You may read of H.O.R.S.E. tournaments won by players whose knowledge of the game came from a quick thumb through the "how to" book prior to the start. Then at breaks between levels they'd then swot up a little more on their way to an unlikely win.
But history tells us that success in H.O.R.S.E. depends on more than the ability to use an index under pressure. And so it went in Event #63 of the World Championship of Online Poker, which produced a H.O.R.S.E. final that bucked one way and bolted the other, with a line-up demonstrating the grit considered essential to succeed at this most challenging of disciplines.
So it was with some irony that, with a Team Pro, an online legend, and a former WCOOP main event winner at the final, not to mention towering businessmen and jobbing pros, it was the relatively unknown Vachette17 who overcame all (perhaps after 16 former attempts), taking the title and a first prize of $71,775.
But a H.O.R.S.E. title always comes with a little more, the respect -- grudging or otherwise -- of peers. For it requires the mastery of not one but five games, as that same "how to" book will explain.
Things get started in the final of Event #63
After playing through the night the final table got underway, with the line-up two hands in as follows:
Seat 1. Vachette17 - 125,878
Seat 2. sonajero - 319,184
Seat 3. Eugene Katchalov - 38,979
Seat 4. Tyson "POTTERPOKER" Marks - 324,591
Seat 5. Viktor "Isildur1" Blom - 284,807
Seat 6. vovtroy - 89,230
Seat 7. Sykoen - 111,761
Seat 8. Vladimir "GVOZDIKA55" Shchemelev - 345,970
As play started with limit Razz, Katchalov was the player at risk, while Vladimir "GVOZDIKA55" Shchemelev, a WSOP bracelet winner this summer, had the opposite problem, finishing the level with 390,000 as the rules were reversed for limit stud.
Team PokerStars Pro Eugene Katchalov
Soon Katchalov was making his way to the rail, a long night complete in eighth place. He shoved, showing the ace of clubs and was called by vovtroy showing ten of hearts. Vovtroy though would make the straight to bust Katchalov.
Katchalov and Viktor "Isildur1" Blom brought some obvious appeal for the 1,700 rail birds. Vovtroy, who pointed this out with an "lol", would send one to the rail and then be complicit in the terminal decline of the other.
Typically, a H.O.R.S.E. final is the natural stomping ground for Blom, a place that doesn't require him to put on sunglasses, sunblock and run a comb through his hair, such as the real world, although he never bothered with the comb.
Viktor "Isildur1" Blom
Players of his stature create a buzz around them. Watching Blom lose pot after pot to his opponents, it was natural to assume that this was simply part of his plan. Like Rocky Balboa facing Clubber Lang in Rocky III, Blom was merely permitting his opponents to tire themselves out taking his chips. Then, when they're exhausted from all the counting, he would strike.
But he didn't strike. Or more accurately couldn't. From the start things worked against Blom who, to continue the analogy, tired himself out trying to tire out the other guy. Vovtroy produced a set of aces against his set of nines, Blom's jacks were then bloodied by Shchemelev's nines and threes before sonajero's nines and eights reduced his stack yet again. As stud turned to stud hi/lo Blom was soon crippled, then eliminated by Shchemelev. No hands, no chips, no Talia Shire.
Like a sudden market collapse, Blom's exit slashed the rail by 200 spectators, who continued to depart when vovtroy followed him out in sixth place. He'd been reduced to fewer than 8,000 chips and managed a pair of fives in what would be his last hand. But Sykoen turned four-three into a straight.
As limit hold'em became the game, the chips began to move around the table. Tyson "POTTERPOKER" Marks, the 2010 WCOOP main event winner, began to increase his fortunes, a string of hands taking him to more than 500,000.
Tyson "POTTERPOKER" Marks shortly after his WCOOP Main Event win in 2010
Vachette17, who took a turn as the short stack, quickly did the same in the first hand of Omaha hi/lo, winning the hi and tying the lo.
But throughout all of this it was still Shchemelev who led. The businessman from Russia, took pleasure in crippling opponents, fitting perhaps for a username that evokes a Russian-built self-propelled howitzer. All had come under fire, but none more so than former Sunday million winner Sykoen, who was forced to muck a razz hand when Shchemelev showed a seven-high lo hand. Left with 21,000, Sykoen's departure became inevitable, his ten-high low undone by Shchemelev again, who went one better than previous, showing six-high.
Now galloping ahead, Shchemelev took another pot, this time worth nearly 200,000 from Marks. He was proving unstoppable, in possession of nearly half the chips in play.
Vachette17 meanwhile had struggled during the Razz round, dropping down the counts to a stack of less than 100,000. But when the game became limit stud Vachette17 seemed liberated, doubling in the first hand through Shchemelev before showing aces against sonajero to move up to 470,000.
Vachette17 wasn't the only one turning on Shchemelev. Sonajero did the same with an ace-high straight. Maybe, thought Vachette17, now was a good time to deal. The others agreed. Well nearly all of them did. There was an ominous silence from the Russian corner, even when Vachette17 smiled in the chat box and said "be nice." Shchemelev didn't flinch.
"So guess no deal," said Marks. It was possible that Shchemelev was away from his computer, frantically flicking through the pages of a Russian-English dictionary for the word "deal" or "agree", but this seemed unlikely.
"Don't think GVOZDIKA55 wants to.... It's ok. glgl."
Oddly, while Vachette17 was the biggest proponent of a deal, even asking again after taking the lead, he was also the biggest beneficiary in the post no-deal phase, up to 610,000 a few minutes later.
It would not be as simple as that. Shchemelev was never far away. A king-high flush saw to that, and then more. Shchemelev won a series of pots without showing, moving up to 885,000, leaving the others behind, notably the new short stack, Marks.
The former WCOOP main event winner took the blows well, still firing, like a doomed ship of the line, even when down to 33,000. But at that stage there's rarely any hope of relief.
That left three, and the decisive hand in which Shchemelev and Vachette17 would clash, the outcome leaving the winner a clear run to the bracelet.
In the light of that sonajero could expect little but a well-earned third place during some Omaha hi/lo. Sonajero managed aces and queens for the hi, but lost that and the lo to Shchemelev's wheel.
Shchemelev - 599,000
Vachette17 - 1,050,000
Vachette17 would soon be in possession of a first WCOOP bracelet. Shchemelev was on the back foot, and never really shifted, dropping to 375,000 when Vachette17 made an eight-high straight, then down to 135,000 when Vachette17 showed a jack-high straight with no lo hand to win. The Russian made a couple of valiant attempts to recover, but Vachette17's lead was too great. Left with 66,000, Shchemelev's chips went in.
Congratulations to Vachette17 on a first WCOOP title, a breakthrough win, becoming only the second player from Hungary to win a WCOOP title. The full result is as follows:
WCOOP 2013: Event #63, $2,100 H.O.R.S.E.
$1,210,000 total prize pool ($250K Guaranteed)
24 places paid
1st place. vachette17 (Hungary) - $71,775.00
2nd place. Vladimir "GVOZDIKA55" Shchemelev (Russia) - $51,150.00
3rd place. sonajero (Uruguay) - $39,600.00
4th place. Tyson "POTTERPOKER" Marks (Canada) - $28,050.00
5th place. Sykoen (Norway) - $18,150.00
6th place. vovtroy (Russia) - $14,850.00
7th place. Viktor "Isildur1" Blom (United Kingdom) - $11,550.00
8th place. Eugene Katchalov, Team PokerStars Pro (Ukraine) - $9,075.00
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.