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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

The Curse of the High Hand

20 September 2002

The following is an excerpt from the latest in the "Scoblete Get the Edge Guide" series -- 77 Ways to get the Edge at Casino Poker, by Fred Renzey.

7 Stud Hi/Lo 8-or Better is a very popular, yet tricky game. That's because even though you need an "8" low minimum to win the low half, proper strategy favors playing low hands over high hands. It takes most players a while--some forever--to come to accept this. So, as a good example, look at the two starting hands below:

HAND #1:    9s - Jc / Js
HAND #2:    7s - 5c / 3s

Now, a starting pair of Jacks may or may not win the high half of the pot. It might even "scoop" it all when nobody makes an 8 low. But the really important thing is:

THOSE TWO JACKS WITH A 9 KICKER CAN NEVER, EVER WIN LOW!

You just can't re-route a high hand. Now look at the 7/5/3. It's a pretty good start for low--but that's not all. Even though it's not a classic low straight draw, every once in a while it'll still turn into a 7-high straight, which is a darned good high and low at the same time. Another overlooked benefit of a low start is that when it misses its low, it often misses by pairing. Plenty of pots have been scooped with a hand like 7-5/ 3-7-2-6 /5. That's two pair and a 7 low. Has this ever happened to you when you still had two Jacks at the river?

Lastly, the 7/5/3 could get lucky, make a flush and still make a low. Since any low start could win high, yet an all-high start can never win low, it turns out that you should fold the majority of your high starts in Stud-8 or Better. This grim truth will bring itself to bear on your high pairs again and again while you're playing them. Picture yourself in the Stud-8 or Better hand below:

YOUR HANDOPPONENT'S HAND
10-Q/ Q - 3 - K?-?/ 5 - 3 - 6

You raised coming in, you bet again on fourth street and the 5 quietly called both bets. Now what? If he's made a low, the best you can do is get your money back plus half the antes and bring-in. If he has or makes a straight, you're virtually dead. If he's made two concealed pair or trips, you're a dog to get any part of the pot--and he can still make a low. Yet, the least a rational opponent will have here is a small pair with a low draw. There's almost no way he doesn't have a playable hand against you, but you may very well not have a playable hand against him

Can you see how your hand is paralyzed? It could be worse. What if his board was a two-suited 5/7/6 or 5/3/4? Now you probably have to give him the pot even though he might only have something like 2-6 / 5-7-6. Your opponent, however, knows just about where you're at and can play his hand quite effectively.

That's how handcuffed you are when you play an obvious high hand in this game. If you get to fifth street and your opponent has three low cards on board, you're at his mercy! Going by strict mathematical odds, a high pair on third street is the favorite over a semi-flexible three card low, but--

THE LOW HAND HAS SUCH A BETTING ADVANTAGE
THAT IT ALL WORKS OUT THE OTHER WAY AROUND

Wouldn't you rather sit on the other side of the table, be more in control and even take down a few pots with the worst hand? Still and all, this is not to say that you can never play a high pair in Stud-8 or Better--although most should be mucked at the start. The critical thing to recognize is that all high pairs are not created equal. Three key factors could make them playable. Any one of them will often do the trick. They are:

1) If it's a pair of Aces.
2) If it's buried with a low door card.
3) If you have nearly perfect position.

Factor #1: Obviously, a pair of Aces is much better than a pair of Kings in this game. With the Kings, any low hand that contains an Ace will knock you off if he happens to pair it--not so with Aces.

Factor #2: A hand like 9-Q / Q is much weaker than a Q-Q / 6. If you play the split pair, everybody in the world knows you have a high hand, probably two Queens. Your low opponent(s) will yield if they blank on the turn and put on the pressure if they make a low on fifth street. But if you have the Queens buried with a low door card, your hand has some mystery to it. Hence, you can usually play buried Queens with a low kicker, but very seldom split Queens.

Factor #3: Suppose a deuce brings it in three seats to your left, everybody folds up to you and there's just a 9 and a Jack still left to act. Well, the deuce has two random cards in the hole and the Jack or the 9 have high hands if they have anything. So now you're in great shape even with split Queens and should raise it up.

IF YOU'RE EVER GOING TO PLAY A SPLIT HIGH PAIR (lower than Aces), YOU NEED CONDITIONS NEARLY AS GOOD AS THOSE JUST DESCRIBED

Don't learn this lesson the hard, expensive way. When a deuce brings it in, a 5 raises and a 3 calls, then it's up to you with a King behind you--muck your 9-Q / Q right now!

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey