High Low Poker Games
An exciting variation on traditional Poker games are those in which the player with the lowest hand wins. The most popular versions of low-card games are Omaha Hi/Lo, Seven Stud Hi/Lo, Lowball Ace to 5 and 2 to 7 (triple draw and single draw) and Razz (a form of Seven Stud Low). In most of these games, the winning version is limited to “8 or better,” meaning that a winning hand must have no higher than an 8 as its top card.
For this example, let’s look at Lowball, sometimes called California Lowball. Basically, Lowball is Five-Card Draw Poker, but with the lowest hand winning instead of the highest. This game is played in both “Ace to 5” and “2 to 7” versions, which describe the range of low cards that make up the worst hands. Lowball also can be either single draw or triple draw, meaning that players either get one or three chances to get new cards from the dealer in hopes of making the lowest hand.
Depending on which version you’re playing, the lowest hand can be the one with the lowest numbers, A-2-3-4-5, which is known as “the bike” or “the wheel.” In this variation, straights and flushes don’t count, so A-2-3-4-5 is the lowest hand no matter what suits a player holds. However, when the lowest hand is defined as the “worst” hand, then straights and flushes matter, so the best hand is A-2-3-4-6, unsuited.
As with high-card games, each of these low-card variations can be played with any of the four betting structures: spread limit, pot limit, fixed limit and no limit. The specific denominations of each variation are either set by mutual agreement in home games and by house rules in casino games. For these reasons, beginning players are well advised to pick one variation such as Lowball Ace to 5 fixed-limit and learn to play it well before attempting something else.
How to read low hands
Low-card games like Lowball or split-pot games like Omaha hi-lo are popular because there’s a winner for the “best” low hand. It’s easy to count high-card hands, but it takes a real expert to learn how to read low hands and know whether a winning hand is possible with the cards dealt.
Here’s a list of low hands for standard “Ace to five” low-card hands and hi-lo games. If the game is “deuce to seven” or “2 to 7,” then the strategy is to make the worst possible hand without making a straight or a flush.
1. A-2-3-4-5 (known as “the bike” or “the wheel”)
Finally, keep in mind that this article has barely skimmed the surface of how to play Poker variations and different betting structures. A dedicated Poker player will learn all the details he or she can about strategies in order to enjoy the game and make some money.