Monday, November 5, 2007

Online Stud Hi/Lo Strategy

Jason emailed me and said he started playing some Stud 8 tournaments to try to improve his game. He said he busted twice and came in second once and was looking for advice. Since we are all on the same team here I figure I might as well share my tips with the entire class so here it goes. Oh and one caveat, keep in mind that these tips are purely tooled to beat the low, middle, and high levels of play money tables online. These may or may not apply to live play and/or tournaments.

* First of all I wouldn't start with tournaments. I know that tournaments help you to cap your losses but in tourneys you are going to be forced to play bad hands due to blinds. And if you have a bad run of cards you will be getting mixed signals about what you are doing right or wrong. Personally I would start by playing on the play money tables or maybe micro-stakes. You can learn the basics and get a better feel for what a good hand is just by playing a lot.

* Jason noted that it appears strong starting hand requirements are important. No truer words were spoken. In hi/lo you can just about guarantee that SOMEONE will be going the opposite direction as you. If you try to bluff a low it won't matter because someone going hi is going to take you to the showdown and even if you made someone with a low fold, if you don't have a qualifying low and a crappy high then you are just going to be saying bye bye to your chips. Loose aggressive won't do squat at this game because you can never bet enough in limit to shake someone off. If you are super aggressive they will just check/call you to the river and you'll have to show your hand anyway.

* Jason said that he plays high for Kings or better and low for any three low cards provided he has two cards 3 or lower or any three wheel cards. Solid enough. I will typically complete when I come into a hand as a bet for value. I play so few hands that I am already favored when I come in so I want to pump the pot. Anyone willing to pay a bring in will generally pay for a complete as well. My starting hand requirements are as described below.
- Any three cards 8 or lower depending on what up cards I see and the action. If everyone is showing paint then I feel safe trying to make an 8 low. If I see someone completing with a 5 showing then I will keep an eye on them to see what cards they are catching.
- Any three wheel cards for sure. Suited even more so.
- I will cheat and allow myself one high card if they are all suited but need to catch a good card on 4th street to continue.
- Anything rolled up. These are so rare and can often win the hand by themselves. I think I read somewhere that you are 40% to boat up so I will put my foot to the floor with these on anything but the most expensive tables. These are the same as flopping a set in Hold'em, very powerful yet hard for others to detect. One hand I had KKK and I knew for sure that when a guy sped up on 5th street with a 5 hitting that he just tripped up, nothing else made sense for why he started leading the betting. I kept my foot on the gas and in the end he donated a bunch of chips with his losing three of a kind. This is the only pure high hand that I will play.

* As the saying goes, low hands can turn into high hands but not the other way around. If you start with a high hand the only way to scoop is to hope that no one is going for/making their low. Whereas low hands can scoop by flushing or straightening out.

* Scooping is super important. If you are playing high only, you want/need to be aggressive to try to shake off as many drawers as possible but doing so means that if you go heads up against a low you are betting money to try to just get it back and if the low catches good then you could end up with none of the pot. Why play for half the pot?

* Scooping is super important. Just had to say that again. Todd Brunson I think refers to that as the platinum rule.

* Don't chase. By fifth street you can see so many up cards you should know who is going high and who is going low. Combine that with betting action and you should have a very good idea of where you stand in the hand. If someone is showing what looks like a 7 high low, don't get involved if you are working on an 8 low. Kinda obvious but you'd be surprised. Remember, bluffing is not nearly as effective when you are
showing 4 of your cards.

* Do chase. Depending on your cards you may want to stay in late even if you haven't made your hand. Let's say on sixth street you have four to a low and two pair. Well at that point there are a ton of cards to help. You can either make a low or boat up with a lot of the deck and with limit betting you should be priced in if you have been betting your strong hand along the way. Sometimes you'll brick or make an uneventful three pair but there are definitely times to take a look at the river for a big bet.

* Keep an eye on other up cards. If you are working on a low and you see a smattering of other low cards in other players' up cards, those are that many more low cards that you cannot possibly get. I don't track folded up cards. I wish I had better memory for that stuff but there is not a ton of folding on the middle and lower levels. Besides, by the time people fold I usually have either made my hand or bailed on it already.

* When I'm running good and on my "A" game, sixth and seventh streets are pure value propositions. I've set myself up with a great starting hand. Allow myself to brick once then make a low then I can hammer the pot when I see others going only for high. This is especially true when you have "board lock" (when you made your low and can see that it is *impossible* for anyone else to even have a low. You are guaranteed half the pot and maybe more if you are working on straight or flush draw with your low.

* Cap the betting if you have a chance at a scoop. Let's say that you have board lock on the low and another player shows four to a straight on his up cards. You are both almost certainly going to just take your money back but if you have four to the flush you want to maximize your scoop so cap it and if you brick on 7th then you can just call the river and chop it up. But if you make your flush and scoop, you now have a few more big bets in your stack because of it. Conversely if you are playing for a high (don't know why you would be doing that but whatever) don't feed the pot if you could be scooped. A lot of players will just pour chips in because they figure they have a great high and they don't think through the repercussions of being scooped.

I have seen nothing to make me change my mind that Stud hi/lo is the softest game online. I am in no way an expert. But by just following simple algorithms for starting hand selection and for when to get out of a hand, this game has made a ton of money for me. That's all the tips that I can think of off the top of my head. Let me know if you have any questions.


jason said...

Thanks Martin, this is very helpful. Bluffing is indeed pointless. The only times where it might work is if you brick the river and it looks like your opponent is bricking. Or late in a tourney when it is 3 people or less and someone is short stacked.

Good pointers. You said you don't play for the high unless you are rolled up. I can't imagine you would throw away AA though even if you are stuck with a 9 to go with it. And would you play split kings?

Sushi Cowboy said...

You are correct. If you have a flushy or straighty clump of up cards and your opponent misses their low then you can throw out a bet on the end and maybe take it down. Problem is that a low that misses sometimes backs into two pair and will look you up.

To answer your question, I throw away hidden and split Aces or Kings all the time. Not sure how conventional that strategy is but a high pair is almost certainly going to need help against a semi-full table of callers. Remember that d0nks over estimate the odds of catching runner runner. I know it seems idiotic but some players sit with three to a low on fifth street and think that they can catch two perfects to their wheel. Theoretically possible of course but not nearly priced in enough. If I HAD to play a pair I think I would rather go with something like a JJQ double suited to give me more ways to make a hand. That way fourth street could give me trips, two pair, or a third suited connector. That is if I HAD to play a pair.

Late in a tourney I suppose I would have to open up the playbook somewhat. But I would rather give up antes than chase a bad hand. Once you get in as deep as fifth street then you easily fall into the "just one more card" syndrome and really throw away a lot of money.

Ryan said...

A lot of the theories that drive hi-lo strategy for S8 apply to O8 as well, particularly the "high hands can't become low" and "scoop scoop scoop."

Figuring out how brutal to be with my O8 hands that can't make a low is one of the tings I'm working on in my O8 game. How good does a high-only hand have to be to play?

Marshall said...

How good does a high-only hand have to be to play?

Martin says: The nuts.

Sushi Cowboy said...

I suppose I'd be a sucker for something like TJQ suited and try to catch something on 4th street to keep me in. But by and large I'm just not interested in high hands. If you are on a straight draw, why not make it a low straight draw that could scoop? If you are on a flush draw, why not a low one especially with the A playing high for the straight?

I will repeat my caveat, this is the formula that I've been using for online free money ring play only. But soooo many players are enticed by a high pair they think the game is Hold'em. Some are just so ridiculous. If they show down their cards I pull up the screen that shows the last hand and they are treating split Aces like the stone cold nuts. Then they continue on without improvement or maybe get Aces up and bet into the teeth of someone showing 4 Hearts or other fairly obvious hands. Then, surprise, they lose the hand. Curious.

I will even throw away great low only hands sometimes. If it's third street and I end up going heads up against a probable high and I have no reasonable draw to scoop, I just let it go. *IF* I make my low I'm just getting my money back. And if it's only heads up with antes and a couple bring ins or even two completes, there just isn't enough money to fight over. I fold it and move on to the next hand.

If I get a hand and can't answer the question "how can I scoop with this?" then it is 99% sure to be mucked. Any high only hand is either rolled up or purely for entertainment purposes like chasing a straight flush.

I'm sure I'll have to make adjustments for live tourney play though.