Beginners guide to H.O.R.S.E. Part 6. Tournament play

6. Tournament play

Get involved in a lot of hands without fear of going broke

As any no-limit Hold’em player will know, tournament theory dictates that you’ll play the same hand differently according to your stack size, blind level and how many runners are left. H.O.R.S.E. tournaments are no different. In the last few months we’ve discussed each game individually (go to if you’ve missed any), but it’s now time to bring all the strands together and turn you into a tournament winner, whether in a $50,000 WSOP event or a $5 sit-and-go.

H.O.R.S.E always starts with a round of limit Hold’em and this is a perfect time to scope out your opponents for weaknesses. Hold’em is by far the most popular poker game, so if you spot bad players in this game you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be even worse at the others (see How to spot the Hold’em player, p66). You’ll be under virtually no pressure from the blinds for the first entire rotation of games due to the fixed limit betting, and that will enable you to get involved in a lot of hands without fear of going broke.

Once the Hold’em and Omaha Hi-Lo rounds are out of the way play switches to Stud games, all of which are played with bring-ins and antes, which require you to commit far less chips blind, relative to your stack, so you’ll be able to pass or play a lot of hands without any need to panic.

Ante up

It’s the sequencing of games that lends H.O.R.S.E tournaments an interesting twist. When the game rotates back to Hold’em (every five levels) you’ll usually see something of a bottleneck, whereby the size of the blinds will appear to have suddenly become huge relative to the average stack and many players who clung on through the Stud games will now struggle to survive.

For example, in an average H.O.R.S.E. event you start with 1500 chips at the 30/60 limit (blinds 15/30), making it effectively impossible to get knocked out in this level.

However, by level six when Hold’em comes back for its second showing you’ll suddenly be playing 100/200 (blinds 50/100) just after ending the rotation with 80/160 Stud Eight-or-Better, which only required an ante of 15 chips per hand and a small bring-in (40) from one player, which is significantly different from being forced to put in 200 chips. If you’ve only managed to maintain your 1500 starting chip stack come the start of level 11 (the third Hold’em level) you’ll be in deep trouble going from 250/500 Eightor- Better with an ante of just 40, to 300/600 Hold’em (blinds 150/300)!

Clearly then, some planning is needed to ensure you make the jump back to Hold’em, which most people feel comfortable with, or maximise your chances with a short stack.

The best thing to do is start preparing your strategy a level before, when you reach Eight-or-Better Stud, to ensure you know what the blinds will be, how many big blinds you currently have in your stack and, if you’re very low (perhaps four big blinds or less), where the button will start and how many chances you will therefore have to find a playable hand before you’re forced to post a large percentage of your stack in the big blind.

All of this might sound elementary, but planning your strategy for transition between the different blind and ante stages of H.O.R.S.E. tournaments is vital. If you’re getting short-stacked and can hang on from Omaha Hi-Lo into Razz it could give you a chance to rebuild, as the game transforms from one where a raise is a significant percentage of your stack and good starting hands can become useless on the flop, to one with no blinds pressure and where you can wait for good hands and cheap stealing opportunities.

Money in sight…

As with most tournaments, the approach of the money stages in a H.O.R.S.E. event is likely to see divergent strategies emerge between the various stack sizes, and it’s important to notice how the other players are affected by this. The Stud games are generally safer ground for you if you’re short-stacked. But what if you’re a big stack? The larger bets involved in the flop-based games will give you a strong edge without having to risk too much – unless premium hand fireworks explode – as they will generally require only three to five big bets to play to the river. If you’ve got a stack of 20 big bets or more you can afford to lose at least a couple of hands before coming under any serious pressure.

Obviously then, this is the time to be raising frequently pre-flop in both games. But even if the bubble coincides with the Stud games you should still be looking to play aggressively, particularly in Razz where you should play low ‘up’ cards strongly, and Stud, where opponents will be fearful of playing marginal small pairs if you’re showing a high card. This effect will be exacerbated even further in sit-and-gos where a third-place finisher gets 20 percent of the prize pool but fourth gets nothing. Because of the fixed limit betting and the combination of games then, big stacks are particularly powerful in H.O.R.S.E. events when it comes to bubble time!

Finish line

Should you make the final table of a H.O.R.S.E. event chances are you’ve grasped a good amount of the overall strategies for the various games as well as the tournament format, so congratulations! However, the lion’s share of the prize pool is not yet in your grasp. You’ll need to make a few more changes to your game to account for the prize structure and the narrowing field. In most tournaments the majority of the money will be in the top few places, so there’s little point trying to hang on to move up at the bottom, and while this is also true in H.O.R.S.E events you’ll often find a combination of very high blinds or antes and inexperienced players can lead to a number of people knocking themselves out quickly.

Do not allow yourself to ante away, but if you think you might move up the prize ladder with little cost or risk, it’s worth hanging back in marginal situations, especially in the Stud rounds where it’s cheap to do so and your opponents might not have noticed you slipping into the shadows. Eventually the game will go shorthanded and you’ll need to change gears.

Remember that hand values go up in all games at this stage and you will need to adopt a loose and aggressive style if you want to win. Be prepared to take a few more risks and pick on opponents who have lost their bottle.

If you make it through to heads-up, remember that your hand will be best 50 percent of the time, so play accordingly and don’t allow an aggressive opponent to run over you. At this stage you’ve already accomplished a great deal, so keep doing what you have been doing and, with a little luck, the top spot will be yours!

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