horse poker cards and chips on table

How to Play HORSE Poker: Rules, Betting, and Tournaments

HORSE Poker is considered by many to be the true test of a poker player’s skill. As opposed to many other poker variants, HORSE poker is a structured game where players progress through multiple different self-contained varieties.

How do you play HORSE poker, what are the rules for betting in fixed-limit poker, and where can you play HORSE online?

How to Play HORSE Poker

HORSE Poker consists of five separate “rounds”, each one consisting of a different type of poker. Players that fold their hands in one type of poker are still part of the overall HORSE Poker game and continue playing at the start of the next variant. Due to this unique structure, it is possible to play poorly in one or two rounds and still ultimately come out ahead.

H.O.R.S.E. Games Comparison

GameBlindsHigh Hand RankingCommunity CardsHole CardsFixed Limit
7-Card StudNoYesNoYesYes
Stud Hi-LoNoBothNoYesYes

Texas Hold’em Poker (H)

The first round in HORSE poker is Texas Hold'em poker, a community card game where players use the two hole cards they're initially dealt alongside up to three of the five face-up community cards to create the strongest poker hand, going by traditional hand rankings. The game doesn't necessarily need to end at the Showdown, where players reveal their cards, as all other players folding will also result in a victory for whomever is left.

One of the more interesting things about the HORSE poker format is that despite being unique variations, each of the five games play incredibly similarly: cards are dealt, followed by a round of betting. Even if you're unfamiliar with a specific variant that is being played, you can follow along quite easily so long as you know the goal of the game.

Omaha Hi-Lo Poker (O)

The second round of HORSE Poker is Omaha Hi-Lo poker, a split pot game that also uses community cards. The key difference between Omaha poker and Texas Hold'em is that each player receives four hole cards instead of two, but they are only allowed to construct their hands using two of them; the rest of each five-card hand needs to consist of three of the five community cards.

As Omaha Hi-Lo is a split pot game, half the pot also goes to the player who has the lowest hand. This makes it a bit more complicated than standard Omaha, but also more engaging, as there are multiple ways you can ultimately win. If you do choose to go for the low pot, a hand is only eligible if 8 or below is the high card. As opposed to trying to make a standard poker hand, those going after the low pot should focus on using the lowest individual cards they can, with A-2-3-4-5 being the best low hand available.

Razz Poker (R)

The next variant in a game of HORSE Poker is Razz Poker, which is played very similarly to going after the low pot in Omaha Hi-Lo. Over a series of betting rounds, players are dealt four face-up, or "door" cards, and three hole cards, with the goal of creating the lowest possible five-card hand.

Because the goal of Razz is to create the lowest possible hand, it needs to be played differently from other poker variations that use standard hand rankings. For example, players should try to avoid pairs entirely, since pairs are actually counted as higher than even Queens and Kings. Because a good hand can quickly become significantly worse through random chance, Razz is as much a game of fortitude as it is skill.

Seven-Card Stud Poker (S)

The penultimate poker variant in a game of HORSE Poker is Seven-Card Stud Poker. This type of poker follows the same play structure as Razz, with door cards and hole cards distributed over betting rounds. However, the goal has returned to creating the strongest traditional poker hand.

Since you gain access to additional cards over the course of the game, even hands that don't seem to be worth playing can be significantly improved upon. If you have a strong pair from the outset, you may want to play aggressively, since you already have a high-value hand.

Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Split Eight-or-Better (E)

The final round in a game of HORSE Poker is Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Split Eight-or-Better. Think of it as a combination of the previous round, Seven-Card Stud, and the split pot of Omaha Hi-Lo. The Eight-or-Better portion of the name refers to the fact that, similar to Omaha Hi-Lo, a hand needs five unpaired cards, with cards no higher than 8, in order to qualify for the low pot. With the exception of the split pot, this is the same game as the previous round.


How to Bet in Fixed-Limit Poker

Depending on the type of poker you’re familiar with, the betting structure may be significantly different in a game of HORSE, where many of the games are fixed-limit games. How do you play HORSE poker when you’re not familiar with fixed-limit poker?

  • Fixed-Limit Betting: Luckily, fixed-limit betting is simple to get a grasp on; it refers to the fact that bets can only be certain values. There are three main types of bets to account for: the Big Bet, the Small Bet, and the Ante Bet.
  • Ante Betting: The Ante Bet is the initial bet that all players make at the start of every round of HORSE Poker;
  • The Small Bet: The Small Bet is the size of the bet that is made in the first two rounds of the individual poker games, the Pre-Flop and the Flop.
  • The Big Bet: The Big Bet is the size of the bet that is made in the last two or three rounds of the individual poker games, the Turn and the River.
  • 5 Betting Rounds: In the final three rounds of HORSE Poker, each individual game consists of five betting rounds, so the Big Bet is made on the final three rounds.
  • How Ante Betting Works: The Small Bet is typically half of the value of the Big Bet, while the Ante is 10% of the value of the Big Bet. For example, if the Big Bet was 50 cents, the Small Bet would be 25 cents, and the Ante would be five cents.
  • HORSE Notation: The value of the bets is usually written out with a slash between them. A game of HORSE poker where the Small Bet was $1 and the Big Bet was $2 would be written as a “1/2” game.

HORSE Poker Strategy

Before you start playing HORSE, it's good to have a broad strategic outlook on the game. New players must remember they aren't playing No-Limit Hold'em anymore, or else they'll make a lot of mistakes at first. They also should economize their time learning the HORSE variants, because certain games offer a better chance to separate yourself from the pack.

  • Limit Poker: Since HORSE poker is a limit game, you can't push players out of the hand as often. You can't defend against draws as much as you could in no-limit games because you won't collect as many chips as you would if people miss their draw. 
  • Know the Game: Pay attention when the games switch. This goes double for the switches between Razz, Stud, and Stud Hi/Lo. Since cards come on the board, it's easy to confuse which game you're playing when a switch happens.
  • Know the Pot Odds: In Limit Hold'em, it's usually worth it to call a single bet on the river. While exceptions happen, you'll likely be getting 10:1 pot odds or better. 
  • Avoid Slow-Playing: Don't slow-play in Limit Hold'em against multiple opponents. You won't be able to build a big pot that way, and in the meantime, you're giving opponents with a drawing hand a free chance to build their draw. 
  • Bet with Bigger Pair: Seven-Card Stud is often a game of bigger pair versus drawing hands. Bet and raise when you have a bigger pair. This makes it too expensive for drawing hands to stay in the pot. 
  • R and E are Key: Seek to master Razz and Stud Eight or Better. These are the two games played less by most players, so it's where you're most likely to gain an advantage over your opponents.
  • Trial and Error: As always, play small stakes at first. HORSE is five times more complicated than most poker variants, so you're likely to stumble while playing HORSE at first. 

Hand Rankings for H.O.R.S.E. Poker

Royal FlushAce-high straight flush
Straight Flush5 sequential cards of one suit
Four of a Kind4 cards of one rank
Full House3 of one card, 2 of another
Flush5 cards of one suit
Straight5 cards in sequential order
Three of a Kind3 cards of one rank
Two Pairs2 of one card, 2 of another card
Pair2 cards of one rank
High CardAce, King, Queen and so on

Lowball Hand Rankings for H.O.R.S.E.

The hand ranks above only apply to the high hands in poker. Several HORSE games include lowball hands, too. .

In Razz and Stud Hi-Lo, the best hand is the wheel straight or the five-high straight. Remember that straights and flushes don't count in Razz while Ace counts as a low card, so A-2-3-4-5 is the best hand you can have. 

Where to Play HORSE Poker Online

Where you can play HORSE Poker online is a bit of a tricky question because of how complex and specific the game is. While online casinos or poker rooms may offer some of the individual games that make up HORSE Poker, variants such as Razz or Seven-Card Stud High-Lo Split Eight-or-Better are much rarer to find online. Some poker rooms may offer HORSE Poker as part of a special event, but generally it may be difficult to find a website that offers it year-round.

How to Play in HORSE Poker Tournaments

If players want to play in HORSE poker tournaments, they have two options: (1) live poker tournaments in brick-and-mortar card rooms or (2) online HORSE poker tournaments. Since many US players don't live within convenient driving distance to a brick-and-mortar casino or poker club, playing HORSE at an online poker site is your best option. 

When you visit an online casino, click on the Tournaments section of the poker menu. Scroll down the Tournaments page to see a list of all current tournaments. If and when you find a HORSE tournament with the bet limits that you prefer, click on the tournament link. You'll be signed up to play a HORSE poker event within moments. HORSE tournaments may not be available at all times, though. 

Land-based poker rooms have occasional poker tournaments, but these often happen only once or twice a year. Sign up for nearby poker rooms' promotional emails, then search their tournament schedule when they announce a new event. Because of the limited number of online HORSE poker tournaments, these could be your best chance to play a big HORSE event. 

Tips for Playing H.O.R.S.E. 

Playing HORSE can be both exciting and frustrating, because of the constant change. Even the most experienced poker players tend to have specific variants that cause them problems - or have trouble adjusting to Fixed Limit poker. We provide one tip apiece for each HORSE game, plus general advice on navigating the ever-changing dynamics of HORSE poker. 

  • Prey on Weak Players: Note your opponents' weaknesses. They're likely to play tighter on one variant if they consider it their weakest game. If a player isn't as good at Razz, then you should play more hands against them at Razz, since they're likely to be cautious. 
  • Eliminate Your Weakness: Practice on your weakest game. If you're weak at one of the five games, your opponents will take advantage. 
  • Fixed Limit Hold'em Tip: Limit Hold'em is different than No-Limit Hold'em. Practice beforehand and prepare mentally for those changes. Favor high-card hands over smaller pairs and suited connectors. It's harder to get paid off with high implied-odds hands. Also, it's often profitable to raise with hands while in position. 
  • Omaha Hi-Lo Tip: Make certain your hand has scooping potential - that is, you have a chance of winning the whole pot. This means you should either hand a chance to win the high and low hands outright or you should have good odds of hitting a monster hand with no obvious lowball hand potential showing among the community cards.
  • Razz Tip: While spots exist where you can outplay your opponent, it's important to focus on mathematically sound decisions. Razz success often requires making solid plays and taking advantage of your opponents' mistakes. 
  • Seven-Card Stud Tip: Entering a pot is more dangerous in 7-Card Stud because it has one more betting round than Hold'em or Omaha. Practice caution with starting hands. Pay attention to the appearance of cards 2-ranks away from your cards when working on a straight draw. 
  • Stud Hi-Lo 8-or-Better Tip: Players often overvalue their high-pair hands in this game. Suited babies -- a hand with an ace and other low cards -- the premium hand. This gives you a chance to scoop the pot by winning low while still having a straight/flush draw. 
  • Don't Just Focus on Singular Variants: Play HORSE as much as possible. It's not enough to play individual games. Playing the HORSE games in a rotation gives you a better feel for game flow. 

Horse Poker FAQ

What does HORSE stand for?

HORSE is an acronym denoting different types of poker: H for Texas Hold'em Poker, O for Omaha Hi-Lo Poker, R for Razz Poker, S for Seven-Card Stud Poker, and E for Seven-Card Stud Poker with a Hi-Lo Split and Eight-or-Better. During a game of HORSE Poker, each of these variants make up an individual round, and are played in sequence.

What is E in HORSE?

The E in HORSE Poker can be a little tricky, as it represents the Eight-or-Better rule for a game of Seven-Card Stud with a Hi-Lo Split. This variation gets its name because an eight-high hand or lower is required to win the low split. This type of poker may also be known as Stud Eight.

What is the best hand for Razz poker?

Razz Poker is a variant where the goal is for a player to make the lowest five-card hand they can from the seven cards available to them. As Aces are always counted low in Razz, the best hand is A-2-3-4-5, alternatively known as "five high", "the wheel", or "the bicycle".

What is a board game in HORSE poker?

Razz, Stud, and Stud Hi/Lo are the board games in HORSE. Instead of community cards, the cards are dealt to individual players on the board. 

What does freezeout mean in poker?

Freezeout tournaments are the most common type of poker tournaments. The name refers to the fact that players are "frozen out" of the tournament if they run out of chips while playing - they may not re-buy or re-enter the tournament. One of the advantages of freezeout tournaments is that they are generally shorter, since players cannot rejoin, but they also often feature smaller prize pools as a result.

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