7 Card Stud Hi/Lo: Starting Hands

Starting Hand Selection in Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo 8 or Better

When I played Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo for the first time, I thought: "Wow, this is great, due to the fact that there are two ways to win the pot you can play many more starting hands."

I didn't know how wrong my assumption was. Exactly the opposite was the case! First of all you should be aware of the fact that if you enter a pot with a good starting hand, in 40 percent of all cases you are only playing for the high half of the pot, in case you are really holding the best high hand at the showdown. If you have a good low hand, in the majority of cases you are playing for the other half of the pot if you make your low. 

There are several Pot-Limit Omaha players, who are successful in the long run despite a relatively loose starting hand selection. But I don't know one single loose Hi/Lo player who is a winning player in the long term.

Basically your strategic aim should always be to scoop the pot, thus win the whole pot without splitting, when you enter a hand. Considering this, you will realize that in Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo a much greater importance is attached to the low hands than to the serious starting hands in Seven Card Stud Hi. In order to give you a better overview I have divided the respective starting hands into groups. They are sorted in descending order with regard to their relative strength.

Group 1: Trips or Three-Card Straight Flush Draws

The best starting hands are trips (rolled up) and three low cards to a straight flush draw. Generally, trips should never be played slow in Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo. Especially in a multiway pot you will often only be able to split the pot, sometimes the pot is scooped as well, because one of the low hands makes a straight or flush in the end while you can't improve your hand to a full house. This is why you should make the next card expensive as long as your opponents are actually drawing.
The three-card straight flush draw is so precious, since it offers you an excellent opportunity to scoop the pot, namely with a straight or a flush. In some cases you are already free rolling on Fifth Street. You are holding a made low and at the same time you are on a flush or straight draw. If you are playing against a high hand you can only lose half of the pot if worst comes to worst. Consequently, you never risk your own money and should therefore make the pot as big as possible right from the start of the hand.

Group 2: A Pair of Aces With a Low Card

As already mentioned in the introduction, the ace is a very important card in Stud Hi/Lo. On the one hand a pair of aces is the best possible high hand, on the other hand an ace also counts as the lowest card in a qualifying low hand. It is precisely this ambivalence that makes up the special significance. As with the hands included in group 1, you should also try to scoop the pot with this starting hand. There is again no reason not to make the pot as big as possible, thus you should raise or reraise as long as possible.
When you have an ace as door card, the opponents less often suspect that you have a pair of aces when you raise than in the Hi variant of Seven Card Stud.

Group 3: Three Connected Low Cards (Straight Draw) and 2 Low Cards with an Ace

Although these hands are a small underdog against a big pair - such as a pair of kings - in a heads-up situation, they should be played aggressively as well. In Stud Hi/Lo there is far more often multiway action on Third Street than in Stud Hi and this is precisely where these kinds of hands develop their relative strength with regard to the opportunity to scoop the pot.
These hands have a lot of potential which not only consists of the obvious opportunity to scoop the pot with a straight, but also with other hands like e.g. two pair. However, when we have a hand that belongs to group 3, we should consider the number of live cards. If there are some of the required cards already visible, you should play these starting hands less aggressively.

Group 4: The Obvious Best High Hand

If you are convinced that you alone have the best high hand, you should also play as aggressively as possible right from the start. Especially against several opponents who are obviously on a low draw it is recommeded to raise or reraise. A lot of low draws mean that there are only few low cards left in the deck and the probability that somebody makes his low on Seventh Street is therefore significantly smaller. At the same time the aggressive play on Third Street serves to reduce the number of opponents and thus the number of potentially better high hands.

Group 5: Three High Cards as Straight Flush Draw

In contrast to Seven Card Stud this hand isn't that strong in the Hi/Lo variant. Although it looks nice at first glance, it actually isn't that strong.
The reason for this is obvious: In many cases only play for the high half of the pot. If you miss your draw and you don't have another possibility to win the high hand like e.g. a pair, you will lose the entire pot in the end against an opponent with a made low who coincidentally also has a pair of threes. You should only play this hand if you are able to realize that the required cards are live cards.

Group 6: Small Pairs with an Ace or Small Kicker

From group 5 on, a hand generally should only be played depending on the situation with regard to the previous action and the upcards of the opponents. When playing starting hands that belong to group 6 (see below), this tendency will even intensify. In several cases neither the pair is good enough to win the high half nor is the low draw in order to win the other half of the pot. In the course of the hand you will have to invest a lot of money just to find out in the end that you will have to go away empty-handed. Concerning the low draw, you should consider as well that you need three - instead of two - fitting low cards.

In general small pairs with an ace as kicker are considered to be a little bit stronger, but they are only playable when the required cards are live cards. When playing hands that are in this group it is advantageous to see Fourth Street as cheap as possible. If there are already several raises on Third Street, you should fold these hands immediately.

Group 7: Three Low Cards up to the Seven

Weak players lose more money than they win in the long run with these kinds of starting hands. Right from the start you only play for the low half of the pot. Even though miracles happen every once in a while and you might hit runner runner trips or two pair and therefore win the pot in the end. In principal you should only call if several obvious high hands fight for the high half while the low cards are live. You try to see Fourth Street as cheap as possible and continue to play the hand passively.

Of course, there are a lot of other starting hands that look good, but should be folded at all costs in Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo 8 or Better:

  • Three low cards up to the eight

This hand is only playable if we are sure that we are the only player who is on a low draw, at least two players compete for the high half of the pot, none of them has an ace open and the low cards are live cards.

  • Three cards bigger than an eight for a flush or straight draw
Strong straight and flush draws are always a bad precondition when you enter a pot, since you are in most cases only playing for the high half of the pot and it is even unlikely that you will make your straight or flush and hold a made hand on Seventh Street.
  • Small pairs with middle kicker or good kicker (except for the ace)
A starting hand such as should be folded straight away and without hesitation. These hands play only for the high half of the pot and on top of that they are often beaten by a low draw that coincidentally makes a pair of sevens in the course of the hand.

The middle cards are the worst starting hands in Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo. Each or in your starting hand performs extremely poorly in the long run. Beginners often let themselves be carried away to call with a pair and lose a lot of money by doing this on a regular basis. In particular, if the own door card is a or you should almost always fold. The other experienced players know exactly that these hands perform poorly and will immediately make adjustments concerning the quality when it comes to starting hand selection.

In conclusion it is important to keep in mind that significantly fewer starting hands should be played in Hi/Lo than in the high variant. This will inevitably lead to frequent folds. Discipline as well as patience, characteristics that are vital in poker anyway, are therefore very important in this game.