Seven Card Stud Hi/Low Poker – Tournament

by Steve Badger

7 Card Stud High Low Split is one of the more mechanical poker games, but it tends to bedevil most players, particularly in poker tournament structure.

Tournament fields break down into several player group/types. One group consists of the regular professional tournament players who play all games. In general, a great skill they have is to play within the limited bankroll structure of tournaments. Another group are specialists, players who excel at one game, in whatever format, be it ring games or tournaments, who normally play almost all the tournaments in their specialty but almost no others.

The most common group that fits this latter definition are Los Angeles Lowball players. There are still a smattering a Lowball ring games around, but every Lowball tournament brings out about three or four dozen fine tournament Lowball players who either play very few other tournaments, or none at all. Ten years ago Lowball tournaments were some of the juiciest, dead-money events available, mostly because normal ring game lowball players are simply awful tournament players. The skills don’t translate at all. Drawing to eights and drawing two leads to the rail pretty quickly. These days however those draw-to-eights players are nearly extinct, and we are left with only all the best-adapted Lowball specialists entering. Consequently, Lowball tournaments aren’t nearly the pillow-y soft events they used to be.

“Game players” make up another group. One simple way to describe them is to say they are non-specialists who think they are specialists. They play ring games in a particular game reasonably well, even excellently, but they simply have almost no tournament skills.

Limit Holdem tournaments have the most of these type players, but the high level of short-term random luck in Holdem gives these players a decent shot. In 7 Card Stud eight tournaments on the other hand, game players are as dead meat as meat can get. No game fundamentally changes its complexion more between ring games and tournaments, and during tournaments themselves, than Stud eight. Game players who say “I play the same always” might as well just mail in their money. They need the intervention of the hand of God and an Uzi to be the last person standing in a Stud eight event.

In Stud eight ring games, the focus is on making strong scooping low hands. Those are the hands that are bettable, that can semi-bluff out mediocre high hands on fifth and sixth street, can often freeroll during multiway betting, and that when they miss you are left with nothing at all and don’t end up losing extra bets on the final betting round (whereas they always get the extra bet when they win). I won’t go into Stud eight ring game strategy here, but to oversimplify it, you play hands with low cards.

This basic ring game strategy also happens to be how you should approach the first round of a Stud eight tournament (perhaps two rounds depending on the chips you get). But after you get past the first or second round, everything changes — unless you have managed to build up a lot of chips in the first round by making one or two big, scooping hands. If you have built up your chips, if you have a deep bankroll similar to what you would have in a ring game, then you can continue to play speculative hands that can scoop huge pots. But if you haven’t accumulated chips via scooping one or more multiway pots early, you must completely change how you play Stud eight.

In later stages of a Stud eight tournament, any player showing an ace up will normally make a move at the pot and will usually get away with it. Aside from not screwing up in these situations, the way to play Stud eight tournaments in later rounds is: play high cards. Game players very often reach the later stages of Stud eight events and crash on the rocks of something like 345, a very playable hand in a ring game, but pure sucker’s meat when you only have enough chips to play one or two hands all the way to the end… and will normally be head-up in whatever hand you play. (If you have the bring-in with 345, and someone completes it to a full bet, then calling the complete will usually be right.)

All High-Low split poker is fundamentally about winning the high portion of the pot — ideally by scooping the pot. Stud eight has many betting rounds. Speculative hands love getting multiway odds, but they hate having to call bets all the way to the last card, and then being all-in when they either make or miss their hand. Split Kings are a miserable starting hand in Stud eight ring games. Split Kings are the road to victory at the end of Stud eight tournaments. The game gets turned completely on its head.

As I’ve said before, adapt or die. Stud eight tournaments are the adapters heaven, and the rigidbots nightmare. There are rare times when low cards should be played late — cards are live, multiple high hands in the pot, good position, etc. But usually: play low cards early; play high cards late.