Lowball draw is a game where being able to read your opponent and exploit your deal position are all-important
Lowball in the name for any variation of poker in which the lowest hand wins (as opposed to the highest hand in traditional ‘ high’ poker). There are many forms of lowball, but we’ ll focus on the draw versions of the game, and return to the topic in the coming months to discuss other variants. Deuce-to-seven and Ace-to-five are by far the most common forms of lowball draw, but it’s rare to find Ace-to-five lowball in a major tournament these days. In this article, we’ll discuss the deuce-to-seven variant, and then tell you how to adjust to Ace-to-five if you come across it.
Lowball draw plays just like five-card draw. Each player is dealt five cards. There is a round of betting, followed by a draw, then a second round of betting and a showdown. On the draw, each player can exchange as many cards as they wish for new ones, or ‘stand pat’ and keep all of their cards.
In both the WSOP and World Championship of Online Poker, two to seven lowball is played no-limit, seven-handed, with two blinds and a large ante (approximately 50% of the small blind). This structure encourages more action and gamble in a game which might otherwise be a little slow due to its small number of betting rounds.
Each player can exchange as many cards as they wish on the draw or stand pat with the cards they were dealt
BEFORE THE DRAW
Deuce to seven draw is pure poker. There is no game where the abilities to use position effectively and to read your opponent are more important. Having position in any draw game is incredibly powerful, as not only do you have knowledge of your opponent’s betting actions before you have to act, you also get to see how many cards they draw before you make the same decision. This can be a huge help when you are deciding whether to stand pat with a hand like Jack-low. A Jack-low is a slight favourite over any one-card draw, and a significant favourite over a two-card draw. If you’re in position and your lone opponent draws two, it’s a no-brainer to stand pat (most of the time) with a Jack. However, if you’re out of position, you’ll usually end up breaking the hand or playing it very defensively, because you won’t know whether your opponent plans to draw or stand pat.
Typically, in early position you should play much tighter than you would on the button. Entering the pot with anything less than strong pat ten or a one-card draw to a 7 or good 8 seems pretty questionable if you are under the gun. Ideally, if you enter the pot with a 10, it should be a two-way hand – a pat hand that you can break and draw to an even stronger hand if you get re-raised and feel you are beaten (for example, 10-5-4-3-2).
When I say ‘one-card draw’, I mean a hand like 7-4-3-2 of different suits (which is, in fact, the best possible one-card draw). I’m not referring to hands like 6-5-4-3 of the same suit, which is a very weak draw because of the chances that you’ll make a flush or a straight. In general, you should avoid this kind of draw.
Because the antes are typically very large in deuce to seven, you’ll almost always want to enter the pot for a raise and, in fact, the game is often played with a ‘raise or fold’ rule if you’re the first one in. As your position improves, you can start to work in weaker hands to your raising range, including that troublesome pat jack that we discussed earlier, and one-card draws to good nines. The tighter your opponent is in the blinds, the more hands you can raise with.
You should rarely enter the pot with a two-card draw, although if the antes are very large relative to the stacks, you may attempt to steal with such a hand. A two-card draw is much stronger if it includes some of the cards your opponents will need (for example, if you hold 7-4-2-2-2 there is only one deuce remaining for your opponents to catch).
You need a stronger hand to call a raise than you do to raise yourself from the same position. For example, you would never flat-call a raise planning to draw two. Similarly, you would not call an early position raise from a tight opponent holding a rough ten.
Playing from the blinds can be difficult. Good players will raise with a wide range of hands from late position, so you need to be prepared to defend relatively frequently, but you are giving up a lot by being out of position after the draw. If you have a pat hand (even a relatively weak one), you almost always re-raise in an attempt to win the pot immediately, rather than give away your hand on the draw and then face a difficult decision on the next betting round. Indeed, flat calling from the blinds, then standing pat on the draw, is a telltale sign of a weak deuce-to-seven player.
Rarely enter the pot with a two-card draw. However, if the antes are very large relative to the stacks, you may attempt to steal with such a hand
Drawing in deuce to seven is usually obvious, but there are a few important tips to pass on.
First, don’t break a pat hand if by doing so you will only improve your hand slightly. For example, don’t break a Jack-low to draw to a 10-low, and don’t break a 10-low to draw to a 9-low. Improving your hand slightly will not typically win you the pot much more often, and by breaking your hand you sacrifice a lot of equity that you could have gained in snapping off bluffs or weaker pat hands.
As mentioned previously, a Jack-low is a favourite over any one-card draw. A Queen-low is a favourite over any two-card draw. If you or your opponent are all-in before the draw, then you can stand pat with a Jack when your opponent draws. However, if there are plenty of chips left to bet, you could break the hand and draw to something very strong. This could give you a better chance of winning a big pot after the draw.
Don’t break a pat hand if by doing so you are only going to improve your hand slightly
AFTER THE DRAW
After the draw, you will want to use your rough pat hands, such as Jacks and weak 10, mainly as bluff-catchers. If you’re in early position, you can check to the drawing hand and hope that they will bet as a bluff when they have paired up (by doing this, you also avoid being raised when you’re beat). However, if your opponent is the curious type and will often put you on the bluff, you can bet for value with some of the weaker pat hands.
My only other tip is that you should not get too carried away with a rough 9, such as 9-7-6-5-4. That kind of hand looks very strong and can often be bet for value, but it’s not something to go to war with. When your entire stack goes into the middle, a rough nine will usually be beat.