How to Win a HORSE Tournament Part I by Andy Bloch

If you want to win a HORSE tournament, you have to be good at all five games. You don’t have to be the best player at any one game, but you can’t be the worst. If you’re really bad at one of the games, it’s going to hurt you. People often ask me which of the HORSE games I’m best at and I always give them the same answer it depends upon who I’m playing against. Whatever my opponent’s worst game is, that’s my best game.

In a HORSE tournament, it’s really important that you remember to switch gears from one game to the next. It can be easy to forget if you’re not careful, especially in the Stud portion of the games. When switching from Hold ’em to Omaha, you get dealt a different number of cards. You automatically know that’s it’s a different game because you’re holding two more cards in your hand. That’s not so obvious in the Stud games because all three versions start off the same. The only giveaway that you’re playing Razz as opposed to Stud Hi or Stud Hi/Lo is that in Razz, the high card is the bring-in instead of the low card. Otherwise, all of the Stud games have the same basic structure, so it’s really easy for players to forget to switch gears.

In every HORSE tournament, there’s invariably going to be a couple of hands where somebody forgets which game they’re playing. Part of the skill required to win a HORSE tournament is not making that mistake yourself, and realizing when one of your opponents has forgotten which game they’re playing so you can take full advantage of the situation. When you remember to switch gears from one game to the next, you’re going to have a big advantage over opponents who are slower to remember and a huge advantage over those players who never remember to change their games.

It is especially important to change gears when the game switches from Stud to Stud Hi/Lo. A lot of weak players think they can get away with playing any high hand in Stud Hi/Lo, and that’s a huge mistake. They might not have been dealt a single quality hand for the entire round of Stud and then, as soon as the game switches to Stud Hi/Lo, they finally pick up a good high hand that they decide to play because they’re still in the Stud Hi mindset. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap.

A lot of the really good high hands in Stud aren’t playable at all in Stud Hi/Lo, but weak players will often play them anyway. You might play a hand like J-10-9 in Stud because of the ante, but it’s a terrible hand in Stud Hi/Lo. You’re looking to make a straight, but the odds of that happening aren’t very good. Even if you do make a straight, you’ll often have to split the pot with the low who might be free-rolling you to make a flush. If you make two pair, it will be vulnerable to a low that makes a bigger two pair, trips, a straight or a flush. It’s the same with a hand like split 9s. When you’re playing Stud Hi/Lo, the high hand values go way down so you only want to play premium high hands. That means Aces and perhaps Kings, unless you’re in position and you can get heads-up with a player who’s only going for the low.

A lot of weak players also make mistakes when the game switches to Hold’em because they fail to get out of the Stud mindset and into the Hold ’em mindset. There are certain plays that you make in Hold ’em that you don’t make in Stud. For example, in Stud you’re far less likely to defend the bring-in than you are to defend the big blind in Hold ’em. In Hold ’em I almost always call in the big blind if there’s just one raise, but I would never call a raise after bringing it in in Stud unless I had a decent hand, such as a pair or a three-flush, or a three-card low draw in Stud Hi/Lo.

Your willingness to defend your forced bet should change from game to game. In Razz you’re almost never calling when you’re the bring-in. When the game changes to Stud, you can start calling a little bit. When it switches to Stud Hi/Lo, you’re going to be calling a lot more because a low up-card is more useful in Hi/Lo. Then, when it gets to Hold ’em and Omaha, you’re nearly always going to be calling a single raise from the big blind.

As basic as this might appear, simply remembering which game you’re playing and adjusting your play accordingly is an extremely important concept if you want to succeed in a HORSE tournament.

For more on tips on how to become a winning HORSE player, read next week’s email where I’ll discuss why it’s important to fully understand how the different blind and ante structures in each affect your game.

Andy Bloch