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 poker 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
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 Bodog Online Poker 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.
Andy Bloch 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.