ranges and puts you in a better spot to know your hand’s chances at showdown.

Related Reading:

6. Stay Aggressive

You know how the old saying goes: Aggression is good at the poker table – even when it’s bad. The more pressure you can put on your opponents to make tough decisions, the better.

General Mixed Game Poker Rules

Although the rules can change depending on the house rules, mixed games like HORSE typically follow a standard set of conventions.

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  1. All players must agree on the games to be played in the rotation before play commences.
  2. Any player looking to add or remove a game from the rotation must get agreement from all players at the table.
  3. In a tournament setting the games in the rotation are set before the start of the first hand and any change in the games rotation must be clearly stated before the first hand is dealt.
  4. Unless otherwise stated each poker variant is played for one full rotation. Every player must have the chance to be the dealer for the game being played.
  5. In a game without a dealer button (such as Stud) the dealer button travels around the table as it would in Hold'em only to keep track of the number of hands played.
  6. Typically there will be some form of sign to remind the players of the game currently being played.
  7. Although it's not explicitly against the rules to do otherwise players are expected to play all variants. I.e. a player is not allowed to opt out of playing one variant or to cherry-pick their favorites.

Some mixed games function as a "Dealer's Choice." This format is most successful if the two following rules are instated:

  1. Only variants agreed upon by all players before the start of the game are acceptable.
  2. The chosen variant is played for one full orbit +1 hand.

Having the variant change every hand can make the game feel disjointed and lack flow. Players like the ability to get into a game and actually play a hand of the variation before it changes. 

Since you will fold most of the hands you'll be dealt, if only one hand of a variant is dealt players may lose interest in the game.

Related HORSE Poker Rules Articles

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