There are three variants of 7-card stud that are played in poker rooms today:
- 7-card stud (stud), where the best standard high hand wins the pot.
- Razz - where the best low hand wins the pot.
- 7-card stud high-low, where the best high and hand and the best low hand split the pot.
7-card stud high-low, is nearly always played with a qualifier for low, whereby the low hand only wins half the pot if it is at least an 8 low or better.
With that qualifier, the game is known as 7-card stud, high-low, 8 qualifier for low. This is generally shortened to “Stud/8”. In mixed games, like HORSE or HOSE or OE, Stud8 is the “E”.
How the game is dealt:
The deal in stud/8 is the same as 7-card stud, with a few small exceptions.
Stud8 is almost always played with an ante, just like stud and razz. This ante, generally 10% of the small bet, is placed in the pot before the deal of the hand.
Stud8, like stud and razz, is usually played “fixed limit”, with fixed bets and raises on every betting round. The first two betting rounds, known as “third street” and “fourth street” respectively, are designated the lower tier of betting; while the latter three streets, “fifth street”, “sixth street”, and “seventh street” (usually known as the “river”) are designated the higher tier of betting. So, for example, in $15/30 stud8, players bet or raise $15 on third or fourth street, and $30 on fifth, sixth, and the river. (Unlike in stud, there is no option to bet the higher tier on fourth street when an exposed pair is dealt to a player).
First Betting Round, Third Street:
Beginning to the immediate left of the dealer, each player receives three cards, dealt one at a time, the first two of which are dealt face down; the last card is dealt face up. The player with the lowest exposed card must initiate the betting with a “bring-in bet”, that is generally roughly a third of the small bet. (Rarely, the required forced bet is the highest exposed card, as in razz. This used to be more common in public card rooms, but is now a practice you will only find, if at all, in private games).
If there is a tie in the rank of the exposed card, the player with the lowest ranking suit (ascending: clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades) is required to make the forced bet. He may also elect to begin the betting with the full lower tier bet. So, for example, in the $20/40 stud/8 game, after all players ante $3, and the cards are dealt, the lowest exposed card must make a $5 forced bet, but may elect to come out for the full $20 bet.
Once the forced bet is made, opponents may call, fold, or complete the bet to the full amount. There after, players may raise the bet. Generally there are three raises allowed in addition to the completion.
Second Betting Round, Fourth Street
Each remaining player receives one additional card dealt face up. The player with the highest exposed card has the initial option of beginning the betting or passing that option to his immediate left by checking. The betting then continues through the round, with each successive player allowed to check or initiate the bet. Once the bet is initiated, players must either call the bet, raise it, or fold.
Third, Fourth, and Fifth Betting Rounds: Fifth Street, Sixth Street, and the River
The remaining streets are played like fourth street, with the only difference being that the bet size increases (it generally doubles). The card on the river, the last betting round, is dealt face down. On the river, if there is more than one player left, after the last bet or raise is called, there is a showdown.
Awarding the pot at showdown
Stud8 is a split pot game with a qualifier for low. If there is a low hand of at least 8 low or better, the pot is divided in half, with half going to the best low hand and half going to the best high hand. If there is an extra chip, it is divided into the lowest denomination chip allowed in the game, with the extra low chip, if there is one, going to the high hand. If there is no qualifying low hand, the best high hand wins the entire pot. The game is played “cards speak”, just as stud and razz are. If a player fails to notice that his hand qualifies for low, or wins high, or wins both, it is not held against him. The dealer awards him the pot according to the cards he has in front of him, not his reading of those cards.
High hands are ranked exactly as in stud, with players making their best 5-card poker hand from the seven cards they are dealt. For low, straights and flushes do not count. The best low is known as “the wheel”. It is 5-4-3-2-1. Aces always count as low cards. Players may make two different hands from their seven cards. For example, a player holding Ad 6d 6s 7c Kd 3d 8d could make an Ace high flush for high: Ad Kd 8d 6d 3d. And he could make an qualifying low with 8d 7c 6s 3d Ad.
The nature of the game, with the possible final division of the pot between two hands, leads beginning, poor, and average players, to an incorrect conclusion about the goal of the game. This understandable, but incorrect conclusion is the chief reason they lose money. It is also the source of profit for the good player who understands the proper strategy.
5 Tips for Beating Stud8 Hi-Lo
Superficially, it looks like the goal in Stud8 should be to attempt to win at least half the pot, by having either the best high hand, the best low hand, or both the best high and low hand. In that sense, each hand of Stud8 is really two games played at the same time – stud and razz. Accordingly, the range of starting hands would combine the correct starting hands for stud and the correct starting hands for razz. But even though this may sound logical, it is completely wrong!
Here are five strategy Tips, for stud8, that should get you headed in the right direction.
Tip #1: Aim to Win Entire Pot, NOT Half!
You want to play starting hands that have the potential to scoop the pot. Focus on those hands alone. Unlike in Stud or razz, hands that are strong in one direction only, are often not playable.
Simply put, most of the time, you should usually fold hands that you think likely to win only half the pot.
Tip #2: Play Fewer Hands
There’s a temptation to play a broader range of starting hands – since you can win with either the best high or the best low hand. This strategy is pure folly. You are aiming for a hand that can win both ways. Generally,in Stud8 you are looking at a narrower range of playable hands than in either Stud or razz.
Strong, playable hands in Stud8 include three consecutive or suited low cards, three low cards including an Ace, a pair of Aces and a low card, and a 6 with two other low cards. To be sure, there are other hands that can be playable, even if they are clearly “one-way hands”. You can play 3-of-a-kind and usually the highest pair on Third Street (if it’s a pair of Queens or higher).
Depending on the nature of your opponents, the exposed cards, and the exact nature of your hand, you can sometimes play three low cards 7 or 8 and lower, even without straight or flush potential.
But if you only played the shortlist of hands above, with no exception for any one-way hands, you wouldn’t be too far wrong, no matter what the circumstances.
Tip #3: Pay Close Attention to Exposed Low Cards
Card memory is an essential skill in all Stud games. But it is of paramount importance in Stud8. On Third Street, you want to make sure that the low cards you need to complete your low are live.
For example, with a holding of (6s 4c) 2d, you would surely want to play if you saw the following board:
2c, Ks, Qd, 6h, 9c, 6d, 4h
But you’d be likely to fold to a raise if the board were:
3c, 5d, 7c, Ah, Ad, Ks, 3d
In the former hand, 20 cards of the 42 remaining cards will help you make your low hand. In the latter hand, 14 of the 42 remaining cards will help you make your low -nearly 50% of the cards versus 33% of the cards. That’s a huge difference!
Tip #4: Be Careful With High Pairs
There are so many ways a high pair like Kings or Queens can end up second best. A low hand can hit a second pair or a set or a flush or a straight. A low hand with an Ace can hit a pair of Aces and then Aces up.
Especially if you are not a great player, you are often best just avoiding high pairs (other than Aces) in the first place, unless it looks like you are just going against other high hands.
If, for example, you see only door cards that are 9 or higher on Third Street, you may raise with your KK., knowing you are essentially playing Stud, and not Stud8. Similarly, if your KK are in the hole, and your door card is a babe, you may play this well-disguised hand – at least until you have a reason to think you are second best.
And under all circumstances, if an opponent gets an Ace and bets, even if you think he may be playing a low, you should almost surely fold, as a pair of Aces may well dominate you.
Pointer #5: Seeing River Isn’t Always The Case
In Stud and Razz, the size of the pot by 6th street has grown so large relative to the size of a single bet, that it almost always makes sense to call a sixth street bet to see the river, if you have already called on Fifth Street to see 6th street. This case is not the same in Stud8 when it frequently makes sense to fold - for two reasons.
Firstly, in Stud8, against more than one opponent, you will often have to call a full four bets to see the river. An opponent confident of his low against an opponent confident in his high may each be trying to make it expensive for you to draw a winner.
Secondly, with the possibility of splitting the pot, the size of the pot you win will often be half of what it would be in a game without a split pot.
The five tips above will not make you a great Stud8 player. But they will surely point you in the direction of winning play – while many of your lesser-skilled opponents are making significant mistakes.