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HORSE poker is one of the best ways to play the beloved card game.

An ever-present feature at big money tables, and now a fixture event of the World Series of Poker, HORSE combines different poker variants in sequence. As such, you need to be familiar with the rules of each component game to stay in contention.

The rounds switch through different variants from Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Seven Card Stud, and Seven Card Stud hi-lo split Eight. Some versions include other variants at the bookends, and while each round is generally subject to limits betting, the final table in some tournaments becomes no limits.

How HORSE Works

The game starts with Texas Hold’em. Players take their position at the table, and the game gets underway in the usual fashion. A number of hands of Texas Hold’em are played, corresponding to the number of people at the table if the table were full. So if there are nine seats around the table, even with fewer players, there will be nine hands of Texas Hold’em dealt before moving on to the next variant.The game continues in this vein through each of the game variants of the acronym, until the final table — often with betting limits removed.

In any game of HORSE, there’s a long way to go from start to finish, and a number of games for each player to prove their strategy and skill. Most players will be more familiar with one or more of the variants, but often demonstrate weaker strategy and awareness in other games. This opens the door for a profitable playing strategy, particularly if your strengths lie in subsequent rounds.

HORSE Strategy

As a starting point, it’s safe to assume most players have some capability in Texas Hold’em. Appearing so early in the run, it’s wise to think about value with your bets, and not to push too aggressively on these hands. Given that limits are in play anyway, at least in the early stages, it’s all about playing a solid game within sensible ranges. Where you can identify some weakness to right, it is worth expanding your acceptable ranges to go head-to-head with the weaker player early doors, but don’t get too excited if you want to make it to the end.

The same is true in Omaha, which resembles Hold’em and will be most likely another similarly cagey game. It is not until you move on to Razz that real opportunities open up, with some players less experienced at dealing with these kinds of stud games. Some inexperienced players can also get caught out here, backing hands that are weak because of the lowball setup in Razz — while this will only run for one or maybe two hands maximum, it’s nevertheless an opportunity to exploit weakness, especially when playing online.

When it comes to the first stud round, it’s business as usual for the strategic player, keeping things tight to avoid bluffing too much or too aggressively. Bet your strong hands, and use the knowledge available from the up cards to your advantage, especially as you progress toward the showdown.

One of the foremost skills a good HORSE player needs is the ability to assess the other players around the table. Identifying weaker games is your cue to ramp up your aggression, or to compete in more pots with the visibly weaker players in a given game. At the same time, it’s crucial to defend on your weaker games, and not to get sucked in to bluffs that won’t get you too far. Beware players who exhibit a command of all the variants throughout the game — these are the toughest opponents to play against, and your only real defense is to play for value.