Riding the HORSE, by Tom McEvoy
In 2006 the World Series of Poker electrified the poker world by introducing a $50,000 HORSE tournament. This was the biggest buy-in in poker history. HORSE, stands for Limit Hold'em, Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split, Razz, 7 Card Stud, and Stud 8 or Better. This tournament was televised with the final table reverting from the 5 game format to a No Limit Hold'em contest, in effect adding a 6th game. The excitement grew as the final table was a who's who in the poker world with some of the absolute legends of the game and battling it out.
The final table consisted of one of the toughest lineups of all time. Doyle Brunson, TJ Cloutier, Dewey Tomko, Chip Reese--all in the Poker Hall of Fame, as well as former world champion Jim Bechtel, Phil Ivy, Andy Block, David Singer and Patrick Antonius. When the smoke cleared Chip Reese and Andy Block were the last two standing. They then embarked on an epic struggle that lasted over seven hours. Chip Reese was all in on more than one occasion, but ultimately prevailed and won the event. The event subsequently awarded the winner the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy.
This event was televised and completely captured the imagination of the viewing public as well as the poker community itself. Everybody wanted to start to play HORSE. Of course, very few could afford the $50,000 price tag at the World Series of Poker, but fortunately smaller buy-in events became available. Not only did the World Series hold smaller buy-in HORSE events but other venues as well. The only difference was that the no-limit hold'em portion of the tournament was eliminated. This made the final table less interesting as far as the television audience was concerned, but many of the players, especially the people putting up the 50K buy-in wanted it to be restricted to just the five limit events. The feeling was that since the five games were a tremendous test of skill, the finalists should be allowed to finish the tournament in the same fashion.
This year, for reasons still unknown, ESPN elected not to televise this event. The result was a sharp drop in attendance as about 1/3 fewer players participated in the 2009 event. The lack of television coverage was the main reason for this decline. Many players as well as Harrah's management are considering going back to the same format as the original event and making sure it is included on the TV schedule. This should not only boost attendance, but make for an outstanding television show with high ratings. The final table is almost a cinch to have many highly recognizable names, and if it is played as a No Limit Hold'em grand finale, the TV audience will more easily identify with the strategies because, let's face it, No Limit Hold'em is the king of poker.
The thing about playing five games, or possibly six if you make the final table, is that it takes a tremendous amount of poker skill to be successful. You must be able to play all games well, not just one or two. A player that is a specialist in High-Low Split games, for example, has no chance if he can't compete in the other three. That is why the cream rises to the top in HORSE events more so than in other poker tournaments. A rather unusual side effect of HORSE events is that Razz has been resurrected from the graveyard of poker games because players have to learn how to play it in order to be a threat in HORSE events. There are many jokes about Razz, such as the average age of the typical Razz player (before HORSE tournaments) was deceased. That is because Razz was still popular in the 1980's, but no new blood was introduced to the game, so it was dying out. Also, two other things were said about Razz, it was not a poker game, but a disease and a trained chimpanzee could learn how to play it. The disease part has some truth to it, but there is some skill and play to the game, just not as much as in other forms of poker.
Games like 7 Card Stud and Stud 8 or better require good card reading skills, with many hands having hidden strength. Razz of course is much easier to always know what the best possible hand your opponents could have at the moment. Limit Hold'em and Omaha Hi-Low Split require a good knowledge of starting hands and positional play. All in all I love HORSE tournaments and play them whenever I can. If you feel the same way, just remember you need to learn and practice all of the games. This can be done for modest stakes on the internet or in casinos. Happy riding.
Tom McEvoy is a Team PokerStars Pro and an instructor for Deepstacks University. His website is www.tommcevoy.com