Out of the Kitchen and Into the Spotlight: Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo

  • Ken LoKen Lo

This is the ninth in a series of articles dedicated to games of the inaugural Dealer’s Choice event at the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP).

When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me. – Oscar Wilde

Konichiwa.

In case you didn’t know, this is Japanese for “hello.”

I’ve been greeted this way multiple times during my vacation which began in Monte Carlo, as I shared with you in last week’s article. Since then, I’ve been travelling through a number of other European cities en route to Barcelona, after which I’ll return to Canada. While this trip has been most pleasant, I must admit I’m starting to miss home.

As I was saying ... I guess the shopkeepers, maître d’s, and even panhandlers are simply trying to be friendly when they bow and greet me. Perhaps they sincerely want to make me feel welcome. There’s just one thing ...

I’m not Japanese.

While I might appreciate the gesture, it has left me wondering whether they actually think all people of Asian descent look the same. Similarly, on my last trip to Australia, I had tour guides make their introductions, then proceed to look me in the eye and ask “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” presuming English is not my native tongue.

While I’m sure many encounter foreigners who do not speak English, when people blindly make false assumptions because of how I look, I find it to be somewhat ignorant and, in all honesty, a bit offensive.

I’m proud to be Canadian, and love the fact we live in a country that’s relatively liberal and diverse compared to many others. I’m well accustomed to being around people of different backgrounds and cultures, though careful when I meet new people who, for example, speak in an accent I might not immediately recognize. To the untrained ear, certain accents sound deceptively similar, though you can easily offend someone if you assume they’re from one place, when in fact they’re from another. Not everyone takes such faux pas in stride.

Back home, for example, I have poker friends who speak French, and poker friends who are French. My French friends will be the first to tell you they’re from France, and not from, say, Québec. They’re a great group of guys and certainly a proud bunch. I always wonder what they think when people assume they must be from Montréal simply because they reside in Canada and speak with a French accent.

I also know of friends who take serious offense to those who mistake their Australian accent for a British one. Many of my Canadian friends are intensely bothered when they encounter people in their travels who can’t figure out their “accent,” then automatically assume they’re American. Some take it in stride, while others do not.

I make a conscious effort to not make this type of mistake. I don’t want to look like a fool – or at the very least, discourteous – by assuming things about someone just because he or she might look or sound “the same” to me as someone else. On the one hand, perhaps we should all just relax; on the other hand, is expecting people to be a little more sensitive to the issue really too much to ask?

Let’s move on to poker and two variants that, at first glance, may seem very much alike, but in reality, each variant requires a significantly different approach. To the untrained observer, Seven-Card Stud (which we covered in last week’s article) and Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo Split Eight-or-Better (or simply “Stud Hi/Lo” for short) would appear to be very similar: they both share “Seven-Card Stud” as part of their names, strong high hands can be winners in both variants, and procedurally, the deal and actions involved proceed in exactly the same way.

There is one key difference, however: Seven-Card Stud only awards the highest-ranked hand the pot, whereas in Stud Hi/Lo, a high hand can only win the entire pot when no “qualifying low hand” can be made.

More specifically, a hand with five different cards ranked eight or lower constitutes a qualifying low hand; if at least one player can make such a hand, then the lowest-ranked one is entitled to win half the pot, with only the remaining half then being awarded to the best high hand.

While this difference might, on its face, seem slight, it is a significant one that requires players to adapt, should they wish to enjoy long-term success in Stud Hi/Lo. Players who blindly assume both stud-type games can be effectively played the same way, and who employ the same strategies for each, will be easily exploited by more experienced opponents who do appreciate what makes Stud Hi/Lo unique.

To illustrate, let’s consider the following example of a Stud Hi/Lo hand played between Bob, who is primarily a Stud player, and Alice, who is a more experienced Stud Hi/Lo player. First, let’s review the hand from Bob’s perspective:

Alice: ({X-}{X-}) {4-Spades}
Bob: ({K-Spades}{A-Hearts}) {K-Diamonds}

A player holding a {4-Clubs} has brought in and Alice has since completed the bet. The action is now on Bob. With a pair of Kings, Bob fully expects his strong Seven-Card Stud starting hand to be ahead of Alice at this point, and raises to isolate her. The player holding the {4-Clubs} folds; Alice, whom Bob regards as a very aggressive player, re-raises. Bob decides to cap the betting, with his big pair accompanied by a coordinated Ace.

Alice: ({X-}{X-}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}
Bob: ({K-Spades}{A-Diamonds}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}

Bob has now picked up a backdoor flush draw to go with his big pair. Alice has drawn an Ace and has bet out. Bob is initially concerned Alice may have improved to a pair of Aces for a better high hand, but feels this is somewhat unlikely given he holds an Ace in his hand, and since he can recall another player had already folded an Ace. Also, the fact the {4-Clubs} has already been folded makes it less likely (though not impossible) for Alice to have started with three fours, and more likely that his Kings are still good.

Further, Bob has yet to see any diamonds folded, and thus assumes his flush draw is still very live. Bob decides to maintain an aggressive stance with his strong Seven-Card Stud hand, and raises Alice, who then re-raises. Not to be outdone, Bob caps the betting, hoping to draw a diamond on the next street, which would further improve his hand.

Alice: ({X-}{X-}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}{8-Spades}
Bob: ({K-Spades}{A-Diamonds}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}{K-Clubs}

Bob draws better than he might have hoped; the possibility Alice may have held a dominating pair of Aces (or three fours) on fourth street is no longer as serious an issue, now that he’s improved to three Kings himself. From the boards showing, Bob recognizes Alice cannot possibly hold a stronger high hand at this point, particularly given her rainbow board that affords no straight possibilities, and with an Ace already dead.

Bob bets out with his Kings, and is raised by Alice. Not to be deterred by her incessant aggression – as he knows he must be holding the best high hand here, even if Alice were to hold a big two pair or three of a kind – Bob re-raises.

Alice caps the betting. This gives Bob reason to pause. He vaguely understands a low hand may be eligible for a portion of the pot in this particular variation of Stud; however, he is confident his high hand is best and has seen Alice play a strong high hand such as two pair, Aces-up, in this over-aggressive manner before. Thus, backing down at this point is not an option; that said, he certainly doesn’t want Alice to improve to a full house, or to a straight or a flush should she happen to be aggressively playing a draw to one of these hands.

Alice: ({X-}{X-}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}{8-Spades}{Q-Diamonds}
Bob: ({K-Spades}{A-Diamonds}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}{K-Clubs}{4-Diamonds}

Bob has drawn the {4-Diamonds}, which now gives him a nut flush diamond draw in addition to his three Kings that is certainly still ahead of any high hand that Alice might hold, given she has drawn the seemingly useless {Q-Diamonds}. Bob’s hand appears extremely strong, having seen steady improvement on every street. Also, drawing the {4-Diamonds} confirms it is impossible for Alice to have started out with three fours (given one four is already dead) – a welcome bonus. Bob bets out ... and Alice raises.

Bob is now salivating over the huge pot that has formed at the centre of the table, with the betting on every street thus far being capped. He raises again, and Alice caps the betting. Bob attributes Alice’s aggressive play to being on tilt. He is fully expecting his high Seven-Card Stud hand to emerge a winner 99% of the time.

Alice: ({X-}{X-}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}{8-Spades}{Q-Diamonds} ({X-})
Bob: ({K-Spades}{A-Diamonds}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}{K-Clubs}{4-Diamonds} ({A-Spades})

Bob has drawn the case Ace, for a full house, thus eliminating any fear of Alice outdrawing him on the last card by making a straight or a full house. While, in theory, it is possible for Alice to have improved to a very disguised quads or a straight flush with three perfect hole cards, this outcome would be extremely rare; Bob also finds it difficult to imagine what Seven-Card Stud hand Alice could have started with that would justify her capping the pot on every street AND that would have allowed her to improve to one of these potentially stronger hands.

Bob bets, Alice raises, Bob re-raises, and Alice raises again, putting Bob all-in ...

Well, you can probably guess how this story ends. Poor Bob. Alice has had his number all day. While his decisions in the hand were certainly justifiable (if he had been playing Seven-Card Stud) he made some critical mistakes in this hand, primarily arising from his failure to appreciate the adjustments needed when playing Stud Hi/Lo. He simply assumed the same lines of thinking were appropriate for both games.

While Alice certainly lucked out in this hand (to ultimately win the pot), she took advantage of Bob’s mistakes, and skilfully set herself up for the opportunity to win this massive pot. Let’s replay the hand – this time, from Alice’s perspective:

Alice: ({6-Spades}{7-Spades}) {4-Spades}
Bob: ({X-}{X-}) {K-Diamonds}

A player holding a {4-Clubs} has brought in, and Alice now completes the bet. She holds a starting hand consisting of three, well-coordinated cards, a hand that offers the potential to make both straights and flushes. She also recognizes there is value in starting with three low cards. Since half the pot will be awarded to a qualifying low hand consisting of five cards ranked eight or lower, she may be able to make a competitive hand for that half if she subsequently draws multiple low-ranked cards.

Bob raises, and the player holding the {4-Clubs} folds. With her extremely flexible hand, and the fact Bob’s raise appears to turn his hand “face-up” (i.e. it becomes quite obvious what Bob holds, likely a pair of Kings in this case), she is not afraid to re-raise. She recognizes that she does still need to improve, and hopes to draw another spade or low card quickly. Bob caps the betting.

Alice: ({6-Spades}{7-Spades}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}
Bob: ({X-}{X-}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}

Alice now draws an Ace, while Bob draws another face card. At this point, Alice recognizes it is highly unlikely Bob will end up with a qualifying low hand, particularly since she does not expect Bob to hold two low hole cards. Therefore, if Alice succeeds in making a qualifying low hand herself (she now has three chances to draw a deuce, a trey, a five, or an eight), she would be guaranteed to win one-half of the pot since there are no other opponents pursuing a low hand. Although the Ace has not helped her high hand prospects, betting might fool Bob into thinking she holds a pair of Aces, which may induce an immediate fold. Moreover, even if she is called, she will still have the strong low draw as backup, allowing her to comfortably maintain an aggressive stance.

Alice bets out and is met with a raise. Alice decides to re-raise, hoping it disguises the nature of her hand, and with the expectation she will likely make a qualifying low hand anyway (in fact, she will complete a low hand by seventh street roughly two-thirds of the time). Bob caps the betting.

Alice: ({6-Spades}{7-Spades}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}{8-Spades}
Bob: ({X-}{X-}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}{K-Clubs}

This is the “money card” for Alice – she has made a qualifying low hand in a situation where Bob cannot possibly make a qualifying low hand by seventh street (he already shows three high cards, so he cannot end up with a hand of five cards ranked eight or lower). Alice recognizes this as a highly coveted opportunity in Stud Hi/Lo known as a “freeroll:” she is guaranteed to win one-half of the pot, no matter what two cards she draws next. She is in an exceptionally favourable situation, despite not seeming to have a playable high hand.

Meanwhile, Bob is showing a pair of Kings. If he initially started with a pair of Kings, then he has just improved to three of a kind; if he started with two pair, then he has just made a full house. These hands would certainly be difficult to beat for the high hand, making a split pot – where Alice wins half the pot while Bob wins the other – a very likely outcome.

However, Alice knows she has two “free” chances to try and make a better high hand, at absolutely no risk of losing the portion of the pot which she is already guaranteed. She has a reasonable chance of overtaking Bob’s high hand, given she now holds a flush draw and a gutshot straight draw, if Bob “only” has three Kings and does not further improve.

Accordingly, when Bob bets out, raising is an easy decision. She is surprised when Bob re-raises – any competent Stud Hi/Lo player would surely fear the possibility of being freerolled – no matter how strong his high hand might be. Alice happily caps the betting.

Alice: ({6-Spades}{7-Spades}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}{8-Spades}{Q-Diamonds}
Bob: ({X-}{X-}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}{K-Clubs}{4-Diamonds}

Alice has drawn a card that does not help her hand at all, but the situation has not changed; she still holds the only qualifying low hand possible, guaranteeing her one-half of the pot, and she has a free chance to improve to a better high hand. However, Bob has drawn the {4-Diamonds}, which potentially has made him a high-ranking flush; if that is the case, then any spade other than the {a-Spades} or the {5-Spades} would complete a flush but would no longer be sufficient to allow Alice to “scoop” (i.e. win the entire pot).

Nevertheless, there is absolutely no reason for Alice to slow down here. She can draw to a better high hand with no risk whatsoever. When Bob bets out, Alice freely raises. Bob re-raises, clearly unaware of the horrific position he’s in. Alice is happy to oblige with yet another raise, to cap the betting.

Alice: ({6-Spades}{7-Spades}) {4-Spades}{A-Hearts}{8-Spades}{Q-Diamonds} ({5-Spades})
Bob: ({X-}{X-}) {K-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds}{K-Clubs}{4-Diamonds} ({X-})

Gin! Alice has gotten extremely lucky here, drawing a one-outer to a straight flush, which Bob cannot possibly beat. If Bob holds a full house or quads, he is certainly going to be in for a rude awakening. Sure enough, Bob bets, Alice raises with the nuts, and ...

Well, the rest is history.

While Alice was very fortunate to have drawn what turns out to be the only card that would have allowed her to scoop the pot given Bob’s strong high hand and favourable draw on his last card, note she was able to capitalize on the opportunity to outdraw Bob for the high hand in a situation where she was never at risk of losing her half of the pot.

Even though Bob might feel he’s the victim of a bad beat, in reality, he needed to realize much earlier on that he was in a very precarious position – holding a hand that would like only win half the pot at best. It was critical for him to realize it was appropriate to revert to more passive play, with Stud Hi/Lo being a game where pots are often split, when it became clear Alice was already likely to have made a qualifying low hand. This would have saved him a significant number of bets, and allowed him to avoid going broke.

Stud Hi/Lo

In last week’s article, we discussed the actions involved in a Seven-Card Stud deal. They are the same in Stud Hi/Lo. The primary difference, as noted above, is in Stud Hi/Lo, half the pot will be awarded to the lowest-ranked qualifying hand, when one can be made. If no player can make a qualifying low hand, however, then the best high hand will win the entire pot.

A qualifying low hand consists of five cards of different rank where each card is ranked eight or lower. By way of comparison, Razz is also a stud-type game where low hands are awarded pots (see the previous article on Razz for details on how to read low hands).

In a sense, Stud Hi/Lo can be regarded as a hybrid of Razz and Seven-Card Stud. However, the main difference, with respect to low hands, is that there are no qualifiers employed in Razz. In Stud Hi/Lo, only 8-high or lower-ranked hands constitute qualifying low hands – hence the game’s highly descriptive modifier of “Eight-or-Better”.

Another difference in the play of a Stud Hi/Lo hand as compared to a hand of Seven-Card Stud is with respect to the “double bet” exception applicable to Seven-Card Stud; when a player shows a pair on fourth street, no double bet option is available in Stud Hi/Lo.

Here is an example of a Stud Hi/Lo deal:

  1. Antes are posted: For example, in a game where the limits are identified as “100/200,” the ante to be posted by each player may be 25.
  2. Deal: Each player is dealt three cards (two down and one up).
    In this example, you are dealt ({7-Clubs}{6-Diamonds}) {5-Clubs}.
  3. First Betting Round (“Third street”): The player with the worst high hand showing must post the bring-in. Say one player shows the {2-Clubs}, which is the lowest-ranked card; this player will bring in for 25 (in theory, this player could complete immediately to a full bet of 100). When the action gets to you, should you choose to play you can call the 25, or complete to 100, assuming no one else has completed before you. Once a player has completed, any subsequent raises must be in increments of 100 – the low-limit bet.
  4. Second Betting Round (“Fourth street”): You are dealt the {3-Clubs} face up, giving you ({7-Clubs}{6-Diamonds}) {5-Clubs}{3-Clubs}. Action will now start with the best high hand showing, based only on each player’s upcards. Bets and raises will be at the low limit –100 – on this round.
  5. Third Betting Round (“Fifth street”): You are dealt the {K-Clubs} face up, giving you ({7-Clubs}{6-Diamonds}) {5-Clubs}{3-Clubs}{K-Clubs} (for a King-high flush draw toward the high hand, and a 7-high draw toward the low). Action again starts with the best hand showing. All bets and raises must now be at the high limit –200 – on this round.
  6. Fourth Betting Round (“Sixth street”): You are dealt the {2-Hearts} face up, giving you ({7-Clubs}{6-Diamonds}) {5-Clubs}{3-Clubs}{K-Clubs}{2-Hearts} (completing a 7-high low hand). Action again starts with the best hand showing. Bets and raises are also at the high limit –200 – on this round.
  7. Final Betting Round (“Seventh street”): You are dealt the {4-Diamonds} face down, leaving you with ({7-Clubs}{6-Diamonds}) {5-Clubs}{3-Clubs}{K-Clubs}{2-Hearts} ({4-Diamonds}) for a 7-high straight toward the high hand, and a 6-high low hand. Action will start with the best hand showing. Bets and raises are again at the high limit –200 – on this final round.
  8. Showdown: Once betting on the final round is complete, the best five-card high hands of each remaining player are compared to determine a winner of the high hand portion of the pot, and the best five-card low hands (ranked eight or lower to qualify) of each remaining player are compared to determine a winner of the low hand portion of the pot. If no qualifying low hands can be made, the best high hand will win the entire pot.
    In this example, your 7-high straight will beat the hand of any opponent holding a lower-ranked straight, two pair, one pair, or high card hand, for the high hand portion of the pot. However, your 7-high straight will lose to a higher-ranked straight, and any higher-ranked hand such as a flush or full house, as examples. Also, your hand of 6-5-4-3-2 for the low hand will beat any 7-high or 8-high hands for the low hand portion of the pot, but will lose to any lower-ranked 6-high hand or a wheel (5-4-3-2-A).

Basic Strategy Tips

Here is a list of recommended starting hands:

  1. Three of a kind (“rolled up”)
    When dealt one of these monster hands, expect to win at least one portion of the pot often. It is rare to be dealt any of these hands from the start, and often they will win the high hand portion of the pot even after failing to further improve. If the three cards are ranked above eight, you will only be eligible to compete for the high hand portion of the pot; therefore, there is a possibility of being freerolled once an opponent makes a qualifying low hand. Nevertheless, these hands are so strong they will be good enough to win the high hand portion of the pot sufficiently often to justify playing them, and they will frequently win the entire pot when all opponents fail to make qualifying low hands.
  2. Three low cards to a straight and/or a flush
    It is rare to be dealt three low cards to a straight flush from the start; their potential for making strong low hands, as well as both straights and flushes for the high hand, makes them very flexible and extremely strong despite still needing to draw to make a hand for either portion of the pot. If the three low cards permit a draw toward only one of a straight or flush, but not both, the hand is less versatile, but will generally still be highly playable. Importantly, an Ace adds significant value to the hand: although holding an Ace will not allow you to hold an open-ended straight draw, the Ace may ultimately pair, which in turn, may lead to a sufficiently strong high hand should the straight or flush draws fail. Also, since the Ace can also play toward a qualifying low hand, the scoop potential of the hand is increased.
  3. Other holdings toward a straight and/or a flush
    Since Stud Hi/Lo is a split-pot game, hands primarily directed to making high hands become less desirable, as they are often victim to being freerolled by made low hands. Therefore, draws to straights or flushes are generally less playable when they consist of middle-ranked cards that cannot play toward a strong, qualifying low hand. That said, flush draws with one high-ranked card and two low cards may still be playable when the flush cards are still very live, as there remains a possibility of making both a high hand and a qualifying low hand; flush draws with two or three mid- to high-ranked cards are much less versatile since they rarely make low hands let along strong ones, while completing a flush is far from guaranteed. Three broadway cards (10 through Ace), preferably with at least two suited cards, while not as inherently strong as they might seem to be on their face given their lack of low hand prospects, may still have decent playability in certain situations given their potential to make big pairs and high-ranked straights. On the other hand, mid-ranked straight draws (especially rainbow holdings) will often fail to make strong hands for either the low hand or high hand portions of the pot, and should be routinely folded.
  4. Hands with a big pair (Aces, Kings, Queens)
    In Stud, any hand with a big pair is typically considered very strong; however, in Stud Hi/Lo, big pairs such as Kings or Queens lose much of their value (and mid-ranked pairs such as tens and Jacks fare even worse), particularly in multi-way pots where low hands capable of “stealing” away one half of the pot are most likely to be made. A pair of Aces is significantly stronger, particularly when accompanied by a low card. Since an Ace can also play as a low card, the hand can improve to a four-card low hand by fifth street (along with the pair of Aces), leading to an excellent holding having significant scoop potential. While the other “one-way” hands in this category (e.g. hands with little or no low hand potential, such as a lone pair of Kings or Queens, or a pair of Aces with another high-ranked card) are less versatile, they will still generally be playable at the outset, particularly in short-handed situations; they can still lead to strong high hands that will scoop if no players make a qualifying low hand, although caution will be warranted when facing an opponent who has drawn a strong board consisting of low, coordinated cards.
  5. Hands with three low cards
    In general, hands capable of making strong low hands are desirable in Stud Hi/Lo, since they can be competitive when it comes to making low hands, but they can also back into high hands (typically small straights or flushes) to potentially scoop. Some hands consisting of low cards, however, are so uncoordinated they are highly unlikely to result in strong high hands, making them much less valuable. For example, three random low cards, such as {2-Clubs}{5-Hearts}{7-Spades}, might be playable against multiple opponents all pursuing high hands (you are hoping to make the only possible low hand, leading to a freeroll); however, in general, these Razz-like hands with little high hand potential themselves are very marginal. That said, having an Ace as one of the low cards will significantly increase the value of a hand since it may pair, which in turn, may lead to a strong high hand. Occasionally, hands consisting of a small pair with a low card, such as {5-Clubs}{5-Diamonds}{3-Clubs}, can also be playable given their potential of making both low and high hands; however, it is easy to overvalue these hands, and neglect the fact that holding a low-ranked pair and having only two cards of distinct rank means the hand will be handicapped when trying to make a strong five-card hand for either portion of the pot.

One of the key aspects of a high/low split-pot game, such as Stud Hi/Lo, is coordinated low card holdings increase substantially in value, and are generally much more desirable than all but the strongest high hand holdings. This is because the best qualifying low hand will always be eligible for a portion of the pot, regardless of the strength of any high hand that might ultimately be made.

Furthermore, while holdings consisting of low cards can evolve into decent high hands (typically small flushes and straights, and occasionally winning three of a kind and two pair hands), hands consisting of only high-ranked cards cannot possibly evolve into a qualifying low hand. Players who are aware of this aspect of split-pot games will recognize Aces are especially valuable, since they may be played for both the low hand and high hand; on the other hand, mid-ranked cards, which are generally undesirable for Seven Card Stud starting hands as it is, become even less playable in Stud Hi/Lo.

Furthermore, in split-pot games, it is generally important to try to aim to make hands that can win both portions of the pot (i.e. scoop) whenever possible. Consider, for example, a situation where you face a single opponent who clearly holds a hand that will win one half of the pot; if you hold a hand likely to win the other half, you are simply investing chips in situations where you most likely will just be getting them back.

Even worse, if you hold a hand that expects to win the high hand of the pot, and your opponent already holds a qualifying low hand, you could potentially lose the entire pot if your opponent manages to outdraw you by making a better high hand. As suggested by the introductory example, freeroll situations in which you hold a low hand that cannot be overtaken, and have multiple “free” chances to make a winning high hand, are extremely favourable and highly lucrative.

That said, the strongest made high hands will still have value, particularly when it is possible that no player will be able to table a qualifying low hand. When the pot is certain to be split, strong high-only hands will typically require additional opponents in the pot to be profitable (since profits will come from these other opponents who are putting additional chips in the pot); however, the increase in the number of opponents makes it more likely a strong high hand, if you hold one, will be outdrawn. This could ultimately leave you empty-handed.

It is especially important for novice players to make adjustments as to their expectation of what is considered a strong hand, and in particular, the type of boards considered to be strong in Stud Hi/Lo. In this regard, what constitutes a “strong” board in Stud Hi/Lo is heavily influenced by the perceived potential of the associated hand to make a strong low hand that can form the basis of a freeroll opportunity. You certainly want to avoid being caught in a situation where you are being freerolled by an opponent.

On the other hand, when your board consists of low coordinated cards and your opponents appear to have drawn poorly, against thinking players, a bluff may succeed with decent frequency.

As with Seven-Card Stud, being disciplined in your starting hand selection cannot be overemphasized. With three out of seven cards already dealt to you at the outset, it is difficult for a mediocre hand to improve to a strong one. Hands such as {9-Spades}{7-Spades}{4-Clubs} are extremely marginal despite comprising cards that appear somewhat suited and connected; the reality is the hand represents only a half-hearted attempt at making both mediocre high and low hands. Although you can occasionally attempt a bluff when your lowest-ranked card is showing, the opponent who posted the bring-in plays tight, and the remaining opponents who have not yet acted show mid-ranked cards, in general, these hands should be folded early and often.

Note with any marginal hand, whenever your opponents are unlikely to fold (and they may be even more inclined to call in Stud Hi/Lo since they can pursue both high and low hands), you will usually have to endure multiple rounds of betting (some of these require you to call bets at the high limit) before getting a sense of whether it might have sufficiently improved to a hand with a reasonable chance of winning a portion of the pot at showdown.

In view of the above observations, and as a general guide, consider the following basic approaches for each street:

Third street: Stick with starting hands that have the ability to improve to strong qualifying low hands, and with some reasonable prospects of backing into a decent high hand. Aces are particularly valuable since they can play toward both the low and high hands, and pairing the Ace will typically be an excellent improvement. Strong flush and straight draws can also be played (preferably with three low cards), but, as in Stud, you want the cards needed to complete the draw to be very live (i.e. to the best of your knowledge, still available to be drawn). Some high-only hands can also be played, but generally only the strongest ones will be playable in multi-way situations; in heads-up situations, the value of high hands increases, since it becomes less likely an opponent will complete a qualifying low hand.

Fourth street: Assess how well your hand and the hands of your opponents appear to have improved. If you have drawn poorly, you should not be afraid to fold, especially if you started with a mediocre hand. If you started with a very strong three-card hand and failed to improve, you will usually be justified in calling one low-limit bet to see fifth street should your opponent now bet out; however, if you face a very threatening board, you should simply fold. In this regard, you should be especially careful if your opponent shows two very low, coordinated cards on fourth street and you have drawn poorly – your opponent may well be on the way to a freeroll. You would generally need a strong low draw yourself or a hand with very strong high hand prospects to continue against a hand with freerolling potential.

Fifth street: This is a very important point in the deal since the bets are now doubled. If you have what looks to be the best low hand at this point, and particularly if you have outs to a decent high hand, you should generally bet to build the pot. If you hold what appears to be the best high hand, and none of your opponents look to hold low hands, the hand may play out more like a Seven-Card Stud deal, and you can also typically bet. A big pair with a strong, underlying four-card backup draw (e.g. {A-Spades}{A-Clubs}{6-Spades}{4-Spades}{3-Spades}) will also frequently be in the lead, and can be played aggressively. Even a strong drawing hand with multiple ways to improve and potentially scoop (e.g. a wheel and nut flush draw) can usually also be played aggressively, despite not being a made hand. Conversely, if you hold a draw that rates to only win one-half of the pot if the draw is made, you would need the pot to be sufficiently large to make drawing worthwhile, and your hand to be strong enough such that you could reasonably expect to win if your draw were to succeed. Be aware you need the pot to be much bigger to justify a call when the potential reward is only one-half of a pot, and you certainly want to avoid drawing to hands that may well emerge as second-best.

Sixth street: Bets on this round remain at the high limit. Once again, you will need to assess the hands your opponents are likely to hold and how your own hand fares against them for each of the low and high hand portions of the pot. With four upcards now exposed in each player’s hand, it will become quite apparent how strong each player’s hand might be. In general, with the best hand for either portion of the pot, especially with the best low hand, you will typically be betting for value; as previously noted, caution may still be warranted if you hold the best high hand when your opponent may be freerolling. If you are still drawing, the same considerations on fifth street will generally apply: you can consider calling if the odds the pot are offering are highly favourable and you are reasonably certain you will win a portion of the pot if the draw succeeds. In any event, you should not be afraid to fold on this street if your opponents’ boards appear threatening and you believe your hand is highly unlikely to win. This is especially true if you potentially hold a second-best hand for either or both portions of the pot and are trapped in a raising war between two opponents, potentially one holding a stronger high and one holding a stronger low hand.

Seventh street: On the final betting round, you will generally be betting with your strong hands, checking or calling with your weaker hands, and folding when you have missed your draws. If you find yourself frequently showing second-best hands at showdown for a given portion of the pot, or are often being scooped, you should reconsider whether your approach to starting hand selection at third street might be too loose, and in particular, whether you are playing hands that are highly vulnerable to being freerolled. Adjustments from a Seven-Card Stud strategy are necessary in Stud Hi/Lo – blindly assuming a similar strategic approach can be used for both games is a serious and, sadly, fairly common mistake.

Next week: Omaha Hi/Lo Split (Eight-or-Better)

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.

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