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Seven-Card High-Low Stud

Perhaps this game is important to only a few players, but to them it is very important. In the world of celebrities—society, motion pictures, radio and television, publishers and authors-it has been the most important form of poker for some sixty years.

More than any other form of poker that I know, this is a game of principle and of observation. The principle can be briefly expressed: Play for low, and let the high hands take care of themselves. Some fine players have expressed the principle that the only high hand worth staying on originally is three of a kind in the first three cards, and this happens so seldom that it couldn't greatly affect your winnings if you never got such a hand.

Three cards offering both straight and flush possibilities, such as J-9-7 of diamonds, are worth a play; good later results may give you a seven-high or a straight flush, in addition to the regular high hands you can make.

The matter of observation is one that cannot be rated too highly. The winning player must observe very closely, remember the cards, and figure closely. At the showdown, one must figure all the possible combinations of cards that each opponent may have in the hole, and what each combination will give him. This must then be adjusted to the previous play and known habits of the player; to the cards that have shown and probably can be eliminated from consideration; and to the cards that other players probably hold to justify their betting and so cannot be held by the player in question. All of this requires a certain special aptitude, and either you have it or you don't.

In this game, at the end each player selects five of his cards as high and five of his cards as low. He does not have to make a declaration and he does not have to limit himself to playing for one, the other, or both. As a result, close figuring will often reveal a case in which you cannot lose and may win. If your opponent has a certain combination of cards in the hole, you can beat him for high; if he has another combination, you can beat him for low; and conceivably (though only if he is an idiot, a type that occurs quite frequently in poker) you may be able to beat him for both. In any such case, a player simply bets the maximum and raises to the end of time. Actually, this game is almost always played with table stakes and so the best a player can do is to bet all he has or all his opponent has, depending on which has the higher stack.

One word of warning to smart readers: Time after time, a player has arrived at the brilliant conclusion that since everyone else in the game is starting off to play for low, he will play for high and win more than his share of pots, even though he can never win more than half a pot. One by one these players, without exception, have slunk out of the game with their tails between their legs. Every successful player has concluded that you must play for low, and you would be wise to take their word for it.

Playing for low, the proper minimum for a stay at the start is three cards eight or lower with no pair, or two cards five or lower. As usually played, this game treats the ace as a high card (except, of course, in the straight 5-4-3-2-A), so the perfect low hand is 7-5-4-3-2.

 
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