Monday, September 28, 2009

Boats and Quads in Stud-Eight

A complaint I've heard from poker players about high-low poker, is that it frustrates them to win little or nothing with a rare monster hand because of the split-pot rule. Competing heads-up with quads against a low hand, generates rake for the house, but no income for the players. This frustrating feature of high-low poker can be especially aggravating in Seven-Card Stud High-Low (Stud-Eight) because holding a full house (boat) or four-of-a-kind (quads) disqualifies the hand from claiming the low pot. In contrast, Omaha High-Low allows the possibility of holding a qualified low and a full house or quads at the same time. Ironically, in Stud-Eight, filling up can actually reduce the monetary value of a hand. If you hold trip 4s with an Ace, 2, 3, 6, you can win the low half of the pot with a 6-high. However, trip 4s with an Ace, 2, 3, 3, means no low hand is possible. If the trip 4s alone are good enough for high, filling up at the end might lose half the pot to another player who qualifies for low.

However, there is a flip side to the split-pot rule. The possibility of a low hand will generate action in many instances that would not have happened otherwise. You can start with rolled-trips in Stud-Eight and have it hold up for high without improvement. However, no one starts with a qualified low. A player competing for the low pot will be on a draw until at least fifth street and sometimes all the way to the river. Many of these draws will not materialize, but the player contributes to the pot on every street. When the draw succeeds a player with quads or a boat feels extremely frustrated. But, had the draw not been possible, no action would have occurred.

In one session of Stud-Eight, I had a sudden run of good cards. In a period covering just ten hands, I received a full house three times. In each case I had just one opponent calling me down. Twice the pot was split netting me nothing, and once I got to scoop. It sounds like little reward for such a great run of cards. But, consider what would have happened in a Seven-Card Stud high-only game. Absolutely no action would have occurred at all. No one holding 2, 3, 4, 7 after fourth street is going to call someone with an exposed pair in a high-only game. In fact, the hands would never have gone on long enough for me to fill up, so I wouldn't even be recalling such a great run of cards.

In multi-way pots with more than one opponent competing for low, if you're lucky enough to be receive a boat or quads early on, you can be hyper-aggressive without driving away action. A decision on whether to slow-play, that players in high-only games must make, is unnecessary. Raising and re-raising can build an enormous pot, of which you might only get half, but again, without the low possibilities your total action might be much less than half of the large pot generated by the competing lows.

You do need to be cautious with big hands when the possibility of being second best arises. It is much more costly to be second best in Stud-Eight than in other limit forms of poker, because simply calling another player down is often not an option. For example, in one hand I played, I started with rolled-trip 6s, followed by a Jack on Fourth Street and a second Jack on Fifth Street. I was confidently betting and raising with my boat against two other players. One player had a Queen for a door card and picked up a pair of 7s on Fourth and Fifth Streets. He respected my raises leading me to believe he had two-pair, Queens and 7s. The other player had three exposed low cards, including the fourth 6, was re-raising, and appeared to have no intention of leaving the hand. Clearly he had a made low hand.

But, on Sixth Street, a second Queen appeared in my opponent's hand, giving him Queens and 7s on the board, that he immediately bet out. The other player raised and now I had to make a decision. It is not possible for my hand to improve to beat his most likely holding, Queens-full. Even though the pot is large, I cannot call him down to be sure. It will cost me eight big-bets to make showdown because if I cold-call the two bets at the moment, he will re-raise and the low will cap it. That same four-bet action will occur again before showdown. I mucked my boat rather than risk getting caught in between a better high and a made low.

My assessment turned out to be correct. But, had it not been correct I would have only lost half of the pot, rather than the entire pot. In a high-only game, holding a boat with the entire pot at stake, and only two-large bets needed because no low hand would be raising, I would have simply called him down.

A full house or better plays differently in Seven-Card Stud High-Low than in high-only Seven-Card Stud. Yes, it is frustrating to split large pots when you have such a powerful hand, but you will get action that you otherwise might not have had. You need to stay alert to the reasons for that action and keep out of the middle between a possibly better high hand and made low hand.

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