Stud Hi/Lo: Raising and Bluffing

“The best plan is to profit by the folly of others.” – Pliny the Elder

One of the most satisfying feelings in poker is when you can run a bluff. It feels great, whether you’re playing online or at a casino. Bluffing in stud high/low, though, has some problems that are unique to high/low games. It is much different than bluffing in hold’em or Omaha where your bets are the only thing that opponents can analyze. Also remember that a bluff that fails shows that you are willing to bet with nothing and will make your later value bets more likely to be called. I should point out that Pliny the Elder perished in the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79; he got burned (literally) by his curiosity. If you bluff too much you will get burned.

Bluffing: Game Character

The most important thing to consider about any bluff in any game is the character of the game you are playing in. If I’m playing in a very loose game, especially one with calling stations, I throw the bluff out of my repertoire for the game. You can’t bluff a calling station. Don’t even bother trying to. Low limit games-hold’em, stud, and Omaha-are filled with calling stations. If you’re in one of those games, value betting is far more important than bluffing.

However, I have played in many stud high/low games that are relatively tight. In such a game I can consider bluffing. In any stud game if you’re going to bluff you must consider your board cards and your opponent(s) board cards. If you have, say, three random cards showing, your opponents are not going to credit you with the hand you’re representing and your bluff is not likely to succeed. However, if you have a board like 254, you are likely to get respect from your opponents (even if your hole cards are 9K).

Another major factor working against bluffing in stud high/low is the propensity of opponents to chase for half the pot. In previous lessons I hope I’ve demonstrated to your satisfaction the futility of chasing for half the pot. But just because you and I know it’s not right doesn’t mean that your opponents will play correctly. Indeed, the fact that most of your opponents play incorrectly helps you in your quest to make money while playing this game. Unfortunately, if you have 254 as your board, and you think two of your opponents are chasing low draws, it’s likely that one or both will call you.

The situation is worse if you’re bluffing with a high hand. Suppose you have KJQ as your up-cards, but all you have is a bluff. If you’re up against a typical number of opponents (three), your bluff isn’t going to work (unless they’re all going high). At least one of the lows will call you (and probably more). Indeed, if one of your opponents has a made low, you’re not going to chase him out of the pot. In general, bluffing with a high-only hand is a waste of time and effort.

As you move up in limits, bluffing becomes more important. You’re less likely to be playing against calling stations, and more likely to be playing against aware opponents who will attempt to put you on a hand. Of course, it’s vital that if you’re representing a hand where it’s necessary to hold, say, a 3 as a hole card that the 3s are live; aware opponents will know whether they are or not.


Here’s a simple rule of thumb for low-limit stud high/low: When in doubt about calling or raising, raise.

Most low-limit games tend to be loose passive affairs. Lots of calling, but not a lot of raising. In almost all forms of poker and all games, tight and aggressive play will get you the money. If you play fewer hands than your typical opponents, and you raise with them, in general you will end up a winner.

Raising with Draws

Suppose you have a great draw: (23)54. You have nothing but have four outs for the nut low (a wheel), eight outs for a straight, and many other cards to give you a very good low hand. You could catch two clubs for a flush. This is a monster hand.

Yet I see players just calling until they actually have something. Don’t play scared! Unless all the aces and fives are out (a very unlikely occurrence), you’re going to make money with this hand most of the time. Sure, you will catch brick-brick-brick occasionally. That’s an occupational hazard in stud high/low. But, for the most part, you will catch something to give you a winner for at least half the pot.

Contrast that hand with a made Broadway: (AK)QJ10. Yes, you’re the favorite to win high but you have no chance to scoop. Sure, I’d be betting and/or raising with this hand. But you’re vulnerable to a flush. Or some low hand with a pair catching runner-runner full house. This Broadway cannot improve while typically your low opponents can improve.

A special raising situation in stud high/low is when you’re freerolling. Let’s assume you have a made low, and you’re up against one opponent who has no chance to win low. If you have any chance to win high, bet or raise. I will check down hands where I can’t beat my opponent and I know for certain that he will call me. However, in all other cases I will bet. Even if I have a 1% chance of improving to scoop the pot, if I can’t lose the low betting must be right.

Check Raising

There are fewer opportunities to check raise in stud high/low than in other games. Your board cards are visible, so if you have a monstrous looking board like 254 and you check, your opponents will check behind you (unless they have something). The time for a check-raise is when you have an ugly looking board but have a great hand. For example, if I held (99)29, I would consider a check-raise.

Betting for Value

When I first learned to play poker, I was taught to bet my good hands and fold my bad hands. This simple advice works in stud high/low. If you have something and you think your opponent doesn’t, bet your hand. Remember, your first impression is usually correct. So many value bets are missed in stud high/low because you “know” your opponent won’t call your bet. If you never check-raised but you made every possible value bet, you would come out ahead of most of your opponents.

In the next lesson we’ll look at some miscellaneous topics. We’ll look at outs, Razz, some high-hand issues, and reading the opposition.