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Poker Strategy: Going High In Stud Eight-Or-Better

Kevin Haney Explains When To Play High-Only Starting Cards In Stud8


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Since there is a qualifier to win the low half of the pot, high hands can be quite profitable in Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better (Stud 8), provided we play the correct hands in the right situations. We should not, however, come close to playing the same amount of high oriented holdings that we would pursue in Stud High, as that would be a recipe for disaster. The following principles below will help guide our play with regards to high holdings.

Start With The Best Hand More Often Than Not

In Stud High, we can enter the pot much more liberally with a possible second-best hand for a couple of reasons. The first is that in Stud High, an open complete with a hand like a king or a queen up is less likely to be a high pair and more likely to be a total steal than in Stud 8. The second reason is that in Stud High, when we go uphill and end up with the best hand we are rewarded with the entire pot. That will obviously not always be the case in split pot.

For example, when playing Stud High someone who opens from early position with a king up may have as little as a jack and a nine in the hole. Whereas in Stud 8, we will almost never see a villain open that light. In Stud 8, any of the low cards are a much greater threat to contest the pot and the bring-in has one-third of a playable hand showing, so steals get through much less often. In High-Low, while they may not always have a pair of kings, chances are they have at least a pair in the hole or a three-flush, which makes their overall range much stronger.

If the KSpade Suit completes from early position and a player showing the 6Heart Suit calls, we should fold a pair of queens or else we will constantly end up in situations such as the following.

(3Heart Suit 4Diamond Suit) 6Heart Suit – 41% equity
(KClub Suit 9Heart Suit) KSpade Suit – 36% equity
(QSpade Suit 2Heart Suit) QDiamond Suit – 23% equity

As you can see by these hands, we are taking the worst of it from an equity perspective and may also have some difficulty in realizing the somewhat low equity we do have. On fourth street, if the 6Heart Suit picks up a low card our situation is quite bad because we will often face a bet and a raise or end up in a jammed pot. In addition, we have reverse implied odds against a probable pair of kings since we will never know if/when he pairs his kicker.

High Draws Must Be Very Live And Strong

Since we will often just win half of the pot, and end up with little showdown value if we miss our draws, it is imperative that any draws we do pursue have strong potential and are also live. Open completing a very strong hand such as (10Spade Suit QSpade Suit) KSpade Suit from early position or even re-raising this holding against a low card (that is not an ace) is a good play provided that there is only one or no spades on board.

In fact, if we do choose to play this holding against a low complete, we should always re-raise the action. Simply calling will tend to flip our holding face up as a flush draw since most players will re-raise when they have a pair of kings. In addition, calling the complete will allow marginal low holdings that may have folded to the re-raise to come in which could either end up stealing half of the pot or possibly creating a situation on the later streets where you need to fold out your equity.

With the (10Spade Suit QSpade Suit) KSpade Suit, even if we miss a spade on fourth we still have potential to hit a high pair or an ace, jack, or nine to pick up a straight draw. Any card higher than a nine or any spade improves our holding.

We are not often dealt draws as strong as this and mediocre flush draws such as (3Heart Suit JHeart Suit) 9Heart Suit are more commonplace. This holding has a lot less value, and facing a complete from a low card we should be folding most of the time, only playing in situations where every factor is favorable. However, a holding such as (9Heart Suit AHeart Suit) 5Heart Suit is much more playable because we have an ace, two low cards, and the ability to represent a different holding than what we actually have.

A Pair Of Kings Or Queens Is Much Better Than Tens Or Nines

From early position, a pair of nines or tens are mostly unplayable because every card left to act behind you is a threat. Any of the low cards pose a danger to your hand and the higher up cards can have bigger pairs. Also, we should not forget the risk of running into a higher pair in the hole. Running into a higher wired pair is particularly troublesome in Stud 8 because it can look like a busted low and cause us to get stuck in the middle later on with way the worst of it.

Even when we are heads-up against a single low hand it is much better to have a pair of kings than a medium pair. Many players don’t consider this aspect, but even if the low hand “bricks,” they are usually picking up an over card to your pair. The low hand may even brick off twice and have enough combination of outs to continue on profitably.
For example, if our opponent has (3Diamond Suit 4Club Suit) 5Diamond Suit QHeart Suit JDiamond Suit and our board is (X-X) 9Club Suit 10Heart Suit 4Diamond Suit, he would usually be correct to continue on fifth street, especially if the pot was re-raised on third street. With his combination of three to a low, three to a straight, three to a flush, and over cards, he has around 27% equity and is getting around 5:1 odds to see sixth street.

While he must fold on sixth street if he hits a non-helping card and thus relinquish his equity, a low diamond will give him around 47% equity and with three diamonds on board he can semi-bluff without a great fear of getting raised. In particular, the ADiamond Suit is such a nasty card that hero may be forced to fold with unimproved nines as villain is going to have too many combinations of flushes and aces up in his range.

Weaker High Hands With Disguise/Surprise Possibilities Are More Playable

We can take more risks with hands that are disguised and thus may cause our opponents to misread our hand and make mistakes. For example, depending on the cards that are out, (JClub Suit 2Heart Suit) JSpade Suit is a holding that we may consider folding from early position, however (JClub Suit JSpade Suit) 2Heart Suit is a much different proposition.

The latter hand appears to be going low, so even if you happen to bump into a pair of kings or queens you have some amount of fold equity if you pick up a scary low board. Also, if you get lucky enough to hit trips you can get in a raise instead of your opponent just simply folding which he would often do if one of the jacks was the up card instead of the deuce.

In addition, when we have a hidden pair against a low draw, we can more effectively bet on the end for value. With jacks-up and maybe even just jacks, we can bet seventh and collect from a low draw that missed but is hoping for a split with a small pair or maybe even just ace high.

In summary, avoiding the frequency with which you get trapped in the middle with second-best high hands is very important. We can assume more risk when we have an ace kicker (e.g. (JClub Suit AHeart Suit) JSpade Suit) or with holding such as (10Club Suit 10Spade Suit) 3Heart Suit where deception is on our side. Any draw that we decide to pursue should be very strong and live to compensate for the fact that we will often chop the pot if we hit.

Going high in Stud 8 is an art, however, if we tend to play too many hands and get jammed too often with the worst of it our bankroll will be going low! ♠

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. If interested in learning more, playing mixed games online, or just saying hello he can be reached at