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Poker Strategy With Kevin Haney: Having A Scoop Advantage In Stud Eight-Or-Better

Haney Explains Why Scooping Is The Name Of The Game

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Thus far in this long running series aimed at getting new players exposed to and interested in mixed-games we have focused exclusively on the draw variants, as they are an unknown quantity to many players. However, we need to work seven card stud eight-or-better (otherwise known as stud 8) into the rotation as it is a fixture in many mixed games.

Stud 8 is a split-pot game where the best high hand splits with the best low hand, as long as the best low is at least an eight-or-better. If no qualifying low is made, the best high hand will scoop the pot. Experience in stud high is certainly very helpful, but not a prerequisite to learning stud 8.

A low qualifier creates a necessary balance between high and low hands, because without it, low hands have too much of an advantage. Stud hi-lo used to be regularly spread without a qualifier, and in that game high pairs are sucker hands because a low hand would often have half of the pot locked up by fifth street.

For example, if you start out with (KClub Suit QSpade Suit) KDiamond Suit, the best possible low you can make is a queen. So in a heads-up pot, you would simply be happy to get your money back.

In stud 8, however, a pair of kings is often quite a good hand because it has a much better chance to win the entire pot. While the qualifier provides for a greater equilibrium among different hand types, most of the better holdings in stud 8 are still low oriented.

Aces through eights account for 32 out of the 52 cards in the deck (62 percent) thus low starting hands have a high probability to improve and develop strong boards. In addition, when someone completes a low against an obvious high hand, it will be a in a highly-desired freeroll position.

For example, on fifth street (3Club Suit 4Spade Suit) 6Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit 2Spade Suit is freerolling a hand like (8Spade Suit KHeart Suit) KDiamond Suit 9Spade Suit JClub Suit and has the potential to scoop with either a five or a runner-runner two pair or trips on the final two streets.

That said, high holdings can be very profitable in stud 8 as well, assuming we play them well. Playing well mostly entails making sure you start with the best high holding more often than not, as continually getting involved with the second-best high hand is a substantial leak that is very difficult to overcome in the long run. In any split-pot game, the goal is to reduce the frequency of getting stuck in the middle between two better hands as that is where you get squeezed and punished.

The Importance Of Scooping

Scooping is the name of the game. Whenever we don’t think we have a good chance to scoop the pot we should always strongly consider folding, especially if it is early on in the hand and there is very little in the way of dead money in the pot.

For example, if we call a probable pair of kings on third street with a hand such as (2Heart Suit 6Spade Suit) 7Club Suit we have very little chance to scoop as this holding is quite a longshot to beat out the kings for high. Rough low holdings such as these with limited high potential should typically be folded on third street unless we are the first to enter the pot and have a chance to steal the antes.

It’s readily apparent to most players that we don’t make that much money chopping a heads-up pot as we are basically just splitting the antes. However, some may not realize just how much better it is to scoop a three-way pot than it is to split it.

Let’s examine the math. Suppose we are playing an eight-handed $40-$80 with a $10 ante, a $10 bring-in bet, and in a three-way pot there is a bet on every street. At the conclusion of the hand there will be $1,040 in the middle:

If Hero splits the pot with Villain A, he will net a $30 profit from the antes (Hero and Villain A both take back their ante) and chop up Villain B for a total profit of $190. However, if instead we were fortunate to win the entire pot, we would reap a huge profit of $710.

Some players are under the impression that scooping is only twice as good as chopping, yet as we can see in the chart above it is nearly four times better. Also, as the hand is played out there is much less inherent risk when playing with scoop possibilities, as opposed to the times we are mostly just hoping to split.

Equity Versus Expected Value And Scoop Advantage

The concepts of equity and expected value (EV) are familiar to most players. In one-winner games, equity represents the odds of winning the pot assuming all players involved in the hand go to showdown. In a game such as stud 8 it is more accurately represented as the expected percentage of the pot one is expected to receive when incorporating possible split pots. Equity can easily be calculated using one of the numerous free simulators available without the need of assumptions other than the range of hands that your opponent(s) can have.

Expected value is the amount we expect to win (or lose) with our holding against our opponent’s hand or range if we modeled out the play of the hand. EV is much more complicated to calculate and requires a great deal of assumptions in addition to more advanced software. Without software, we can make educated guesses that some hands or situations are positive or negative EV, however, it will be impossible to prove.

Some holdings that we may choose to play are more valuable with a higher EV than their equity would suggest, while others are worth much less. Hands with a higher EV than their equity would suggest would be those with implied odds and a good chance of profitably reaching showdown (i.e. realizing their equity). With these holdings we would mostly expect to scoop our opponents more often than they scoop us.

Since equity doesn’t tell the entire story and EV is extremely difficult to calculate, is there any other measure available to help gauge how strong (or weak) our holdings are in various situations that we may face? The answer is yes. We can also look at how often we will scoop our opponents versus how often they scoop us, and notice the size of the advantage or disadvantage. The amount of times one hand scoops against another assuming both players reach showdown is also readily available using free equity simulators.

As an example, suppose (9Heart Suit KDiamond Suit) KSpade Suit completes from early position and we choose to call with (2Heart Suit 6Spade Suit) 7Club Suit because we are playing in a high-ante game and feel that the price we are getting is too good to fold even though it’s highly likely we are up against kings. In this matchup, while we do have very reasonable 41 percent “hot/cold” equity, there is more to consider than that.

If we plug these hands into an equity simulator the (9Heart Suit KDiamond Suit) KSpade Suit will scoop 216,375 of the 600,000 trials compared with 113,196 for the (2Heart Suit 6Spade Suit) 7Club Suit. Thus, in terms of scoop advantage, the pair of kings holds almost a 2:1 advantage over the low hand, which is much better than the approximate 3:2 advantage indicated by the equities.

In practice, the low hand won’t get scooped as often as this indicates as it will usually hit the muck when it hasn’t picked up at least four to a low or a pair by fourth or fifth street. However, this isn’t necessarily a really good thing as it just means the low hand will struggle to realize its equity, which is another inherent disadvantage to the holding.

Sometimes the low hand will pick up a really scary board which will cause an unimproved pair of kings to fold, however, the high pair will realize its equity more often than a rough low draw in addition to holding the scoop advantage.

The size of the scoop advantage tells a more complete story than the “hot/cold” equities especially when it is early in the hand and there is not a lot of dead money in the pot. The ability to effectively realize your equity is also very important, a topic we will examine further in the next issue. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary of MetLife but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. He is co-owner of Elite Fitness Club in Oceanport, NJ and is a certified personal trainer. With regards to poker he got his start way back in 2003 and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. His new mixed-games website Counting Outs is a great starting resource for a plethora of games ranging from the traditional to the exotic. He can be reached at haneyk612@gmail.com.