Stud hi/lo can be a fantastically profitable and enjoyable game if you have a decent memory and a little patience
When I first started propping in Los Angeles, I was thrown into a game called stud hi/lo (eight or better). The rules were fairly simple, but the nuances were anything but. At first I dreaded the game, so I decided to get a book to help me out – I figured Doyle Brunson’s Super System (the first one) would do the trick. Little did I know that it covered stud hi/lo with no qualifier. Learning how to play that game did very little to help me play the game that was spread in my casino. Today, stud hi/lo with no qualifier is rarely spread and, in fact, stud hi/lo eight or better is the standard in pretty much every casino.
Anyway, back to how I came to learn this game. There was a professional at my casino named Joe Wynn. I’ve talked about him before because I have the utmost respect for him and his game. He won a WSOP bracelet for stud hi/lo in 2000 and was a regular winner in the game at the Bike. I decided to befriend Joe and before long he became like a mentor to me. By observing his play, talking strategy with him and putting in well over 1,500 hours at the table, I feel as if I’ve got quite a good understanding of the game.
To be honest, it’s now my favourite game. There isn’t that much literature on it and it isn’t covered ad nauseam like no-limit hold’em. There is nothing wrong with a good game of hold’em, but most professionals – including myself – will agree that the more variables you add to the game, the bigger edge the better player should have. Stud hi/lo is a more complex game than hold’em and, if all things are equal, I believe your edge should be larger. There are some basic strategies that are often overlooked by most players and, because of that, the games are usually quite good. If you keep these tips in your back pocket, you should be able to come out on top in most weak games.
PATIENCE IS A PREMIUM
Like any poker game, patience is paramount. You have to wait for the right opportunities. Unless the antes and bring-ins are abnormally large compared to the limits, you should be sitting tight and waiting for a premium hand. Premium hands include three babies to a straight, three babies to a flush, a pair of Aces with a wheel card, and an Ace with two wheel cards. There are other combinations of cards that are playable, but the premium hands are generally playable no matter how many raises have been put in. Other playable hands include a pair of Kings, a small pair with a suited connector (5-5-6, two hearts), an Ace with two cards, 7 or lower and three cards that can make a straight. Don’t think a premium hand is always a good thing. It can become a trash hand if your cards are all dead (for example, you’ve got 3-4-5, but you see one Ace dead, two twos and two sixes). Depending on the action and the table you’re playing at, this hand should now be mucked. If you’re not sure where you’re at, and you feel like you are chasing, get out – the quicker you get out, the better.
This game can get seriously expensive – remember there is an extra big bet unlike with hold’em or Omaha. Mistakes beget mistakes more here than in almost any other game.
Patience is paramount. Wait for a premium hand. Unless the antes and bring-ins are particularly large compared with the limits, wait for the right opportunities before making a move
Avoiding trap hands is one of the key components of being a successful stud hi/lo player. To enable you to do this, you have to make sure you keep track of suits and numbers – it’s very difficult to beat this game without a good memory. There’s nothing worse than drawing to a hand thinking you’ve got six outs when you have three Here are the kinds of hands you need to steer clear of:
1 Small pair with a brick (9 through K)
2 Three suited cards (two bricks and one low card)
3 Razz hands (7-2-4 – different suits)
4 Pairs of nines through Queens, especially if the pair is split (there are times to play these hands, but you have to be smart about it or it will cost you a lot of money)
5 A-Q-4 or similar – you look at the hand and you think: I could go high or low, but too many things have to go perfectly for you to scoop the pot.
6 Three cards to a straight – (higher than 8)
7 Three cards to a rough low – I don’t try to make eights. If I start with 6-4-3 and I back into an 8-6 low then so be it, but I don’t want to start out with an 8-5-3.
MASTER OF YOUR UNIVERSE
As ever, the real key to unlocking the game is your mastery of your opponent. If your opponent raised or called a raise with a wheel card and then catches an Ace on fourth street, you should usually fold. At this point, your opponent should have four low cards or three low cards and a pair of Aces.
You should only be staying in if you still think you have a strong chance of scooping the pot. Oh yeah, and before I forget, ‘scooping’ needs to become your favourite word. If you are playing in a split-pot game, you should be playing hands that can win the entire pot, not just half. If you’re putting in money just hoping to get half the pot, you’ll soon find yourself haemorrhaging cash.
If you are keen on playing the player, you’ll soon realise that hidden hands have more value than obvious holdings. K-K/ 5 is much better than K-5/ K. In the first example, my opponent will probably think that I am going low and will be more inclined to stay in if he pairs up, or if he was silly enough to get involved with nines through Queens.
On the other hand, if I play K-5/ K, everyone will put me on Kings. I won’t know where my opponents are at, but they’ll all know where I’m at. I’m not a big fan of playing my hand face-up. Another hand that could be playable in the right game is K-A-4 suited. My hand is well disguised. I don’t like when the big card (9-K) is my door card (showing). If I catch a 4 flush, the entire table knows.