Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fifth Street Decisions: Betting into Three Exposed Low-Cards

The balance of power can shift dramatically on Fifth Street because it is now possible for a player to have a qualifying low-hand and potentially a lock on half the pot if no one else can make a better low. Prior to Fifth Street it is usually the high hands that drive the action. A player holding the best high hand will not want to give free draws to the low hands prior to Fifth Street. But, if at Fifth Street a player has accumulated three low-cards the high hand needs to be careful. The player with the best high-hand has a conundrum with two mutually exclusive goals for continuing.

  • Betting to protect the high hand and building a pot.
  • Checking to reduce risk if the low-hand is freerolling for a better high-hand in order to scoop.

Many players lean toward the cautious side and automatically check to a hand with three exposed low cards. However, that kind of routine play becomes predictable and cedes too much power to opponents with hands that could be mediocre at best. The highest hand scoops by default if no low-hand qualifies, and not every hand with three exposed low-cards on Fifth Street is a qualified low.

Consider a hand with four unpaired low-cards after Fourth Street such as (2, 3) 5, 7. If the low cards are live, 22 remain that are not 5s or 7s. Of these 22 cards, six will be 2s and 3s and will pair the hole cards. That means 6 out of 22 times, or 27% of the time, a low-card falling on Fifth Street will pair a hole card. If you are looking at an opponent's hand that consists of (X, X) 5, 7, 2 and believe that the hole cards are low and unpaired, the 2 represents a completed low-hand at most 73% of the time. Depending on the cards already played and your opponent's prior hand history, that percentage might be less.

For example, consider the hand (2, 3) 5, 7 with a board showing that two of the 6s, two of the 4s, and two of the 8s, dead. That leaves 16 remaining low-cards, not ranked 5 or 7, of which 6, or 37.5% will pair the 2 or the 3. That means in many hands in which significant numbers of low-cards are dead, the odds could tilt more towards the possibility that (X, X) 5, 7, 2 is a small pair rather than a qualified low-hand. To know how much the odds tilt requires some knowledge of your opponent because she might be more likely to draw with a four-low if many of the dead cards don't match her hole cards and reduce the possibility of pairing.

It's also possible that your opponent already has a pair-split or wired-going into Fifth Street and cannot complete a low-hand on that street. Sometimes the pair consists of wired high cards, in which case completing a low-hand at all is unlikely. If you have a better high hand you definitely want to bet. That means knowing your opponent's range of playable hands is necessary.

Given these considerations, here are some general guidelines for betting into a hand with three exposed low-cards on Fifth Street.

Situations to check:

* Your opponent has a very tight hand range that does not include small pairs and uncoordinated low-cards.

* The exposed cards include a 4 and a 5. Because these cards are necessary to complete low straights, hands with 4s and 5s can be dangerous holdings to bet into.

* The exposed cards are sequential.

* The exposed cards are suited

* It is a multi-way pot and your high holding is vulnerable in relation to the other hands in play.

Situations to bet:

* Your opponent has a wide hand range that includes any pair and any four low-cards.

* The 4s and 5s are dead or nearly so, in which case a split-pot is more likely if you have a solid high hand and your opponent does complete a qualified low-hand.

* You are playing heads-up, which reduces that chance of being out-drawn for the high-pot by the other players.

* You still have a chance to win the low-pot yourself. If you have Aces-up containing a low-pair and in addition a low kicker, or you have trips low-cards with two additional low-cards, you could still scoop against a qualified low-hand.

In summary, the decision to check or bet should be carefully considered. Do not get into the predictable habit of automatically checking to any hand with three exposed low-cards.

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