Beginners guide to H.O.R.S.E.

5. Stud 8-Or-Bettter

The golden rule… is to play strong starting hands almost all of the time

The fifth and final game in H.O.R.S.E is Seven-Card Stud Eight-or-Better (otherwise referred to as Stud Hi-Lo, Stud Hi-Lo Split or Stud 8/OB), which is similar to the other Stud games we’ve looked at (Razz/Seven-Card Stud; PP, Issue 18/19), except that in this format the pot will often be shared between a high and a low hand (see The rules of Stud Eight-or-Better, right for further explanation).

For this reason, it’s important to play hands that can win both halves of the pot (called ‘scooping’) as winning only half will rarely show a large profit and you may run into better hands that have a ‘lock’ for one side of the pot and a chance to ‘scoop’ you by winning your half as well. It’s possible to also scoop by winning the high side only with a hand like a big pair against a low draw that misses, but as you’ll discover that’s less easy to accomplish.

The golden rule of Stud Eight-or-Better is to play strong starting hands almost all of the time, even when defending or attacking the bring-in, as with the low card posting this mandatory bet you could easily be walking into a monster (unlike in other Stud games). In general this means waiting for three cards to a low hand, with the strongest hands being those with the lowest cards, the most straight or flush potential or an Ace that might pair and be good for high. Therefore hands like [A]- [A]-2 and [3]-[4]-5 are among the best you can hope for, although you can usually play weaker hands, too.

Quick comparison

The most important thing to watch out for when selecting starting hands is how you’re looking against the ‘up’ cards that are showing – for example, with [2]-[5]-8 you would do better to fold in early position against a lot of low up cards than play and risk being scooped. However, in a more marginal situation with a slightly better hand you might play if most of the cards you need to make your low are not out. In such spots you might also want to limp and see what happens, although most of the time you should raise when first in. One other hand you can play to help mix things up a bit is three to a flush with two low cards.

High-only hands are much trickier to play in Eight-or-Better and tend to do far better if they have an element of disguise suggesting they might in fact be low hands, for example [A]- [K]-A or [K]-[K]-6. However, with [6]-[K]-K for example, everyone will know that you have a high-only hand and will be able to play perfectly against you, whereas you will be in the dark and sometimes risk getting scooped. With such hands you’re really hoping to scoop by playing against low draws that bust, and it takes an expert player to make this kind of situation profitable.

Beginners, by contrast, should tread carefully and try to play them only against a small number of players and even fold when there is an Ace showing or your opponent develops a scary board by fifth street. Having said that, though, high hands like rolled-up trips, e.g. [A]-[A]-A, should almost always be played to the end and aggressively, and if they have an element of disguise so much the better!

Dancing in the streets

The later streets in Eight-or-Better are made more interesting by the Hi-Lo element than the other games, and often allow good players to get the better of less experienced opponents. As you might surmise from the previous advice on starting hands you’ll often see high and low hands facing off and trying to get the better of each other; how the cards fall on fourth and fifth street before the bets double is key in this battle. For example, [K]-[6]-K-6-2 might look good but in this game against a hand like [2]-[5]-6-7-4 it’s in mortal danger of being scooped.

However, should a low hand catch bad, making something like [2]-[5]- 6-10-9;, it’s an automatic fold; even if the hand catches one low card and gets to [2]-[5]-6-10-8 it’s still an awkward spot and is now, most of the time, only going to win half the pot at best.

Another situation you’ll often see is two apparent low hands facing off (though remember that an Ace will often also be a low hand and is especially powerful due to its twoway potential) and again what happens in the next two cards is crucial as fifth street is the crunch time. Generally speaking, unless you catch bad on fourth street against someone who catches good and also think you had the worst starting hand, you can afford to take another card hoping to catch up cheaply.

However, if on fifth street your hand is still only three to a low or four to a bad low, against a scary board, it’s usually time to give up. The reason for this is that once you call on fifth street for a double bet most of the time you’re committing to going to the river since the pot will now be very big, whereas if you’re facing a big bet on fifth street you can still get out as it will be a much larger percentage of the pot at that stage.

Lock and load

Sixth street play is fairly standard in Eight-or-Better, with the dominant hand betting most of the time against the weaker one, which will now be committed to calling again whether chasing a low or high hand in the hope of winning half the pot. The only thing you should really take note of is to not get carried away with an apparently impregnable high hand against an obvious made low that could still have scoop outs. Putting in four bets on sixth street with quads is no fun when you lose everything to a low straight flush that had one out on the turn and already had a lock for low and managed to scoop both on the river!

Seventh street is another interesting spot as the last cards are dealt face down. Basically, if you have a lock on either side of the pot you should be betting and raising, even if your chance of scooping is small. If you don’t have a lock in any direction most of the time you should just be calling, unless your scoop potential is high.

With a marginal hand you should almost always call in the hope of winning half the pot, even if you have a busted low that caught a bad pair on the river against another low hand. Remember, folding any sort of winning hand at this stage is a massive mistake, especially when your opponent is likely to have five cards in use that are making up a low.

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