Horse or Heros: does the order matter?

Terrance Reid
Published by:
Posted on: March 21, 2023 9:44 am EDT

Mixed games have a rich history within the poker community. The games usually provide a vibrant, fun, entertaining atmosphere. Players are happy to chirp and engage with one another. In many ways, mixed games have held onto the social dynamic that many feel No-Limit Hold ‘Em is losing in the GTO, solver-heavy, modern fields.

If you’ve looked at a tournament schedule and seen a “H.O.R.S.E.” event scheduled, that’s a five-game variant, typically played as limit games. It’s one of the most popular structures that has been around since at least the early twentieth century. The games involved are Hold ‘Em, Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Stud, and (Stud) Eight or Better, which explains the equine acronym. The games have historically been played in that order.

However, some tournament directors have experimented with bucking the traditional, changing the order of the games. You might see H.E.R.O.S. on a schedule, or a clever coastline-based series might use the S.H.O.R.E. order. So, the question is: does it matter? Should we care in what order the games are played? Is there a reason to shed the order that has been around for decades, and if so, is it worth it?

A case for embracing change

The traditional order of the games features three stud games in a row: Razz, Stud, and Eight or Better. Every mixed-game player has a story of not realizing the game changed and going for a “high only” hand, not realizing a low was also in play. Of course, the impetus should be on the players to be aware of what game is being played; being aware and able to adjust are key skills in mixed games. However, why not make it easier if we can? Mixed games can be intimidating, especially for new players. Game order that reduces confusion is surely worth exploring.

TDA founder Matt Savage and long-time player David Baker aka “ODB” clearly prefer HEROS

In the alternate game orders, the stud games are split up. Not only does this reduce the potential for confusion, but players enjoy greater variety more often. When only five games are on the table, why play three straight stud games? The resounding answer from H.O.R.S.E. apologists seems to be, “because that’s how we’ve always done it.” With anything in life, whenever that is the only reason I hear, I tend to question it.

Allen Kessler is not a fan of the change

Poker is a game rich in history and tradition. I love learning about the background of our game and how certain aspects developed over time. That said, innovation helps grow and better the game. If people that are much smarter than I see value in adjusting the game order, I listen. I hope the biggest tournament organizers in the world do as well.

If you want to shake your fist at the clouds and resist the change, I get it. Seeing something you love grow and evolve is scary. Not all changes will be winners and failed experiments will happen. But, that shouldn’t stop us from trying new things. If you disagree, you’re more than welcome to take your horse and buggy home, after all, it wasn’t broken.