HORSE Poker Rules & Strategy

  • Avatar for WSOP Winner Chris 'Fox' WallaceWritten by  WSOP Winner Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace
  • Icon for DifficultyBeginner-friendly
  • Icon for Read/Play Time10 minute read

What Is HORSE Poker?

HORSE poker is a combination of five common games, played in a rotation. The table is typically eight-handed, with each game played for eight hands before switching to the next game.

HORSE is the most common mixed-game and has been part of the World Series Of Poker since 2002. The games are listed below and all are played in a fixed-limit format.

  • H


  • O

    Omaha Hi-Lo Eight Or Better

  • R

    Razz (stud for low)

  • S


  • E

    Stud Hi-Lo Eight Or Better

HORSE is often the first mixed-game that new players encounter. The games are easier to learn than more complicated mixed-games that have appeared in recent years, and more experienced or older players may have already encountered the stud and Omaha variants that are included.

CardsChat’s Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace
CardsChat’s Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace won the $10,000 HORSE event at the 2014 WSOP.

Why Should I Play HORSE?

Playing no limit Hold’em can be exciting, but some players get bored with the same old two-card game. For those who want to try something new, HORSE is the most common mixed-game because it is the easiest to learn. Many players find that mixed-games hold their interest much longer than games like no limit hold’em or pot-limit Omaha.

Playing a new game every eight hands is not only interesting, but it is much more mentally challenging. And often the players who enjoy mixed-games are also more interesting, with competitors from all walks of life trying their hand at this unique poker style.

Mixed-game players tend to be highly respected in the poker world because other players who only play one or two games know that it takes a real understanding of poker in general, and not just a set of rules for playing a specific game, to be a strong mixed-game player.

HORSE rewards players who are able to adjust to new ideas, think for themselves and enjoy learning new things.

How To Play HORSE

The games in a HORSE mix are all played with the standard rules, using standard poker hands, just as they would be if they were played outside of a mixed-game. Read on below for details of each variant you’ll find in a game of HORSE.

Not sure which game is being played? In a bricks-and-mortar poker room a set of plaques is often displayed on the table to indicate the current game, with the dealer keeping track of the number of hands played for each game with a set of plastic disks called lammers.

When playing online, details of which game is being played will always be displayed clearly along with information on current blinds and limits.

How To Play Fixed-Limit Texas Hold’em (‘H’)

In a HORSE mix, Hold’em is played in a fixed-limit format, as opposed to the no limit game that most players these days are familiar with. Each player is dealt two down cards and blinds are posted to the left of the button. There is then a round of betting, where bets and raises must be the same size as the big blind ($4 in a $4/8 game, for example).

After the preflop action is complete, three community cards are placed in the middle of the table (the flop) and there is another round of betting with the increments still the same size as the big blind.

After the flop comes another community card, referred to as “the turn”. At this point the bet size doubles, so in a $4/8 game the bets are now in increments of $8. After the betting is complete there is one more community card known as “the river” and a final round of betting at the larger betting size. Then there is a showdown and the best hand wins the pot.

Need more of a refresher? Check out our page on Texas Hold’em rules.

How To Play Omaha Hi-Lo Eight Or Better (‘O’)

Often referred to as Omaha/8, or just O/8, this is a four card game where each player must use exactly two cards from their hand. The best low hand, as long as it includes five unpaired cards that are ranked 8 or lower, splits the pot with the best high hand. If there is no qualifying low hand, the best high hand wins the whole pot.

Hands play out just like Texas hold’em, with a preflop, flop, turn, and river betting round. The requirement to use exactly two cards in your hand is the biggest problem for many new players.

The easiest way for many players to remember this is to use the three-card rule instead: think about which three cards you are using from the board. Remember that you must use exactly three board cards, so a four-flush on the board does not make a flush more likely for your opponents.

Aces are by far the most important card in Omaha/8 because they play both high and low. A-2 is a very strong two-card combo and most players will play any hand with A-2 in it for any amount of bets and raises before the flop because it can make the best low hand so often. Correct strategy is usually to play for the low and hope to win the high or get the low half of a multi-way pot. It’s also important to remember that the hand required to win the high half will be much stronger than in a typical hold’em hand.

For more, including a video guide, visit our Omaha Hi-Lo rules page.

Omaha Hi-Low offers a complex strategic approach for advanced poker players.
If there aren’t three different low cards (e.g. 8 or below) on the board, 100% of the pot will be won by the high hand.

How To Play Razz (‘R’)

Razz is a seven-card stud game played for low only. When played as part of a HORSE mix, razz is always played “ace to five”, which means that straights and flushes do not count against a low hand, and A-2-3-4-5 (known as a wheel) is the best possible hand. Your best (i.e. lowest) five-card low hand will play, so a seven-card hand of 4-K-8-8-6-3-2 will play as 8-6-4-3-2.

Razz is dealt just like seven-card stud, with antes and a bring-in to start the action, but the bring-in is on the highest up card. Action on later streets starts with the lowest hand showing.

To determine the best hand, start with the highest card. For instance, a T-9-8-7-4 is better than a J-6-5-3-2 because a 10-low is better than a jack-low. And a 96-5-3-2 beats a 97-4-2-A because a nine-six low beats a nine-seven low. 

Basic strategy is to play any three cards ranked 7 or lower, and to play any hand where your highest card is as low, or lower, than any remaining up card. It is possible to have a “board lock”, defined as a situation where you know that you have the best hand no matter what cards your opponent has in the hole.

As with all games in the HORSE rotation, razz is played with fixed-limit betting. Read more about razz, stud and stud hi-lo on our poker games page.

Seven-Card Stud
Razz and Stud Hi-Lo are variations of Seven Card Stud, with each game seeing players receive two down cards, four up cards and one final down card.

How To Play Seven Card Stud (‘S’)

Stud is a seven-card stud game, like razz, but played for high only. This was the most common poker game in America before the explosion of hold’em in the 1990s.

After the antes and the deal, the lowest up card posts the bring-in and all future action starts with the highest hand showing.

It is not just important to play strong hands, with big pairs and big suited hands as the favorites, but also to play “live hands“. A hand is considered live if most or all of the cards that the player would like to see have not been revealed. These cards are “live” meaning you may still receive them to improve your hand.

A hand like 3s4sAs is excellent if no spades have been revealed, because this means the deck is still full of spades. On the other hand, if multiple spades are showing in other players’ hands it becomes a weak hand that should often be folded.

How To Play Stud Hi-lo Eight or Better (‘E’)

Stud Hi-Lo Eight Or Better, often referred to as Stud/8, is a seven-card stud game with a split pot, much like Omaha/8. It is also the answer to one of the most common mixed game questions: “What does the E stand for in HORSE poker?“. Stud/8 was originally called “Eight or better stud” which is why the E was used to signify it in HORSE games.

Stud/8 is played exactly like a stud hand, with the lowest up card paying the bring-in and the highest hand showing starting the betting on all future streets. Just as with Omaha/8, a low hand only qualifies for half the pot if it includes five unpaired cards ranked 8 or lower.

Basic strategy is much like Omaha/8. Play for the low and try to back into winning the high as well. Any three cards 7 or lower are usually playable, and the best hands are those that have a chance to win both ways. Three low cards of the same suit, or a rundown like 3-4-5 that can make a straight, are very strong hands.

Some high hands are playable as well and, as with all stud games, the cards that are dead in other players’ hands, as well as the up cards of the players still to act, are key factors when evaluating the winning potential of your hand. And having an ace in your hand is a big boost because it plays both high and low and can help you win either half of the pot.

Anthony Zinno
Anthony Zinno, winner of the $1,500 HORSE event at the 2021 WSOP.

Unique Features of HORSE Poker Games

Most HORSE games, and any respectable HORSE poker tournament, will feature a “frozen button“. During the flop games, hold’em and Omaha, the button will move around the table normally. When the last hand of Omaha/8 is played, the button is moved to the next player and pushed to the rail, frozen in place while the stud rounds are played since they have no need for a button.

When the next round of hold’em starts, the button is unfrozen and moved out in front of the player who holds it. This ensures that players pay a similar number of blinds over time.

HORSE games are most frequently played eight-handed, though six-handed HORSE tournaments are also common. This is primarily because there are too many cards dealt in the stud games for a full table of nine or 10 players. Even in an eight-handed game, the dealer will sometimes run out of cards toward the end of a stud hand with multiple players and will need to shuffle the muck (discards) and deal the remaining cards from the new deck.

Getting Started With HORSE Poker

The best way to learn the games is to play them. Try not to be intimidated, as it’s very possible that most of your opponents at lower limits won’t know much about the strategy involved either. It’s easy to learn online by joining play money games until you are comfortable with the rules and then moving up to very small stakes where you can learn against real money opponents without risking much of your own cash.

Very few players make the switch to mixed-games and then go back to just playing hold’em. Once you have a taste for mixed-games, the same old two-card game can be pretty boring!

For more in-depth strategy advice on HORSE we recommend an excellent book by CardsChat’s very own HORSE expert (and author of this page) Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace, with Michael and Robert Mizrachi, called “Getting Started With HORSE Poker”. Available at Amazon and wherever you shop for poker books, it explains important strategy considerations for each game in ways that are simple for a beginner to understand.

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