Introducing Poker`s H.O.R.S.E.

Published: 22/07/2012

There are so many versions of the game known as “poker” that it is almost impossible for anyone to be able to play them all with a high level of skill. Most professional players concentrate on one or two games, such as Texas Hold’em or Seven Card Stud, becoming specialists and avoiding tables where other types of poker are played.

On the other hand, the ability to play the most popular variants and win consistently at them all is recognized as a true test of a player’s capabilities. For that very reason, in many high stakes card rooms and in major tournaments, a combination of five different games are played at a single table in rounds that follow a strict order called “H.O.R.S.E.”

The “H” in this event comes from “Hold’em,” as in Texas Hold’em. The “O” refers to Omaha Hi-Low Split Eight or Better. The “R” stands for the game of lowball stud known as “Razz” and the “S” is for traditional Seven Card Stud. The final letter “E” is for “Eight or Better,” as in Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Eight or Better. In most cases, all of the rounds are played as Limit games, rather than No Limit or Pot Limit.

One reason for the popularity of H.O.R.S.E. among pros and participants in large cash games is the reduced edge that a single-game specialist has. Lowball experts may excel at Razz and the two Hi-Low split-pot games, but they will most likely find themselves at a disadvantage playing Hold’em and Seven Card Stud. The opposite is true for the high hand specialists.

Because H.O.R.S.E. emphasizes a player’s breadth of skills across multiple versions of poker, it provides a real showcase of poker ability. It was first introduced as a World Series of Poker (WSOP) $2,000 event in 2002, when John Hennigan defeated a field of 156 players to win his first gold bracelet. In 2003, Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson won the event, earning $84,080 and cementing his reputation as the world’s best player.

After Scott Fischman won the 2004 installment, the WSOP decided to remove the event from its schedule, ostensibly because it was not gaining enough paid entries, neither from amateurs who were wary of taking on pros nor from pros who did not relish spending hours at the tables for a relatively low prize pool.

In 2006, WSOP officials came up with a solution. They reinstated H.O.R.S.E. with a $50,000 buy-in, the first time any event had cost more to enter than the $10,000 Main Event. The decision turned out to be a good one, as 143 pros flocked to Event 20, eager to show off their skills and take home the $1.7 million top prize. That honor went to David “Chip” Reese, who beat out Any Bloch and Phil Ivey for bragging rights as the best of the best.

For 2007, the WSOP added a $5,000 buy-in version of H.O.R.S.E. so that non-professionals might have an opportunity to participate. That year the $50,000 event was won by Lebanon-born Freddy Deeb for $2.2 million, with Frenchman Bruno Fitoussi taking the $1.2 million second prize, and H.O.R.S.E. became an international sensation.

When Chip Reese passed away at the end of 2007, a Memorial Trophy was created in his honour. For the 2008 WSOP edition of the $50,000 championship event, the trophy was awarded to the winner—Scotty Nguyen. The following year, it went to David Bach.

By that time, everyone in the world of poker had begun to see the annual $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship as the coronation of the world’s King of Poker. But in 2010, the WSOP introduced an official “Poker Players Championship” with eight games in rotation. World Championship H.O.R.S.E remained as a $10,000 event, supplemented by versions with $1,500 and $3,000 buy-ins.

Today, H.O.R.S.E. is played at the $1,500 and $10,000 levels at the WSOP. It is also as part of the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP), organised by PokerStars.

Published on: 22/07/2012

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