7-card Stud Hi-Lo is a split pot Stud game. At showdown half of the pot goes to the highest poker hand and the other half the lowest hand with 5 cards 8 or under. This makes the strategy more complex than a high-hand only game – and also a lot more fun. This article takes you through the key poker strategy considerations for Stud Hi-Lo and shows you how to take advantage of common mistakes your opponents will make at the tables.
First up some information on starting hand selection, including the best starting hands to play and the types of hand to avoid. Next, how the folded cards affect your strategy, and why you should fold early in this game when there is heavy betting action. Getting trapped between a high hand and a low hand when you are weak is covered next, before some final words of warning about making sure that your board tells a good story.
New players play way to many starting hands in this game. All of the hands which were considered playable in the high-only game are added together with small card hands with the potential to make lows. This is a big leak, and good players who are more selective with their starting hand requirements have an in-built edge against those who overplay hands.
The best hands in this game have the ability to ‘scoop’ both sides of the pot at the same time. Premiums include suited small cards, especially with an ace. These can make the nut-low and the highest flush at the same time (aces count low for the low side, and high for the high side of the pot). 70% of hands will include a qualifying low, for the rest the high hand will win the whole thing. If you do play high only hands then you need to make sure these are very strong, such as A-A-X or 10-J-Q suited. In Stud Hi-Lo, hands which make the 2nd best low and non-nut high are the danger hands. Folding hands which have 7, 8 or 9 in them is a great way to stay disciplined.
In all Stud games you should remember the cards which have been folded during the hand. In the Hi-Lo split version this is even more important, as some of those cards will go into both low and high hands. A good starting point is to track all the low cards folded, that way if an opponent is drawing to a low you will have an idea of how many cards are already gone from their potential outs. Sure, you will not know what their hidden cards are – though even an idea that 7 or 8 potential outs are dead will give you a useful advantage. Keeping track of the number of each suit folded can also be profitable. If you have an opponent who appears to be drawing to a flush, and you have seen 30% of his outs hit the muck, then you have all the more reason to bet.
There are 5 betting rounds in Stud games, meaning the pots can grow very large. With people hanging around hoping to improve both high and low hands, the pots can grow even larger in the split-pot version.
For this reason it can pay to ditch speculative hands early, especially when there is heavy betting. 3rd and 5th streets are the time to let go – the bet size doubles on 5th and calling here can lead to the situation where the pot is so big that you care compelled to continue by the pot odds alone.
One of the biggest mistakes new players make is to find themselves stuck between a player with a high hand and one with a strong low hand while they hold a weak draw. What happens is that the high hand bets, the beginner calls and then the low to the left raises, if the high re-raises the unwitting player can be left calling 3 bets not knowing whether the 4th raise is going be put in behind them when the action returns to the player who looks like they have a strong low!
This is an uncomfortable situation and one which can be avoided by making sure you are only drawing to the nuts (or maybe a nut hand for one side with possibilities for the other) when you get to later streets in a multi-way pot.
Another common mistake is to get heads-up drawing to the low when the pot is small. In this case you are putting bets into the pot, and you will only get those bets back if you make your hand – which will not happen every time. When the pot is large this can make mathematical sense. When it is not, then it is more profitable to fold and move on.