How to Play H.O.R.S.E. | Official Rules of HORSE Poker

1977 Doyle Brunson

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 mixed game of the original $50,000 HORSE Championship at the World Series of Poker.

Among the legends of the game, H.O.R.S.E was considered the true test of a poker player's acumen and the winner of the first $50,000 HORSE Championship, Chip Reese (for whom the trophy is now named for), embodied exactly that.

The Championship was changed to 8-Game in 2010 but the legacy of the game of H.O.R.S.E. lives on as the high-stakes pros continue to play it from time-to-time in Bobby's Room, the private glassed-off table in the middle of the Bellagio poker room in Las Vegas.

With Limits of $4,000/$8,000, regardless of the games in the mix players have to know their stuff or they'll quickly go broke.

How to Play HORSE
HORSE O.G. Chip Reese

What is H.O.R.S.E.?

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)

HOSE drops Razz from the mix.

How to Play H.O.R.S.E

As you might have guessed, H.O.R.S.E. is played by playing one orbit (a full rotation around the table) of each game before rotating through to the next.

As you might have also guessed, 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 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo.

How can you be sure when the game has switched over? Well, when you're playing in a live game the dealer with both notify you and 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're playing 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.

H.O.R.S.E Games Usually Played as 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- or 10-game lately No-Limit has creeped into the mix).

If you need a refresher, here's how Fixed-Limit Betting works in Holdem.

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.

<Play H.O.R.S.E Poker at PokerStars Right Now!

General H.O.R.S.E. Strategy

If you're looking to jump into a H.O.R.S.E. 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 in HORSE.

1. Learn the Rules of All the Games

You might think this is a no-brainer but you'd be surprised how many people sitting at a HORSE table aren't actually familiar with the rules of the games.

And not just one or two of the games - all of the games except Holdem. So it definitely behooves you - and of course helps speed the game along - if you have a thorough understanding of the rules of the games.

That is, know what the bring is in Stud, what the best hands in Razz are, etc. Again: seems simple, but it's essential. See all of our Poker Rules guides.

2. Find the Soft Spots in the Soft Games

If quite a few players in small-stakes HORSE games aren't even familiar with the rules of the games you can imagine what their general sense of strategy in all the games might be.

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

A lot of visitors from the No-Limit realm do not really appreciate the nuances of Limit 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 in those who are used to a No-Limit style and don't get the math intricacies of proper Limit Hold'em strategy.

Outside of Hold'em you will find quite a few soft spots in Razz and 7-Card Stud Hi-Lo – games even the most diehard oldtimers don’t play much of.

But 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 if you feel you have an edge.

3. Play the Biggest Pots in Your Best Games

While there are usually some soft spots at a HORSE table, that likely applies to you 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 bad 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 tables – at least at the micro-stakes.

5. Pay Attention to the 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.

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 Rules

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

  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.

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