Stud Hi/Lo: Third Street (Part 2)

“If you watch a game, it’s fun. If you play at it, it’s recreation. If you work at it, it’s golf.” – Bob Hope

In this, the second of three lessons examining starting hands in stud high/low, we will focus on the good high hands and the marginal starting hands. Given that your goal is to scoop, high hands start with a huge disadvantage (in general): you rarely make a low. Of course, sometimes no one gets a low but in stud high/low, unlike Omaha high/low, most of the time there is a low. Thus, these good high hands rank a level below the good low hands.

The Good High Hands

Rolled Up

When you’re rolled up in seven-card stud, you have the best possible starting hand. In stud high/low, it’s a good starting hand, one that you will play. It is better to have a low rolled up hand (A through 8) because you have the rare chance of also making a low. It’s also quite rare in stud high/low for trips to lose to trips. With high rolled up hands, I will always complete or raise; with low rolled up hands, I will vary my actions.

But being rolled up in stud high/low is not a guarantee that you’ll win the high. Your opponents, usually playing connected small cards, can hit straights and flushes. Rolled up hands usually win half the pot, but sometimes win nothing. If you think you’re beat for the high, folding is usually correct (on later streets obviously) because all you’d have is a draw for half the pot.

Very High Pairs and Buried Pairs

These include aces, kings, queens, and jacks-hands that are automatic raising hands in stud high but are not automatic in stud high/low. Assume you’re dealt (QQ)6, and are fourth to act. The 2 brings in the action, the 8 folds, and the K completes. Should you raise, call, or fold?

Unless you’re playing against someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, folding is fairly clear. You have a one-way hand that likely trails your opponent (who presumably has a pair of kings). Starting from behind when you have a one-way hand is a surefire means of lowering your bankroll.

Now assume that instead of the K completing the action, it’s the J making the completion. I would raise, as the J would likely believe that I have a low hand. Additionally, I might cause some good low hands to drop out.

It’s preferable to have a buried pair to a split pair, of course. When you are in the hand with a split pair in stud high/low, the entire table knows where you are. Change your hand in the preceding example to (Q6)Q. Assume that the 2 brings in the action, the 8 folds, and the J completes. If you play your hand, the J will know he’s behind (unless he has buried aces or is rolled up) and may fold now or on fourth street if he doesn’t improve.

The Marginal Hands

Three Low Cards

Stud high/low is not Razz (stud low only). Your goal when playing stud high/low should be to win both the low and high portion of any hands you play (that is, to scoop). If you start with three unrelated low cards, such as (25)7, you can make a low, but what high hands are you likely to make?

Three low card hands are what I call situational hands. In the right situation, they’re playable (and, in fact, should complete or raise the betting). In the wrong situations they should be thrown in the muck. Let’s look at what the right situations are.

The most obvious is when you have the only low up card. You’ve got the best low hand, and should complete (or raise). Perhaps you’ll be lucky and back into a high. But if only an obvious high hand calls you, checking until you make your low is quite reasonable.

The second obvious time to play three low cards is when you have the lowest up card (other than the bring-in), there aren’t many other low up cards, and the players tend to fold to aggressive actions. If I find myself in this situation, I’ll complete (or raise) automatically.

The other time that three random low cards is playable is when there are lots of players playing low hands and no one is playing an obvious high hand. I’ll need to be in late position (relative to the bring-in) so that these conditions apply.

You may notice that I don’t like three random low cards. You’re right. I don’t like to play hands that can’t scoop. In low and mid limit stud high/low games, your opposition will rarely notice that you’re not playing lots of hands. Thus, tight play is rewarded, and loose play results in hits to your bankroll.


In stud high, many players will automatically complete the action if they have an ace as an up card. In stud high/low, an ace is still a powerful card. Many times an ace-high will win the high when two low hands battle.

However, it’s tougher to steal the antes with an ace-high. First, the bring-in can have a good hand. After all, a low card isn’t necessarily a bad card. While I will steal with an ace-high, I like to have live cards, and at least one additional low card and some other backdoor draw. For example, with (K9)A, I will probably fold. However, with (79)A, I would complete. The second hand has both a two-card low, a two-card (backdoor) straight draw, and a two-flush.

Let’s switch the cards, so you have (A9)7. I will occasionally complete the betting with this hand, but the circumstances need to be right. First, the cards should be live. Second, the players still to act are passive. And finally, I haven’t been caught stealing in the last few hands. I’ll keep betting with this hand, too, as long as I either catch good cards or my opponents catch bricks.

Those are the good high hands and the playable low starting hands. In the next part of this series we’ll look at when you have the bring-in, trap hands and trash hands.