This is the final installment in the "Mixed Games " series of articles. Of all the games played in HORSE, stud8 (stud hi/lo eight or better) offers the greatest chance for you to develop an enormous advantage over your opponents. Almost no one at the small stakes has any clue how to play this game. A basic strategy will put you well ahead of the competition. Through practice and further study you can raise your game light years beyond the competition.
As with omaha8, the object of stud8 is to scoop the pot. You can scoop by having the best high and best low hands or by having the best high hand with no qualifying low. In omaha8, a significant portion of the hands will fail to have a qualifying low hand. In stud8, this is much rarer. You should expect someone to have a low hand if you are three-handed on the end. Thus you must play accordingly. You will need a strong low hand and a strong high hand. In many ways, stud8 is a combination of razz and stud, but it is not just a combination. Stud8 is more complex and more difficult to play well than just the sum of the two component games. Good starting hands in stud are not always good for stud8 and similarly for good razz hands.
Starting ‘rolled up' (three of a kind or a set) is still an incredibly powerful hand (as in stud), but I'd rank the top four sets in the following order: Aces, fives, eights, sevens. The aces are pretty obvious, since you also have a slight chance of making a low hand. Why do I drop down to fives rather than kings? If you have kings, you are simply going to be playing the high end of the pot with no chance to scoop unless you get very lucky and no one qualifies a low-hand. With fives and eights, however, you also have a chance to scoop.
But why the fives in front of the eights and sevens? If you have fives, there is only one remaining five that players drawing to lows can have. When you take away the fives, straights are really unlikely, and that is very, very good for your set. Any low hand needs a five to make a straight, and your set takes away all but one of them. With kings, you might end up losing the high half of the pot to a low hand that makes a straight. With fives, the chances of this are incredibly small.
A set of eights also takes away three possible straight cards, but there are several other straight combinations possible. An additional advantage of the aces, fives and eights is that opponents cannot tell if you are drawing at the high or the low. You can often bet them off a low draw if your board looks like you've hit a low. If you have a K as your door card, everyone pretty well knows you are playing for the high half of the pot.
Moving down from the sets, we have pairs. The only paired hand a beginner should play is aces and this needs to be with a kicker of 7 or better (i.e., lower).
This brings us rather quickly to the unpaired hands. As with razz, a three card 7 is a good starting hand, but you really need to have some high hand possibilities. Thus, a 3-4-7 has some straight possibilities, though you have to catch perfectly. This hand is border line and I would only limp with it in late position with several other players limping into the pot. I would not call a raise. A hand like 7-6-5, however, is a good starting hand. Similarly, a suited A-2-7 is a good hand, since you have both the flush and low draw possibilities. If you have a three card seven, like an unsuited 7-5-2, fold this hand to any raise. The reason is because you only have a one-way hand. You must catch three perfect cards to make a straight, and you do not want to be in that position. One last note, one of the best starting hands you can see is a three-card straight flush of low cards, such as . You obviously have great high and low possibilities here.
At the lower levels you generally want to bring it in for a raise with any of the starting hands, since your raises will usually get multiple callers. If you happen to find yourself in the extremely rare game in which players fold to raises in a high-low split game, then limp in with your trips from nines up to kings. You need a multi-way pot to play those hands profitably since you have no chance whatsoever at the low end of the pot, and to make up for that you need a big pot.
For separate considerations, you want a multiway pot with the monster two-way hands (like ), which can stand to play a multiway pot. Your low draws and high draws are good and you have an excellent chance to scoop a huge pot. These situations when the table is tight will be very, very rare at the lower levels of mixed games and even on up to mid-stakes, so plan on raising pretty much every hand.
Let's turn our attention to 4th street play. In general, follow J.B.‘s advice on stud play and use healthy pessimism. If you have trips, then, naturally, you will keep the aggression on no matter what happens on 4th street, as you will still have the best hand here almost every time. With other hands you will be in either a heads-up situation or a multi-way pot.
Let's take multi-way action first. If you catch better than your opponents, obviously you bet. If you catch "bad" and your opponents catch "good", you need to seriously consider folding the hand. This is a judgment call based on your read of your opponents and what draws you think are still good. For example, if both of your opponents appear to be on low draws and your hand is 2-4-5-K, you might consider continuing to play since you have a very good low draw. If you find yourself heads-up, and you were the aggressor on 3rd street you should bet every time unless you catch bad (i.e., your board looks bad) and your opponent catches good. In that case, a fold is usually good. The only exception would be if your card gave you a very, very good shot at one half of the pot.
The key street in stud8 is 5th street. If you decide to continue with the hand here, you will almost always see it through to 7th street. The general rule to follow here is: you need a two-way hand or a one-way hand that is very, very strong. The name of the game is to scoop the pot. That's why you need a hand with two live draws. You don't want half the pot; you want the whole thing. Here's another rule: on 5th street if you only have a one-way hand, you need a 75% chance of escaping with half the pot. This means that you need a very strong one-way hand, not just a live one. If, however, you have half the pot locked up, you can stay in, especially if there are two players fighting for the low half. In that case you need to keep pushing money in the pot.
If you have caught two paint cards after starting with your 3-4-5, you need to fold. Don't put any more money in the pot. Less clear situations will come up, however. Say you started with: and your next two cards were . Just looking at this hand, you can see that your low hand possibilities are miniscule. Your high hand is just a pair of aces. You will need to judge the hand and whether to continue based on your opponent's boards. Let's say you are up against: and . Both hands have flush and straight possibilities. Here, I would strongly consider folding if bet into since I only have a one-way hand and I can easily get scooped. My high-hand is not very, very strong. It is very, very vulnerable. Even if my high-hand is still best, I can easily be outdrawn on the next two streets. If I'm only up against one possible high drawing hand, I strongly consider folding a pair of aces for the same reasons. My low hand here is also not too great. I'm against at least one better low draw. Moreover, four of my low cards are out. This is a bad situation. Healthy pessimism says fold.
6th street plays in a very straightforward way. If your hand was good enough to continue on 5th street, it is almost certainly good enough to continue now. The only exceptions are when your opponent has an extremely strong board, such as . It's a pretty easy fold, no matter what you have. Even trip aces are in bad shape. The only two hole cards that don't have you beat are non-spade aces and two's. Of course, if you have a full house, then you are tied on to the hand.
When you get to 7th street, you'll obviously fold if you've caught poorly and not made a hand. If you have a hand that can scoop, you can consider raising but if you've only made one half of the pot, I'd only raise if it were multi-way and I was very sure I had the best end of one half. In that case, you are trapping the losing hand. If you are heads-up with an opponent who very likely only has one half of the pot and you have good hands on both ends, raise it up. When you scoop the pot, it will more than make up for the extra few cents in rake you lose when you split.
This concludes the mixed games series. As I said in the opener, the low limit mixed games are some of the softest games around. Most of the players have almost no idea how to play any game other than hold'em and even at hold'em they are quite bad. Combine the profitability with a bonus offer, and you've got a nice opportunity to build a bankroll for a player starting out. Pokerworks offers sign up bonuses at both Ultimate Bet and PokerStars , and both these sites offer mixed games, such as HORSE, so jump in and give it a try. If you want to review some of the applicable articles you can check out the articles I wrote on Razz and Omaha8 along with J.B.‘s stud series.