Horse Race

Introduction

This is a gambling game for three or more players. The horses are represented by the four Aces that race along the course according to the suits of cards turned by the dealer. At the start of the race players bet on the outcome.

In the traditional version of the game the dealer sets the odds, takes the players' bets and pays those who bet on the winner. Roland Scheicher has suggested an alternative version of the game, Calcutta Horse Race, in which the horses are auctioned to the players at the start of each race and the owners of the first and second placed horses share the pool.

Basic Horse Race

Players and equipment

Three or more people can play. One standard 52-card pack without jokers is used. The players will also need chips or money for betting.

Layout

The dealer extracts the four aces from the deck and places them in a column. The cards are then shuffled and cut, and the dealer deals seven cards face up in a horizontal row along the top of the layout to mark out the course as shown in the diagram.

horse race course

If there are five or more cards of the same suit in the top row, the cards are reshuffled, cut and dealt again, since it would be impossible for the horse of that suit to win.

Betting

The dealer sets the odds on each horse. The odds need to be long enough to encourage the players to bet but short enough to give the dealer a reasonable chance to make a profit. Clearly the more often a suit appears in the top row, the less likely it is that the horse of that suit will win. Some sources suggest the following odds, according to the number of cards of the suit that are showing:

  • 0 cards: evens
  • 1 card: 2-1
  • 2 cards: 3-1
  • 3 cards: 5-1
  • 4 cards: 10-1

The dealer also determines the limit on the size of bets that are allowed. Players now place their bets beside the Aces they wish to bet on.

Race and Payoff

The dealer deals cards from the remainder of the deck one at a time face up onto a pile. Each time a card is dealt, the horse of that suit moves one space to the right along the course. The first horse to cross the finish line (which will happen when eight cards of that suit have been dealt) wins the race. The dealer pays out the bets on the winning horse and collects the bets on the others. It is then the next player's turn to deal.

Variants

The length of the course can be varied. For example in the version described in Scarne on Cards (1965), only six cards are dealt to mark out the course, and a horse only has to reach, not cross the finishing line to win, so only six cards of the suit are needed. Even if all six cards marking the course are of the same suit six more cards of that suit remain, making it possible though unlikely that the corresponding Ace will win, so it is never necessary to redeal the cards.

Calcutta Horse Race

Roland Scheicher contributed this version, which is modelled on the Calcutta auctions held at horse races such as the Melbourne Cup. It can be played by three or more players and the recommended number of players is around 6 to 8. Each player begins with an equal quantity of chips, say 150.

Deal

The cards are cut to choose the first dealer - highest card deals. In this version the dealer acts as auctioneer but has no advantage over the other players. The dealer may take part in the auction, or with a larger number of players, it may be more fun for the dealer to stay out of the bidding and just concentrate on selling the horses and running the race.

The dealer removes the four Aces, the remainder of the pack is shuffled and cut, and the dealer deals a row of seven cards face up to mark the length of the course. If five or more cards of the same suit are dealt, the cards are gathered up, shuffled again and redealt.

To make it clearer which horses have an advantage, the row of seven cards is sorted into suits, with the suit that has most cards on the left, then the suit with the next most cards, and so on.

The Auction

The horses (Aces) are now auctioned off one at a time starting with the longshots - the horses that have the lowest chance to win.  (That is the order in which horses are auctioned off at the Melbourne Cup, where Calcutta auctions are especially popular.) So the first horse to be auctioned will be the leftmost suit, since it has most cards along the top of the course, and therefore the least cards remaining in the pack to move the horse forwards.

The dealer is the auctioneer. The dealer announces the horse to be auctioned and accepts bids from the players. Players may bid in any order. Bids must be a whole number of chips, the minimum being 1 chip, and each bid must be higher than the previous one. When no one is willing to bid higher, the dealer declares the horse sold. The highest bidder pays the amount of the final bid into the pool and the dealer/auctioneer gives the relevant Ace to the buyer as proof of ownership of the horse.

Race and Payoff

When all four horses have been auctioned the race begins. The dealer deals cards one at a time from the deck face up onto the table. The first card is placed below the leftmost card of the row marking the length of the course, to show that the horse of that suit has moved forward one space. Subsequent cards of the same suit continue the row for that horse to the right. When a new suit appears, the card is placed in the left column to start a new row for that suit. After a few cards have been dealt the layout might look like this:

calcutta horse race in progress

In this example Clubs was the first horse to start, but has now been overtaken by Hearts. The Spade horse has not yet moved.

Further cards are dealt until two horses have passed the finish line, i.e. until two of the suit rows contain eight (or more) cards each, the eighth card being just to the right of the finish line.

The owner of the horse that finishes first takes two thirds of the chips form the pool, and the owner of the second horse takes the remaining third. If the amount of chips in the pool is not divisible by three, the winnings are rounded to the nearest whole number: if there is a remainder of one chip the winner takes it, and if there is a remainder of two chips the owners of the first and second horses take one of these chips each.

After the pool as been paid out, the turn to deal passes to the next player to the left.