Making a profit by playing poker takes more than just winning a few pots in one session. It takes many, many profitable sessions. And, the way we make a profit is by others losing.
There are two reasons players lose, either they are loose players who play bad, or they are good players having a bad run. Even the best of players can fall into tilt or “donk-mode” once in awhile. When I sit in a game and I am the only tight player, I occasionally play a hand I normally wouldn’t, just to advertise. It is funny, almost every time I play this marginal hand, I am called a Donk. This shows just how little most players pay attention to the players they are playing against. This is fine with me of course; if they think I am a “Donk” they will be calling me down when I have the best hand, adding to my profits.
All poker games can be profitable; it is a matter of our own personal taste and which ones we choose to play in. Bankroll size may determine what limits we play, but personal preference or skill will determine which variation of poker we play.
My game of choice is 7 Card Stud High Low Split, 8 or Better for low - also known as Stud H/L. Not only did I cut my teeth on this game many years ago, but I genuinely like the game. It doesn’t hurt that so few players have a clue how to play it, therefore making it profitable for those that do. Why this game is so profitable, I will share with you.
What makes it so different and profitable? Simple answer: The players of course, but there is much more.
If you happen to sit in or watch a Stud H/L game, you will see the players playing all kind of odd combinations.
Most of which a knowledgeable Stud H/L player would never play. Almost every poker player knows how to or has played Stud High. If the Stud player, however, takes his game to the H/L table, he will be in trouble. The whole split pot format completely changes the game. In Stud an A-K-K may be good starters, but they lose a lot of their value in the H/L game. Of course there is always a high, but many times the best high is also the best low.
In any H/L Stud game you will see someone making a winner out of cards like A-J-8 off suit. Keep in mind; this is a player who is playing anything hoping to get lucky. These are not the starting cards a good player calls with. What sets a good Stud H/L player apart is they don’t play for ½ of the pot, they play for all of it.
The high side of the game is the same as Stud, what changes in H/L is the low side and how powerful it can be. It is common to see the big pairs on the board checking to the low hand. Anyone who has played more than a few minutes knows how strong the low hand can be - and is wary. Ideally, the small straights and flushes are the hands that you will win the most with. Having a 7 or 6 for low, with a flush for high, is a huge hand most of the time, winning the whole pot.
The same goes for small straights like a wheel, and by using all seven of your cards, you can have a wheel for low and an A-K flush for high. This is the mistake of many Stud H/L players make; they overvalue their high pairs, overlooking the low that turns into a two way hand. If you are playing for both halves of the pot, this common mistake is great for your chip stack.
While starting hand selection is the first step to playing well and showing a profit, how you continue to play those good starters is just as important. In Stud, most of the time, it is easy to see what the best possible hand is that your opponent could have. The exception is if they are rolled up (3 of a kind in the first three cards) then pair on 7th, they have a completely hidden Full House – or even four-of-a-kind. There is no way to know for sure if the 5-2-4-6 is a straight or hidden Full House (FH), or a bigger hand. If you have this FH, it is a huge hand, because all the flushes and straights will be calling and probably raising you.
Inexperienced players who are playing high hands, almost never even consider the small FH; they always assume it is a low hand.
If you are always aware of the possibility of the low really being high, it will save you money, by not raising with a high only hand like a King high straight. Of course watching the cards that are dealt out can give you the edge here. If your opponent has 6-6 up but you saw the other two sixes fold, you know he doesn’t have trip sixes. The same holds true for a 3-4-7 on the board, if the sixes are gone, that player can’t make a straight six or straight seven.
Not watching the cards in play can cost you a lot of money in the long run. It is common to see players who have an Ace up raising. Let’s say there are three players and you have A-A in the hole. The third player gets the case Ace, so you know the raising Ace doesn’t have a pair. If you make two pair, you have a good chance of winning high, unless your opponents make a low straight or flush. If you really start playing Stud H/L on a regular basis, you will be amazed at how many players pay absolutely no attention to which cards are no longer in play, thereby drawing dead to a hand they can’t make.
How do you play a hand where you have 2-3-4 all hearts your first three cards? Whether to raise or not depends on the game and how your cards are running. If there are 5 players that play every hand, raising will not get them out; it will only help to build a pot. Many times it seems whatever you decide to do is wrong. If you raise and the player in front of you folds, you may get the K of spades, and the A of hearts flies over your head to the player behind you. If you had just called, the player in front of you would have stayed in and got the K, then you would have caught the Ace which would be a great card for your hand. The decision to raise or not will depend mainly on the game, players and your “feel” for it. I find the better my starters, the more likely I am to catch bricks, so I may wait to raise until fourth street, to see what I catch.
About bricks: Any card you catch that does not improve your hand is a brick. When drawing low, bricks are any cards from a nine to a king.
Just how many bricks your hand can withstand before you fold depends on the bricks. If you start with A-2 of clubs and the 3 of hearts, catching a Jack of clubs may not be too bad. It depends on what the betting action is and what cards your opponents have whether to fold or continue. If you stay, and the next card is a small club, like the four, now you have a flush and low possibility. However if 5th street is a brick like the K of hearts, you should definitely fold. Other players may be “brick chasers” but it will just cost them money in the long run.
While there are many bad plays that happen in all poker games, in Stud H/L the bad plays involve pot odds as well. Chasing to try to draw out on your opponents made low, especially heads-up, is one common bad play. To play heads- up your hand should be good enough to win the whole pot. Playing to get your money back heads up just makes no sense; because of the house rake you may even lose money IF you get half. If you have a one way low draw, you need at least three players in the pot for it to be profitable.
The other useless heads-up play you will see often is the one way low raising the obvious high. An example is a player who has an 8 for low and no pairs raising the pair of Aces.
Maybe in the higher stakes games a player may muck the A-A against a low raiser, but never in lower limit games. Also, beware of your low hand with no Ace, as a better low with an Ace high could beat you both ways.
When playing Stud H/L always try to play for both sides of the pot. By having good hand selection and taking advantage of your opponent’s mistakes, you too can show a nice profit from the game!
Grab a Chair…see you there!