Navigating successfully through the traps that can snare new 7-stud/8
players can be difficult. At times it almost seems to require a road
map and compass. Trouble is, the game is so complex that constructing
a clear path is anything but child’s play. Excellent players,
however, are quite nimble in their ability to avoid becoming trapped
in the miasma of betting and raising frequently encountered in this
Success demands more than a simple awareness of whether you are going
high or low. Being cognizant of how many opponents are going in each
direction is critical. Because it is a high-low split game, each pot
is like playing two hands at once — or even three, if either you
or one of your opponents has a hand that might scoop the entire pot.
In a recent 7-stud/8 game I had A6/78 on fourth street. It was a four
card low, but not much of one. In fact, any other four card low would
probably have been a big favorite. However I had only two opponents,
and each had high cards on board. What’s more, there wasn’t
an ace in sight. Neither one of them was going low; that was obvious.
If I caught a deuce, trey, four or five, I’d have the only low,
and If I paired my ace I might also back into the best high hand.
Since I had the only possible low, my ragged hand was as good as a
6432A. If I made a low hand I owned half the pot, along with an outside
chance of making the best high hand too. I was freerolling, and while
scooping the pot was certainly a long shot, the relationship between
the size of the pot and the cost to draw to it was infinite. Against
two opponents, every dollar I invested in would return $1.50 to me on
the low side, and $3.00 if I scooped — and there was no risk at
all. Even a pair aces could conceivably capture the high end. Aces up
and a low would be a very powerful hand, and an eight high straight
would be a monster.
An opportunity to freeroll doesn’t come up often, but it is a
more frequent occurrence in
7-stud/8. On a freeroll with a chance to scoop, I had one thing in mind.
Jam the pot. An extra $40 raise represented a minimum of $60 coming
back to me. When you are free rolling like this, you’re gonna
On the other hand, if there was only one high hand and a better low
draw on board, I would have been in a very weak position. My eight-low
would now be an underdog to win the low end of the pot, and a very big
underdog to take the high side. In other words, if one of my opponents
was going low, I would no longer be freerolling. In fact, my heaven-sent
hand would have been unplayable.
With the only low hand, you might decide to raise on the come, or choose
to wait until you make your hand before jamming the pot. That means
low hands usually do their jamming on later streets. But if you have
the only high hand against two opponents who are each going low you
have to do your raising early. No matter how good their starting cards
may be, your opponents cannot complete a low draw until fifth street.
Anything you can do to reduce the number of opponents who are drawing
low increases your chances to scoop, while reducing the chances that
you will be scooped.
Here’s why. The more low draws against you, the more likely it
is that one of them will make a hand that can swing high, and take your
end of the pot. In the earlier example my A6/78 would probably fold
if there was a bet from a better low draw and a high hand raised. But
if I could see a free card, I might be lucky enough to catch a 9 or
5. Now I’d be drawing to a low and a straight. When you have a
typical high hand like a pair of aces or two pair, you need to raise
early and often to thin out the field.
Don’t follow this strategy blindly, however; there are some exceptions.
If you have a high hand that is bigger than a swing hand — like
a high flush or a full house — you can keep your low opponents
in the hand until fifth or sixth street, then trap them for multiple
bets. That’s easy in 7-stud/8. One of the low hands will usually
bet. If you raise, most made low hands will call. While good players
are capable of folding a second-best low unless they also have a high
draw; average players generally have difficulty releasing a made low
hand, even when it will cost them two bets. If they cold call two bets,
the best low hand might reraise. This will enable you to raise again
— trapping your opponents for a total of four bets. Since half
of that money is yours, profits are limited only by how many opponents
keep calling — even when drawing dead — and the number of
raises you can garner before the pot is capped.
Although you will occasionally be deceived, by fifth street you should
have a very clear idea of which direction your opponents are going.
This enables you to adjust your play accordingly. You might see two
bananas on an opponent’s fifth street board, only to learn that
the flush he was chasing backed into a running low. But hands like that
are rather uncommon.
Occasionally you’ll see a hand on fifth street with only one
banana, and won’t be sure whether your opponent is chasing the
high or low end. Even if you think he might have a two-way hand, mere
suspicion should give you pause, while you consider whether to keep
investing money in the pot, or fold and wait for a better opportunity.
An ace on board presents another problem altogether. It’s like
having two cards: the highest and the lowest. If you have a pair of
kings and are the only hand going high, an opponent’s ace can
cripple you. If it pairs, you are an underdog to win the high side,
and you have no chance at low. In fact, if your opponent had a hand
like A6/53 and catches another ace, he should raise if you bet. He now
has a pair of aces and a draw to a 6-5. He can make a terrific low hand,
and if he pairs any of his cards he will win unless you catch the third
king, or happen to have two buried aces — an extremely unlikely
Holding a high hand when an ace hits an opponent’s board puts
you in jeopardy. It does not mean you no longer have the best hand,
but even if you’ve made kings-up you are still vulnerable and
can’t take advantage of circumstances by jamming like you would
if you knew you were the only high hand in play.
One of the more interesting features of 7-stud/8 is just how dramatically
the landscape can change once fourth and fifth street have been dealt.
You might have begun play going in one direction, only to find your
self heading in another. You can also start with a potentially powerhouse
hand that you wind up abandoning. In 7-stud/8, flexibility frequently
separates experts from also-rans.
If you are a rigid absolutist, and lack an adaptive personality, be
forewarned: This is a tough game, and when others can read your board
and interpret your actions, it is very difficult to impose your will
on an opponent if you lack the cards to back it up.
If you’re representing a low hand, all the raising and bluffing
you can muster won’t cause your opponent to fold if he’s
going high. He’ll simply call, expecting his half of the pot,
only to be pleasantly surprised when he wins all of it. If you have
the high hand and he’s holding a made low, you’re not likely
to run him out of the pot either. He’ll simply call, unless he’s
got a two way hand. Then he can raise with no risk, since he will either
win half the pot — or all of it.
Flexibility and adaptive behavior are key personal characteristics
required to become a winning player at this game. Keep one finger on
the pulse of these attributes when you sit down to play 7-stud/8. Without
them, you are running against the wind.
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