This is the fifth in a series of articles dedicated to games of the inaugural Dealer’s Choice event at the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP).
I recently moved into a new, two-storey, downtown condo in a neighbourhood that’s home to one of Canada’s most prominent fresh markets. It’s a beautiful, vibrant area. The condo itself is nice, and although I know not everyone’s a fan of high-rise living, I personally love the floor-to-ceiling windows that make the space both airy and bright.
When I first moved in, several windows on the main level were damaged, which the builder promised to repair. Last week, replacements were finally delivered and ready for installation.
I let the trades do their work while I kept busy upstairs. An hour or so later, it appeared they were close to being done. I peeked down the stairs just in time to see one of the workers (an older man in his fifties) sweeping away. There was construction debris scattered all across the floor. Something was not quite right.
“I hope you don’t mind I borrowed this from your coat closet,” he says, politely, without looking up.
“Oh, I don’t mind at all, it’s just that... ” I watch as he struggles to collect the dirt into a pile. Whatever he’s doing, it’s not working.
“We’ll make sure we get this all cleaned up for you,” he says, smiling. “No problem.” Despite his sweeping, however, the floor remains covered in dust.
“Okay. Thanks a lot,” I nod, appreciative of the effort.
I walk over to the laundry room, returning with a broom and dustpan.
“Umm ... here,” I say, handing them over. “Let me give you a real broom,” I say with a straight face. “That’s my curling broom you’re holding.”
Well ... some of my friends thought it was funny.
Canadians might appreciate the humour. While hockey is our official winter sport, curling is becoming more and more popular. Despite its Scottish origins, there are more curlers in Canada than in the rest of the world combined. And we’re pretty good too. In fact, we recently won double gold at the Sochi Olympics. Pardon the pun, but we rock!
Curling is a sport that’s played on a narrow strip of ice, roughly 150 feet in length. Two teams, comprised of four players each, compete by taking turns sliding heavy granite stones or “rocks” across the sheet toward a set of painted rings. Each team’s objective is to get as many of their rocks as possible as close to the centre of these rings as possible.
Most modern curling brooms consist of an oval-shaped fabric pad attached to a handle, rather than a bristled base that may be more common to other types of brooms. After a player on a given team delivers a rock, teammates sweep the ice in front of the rock as it travels across the sheet. Although outsiders might think curlers are only using their brooms to clean the ice, sweeping, in fact, serves to extend the distance a moving rock will travel and keep its trajectory straighter, by reducing the friction beneath.
I consider curling to be a sport that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. On TV, the professionals seem able to consistently and effortlessly place the rocks in just the right places. Time and again, they appear to remove their opponent’s rocks and reposition their own with amazing precision.
However, as a recreational curler, I can tell you it’s much harder than it looks; give a rock too big a push and it sails through the rings; lighten up a bit and it comes up short. It takes a lot of practice to deliver rocks with any degree of consistency, and just when you think you’re doing that, the ice conditions change and you’re forced to make adjustments.
A slight change in temperature or worn paths in the ice, for example, might affect the sleekness of its surface. If you fail to adjust quickly, a rock expected to stop in a certain place would now miss its target by a few feet — all the difference between making and missing your shot. The team who is able to recognize when such adjustments are necessary, and adapts the quickest, usually emerges as the winner.
Perfecting the technique of a basic delivery in curling is much like developing a solid understanding of basic strategy for any variant of poker. You need to execute the basic strategy well before you can successfully take your game to higher levels.
However, ask any experienced poker player, and they’ll probably tell you the real key to enjoying success, especially in tougher games, is the ability to adapt more readily to changing situations, and to make adjustments that exploit specific tendencies or weaknesses of your opponents. The best players are always on the lookout for good opportunities to amass more chips while avoiding dangerous situations so they lose less. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, well-timed adjustments must be made.
For example, if your opponent plays very tight and folds a lot, you can bluff more in situations where he or she is unlikely to hold or have made a strong hand. Conversely, if your opponent is very loose and calls too much, you can bet more hands with which you might normally just check, as they are still bound to better than the hands that he or she will be showing down. Extra value may be had by proactively seeking out situations of both types, rather than settling on only making and betting with strong hands that tend to play themselves.
The game discussed in today’s article – Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw – is considered by many to be among the purest forms of poker. It is a draw variant, as are Badugi, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badeucy, the subjects of previous articles in this series. This game received a lot of publicity recently when Phil Hellmuth, seeking his 12th WSOP bracelet (he’s since won two more), went heads-up against (and ultimately lost to) John Juanda in the 2011 $10,000 championship event for this variant.
As a draw variant, there are no cards shown, so there is no way of knowing exactly what cards your opponents are holding. In Hold’em, only two cards toward a five-card hand for each player are hidden; in Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw, all five cards held by each player are unknown. Further, as the name of the game suggests, there is only one available draw; therefore, the only concrete information giving a hint of what cards an opponent might hold is the number of cards drawn on that single draw. This makes Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw a game highly conducive to bluffing.
When played at a high level, poker becomes less about relying on the absolute strength of hands and more about exploiting your opponents’ tendencies. This often involves bluffing, which in turn can invite re-bluffing, especially since draws frequently miss. Player psychology becomes a very important factor and you may find yourself routinely asking: does my opponent really have the better hand or not? In games with a no-limit betting structure especially, big pots can be won or lost depending on the accuracy of your read.
A game such as Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw may well be easy to learn but difficult to master. However, if you enjoy a genuine challenge, it might just be the right game for you.
Deuce-to-Seven (2-7) Single Draw
2-7 Single Draw is a draw game resembling 2-7 Triple Draw (click here to read the previous article on Triple Draw). Each player is dealt five cards and the same hand ranking system is used. However, there are two key differences:
• The betting is typically no-limit, so for any given wager, the maximum amount you can bet or raise is generally unrestricted.
• There is only one draw.
Object of the Game
The object of 2-7 Single Draw is to make the lowest five-card hand possible. As previously noted, the Ace always plays as a high, undesirable card.
Also, recall in 2-7 rankings, straights and flushes are valid hands, but because they are strong hands in high-hand ranking systems, they are undesirable in 2-7 Single Draw where the objective is to make the lowest possible hand. The best hand in this game consists of the cards 2-3-4-5-7, with at least two suits represented (i.e. not a flush), hence the modifier “Deuce-to-Seven.” This hand is made up of the five lowest-possible cards that do not form a straight.
: 7-high = the “nut” Single Draw hand
In lowball games such as 2-7 Single Draw, the highest-ranked cards of a hand determine its rank. Therefore, assuming the hand does not contain a straight, flush, or any pairs (all of which are undesirable) when determining the rank of a hand, the cards are ordered from highest to lowest. Consider the following (ordered from strongest to weakest):
: 7-high hand
: 8-high hand
: 9-high hand
: A-high hand
: pair of threes
When comparing two or more hands with the highest cards of the same rank, the ranks of the next highest card(s) are used to break the tie, where possible. Suits, however, are never used to break ties. For example:
will lose to
will lose to
Play of the Hand
In 2-7 Single Draw, there are two betting rounds and one opportunity to draw.
In addition to blinds, antes are also typically posted. Further, although some online sites do not enforce this traditional rule, the first player to enter the pot after the blinds must come in for at least a minimum raise (i.e. no limping). With only two betting rounds, the antes and opening raise requirement are intended to help encourage action.
Here is an example of a 2-7 Single Draw deal:
- Antes and blinds are posted: In this example, each player posts an ante of 25, a big blind of 100 and a small blind of 50 are posted.
- Deal: Each player is dealt five cards.
In this example, you are dealt in middle position.
- First Betting Round: It is 100 to call. If you choose to play, you must raise to a total of 200 or more, assuming no one else has raised. An opening raise of two to three times the amount of the big blind is typical. There is no limit to the maximum bet or raise amount (so long as you have the chips to make the wager), as is the case with No-limit Hold’em.
- Draw: You can choose to discard any number of cards or “stand pat” (i.e. draw none).
In this example, you will discard the Ace, since Aces are high cards and undesirable. You proceed to discard the , and draw the , for a new holding of (a 9-high hand).
- Final Betting Round: Bets and raises may be made; the minimum opening bet is 100 (the big blind amount).
- Showdown: Once betting on the final round is complete, the hands of the remaining players are compared to determine a winner.
In this example, your nine-high hand will beat the hand of any opponent with a higher-ranking hand, including any higher-ranked 9-high hand, any 10-high to A-high hand, and any hands containing a pair, straight, or flush, for example. However, your 9-high hand will lose to any lower-ranked hand, including stronger 9-high hands, and any 8-high or 7-high hand (no straight or flush).
Basic Strategy Tips
Here is a list of recommended starting hands:
- 7-high to 9-high pat hands
When dealt these hands (though it is extremely rare), expect to win often. Although rougher 8-high hands and 9-high hands may be considered weaker hands in 2-7 Triple Draw, they are very strong in 2-7 Single Draw. It is rare to be dealt any of these hands from the start, and particularly difficult for players who are drawing to beat these hands to successfully overtake them with the benefit of only a single draw.
- 10-high to J-high pat hands
Being dealt one of these hands from the outset is also extremely rare. The strongest hands of this group (i.e. 10-high hands with low supporting cards) will win a fair share of pots, but are still vulnerable to being overtaken when facing multiple drawing opponents, and are generally not strong enough to be slow-played. The weaker hands of this group play best in heads-up situations against a drawing hand, but will be overtaken quite often in multi-way pots, especially against opponents who tend to play strong starting hands. You may need to play these hands more cautiously when facing action from tight, predictable players who might have made stronger hands.
7-high and 8-high one-card draws
Also considered to be very strong starting hands are those only one card away from making a 7-high hand. While you are not guaranteed to make a 7-high hand, and will still be an underdog to an opponent holding a J-high or better pat hand, these one-card draws hold excellent promise to make strong hands and have excellent equity when competing against other drawing hands. 8-high one-card draws are also generally playable, although obviously not as strong as most 7-high one-card draws.
Key exceptions include draws that tend to make straights. A hand such as 7-5-4-3 is weaker than one that cannot make a straight (e.g. 7-5-4-2), and in particular, open-ended straight draws such as 7-6-5-4 or 8-7-6-5 are highly problematic as up to eight valuable outs have been rendered useless – these draws should be folded often. That said, a hand such as 5-4-3-2, despite the straight possibility, is considered premium, as drawing any seven or eight (and often, even a nine or ten) will still result in an excellent hand.
- 9-high to J-high one-card draws
Hands one card away from making a 9-high hand are also highly playable. There are two primary factors affecting the desirability of any given draw of this type: hands that tend to produce straights (e.g. 9-7-6-5, or worse, 9-8-7-6) are inferior to ones that will not; and hands heavier in higher-ranked cards (e.g. 9-8-7-4) – we call these rough holdings – are weaker than hands concentrated in lower-ranked cards (e.g. 9-4-3-2) – we call these smooth holdings – given the latter hands can improve to stronger hands. 10-high and J-high one-card draws are significantly more marginal; rougher holdings should be folded often, especially when you expect to be out of position.
- Two-card draws to a 7-high (or 8-high hand)
Starting hands two cards away from making a 7-high or 8-high pat hand are common, and vary in strength from stronger wheel draws (e.g. 7-3-2) to inferior rougher holdings (e.g. 8-7-6), although all are generally quite marginal. It is very difficult to make a strong hand after drawing two cards on a single draw. These hands will be serious underdogs to many one-card draws and, certainly, to any respectable pat hand. Where it is possible to enter the draw cheaply, the strongest of these hands might be playable as highly speculative hands in certain situations; however, novice players would likely be better served by simply avoiding these hands altogether.
Position is of critical importance, arguably more important than in any of the other draw games introduced so far, particularly since it is the only draw game in the Dealer’s Choice mix that utilizes a no-limit betting structure. Being in position allows you to see how many cards your opponents are drawing before making your own drawing decision and to see whether your opponents have checked or bet (and how much) before it is your turn to act on the final betting round. This may allow you to take advantage of the natural tendency of many players to check whenever they have missed their draws.
Therefore, if you are in late position but not on the button, and a slightly larger pre-draw raise might buy you position, you should tend to make it. For example, if you suspect later-positioned players would be tempted to call with marginal holdings if you only raised to twice the big blind, but would tend to fold the same hands when faced with a raise to three times the big blind, you should make the additional investment for the chance to gain the benefit of acting last on the draw and on the final betting round.
Also, be aware it is difficult for players to improve to very strong hands by drawing when only one draw is available. The range of hands that might ultimately be shown down after everyone has drawn cards can be very wide, even where everyone started with strong drawing hands. For a better sense of the range of hands that can be made in Single Draw, it is instructive to identify the number of hands of different possible strengths that can be made in a 2-7 ranking system (note each of these five-card hands can be constructed from any one of 1020 different suit combinations):
• 7-high: 4 hands (from 7-5-4-3-2 to 7-6-5-4-2)
• 8-high: 14 hands (from 8-5-4-3-2 to 8-7-6-5-3)
• 9-high: 34 hands (from 9-5-4-3-2 to 9-8-7-6-4)
• 10-high: 69 hands (from 10-5-4-3-2 to 10-9-8-7-5)
• J-high: 125 hands (from J-5-4-3-2 to J-10-9-8-6)
• Q-high: 209 hands (from Q-5-4-3-2 to Q-J-10-9-7)
A few observations:
• The number of hands that fall into any given group increases exponentially as the rank of the hands in the group increases: there are more combinations of 10-high hands possible than all 9-high or better hands combined, and more J-high hands possible than all 10-high or better hands combined. Not only can you expect higher-ranked starting hands to be dealt to players more often than lower-ranked ones, you should also expect higher-ranked hands to be shown down more often, simply by virtue of there being a greater number of hand combinations possible for higher-ranked hands. While low-ranked hands might be shown down somewhat more often than the numbers above may suggest – since players will tend to play stronger draws that can make those hands – they will still be difficult to make given there is only one draw.
• Having a high-ranked card in a drawing hand is very detrimental to your chances of making a strong hand. For example, by drawing one card to a four-card holding headed by a Queen, you are automatically forgoing the chance to make any one of nearly 250 better hands from the outset.
• Here’s another example of the importance of starting with low cards when drawing: suppose your opponent started with the premium one-card draw of and you started with a smooth J-high draw such as . You both have roughly the same number of outs to make a J-high or better hand (any five, six, eight, nine, ten, or Jack/seven respectively), and each hand can expect to improve to one such hand about half the time. However, while the first hand can improve to any hand from a #1 (7-5-4-3-2) to a #127 (J-7-4-3-2), the second hand can only make a #122 (J-5-4-3-2) at best, up to a #192 (J-T-4-3-2). Thus, by starting with a Jack, even when you draw well, you have restricted yourself to the possibility of making one of a number of mediocre hands within a narrow range.
• That said, smoother one-card draws can make a big difference, especially with the 10-high and J-high draws. For example, consider the two draws and . The former hand can make anything from a #122 to a #192, assuming it improves to a J-high hand; the latter hand can, at best, improve to a #233 (J-T-9-6-2).
In absolute terms, all made 7-high and 8-high hands are very strong, as are many of the stronger 9-high hands, and can generally be played aggressively on the final betting round. Weaker 9-high hands and 10-high hands are still very good and will win a decent share of pots. They hold up particularly well in short-handed situations.
J-high hands are generally considered average and, in many situations, you will likely be trying to get to showdown as cheaply as possible with these hands. It can definitely be a mistake to fold these hands too often, however, particularly in heads-up situations, as they are still quite difficult to make. Q-high to A-high hands will often lose against players who are likely to hold and be betting with legitimate hands; pairs, straights, and flushes have even less showdown value.
Note that when a given player is drawing, even with a one-card draw as strong as 7-4-3-2-x, a J-high hand will only be made about half the time – this also means a hand worse than J-high will be made about half the time. With this in mind, consider the following scenario.
Suppose you will always fold to a bet whenever you fail to make a J-high or better hand after drawing. Opponents who have figured this out would be well served to bet out after the draw whenever you did not stand pat; they are betting solely on the possibility you did not improve to a hand you are willing to show down. They could do this even from out of position, knowing you would fold whenever your draw missed.
They would not have to make a large bet. If the situation is heads-up and you face a bet of one-half the pot on the final betting round, they would only need you to fold more than 1 in 3 times for the move to be profitable. They could do this with any hand, including ones with a big pair or a straight made after having missed their own draw, as a bluff. Since you will miss making a J-high hand nearly half the time, if you were to fold whenever this happens, then your opponents could bet after seeing you draw – every time – and expect to profit significantly in the long term.
This is why it is critical to accurately assess the tendencies of your opponents and to adapt accordingly. For example, in heads-up situations, if your opponent is apt to frequently bet as a bluff after missing a draw, then you would need to adjust by showing down more weaker-than-average hands – for example, Q-high to A-high hands, which would have been losers against players who only bet with stronger hands – to catch the anticipated bluff and avoid being exploited.
Conversely, if you sense your opponent is playing very tight post-draw, strictly calling with only J-high or better hands (some opponents may have even tighter calling requirements), then you can exploit this tendency by attempting bluffs with failed draws yourself more frequently, particularly when in position and the opponent checks to you. For example, with your worst missed draws that have little showdown value (e.g. you’ve drawn a big pair or a straight), you could attempt a bluff; tight opponents will rarely improve to very strong hands and will fold often.
As a further example, against opponents who tend to be highly suspicious of bluffs and will call often with hands that routinely include Q-high to A-high hands, and perhaps even small pairs, you should consider betting out with your average hands (e.g. J-high hands) when they check (and are unlikely to check-raise you as a bluff), rather than simply checking behind; you can extract additional value with your more marginal hands when your opponents will consistently call with worse hands.
Finally, choosing the proper size for bets is in large part an art. Optimal bet-sizing in no-limit games is somewhat of an advanced topic that is beyond the scope of this article. For simplicity’s sake, consider betting one-half the pot as a default whenever you decide to open with a bet on the final betting round. This will tend to camouflage the strength of your hand. What you want to avoid is playing in a manner that allows opponents to guess the strength of your hands from the size of your bets. For example, if you consistently make bigger bets when bluffing, and smaller bets when holding strong hands, or vice versa, astute opponents will recognize this pattern and respond accordingly, either by re-bluffing you when they know you don’t hold a strong hand, or by folding hands that you beat when they might have otherwise called.
Next week: Five-Card Draw
Ken Lo is the author of A Poker Player’s Guide to Mixed Games: Core Strategies for HORSE, Eight-Game, Ten-Game, and Twelve-Game Mixes, which is scheduled for public release in late Spring 2014. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada.