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Lowball

This 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.

There 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 mathematically sound.

There 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.

A pat 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.

As I 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.

Drawing 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.

It is 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.

There 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 cards—nines and eights—that 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.

Conversely, 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.

Such 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.
 
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