Stud 8-or-Better

You can’t call yourself a great poker player if you can only play hold’em, so Phil Shaw takes a look at stud hi-lo

Outright stealing is less profitable as the bring in often plays back or defends with a marginal hand that could improve quickly

It may be a world away from the adrenalin-fuelled mayhem of no-limit hold’em, but seven-card stud hi-lo still attracts a strong following. Popularly referred to as stud 8-or-better, this highly skilful and complex game is still popular despite a relative decline in enthusiasm for the high variant.

Why? Mainly because the gap between amateurs and experts is very high, and this combined with a relatively low level of variance makes it a good sideline from hold’em. You’ll also have no trouble finding regular games online up to the $30/$60 level, so if you’re looking for a sideline away from the coin flips and all-ins of hold’em then Stud 8 is well worth considering.

However, for players only familiar with hold’em or Omaha, stud requires a little getting used to. It’s not a community card game, in other words there are no flops. Instead, each player is dealt two down-cards only they see and one up-card visible to all before the first round of betting takes place. Another three up cards are dealt – a round of betting in-between each – and the final seventh card is dealt face down. The winner is the best five-card hand of those remaining after a final round of betting.

Each player uses five cards to make a high hand and a low hand, though they can use different cards for each. The best low hand is a wheel, A-2-3-4-5, and to qualify for a low a player must have five different cards between Ace and 8 – hence the name Stud 8. Low hands are ranked from the top down, so a 7 beats an 8 and so on, with the next card counting if there’s a tie. Betting is on a limit structure and each player posts antes instead of bets, with the lowest card posting a forced bet known as a ‘bring in’. In a typical $10/$20 game, the ante would be $1 and the bring in $3, with two rounds of betting in units of $10 and three in units of $20.

Starting hands are critical, although in this game their values are often misunderstood. Generally you’re looking for hands that have both high and low potential, so 3;- 4;-(5;) is an excellent holding, as is A;-A…-(2…), and you’ll want to play many other hands if they have some chance to take both the high and low pots (‘scooping’).

In later positions or when the board cards are favourable with not many low cards showing, you can open up considerably and raise with trashier low hands if you’re first in as well as hands containing a pair and a low like 7…-7;-2;. It’s worth remembering though, that outright stealing is less profitable in this game than stud high as the ‘bring in’ will often lie in wait with a good hand and play back or defend with a marginal hand that could improve quickly.


Another key factor pre-flop is controlling the size of the pot. You must decide if you want to call to encourage a big pot with a hand that would fare better multi-way or if you’re looking to knock players out by raising.

One special category of pre-flop hands, and among the most misplayed, is high pairs – particularly when a high card is showing, which virtually declares your hand to the other player. So you should play them tentatively, if at all. Having to call down players with certain lows in the hope of getting half the pot back isn’t something you want to experience too often. For this reason, just fold a pair of 10s in early position if there are even a couple of low cards out, and consider folding Kings if an Ace raises or there are many players in a pot and many possible lows out there. In the long run this will save you a fortune!

The later streets in stud 8 present chances to play better than your opponents, and you’ll find yourself in many hands requiring non-standard decisions. For example, although the bets don’t double until fifth street it’s still a good idea to fold a marginal hand at fourth street if you catch a bad card and your opponents catch good ones. But if your hand was excellent to start with or you don’t fall a long way behind, still take a card while it’s cheap.

Fifth street is the real moment of truth and if you decide to play here it will often be the case that you commit yourself to going all the way, so make sure you have a tenable hand. For instance, a good 3-low needs to have caught at least another good low card and have a decent chance of winning that half of the pot, and a high hand needs to either be extremely strong or up against a small number of low hands that have caught bad cards.Ordinarily, if you find yourself deep in a hand with reasonable high cards such as one high pair or two pair, go all the way against one opponent in the hope of splitting, but versus more than one player you may want to get out earlier.

One important factor to consider throughout is how the board cards affect your and other players’ play. For example, the initial board cards affect your decision if many of your pair or low cards are out, and bear this in mind as the hand progresses. Another key factor is deception, especially about which half of the pot you’re going for. If you have Ac-Ad-(As)-(5c)-(9h), an opponent will often assume you’re going for the low and try to get extra bets in with a high hand, so you should be prepared to play creatively, not giving the game away early and perhaps check raising when the bets double.

As all of the above should suggest however, the key to stud 8 is trying to win the whole pot, and playing hands that scoop is the real key to the game. Always have that in mind and combined with the advice above you won’t go far wrong!

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