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WSOP H.O.R.S.E. Final Table Format a Disgrace

13 July 2006

Later this week, nine outstanding poker players will face off in arguably the most prestigious final table in poker history. Too bad the final day will be a sham.

After some top professional players got tired of playing in an escalating number of No Limit Hold'em tournaments at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) while watching other "less popular" games disappear, some of them asked tournament officials to add a prestigious, mixed-game event.

Their response was Event # 20, a $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament that began yesterday afternoon.

What H.O.R.S.E. Stands For

  • "H": Hold'em
  • "O": Omaha Hi/Lo
  • "R": Razz
  • "S": Seven-Card Stud
  • "E": Eight or Better (Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo)
  • How H.O.R.S.E. Works

  • All games are limit varieties
  • At the end of a set period of time, the game progresses to the next in line (the first game is Hold'em, the second is Omaha Hi/Lo, etc.)
  • After the "Eight or Better" round, the progression begins again with Hold'em
  • Stakes are raised each time through the cycle

Using his experience from stints with NASCAR and the NBA, World Series Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack has compared the event to an all-star game. The comparison is fitting; one hundred and forty-three players are dueling it out in this mixed-game championship, and the tournament field is a who's-who of top professionals.

It will take an exhausting effort and a great deal of focus to get to the final table, as it's unlikely that any player could make it without being an expert in all five disciplines.

However, when the players reach the final table, they can throw all that work and knowledge out the window, because at that point, the game will switch to No Limit Texas Hold'em.

Apparently, tournament directors don't believe that a television audience can handle the nuances of Omaha Hi/Lo and Stud-based games.

If it's fair to compare poker with traditional sports, then let's continue that comparison. Imagine if the NFL had a rulebook for the regular season and opening playoff rounds, but when it came time for the Super Bowl, the rules changed from NFL rules to NCAA rules. Sure it's the same game, but when the clock stops on every first down and pass interference penalties are only 15 yards, it will obviously change the way it's played.

Perhaps even more appropriate, compare the tournament to the Olympic decathlon. Often called the world's greatest athletes, decathletes amass points based on their performance in 10 events over two days. It might make great television to have the top five athletes advance to a final and decide the gold medal winner solely on the results of a 100-meter dash, but would it be fair?

"If you took a poll of the H.O.R.S.E. players here today, about 95% of them would tell you they would prefer to be playing the mixed game at the final table," said ESPN analyst Norman Chad on the first day of the tournament.

It isn't fair to the players OR the fans to change the game in the middle of a tournament, especially one this historic.

Tournament directors are facing intense pressure from the players to rethink the format for next year, and Pollack has hinted that the issue would be examined before next year's WSOP.

"We don't profess to have all the answers, and in fact I think we need to keep innovating every year to keep it fresh," Pollack said. "We'll stick with the things that work, and we'll change what doesn't."

But next year isn't good enough. I hope the final nine stand around the table, refusing to sit until the tournament remains a H.O.R.S.E. game. No matter how television-friendly they try to make the format, no one is going to watch an empty poker table.


AT OffSuite
In his previous life, Aaron Todd was a sports journalist by day and a poker player by night. He can now be found covering the poker beat for Casino City and making horrendously unsuccessful bluffs in his home game.
Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com.
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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. 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 Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. 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 Badugi.