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H.O.R.S.E. tournament brings new games to poker fans

27 June 2007

By Aaron Todd

Since the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship at the World Series of Poker dipped under 15 tables on Monday, my purple media pass (the lowest in the WSOP Media caste system) has banished me outside the tournament area.

As a result, I've been watching the tournament with the audience, who are sometimes piled three or four deep at the rail.

Many of the fans watching have no idea what's going on inside those ropes. But they definitely recognize the faces, even if they butcher the names.

"Hey, there's Huck Finn," said one gentleman after spotting 1996 WSOP Main Event champ Huck Seed.

After watching people they've seen play poker on TV play poker in person for a few moments, the awe begins to wear off. Then they become puzzled when they see the dealer pass out four cards during the Omaha round or deal cards to players face up in any of the stud games. And since I have a media pass hanging around my neck and I'm carrying yellow notebook, the spectators assume that I'm guy to ask: "What the hell are they playing, anyway?"

Educating Joe Poker
The thrill of No Limit Texas Hold'em was a big part of the poker boom, but if you listen to Daniel Negreanu, it may also be the death of it.

"Poker isn't just No Limit Hold'em," Negreanu said in an interview last year. "There are many different forms of poker that are all fun and interesting."

Negreanu advocated for the inclusion of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament at last year's WSOP. But instead of continuing the mixed game through the tournament's natural completion, the game switched to No Limit Hold'em when the final nine was determined.

The perception was that the viewers of the ESPN broadcast wouldn't understand the games in H.O.R.S.E., outside of Hold'em. And limit poker doesn't tend to have same dramatic "all-in moments" as no limit poker.

ESPN only showed about five minutes of the H.O.R.S.E. portion of the tournament last year. But despite the lack of television exposure, a few online poker rooms began offering mixed game tournaments and cash games to their players after the H.O.R.S.E. tournament concluded. Poker Stars even offers a weekly $215 H.O.R.S.E. tournament which drew 80 entries last week. Sure that's nothing compared to roughly 7,000 that play in the weekly "Sunday Million," but it shows that there is interest in mixed games.

And there's still a long way to go. After spending the last three days watching the H.O.R.S.E. tournament, it's obvious that most of the fans watching the tournament don't know how to play most of the games.

Many spectators have been genuinely curious and inquisitive. Some have even asked some good questions.

"Why would he do that?" one woman asked after seeing a player raise in Razz after hitting a King on fifth street.

"Because his opponent has 8-9-Jack showing, and he's got two up cards that beat all three of his opponents up cards," I explained. "Even though the King didn't help him, he's probably got a much more powerful draw and is likely the favorite in the hand."

The woman nodded and started to make some smart observations during the rest of the round.

I've done my best to answer the questions, though my purple press pass and yellow legal pad probably lend me more credibility than I deserve. But I can only answer the questions of a few people who actually attend the WSOP. ESPN's broadcast will reach millions.

And this year, the mixed game will continue for the duration of the tournament, including the final table. ESPN is also taping the final three days, and the broadcast has been expanded from two hours to six hours.

Personally, I find limit poker far more interesting than no limit poker. I like how small mistakes add up over time, and that's what makes the difference between a winning player and losing player.

It is much more scientific. No limit poker can turn into a battle of wills. Limit poker is a battle of the mind.

Who knows what kind of ratings ESPN will get for the six hours of H.O.R.S.E. coverage. But I think the attention can only help expand the interest for mixed games, and that's good for the game.

H.O.R.S.E. tournament brings new games to poker fans is republished from CasinoVendors.com.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and (his personal favorite) Badeuci.

Since graduating from St. Lawrence University, Aaron has worked as a journalist covering the gambling industry and as a communications specialist in college athletic departments.

A native of a small town in New York just south of Ottawa, Aaron lives in Needham, Mass., with his wife and three children. Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com, and follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.