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In recent years, many novice poker players think of Texas Hold’em as being synonymous with the word “poker,” in spite of the several other variations of the game that were in fact quite popular before the poker boom that brought Hold’em (particularly No Limit) so much attention. While it’s true that Texas Hold’em is a fantastic game for beginners to cut their teeth on (as it is very easy to learn), slightly more experienced players may want to challenge themselves by playing a variety of poker games, such as the popular mix of variations referred to as H.O.R.S.E.

H.O.R.S.E is an acronym for the several different games that it rotates through. These games are:

Hold’em – Short for “Texas Hold’em,” this variation is always played as a limit game in H.O.R.S.E., meaning that it has fixed betting limits on each street, unlike the popular No Limit Hold’em.

Omaha – Like Hold’em, Omaha is a flop game but differs in that players are dealt four cards face down rather than two, and they must use two cards from their hand and two from the board. In H.O.R.S.E., Omaha is always played as a Hi/Low game (meaning players compete for both a high hand and a low hand when applicable) and is always played with betting limits.

Razz – Sometimes referred to as Stud Low, Razz is also a limit game in which players attempt to make only the best low hand while playing Seven Card Stud.

Seven Card Stud – Once the most popular game played in poker card rooms, Stud challenges its players to create the best five card poker hand by using a combination of the total seven cards they are eventually dealt, some face up for all to see and some face down to be kept private.

Stud Eight or Better – Representing the “E” in H.O.R.S.E., Stud Eight or Better (also called Stud Hi/Low) is a variation of traditional Seven Card Stud in which players attempt to make both high and low hands.

Depending on the house rules where you are playing, the way the games are rotated will differ. Sometimes casinos will put a time limit on each game so that every table is playing the same variation at the same time, while more often the game is changed every 8 hands to create fairness when tables move at different speeds. No matter how the rotation is established by the house, H.O.R.S.E. games are always played in the order the games are presented in the acronym; Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, and finally Stud Eight or Better.

H.O.R.S.E. first came about when players grew bored while playing only one game at a time and craved variety. While H.O.R.S.E. was first only played at high stakes tables by some of the best poker players in the world, it has certainly gained popularity over the last decade, particularly after the emergence of mixed game tables available in online poker rooms. Once H.O.R.S.E. was accessible to practice online at smaller stakes, it became more popular on the live scene and is now featured in most major tournament series, both online and live. In fact, the inaugural $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship at the World Series of Poker was played as H.O.R.S.E. and was won by the late Chip Reese (the event is now played as Eight Game Mix, which added Pot Limit Omaha, No Limit Hold’em and 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball to the rotation).

H.O.R.S.E. is considered to be a true test of a poker player’s skills, and for good reason. Novice players should be warned that while mixed games can be good learning tools and are also a great deal of fun, you cannot try to sneak by with possessing skills at only a few of the games. It is not uncommon to hear beginner mixed game players comment that they will “just wing it” in the Stud games; this is a deadly proposition as Stud makes up more than half of the games in a H.O.R.S.E. rotation. These players will simply be eaten alive by those who are skilled in all five games, so proceed with caution if you are going to attempt H.O.R.S.E. anytime soon, and check out our poker strategy articles to brush up on the basics. For more details on how to play each poker game in H.O.R.S.E., read the H.O.R.S.E. Rules page.

 Read the Rules for HORSE Games