It doesn’t take more than a time or two playing 7-card stud,
eight-or-better, high-low split (7-stud/8) to realize that an ace is
a very powerful card, indeed. In fact, aces are more potent in high-low
split games than in traditional forms of poker, where the high hand
wins the entire pot. And when an ace is among your 7-stud/8 starting
cards, it’s as strong as strong can be. When you think about it,
an ace isn’t just one powerful card, it’s more like two
of them ¾ one in each direction, high as well as low ¾
and you can’t ask for much more than that.
“The best 7-stud/8 hands are generally low holdings that can
back into high hands too.” Everyone’s heard that mantra;
it’s the first thing learned when a friend offers a few words
of advice to the nascent 7-stud/8 player. While that’s true as
far as it goes, it’s just the tip of the strategic iceberg. Because
an ace is the biggest high-card as well as the smallest low one, starting
hands containing an ace along with two other low cards offer far more
options to a skillful player than most other low holdings.
Consider the difference between a starting hand like 5-4-2 and 5-4-A.
While both are excellent starting hands, there are some obvious differences
between them. Although either holding at this juncture stands the same
chance of making a wheel, the hand without the ace is essentially a
low-draw that might back into a high hand if all goes well and the proud
holder is fortunate enough to catch two perfect cards. On the other
hand, it might not make a low at all. Even if the holder catches another
low card on fourth street, he can still strike out by catching three
bananas (which is what 7-stud/8 players call cards with a rank of nine
or above), or by catching two bananas and pairing one of his other cards.
Since the best course of action with most drawing hands is to complete
them as inexpensively as possible, you’ll generally find those
players with high hands raising early, to make it costly for their opponents
with a low draw to stick around in hopes of capturing half of the pot.
Once it becomes obvious that at least one of their opponents has completed
a low hand and thus holds claim to half the pot, the high hands generally
slow down, with the exception of very big hands like a full house or
quads, which are sure to capture their end of the pot.
But what about the player who starts out with a hand like 5-4-A? While
he almost surely holds the best low draw, it’s still a draw, and
a low hand cannot be completed until fifth street at the earliest. But
it’s shortsighted to focus solely on the low aspects of this hand,
and one mustn’t overlook the possibility that our hero might also
have the best high hand. In fact, if no one has a pair, a hand like
5-4-A will probably be the best playable high hand on the first betting
round, since hands like K-A-4 are usually not going to play. After all,
someone holding that kind of hand is faced with playing six of his cards
against seven of his opponent’s ¾ and most players realize
that’s a prescription for failure.
But our hero, who’s holding 5-4-A, has the equivalent of three
low cards and a high one too. Since he might have the best high hand
along with the best low draw right now, he does not have to play cautiously.
He can raise. After all, if he is successful in winnowing the field
down to one or two opponents, he might wind up with the only low hand
and if he is able to pair his ace he can easily wind up with the best
high hand too.
If his ace pairs on fourth street, he is in an enviable position. Even
without completing his low, he will usually win by pairing any one of
his other cards. After all, aces-up is a strong hand in this game, particularly
when confronting a lesser two pair that was once a low draw until its
holder also paired twice.
There are some major strategic implications here. A low hand with no
ace is a drawing hand ¾ no more, no less. While it can back into
a high hand by catching two perfect cards to form a straight, that’s
just not going to happen very often. On the other hand, a wheel draw
with an ace might be the best high hand on third street as well as the
best low draw too, and the holder ought to try limiting the field in
order to play heads-up. In a heads-up situation, a low draw with an
ace is probably favored in both directions. If our hero’s opponent
realizes this and folds, so much the better.
While there’s always the chance of catching a bunch of bananas
and seeing what appeared to be a noteworthy hand turn to detritus; and
instead of reeling in a tidy sum, the holder will have to watch forlornly
as he loses out to a hand that was a real underdog. But that’s
poker. It doesn’t come with any guarantees, and 7-stud/8 is a
game replete with situations where a player must draw. When those draws
don’t materialize it’s frustrating, costly, and can put
one quickly on tilt. But that’s no reason to deviate from playing
properly. And one of the keys to proper play is to realize just how
powerful a holding a low draw with an ace really is.
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