How to Win a HORSE Tournament Part II by Andy Bloch

To win a HORSE tournament, you have to understand the value of the blinds and antes in each of the games. From my experience, I find that you don’t win HORSE tournaments as much as you steal them – that is, by trying to win the blinds and antes as much as possible with well-timed raises. How often you do that depends on how big the antes are in relation to the betting limits.

In the World Series of Poker* HORSE tournaments, the antes are usually about 25% of the initial bet so if the limits are 100/200, the ante is going to be 25 per player with a 25 bring-in. That means there are a lot of chips in the pot that are worth fighting for. With eight players at the table, there will be 225 worth of antes and you only have to raise to 100 to try and steal them. You only have to succeed one out of every three times for this to be a profitable play. Twice you’ll lose 100 and once you’ll win 225 so, overall, you’ll be up 25.

In the early stages of a HORSE tournament, you’re not going to be able to steal the blinds and the antes very often. At that point, the tournament plays more like a ring game. Stealing the antes becomes a huge part of the game toward the end of a tournament, especially near the bubble when players tend to tighten up the most.

There’s an art and a science to stealing the blinds and antes. I try to be scientific about it, but sometimes you just get a feeling. For example, if I can tell the player on my left is going to play his hand after he checks his cards, I might muck my hand instead of trying to steal the pot. You really want to make sure you’re stealing in the right situations because if you try to steal too much, you’re going to get away with it less often. Tough players will know that you’re trying to steal at every opportunity and they’ll start to play back at you. They’re going to call or re-raise, trying to re-steal the pot from you.

It’s also important to realize that when a HORSE tournament gets short-handed it’s cheaper to play the Stud games than it is the flop games. In Hold ’em and Omaha it’s going to cost you one and a half bets – the small and big blind – to play each round, no matter what. But the amount required for you to play the Stud games changes as the number of players at the table decreases. If there are eight players at the table, it will cost you 225 to play stud if the antes are 25, but if there are only four players, it’s only going to cost you 125. Because there are fewer chips in the pot when you’re short-handed, you should be less likely to play against a possible steal.

When you’re playing three- or four-handed in Hold ’em and Omaha you’ll probably see more confrontations because the big blind is almost always going to try and defend against the first raiser who is almost always someone attempting to steal the pot. Often, there will be a three-bet by the button or the small blind, which further pumps up the pot. As common as three-bet pots are in Hold ’em and Omaha, you will rarely see them in any of the Stud games. You don’t even see two bets very often because the first raise in Stud is just to the completion amount. It’s not really two bets. One of the main reasons to three-bet in Hold’em is to get the big blind out, but in Stud you don’t need to three-bet because a two-bet is usually enough to force the bring-in out of the hand. In effect, a two-bet in Stud is the same as a three-bet in Hold’em.

Even though it’s "cheaper" to play Stud Hi/Lo than Hold ’em or Omaha, you still want to fold a lot of hands early on because you don’t want to get sucked into the pot. You want to be especially cautious when you have a low draw and you have to call a bet on every street just trying to win half the pot. It’s an even worse situation when it’s the other way around – you’ve made the high and your opponent has the low and he’s free-rolling to make a bigger high. In this situation you might have to face multiple bets in order to see the river, all the while hoping your opponent doesn’t make a bigger high hand to scoop the pot.

One of the most important things to remember in a HORSE tournament is that the relative value of the blinds and antes changes from game to game, so you need to adjust your game plan accordingly to make sure you’re stealing blinds and antes – and defending your own blinds – at the right times.

Andy Bloch

* World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Harrah’s License Company, LLC ("Harrahs"). Harrah’s does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with The Hendon Mob or its products, services, promotions or tournaments.