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September 20, 2017

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Poker’s HORSE a serious game


Tiffany Brown / FILE

Poker pros play into the wee morning hours last June at the final table of the World Series of Poker’s HORSE event, considered a top test of poker skill because of its diversity of games. Scotty Nguyen, in red, outlasted the others to win $1.9 million, but not before controversy-generating behavior including swearing at his rivals.

Click to enlarge photo

The trophy awarded to the HORSE winner is named after the late Chip Reese, who won in 2006.


What: HORSE (mixed games) world championship poker tournament

When: Noon today through Tuesday (final table scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday)

Where: The Rio

Buy-in: $50,000

How to enter: Open to anyone age 21 or older

Prize pool: Depends on the number of entrants. Last year’s tournament drew 148 players for a prize pool of $7.1 million, with $1,989,120 going to the winner.

Spectators: All World Series of Poker events are free to watch.

Mixing it up

If the annual $10,000-entry no-limit Texas hold ’em championship tournament at the World Series of Poker retains the No. 1 spot on poker’s liturgical calendar, the $50,000 HORSE (mixed games) event can make a claim for the “1a” slot. In its fourth year, the HORSE world championship draws a much smaller field — 148 players last year, compared with 6,844 for the main event — but a much tougher field made up almost entirely of elite professionals. It’s considered a test of all-around poker skill, with five games in rotation: hold ’em (the H in HORSE); Omaha high-low (the O); razz (the R); 7-card stud (the S); and 7-card stud eight or better (the E).

The namesake

The first $50,000 world championship HORSE tournament, in 2006, was also the most memorable to date. Chip Reese outlasted Andy Bloch in a 7-hour, 10-minute heads-up showdown between the final two players in the tournament, earning a top prize of $1.7 million. The “Chip Reese Trophy” is now awarded to the winner of the HORSE championship in honor of Reese, who died in 2007. The winner keeps the top part of the trophy for the year and the winner’s name is engraved on the bottom part of the trophy.

Freddy, willing and able

After a grueling final table that lasted 14 1/2 hours, Las Vegas poker pro Freddy Deeb emerged as the second HORSE world champion, beating 147 other players to win the 2007 tournament. Because of a change in the payout structure, Deeb’s top prize of nearly $2.3 million remains the largest awarded in the short history of the event. Afterward, Deeb said he considers the bracelet given to the HORSE winner the second most prestigious in poker, behind only the World Series main event championship bracelet.

Nguyen-win situation

Scotty Nguyen’s victory last year, when he outlasted a field of 148 to win more than $1.9 million, generated some controversy. ESPN cameras caught Nguyen behaving erratically at the final table, swearing and berating his fellow players. It’s up for debate whether Nguyen was legitimately out of control or engaging in a particularly intense brand of gamesmanship. Regardless, he later issued a public apology for his actions. Though a popular YouTube video featuring clips from the final table is titled “Scotty Nguyen Belligerent Drunk Montage,” Nguyen denied he was drinking to excess.

The odds

Due to the vagaries of tournament poker, in a typical field even the very best players are only about three to four times as likely to win as the average player. In other words, in any given tournament with 400 entrants, the top player in the field would be no better than a 100-1 shot to win it. The odds structure is even tighter in a special case such as the big HORSE event, which is the most expensive of the 57 tournaments at the World Series of Poker and carries the richest entry fee for any poker tournament in North America. Based on reputation and past performance, we’ll make Phil Ivey a 75-1 favorite to win, with Andy Bloch (80-1), Scotty Nguyen (90-1), Freddy Deeb (100-1) and Erick Lindgren (100-1) rounding out the top five.

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