For the entirety of the history of the World Series of Poker, the $10,000 Championship Event has been the pinnacle of success not only of that particular year's tournament schedule but also of the poker world itself. The winner of each Championship Event tournament has been graced with the title of "World Champion" since the inception of the World Series back in 1970 and only thirty men have ever taken that prize home. In 2006, however, there may be a new benchmark as to who the best poker player in the world is.
As No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em has swept the poker playing world, more tournaments have put more of those events on their schedules. In fact, many times in this current day of tournament poker, the entirety of a schedule can be comprised of No-Limit events, excluding such traditional offerings as Five and Seven Card Stud, Omaha Hold 'Em, Razz and Hi/Lo derivations of poker games. When Harrah's set the forty-four events on the tournament schedule for this year's World Series of Poker there was, naturally, a predominance of No-Limit tournaments on the schedule.
This didn't sit well with many in the poker community. Outrage over the exclusion of differing formats of poker for the more popular No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em form of the game came from many of the best professional players in the game as well as the variety of message boards, chat rooms, online poker games and cash game discussions in the casinos. Hearing those voices clearly, World Series Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack made a sweeping and significant change to the schedule early in 2006.
In January, Pollack made the move to change the schedule and provide probably the most exclusive tournament in poker history. As one of the significant arguments from many was the lack of a mixed game format in the World Series, he brought H.O.R.S.E. back from a year long exile (a mixed game was last played in 2004) to be played at the Rio this summer. He also set the buy in for the event at an unprecedented $50,000, the largest sum for any event in the thirty-six year history of the World Series. There was much acclaim for this move and all seemed right with the world.
What does this event mean in the wider scheme of things, however?
Maybe we should start with explaining what H.O.R.S.E. is for newcomers who think its something that is done on schoolyard basketball courts. H.O.R.S.E. is an acronym for a rotation of games (all played in a Limit format…Texas Hold 'Em, Omaha Hold 'Em, Razz, Seven Card Stud and either Omaha or Seven Card Eights or Better, also known as Hi/Lo) that are played in a particular setting. There is a set time frame for each discipline to be played and, once the games have rotated through, the levels go up and the rotation is played through again. Of course, whoever survives to have all the chips at the end is the winner. It is considered perhaps the truest test of poker skills around today.
With that primer, fans and players should figure that the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament will almost certainly guarantee that the greatest poker players in the world will be coming to the felt for the event. While the average Joe Poker may be able to save up to play the preliminary events or the $10K tournament (or may satellite in as well), not too many will be able to stomach laying down the cost of a Lexus for what will be a highly combative tournament featuring games that many may not have played. Satellites, if they are offered for the tournament in a single table ten player format, would cost a whopping $5,000...once again, not something that the everyday person has lying around. Thus, only the best poker playing (and perhaps money managing) professionals will be taking the plunge in this shark tank.
What we'll see when the H.O.R.S.E. tournament plays out starting on July 12th is the cream of the poker playing world vying for perhaps the largest preliminary tournament prize pool in history. Even if only seventy or eighty players step to the felt, this would guarantee a prize pool in the $3.5 to $4 million range. If an astounding two hundred players plopped part of their bankrolls down (a possibility), the resulting pool would be almost $10 million and the first prize would be the largest award in an event other than the Championship Event of the World Series itself more than likely. As you can see, the attention this tournament should get should rival even that of the $10K Championship Event.
There is some thought that this event might be considered the true "World Championship" rather than the $10K tournament. With its multi-layered complexities of differing games, there is room to consider this thought. In reality, however, the $10K Championship Event will always be considered the premier tournament and the coronation of the World Champion; the H.O.R.S.E. tournament, on the other hand, could very well lead to some answers on the question of the greatest poker player in the world.
One thing that would make the mixed game event less than exciting is changing it once the final table players are determined. There is talk that once the final table is set, the format would revert to No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em for television purposes. It is with a great deal of hope that this doesn't happen! It would be an unfortunate turn if, after battling through a quality field with the challenges of the games available, the mixed game was abandoned in the end for ease of viewing. Rather than doing this, continue on with the rotation of games and allow the skills of the players to determine the winner of what will be a fascinating event. Who knows, it could bring back more various games in tournaments than just No-Limit.
Believe it or not, there has also been some backtalk regarding this tournament as well. Some are calling it an "elitist" event, available only to the pros as they don't have the Championship Event to call their own anymore. It has also been called a "buy a bracelet" event, as the smaller field will be comparable to events held during the early years of the World Series or more specialized tournaments in the Series history. These are ridiculous statements as anyone who has played poker will realize. Any time you enter a poker tournament and are able to outlast your opponents, the reward is given to skillful play, correct decisions and, yes, sometimes a lucky break or two. Whether a tournament has two or twenty thousand players, winning in poker is something to be cherished, especially at the level of the World Series of Poker.
While the $50K H.O.R.S.E tournament may bode for increases in other entry fees for World Series events in the future, it will also be the most exciting event, along with the $10K Championship Event, held during the run of tournaments at the Rio in Las Vegas this summer. Will it become a yearly tradition? Only more time and history of the World Series of Poker will tell that tale.
In our next part of this series, we'll look at what many call the "true action" at the World Series…cash games, satellite tournaments and those "second chance" events where walking away with the green instead of jewelry is the best reward.
Ed Note: You can play HORSE online at Full Tilt