Stud Hi-Lo is a split pot game where players are dealt seven cards and get to form two five cards hands from them. At showdown, half of the pot goes to the highest hand and the other half to the lowest hand. The only catch is that for a hand to qualify for the low half of the pot it needs to be 8-high or lower. If no one has a low, the full pot goes to the best high-hand. Players start with three cards, two face down and one face-up.
My Preferred Format
I prefer to play 8-game heads-up or three-handed which is a rotation between eight different formats of poker, including stud hi-lo. I feel that the limit games can be a bit slow when five or six handed. I played a half hour session this morning against an opponent who played quite aggressively and fairly well. It is likely that my opponent was a little more experienced in these formats than me but I didn’t get the sense, during the match, that I was majorly outclassed.
I was dealt a beauty of a starting hand: three connected cards to the wheel straight. This kind of hand is fantastic because it will very often make a strong low hand and can less frequently fluke its way to a straight. Not all made low hands are small straights, but all small straights are monstrous low hands. I bring it in with a four showing and my opponent also with a four up, makes a raise.
These equal starting hand confrontations can be a game of chicken, but in this case, it’s me who is in the driving seat and I elected to 3-bet. Villain made the call as expected and fourth street (the point in the hand where each player has been dealt four cards) got quite interesting.
Villain takes one potential step closer to a made low here but I improve in the high direction while also catching a card Villain might need to finish his low. It’s also very possible that my aggressive opponent started with only two low cards and is still behind me in that direction also. He could have paired an eight but this seems fairly unlikely. I bet and he makes the call. The pot odds are always enticing when the pot has been raised and re-raised on third street so he will have to continue with a wide range here.
Then I catch a real stinker of a card.
The queen gives me an outside chance of a miracle flush but is largely a banana – meaning a card that does not improve my hand in any way. Meanwhile, Villain might easily have just walked into a made low. Having caught two cards which fail to contribute to a low hand, I am now unlikely to get there; but there’s every chance that my pair of threes are still leading the way for the high portion of the pot. The pot is offering me 4:1 on a call and so I need to realise 20% equity to profitably continue. Between my chances to improve in both directions and possible best high hand I should be able to achieve this much equity. I make the call.
Luckily, sixth street brings a very favourable swing.
I improve to two pair and Villain catches what looks to be a total brick. This king can only have helped him if he started with kings in the hole or a random king high. I doubt he would lead fifth street with just one pair and a king kicker so it looks like this pot will probably be a chop. I might be able to pressure him into folding a bad low without anything else going though so when my opponent checks, it’s time to start betting. If he actually led fifth street with a pair of eights then I am now value betting for the full pot. I bet and get called.
I must bet again in case I’m winning the whole pot vs. 8864Kxx and in the off chance that Villain folds a made low with no high to my scary board. I do get called and this is the result.
Villain actually led fifth street with just a low draw. Had he caught a pair on the river it’s quite likely he would have had to pay off another bet due to the size of the pot. Luckily for him he managed to make a low on the end. Unluckily for me, I didn’t persuade him to fold it. That pesky queen I caught must have killed my fold equity.
From this hand, we can gleam a few lessons about how to play Stud Hi-Lo.
- Three connected cards to a wheel is a huge starting hand which should be played very aggressively.
- When you have decent options in both directions on fourth street you want to build the pot.
- When you catch a bad card and your opponent improves, he should usually lead, preventing you form taking a free card. This is what happened when I caught the Queen on fifth street.
- When the pot is large you need only minimal chances of winning to call a bet.
- If you are very likely to win the high, it is sensible to exert pressure either to get value or to force Villain out of a split pot.
If you’re looking to expand your poker repertoire, then stay tuned for more articles like this one.
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