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
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
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
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
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