is a very new game, as poker games go; it is not much more than
thirty years old. Its success has been phenomenal in some districts; in
the legal games of California, there is probably as much lowball
played as regular poker. The game has enriched the language of poker
with many new terms: The best hand is a bicycle, or wheel. A relatively
good hand of its kind is "smooth" and a relatively bad hand of its kind
it "rough." For example, 9-8-6-3-2 is "a rough nine," while 9-5-4-3-2
is "a smooth nine." Lowball introduced the novelties that ace is low
rather than high, and that straights and flushes do not count.
are a few generalities worth stating. A smooth nine is the
average winning hand. One-card draws are common and are mathematically
sound; two-card draws are almost as common and are almost never
is much semi-bluffing in this game. By a semi-bluff I mean a bet
on a hand that doesn't figure to be high if the other players have what
they represented, but that may scare them out and may even be high. A
jack or a rough ten is worth an opening bet against two one-card draws
as a semi-bluff. It may prove to be the actual low hand and still get
called on suspicion. It may scare out an equivalent hand drawn by one
of the opponents. Nevertheless, it must be classed as a bluff and is
not the kind of bet to make regularly.
eight is worth a raise before the draw; a seven is worth a bet
after the draw. A bicycle or wheel occurs only about once in four
hundred hands unless the bug is used, in which case it will occur three
or four times as often. Generally speaking, a
six-high hand is worth two or three raises (depending on how smooth it
is) and one can discount the possibility of running into a wheel until
the third raise.
said before, lowball is a game of one-card draws. GenŽerally
speaking, one should not draw to less than an eight. Lowball is almost
always played pass and out before the draw, check free after the draw.
Half the time you will find yourself in bad position (one of the first
three men after the dealer) and you will have to make a decision
without information as to what the other players can do. In such cases,
the minimum opening hand is a smooth nine pat, any eight pat, or a
one-card draw to a six. Any of these hands plus a one-card draw to a
seven is worth a play when someone else has opened. The pat eight is
worth a raise. If the pot has been opened and raised before it comes to
you, and there are two or three players to speak after you, the minimum
hand on which you should stay is a one-card draw to any seven.
is determined largely by position. You should not stay in when
you have a difficult decision to make in drawing and when you must draw
cards before most of the other players have been heard from. For
example, 9-6-3-2-A is a fine hand to hold in late position, a difficult
hand in early position. The hand may win pat.
However, if there are two
raises before the draw you will assume that it cannot win pat and you
must draw one card to your six, and even if there is one raise before
the draw you have at best a doubtful quantity if you play the hand pat.
Therefore, while you must open on the hand, you do not stand the two
raises if you have opened. In a late position you can stand the two
raises, because the two raises will draw before you and if they are
both one-card draws (because many players do raise on a one-card draw
to a six or even a smooth seven) you can stand pat and have a better
than even chance of winning.
important to remember that the average hand after a draw of one
card (regardless of what you are drawing to) is ten high. This hand
will not win the average pot. It is about 31/2 to 1 that you will not
have, after the draw, a hand as low as your highest card going in. That
is, if you draw one card to a 7-5-3-2 it is 31/2 to 1 against your
winding up with a seven.
is another consideration that makes lowball absolutely unique
among poker games. In every other form of poker, the more players there
are in the pot the better odds you are offered
and the greater is the incentive to stay in, draw cards, and try to
improve. But in lowball, the more players there are in the pot, the
worse your chance of improving. Counting the ace as a low card, there
are in the pack only 28 cards seven or lower. If you have a legitimate
stay on the come, you have four of those cards. Every intelligent
player who is also in must have at least three or probably four of
those cards, plus one or two of the next-higher cardsnines and
eightsthat might make a hand playable. This little-considered fact
upsets most of the odds that have been published for lowball. If four
other players are in ahead of you, and you need a one-card draw, the
odds are alŽmost 2 to 1 that you will be painted. (In the peculiar
termiŽnology of lowball, this means that you will draw a face card.)'
With four other players in the pot, the odds are not 31/2 to 1 against
improving but as high as 5 to 1 against improving.
the more players stay against you, the better your pat 8 or
your smooth 9 pat becomes, because the worse are their chances for
improving so as to beat you.
figures are never the final guide in poker. You must not only wait
to see what those other players, having drawn, will do, you must also
then judge the possibility that they are bluffing. This depends upon a
knowledge of the players and the exercise of observation in the game.
Nevertheless, these general considerations may often make the
difference between a winning player and a losing one.