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Texas Holdem Poker


by: Lou Krieger

When playing seven card stud eight-or-better high-low split — which we’ve decided to abbreviate as 7-stud/8 — conventional wisdom suggests that you begin with a low hand and try to swing high. That’s a lot easier than starting with high cards and hoping to make a low hand too. Since the objective of this game is to scoop pots — not split them — it’s important to play hands that have two-way potential. Most of the time that means starting with low cards.

If you find yourself up against a few opponents on third street with deuces, treys, fours, fives, or sixes showing, you can be certain they are also going low. (When one of your opponents has an ace as a door card, be cautious. That opponent could be going high or low, or he might even have a two-way hand like A-2/A.). With a low door card other than an ace, you can safely make the assumption that most of your opponents will also have two other low cards in their hand.

This can be a real dilemma. If you start with three low cards and three opponents also call with low board cards on third street, you can assume that there are probably 12 cards between and ace and an eight already out. If that’s the case, it means that 12 out of the 32 low cards, or 38% of all the low cards in the deck, have already been dealt.

To illustrate some important concepts, let’s make these four assumptions:
1. No aces are showing.
2. You hold three good low cards.
3. Three of your opponents also appear to be going low.
4. A player showing a king also calls.

It’s obvious why the king is in the pot; he’s going high. Four of you are trying for the low side, and one or two may have true two-way hands. Approximately 20 low cards remain in the deck — more if some of your opponents are poor players who will begin with weak hands like 3-J/2 and fewer if others folded hands like 3-7/T. You’ll never know for sure, but for reckoning purposes you are in the ballpark.

At this point you can assume that there no more than 20 low cards are left in the deck, and probably fewer — since the hands that folded were as likely to be 7-6/Q as Q-J/9. At best, if the three hands that folded were comprised of all high cards, and the five active hands are comprised of 12 low cards and three high ones, the deck — on third street, after 24 of the 52 cards have been dealt — contains 20 low cards and 8 bananas, as high cards are commonly called in this game. It’s probable, however, that some of the folded hands were a blend of high and low cards. If that’s the case, it seems more likely that the deck now contains 18 low cards and 10 bananas. Some of those available low cards are not all that desirable either. Since you don’t want to pair-up, and catching an eight is very marginal when four of you are going low, 13 (minus however many you’ve been able to account for) of the potentially available low cards, plus all the bananas in the deck are either undesirable or marginal.

Suppose you started with 3-4/5. Catching another three, four, or five is not what you are hoping for. An eight gives you four cards to a low — but against three other opponents heading in the same direction it is probably the worst four card low of the lot. A deuce or a six are perfect catches. Now you have a good low draw along with an open-ended straight draw for high. An ace is a terrific low card — the best you could catch — plus it provides an inside draw to a wheel. A seven keeps you in the hunt by providing a good-but-not-great four-card low, along with an inside straight draw for high.

If none of your cards have been exposed, you are looking for one of 16 cards. But life, and poker, is seldom ever that simple. It’s very unlikely to assume that all the low cards that have been folded were threes, four, fives, and eights, and that the deck is rich with the cards you need. Recalling the exposed door cards that were folded will give you a clue, but the precise answer is more hidden than discernible. It’s more likely that about half the available low cards will help you; the others are marginal, at best.

Your opponent with the high hand has a lot going for him. Not only does the distribution of high versus low cards help him, he is not really hurt if he holds a big pair and catches a low card. In fact, that’s one low card his opponents can’t catch. And if he catches high cards he may make two pair or trips, assuming he started with a big pair and a big, live side card.

Frustrations can mount in 7-stud/8, particularly when it you start with three good low cards and catch a banana or a bad low card and have to release you hand. But it’s the nature of the game. That’s the reason it’s better to be the only low draw against a bunch of high hands than it is to compete with others for the best low hand, particularly when all you can usually expect, even when you get lucky, is half the pot.

After all, make your low draw when you’re the only one going that way and you’re guaranteed half the pot. You also have more good cards available to you. If you are the only one going low, catching an eight is as good as any other low card. Make your hand early and you can enjoy jamming the high hands with impunity. But when you are competing with others for low, there’s no guarantee that yours will be the best one. You’re on precarious footing. It doesn’t pay to jam the high hands if you might not capture your share of the pot even if you make your hand. There’s nothing more vexing — or costly — than making a low and losing to a better one, particularly if the signals were there all along.

Players who start with any three low cards, even when one of them is an eight, or even a seven that has no straight potential, are doomed to draw for only half the pot with no guarantee they’ll even make a low. Face it, there is always a high hand; there doesn’t necessarily have to be a low one. This is a money-losing proposition in the long run.

Take these two concepts to heart.
1. Just because you’ve got three low cards doesn’t mean you have a playable hand. You do — even if you start with a hand like 2-7/8, as long as it’s the only low hand against more than one opponent who is going high. You don’t if a number of your opponents are also going low, and you have anything other than a true two-way hand, or the best low draw.
2. When a few of you start low, don’t be surprised to catch a banana or a bad low when you’d least like it. The deck is probably banana-rich and full of bad low cards at that point.

Like all split pot games, 7-stud/8 is a game of scoops and not a game of splits. That’s where you win big money. Drawing for half the pot is frequently a losing proposition because your profits from those hands when you do win one half of the pot are frequently offset when your draw doesn’t materialize at all, or is beaten by a better hand.

7 Card Stud Articles by Lou Krieger

This is where you can find all articles relating to 7 Card Stud.

Introduction to 7 Card Stud - Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7

An Ace and an Action Button - 7 Card Stud is often played with an Action Button learn more.

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