The hottest new poker game in Las Vegas draws an eclectic crowd made up of slick professionals, gaming authors and everyday tourists trying to make a score.
All of them share a common trait: They are looking for a change of pace from no-limit Texas hold ’em, the ubiquitous form of poker that, shark-like, has devoured its rival games in recent years.
They find it each Wednesday evening in the poker room at Aria at CityCenter. The cards are in the air, as poker lingo has it, promptly at 7 p.m.
The game is called HORSE, an acronym representing the five forms of poker that are played in rotation, including Texas hold ’em (the H in HORSE); Omaha eight or better (the O); razz (the R); 7-card stud (the S); and 7-card stud eight or better (the E).
The structure of the game is $20 to $40 limit, a refreshing respite from the no-limit hold ’em games that have dominated the scene since poker went nuts nearly seven years ago. The poker craze was the result of a harmonic convergence—or an unholy trinity, depending on your viewpoint—of events. Chris Moneymaker, the quintessential everyman, outlasted a tough field to win the 2003 World Series of Poker. Around the same time, the World Poker Tour made its TV debut, bringing tournament poker to the masses. And fast Internet connections became the norm, leading to a boom in online poker.
As no-limit hold ’em emerged as the game of choice, other forms of poker got lost in the shuffle.
The Aria HORSE game, the brainchild of poker insider Steven McLoughlin, aims to bring them back.
In his position as a marketing executive with Two Plus Two, the powerhouse publisher of gambling books based in Henderson, McLoughlin identified a demand for mixed-game poker at the middle limits.
“I was constantly hearing from people who wanted to come out to Vegas to play a mixed game, and it just didn’t exist,” McLoughlin says. “We knew there was a market that needed to be created. The casinos weren’t creating it for the players, so the players had to do it themselves.”
Since its inception in early January, the Aria HORSE game has attracted a full table each Wednesday, often with a waiting list. The action continues through the wee hours, though the ultimate goal is to expand it to 24 hours, seven days a week.
The $20 to $40 limit hits a sweet spot between the entry-level $4 to $8 HORSE games that occasionally appear around town and the “nosebleed,” or uber-high-stakes, competition in the Big Game at Bellagio.
Most of the players in the Aria HORSE game buy in for $1,000 to $1,500, with perhaps another “dime”—the gambler’s term for $1,000—in reserve.
Authors David Sklansky (The Theory of Poker, Two Plus Two Publishing, 1994) and “Hollywood” Dave Stann have played in the HORSE game. Online poker sensation Shaun Deeb and tournament pro Jimmy “Gobboboy” Fricke are regulars.
The HORSE table occupies a prime piece of real estate at Aria, right by the railing that separates the poker room from the main casino floor.
“We chose intentionally not to place the game in a high-stakes room,” McLoughlin says. “We prefer to be on the rail, so people can walk over and gawk at us. … We’re sort of a mini version of the Big Game—only with a few zeroes removed.”