Stud Hi/Lo: Tournaments

“A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.” – Cicero

Tournaments are a great way to experiment with unfamiliar games. For a fixed cost, you get to play for quite a bit of time (unless you’re playing no-limit), and the inherent luck factor allows novices a chance of making a big score. Indeed, the luck factor is quite high in stud high/low tournaments.


All tournaments have a huge luck factor. Suppose you’re playing a no-limit hold’em tournament, and you have AA, and you’re all-in pre-flop against 72. About 11% of the time you will lose the hand, and be knocked out of a tournament when you have the best possible hand and you’re facing the worst possible hand.

Stud high/low tournaments also have a large luck factor. Suppose you start with (A2)34. That’s a pretty good first four cards. And you correctly bet and/or raise. Some of the time you will go brick-brick-brick and lose a lot of chips. Or you’ll catch an 8 low and lose to a 7-low. Or you’ll make a 6-low and two pair, and lose the high to a bigger two-pair. And on and on.

It’s hard to accumulate a lot of chips in stud high/low tournaments, because most hands will have split pots. Your opponents will likely be playing anything resembling a good starting hand; hopefully you will utilize better hand selection. But collectively your opponents will get good enough cards to win highs with mediocre starting hands. They’ll occasionally scoop pots when no one makes low.

Luck becomes more important because as antes and limits increase, very few players will have a comfortable chip stack. By the fourth or fifth level, many players will be going all-in if they have to bet every street. If you play stud high/low tournaments, you must accept that and use luck as an ally.

Starting Hands

As mentioned above, many of your opponents will not know what a “good” stud high/low starting hand is. At the beginning of a stud high/low tournament, your chip stack is quite large in comparison to the antes and limits. You should play standard strategy, as detailed in the earlier lessons.

As the tournament moves on, you will likely need to take some chances. Start playing marginal hands where your cards are live. For example, suppose you have (A9)6, and only one other club is showing as an upcard. This would be a reasonable hand to play, as you have an ace, a possible flush, and a two-low. It has some potential to scoop the hand.

Remember, even in a tournament your primary goal should be to scoop pots. Winning halves of pots is more important in tournament play because it keeps you alive; however, it is scooping pots that puts you out in front.


It pays to be aggressive in all forms of poker. It’s vital in stud high/low tournaments. You want pots to grow when you have a good hand. The best way to make this happen is to avoid limping and calling. You should do a lot of betting, raising, and completing. If I have an ace as my up-card and I elect to play the hand, I’ll almost always complete or raise. This makes mathematical sense for the tight aggressive player. You’re not going to be playing many hands, so you want the hands that you do play to offer you a good reward.

Additionally, if you’re not up against a calling station, you should bet anytime your board looks threatening, even if your hole cards make your hand less than optimal. For example, suppose you have (310)263. You’re up against one opponent; his board is 48K. All you have is a pair of threes, but if your opponent checks, you should bet. It looks like you have a made low, while your opponent is probably drawing to an 8-low. Even if your opponent calls you, your bet sets up a continued bluff (or perhaps semi-bluff) on sixth street. In fact, that bluff will almost always succeed if your opponent bricks. He just can’t afford to continue.

Stealing Antes

You must do this to win any sort of stud tournament. Stud high/low is no exception. However, remember that the bring-in can have a good hand. The bring-in in stud high/low is the smallest card. Stud high/low is the only stud game where having the bring-in is not always the “kiss of death.” No matter, if you have a stealable hand, you must do so. Winning the antes is vital.


In all forms of tournament poker, drawing hands lose value compared to made hands. However, in stud high/low, almost every hand is a drawing hand. You’re drawing to a low; you have one pair and a low draw; you have a made high hand but your opponents are drawing to lows and/or a wheel.

So, what do you do to decrease your variance? Ideally, play hands that can scoop or have multiple draws. If one of your draws misses, you have the other draws to aid you. Giving yourself multiple chances to win is the key in all forms of poker.

Short-Handed Play

In high/low tournaments, scooping is vital. When you’re short-handed, that doesn’t change. Rather, some of the hands you’d rarely play at a full table become excellent starting hands at a short-handed table. Those are the stud high starting hands such as three high cards to a straight, the highest up-card, a high pair with a two-flush, etc.

But don’t take this too far. If your table has five players, and four of them have low cards and you have a mediocre high hand, it’s probably best to muck it. That’s probably too risky of a situation to get involved with. However, if you’re second to last to act, and you have a decent high hand (it does not have to be a great high hand), and the last player to act doesn’t have a prime low card (ace to five), complete the bet. In the long run, this will win you many blinds and antes.

Final Thoughts

Don’t play scared poker! To win a stud high/low tournament, you must take risks. Practice your hand reading skills. Go with your gut-if you think a player has trash, trust your instincts and act accordingly.

Tournaments can be a lot of fun. Most of the time, though, you will lose. It’s the nature of the beast. In a stud high/low tournament, if 100 people enter, eight will make the money. Those aren’t great odds. However, if you play well, and catch a bit of luck, you can find yourself in the winner’s circle.


You’re playing in a stud high/low tournament. Unless otherwise stated, you’re at a full eight-handed table. Check the answers below.

1. It’s the very first hand of the tournament, and you make the bring in (you’re using an ante button (one player antes for the table, T15), the bring-in is T5, and the limits are T15/T30) with the 2. Five players call, and your rho completes with the A. You look down at your hole cards and spot the 2 and 2. The other up-cards are the 7, 5, 3, K, 9 (folded), and 6. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) raise to T30?

2. Assume the same hand as in problem 1 except that only the 7 and 3 called the bring-in. Again, the A completes. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) raise to T30?

3. It’s the middle of the tournament and you have an average chip stack of T2000 (after anteing). The ante is T50, the bring-in is T100, and you’re playing T200/T400. You have the bring-in with the 2, and are called by the 5 and K. You look down at your hole cards and see the 3 and 4. On fourth street you catch the 8, the 5 picks up the 9 and the K gets the 2. The K2 bets T200. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) raise to T400?

4. Assume the same hand as in problem three except that your hole cards are the 9 and Q. Again, the K2 bets T200. Do you (a) fold, (b) call T200, or (c) raise to T400?

5. Assume the same hand as in problem four except that the K2 checks. Do you (a) check or (b) bet T200?

6. There are two tables left in the tournament. Unfortunately, the tournament pays only one table. Both tables are full. You have a slightly above average stack, T20,000; the ante is T300, the bring in is T500, and the limits are T1000/T2000. The 2 brings in the hand. The next two players fold (Q and 4). You look at your cards and find (96)A. The remaining up-cards are the K, 4, 9, and 8. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) complete to T1000? None of your opponents are short-stacked. 

7. Assume the same hands as in problem 6 except that both the 4 and the 8 are short-stacked. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) complete to T1000?

8. There are nine players left in the tournament. Your table has four players and the other table has five players left. You’re playing hand-for-hand (both tables wait for the other to finish a hand before starting the next one) as only eight players are being paid. You have an average stack of T25,000. You’re playing antes of T500, a bring in of T1000, and limits of T2000/T4000. Your three opponents all have big stacks; the short stacks are all at the other table. You get the bring-in for the 6th hand in a row with the 4. The K and 8 fold, but the 7 completes. You look at your hole cards and see the 8 and 2. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) raise to T4000?

9. Assume the same hand as in problem 8. You called. On fourth street you get the 3 and your opponent gets the 7, giving him a pair of sevens. He checks. Do you (a) check or (b) bet T2000?

10. Assume the same hand as in problem 9. On fourth street you both checked. On fifth street you get the 8 and your opponent picks up the J . Your opponent checks. Do you (a) check or (b) bet T4000?



ANSWERS: 1) C; Raising is clear-there are far too many opponents, and it’s a tournament. Trust me, you’ll get called. Additionally, you’re likely only going to win half the pot, so you want the pot as large as possible. 2) Raise. It’s a tournament, and while you have fewer opponents than in problem 1, you’d like to eliminate a couple of them so you have a better chance to scoop. 3) C; Your only opponent that is going low has bricked. You’re ahead of him; raising is vital in this situation. You must make your opponents pay to draw out on you. 4) A; There’s no reason to bluff at this stage. Your chance of making high is slim; your chance of making low is slim. Your chance of scooping is really slim. 5) A; Checking is probably right at this stage of the tournament, and hoping for the free card. You’re still behind, and preserving tournament chips is important. 6) C; You have an ace up. Your hole cards are irrelevant, especially when you’re not facing a short stack. Even then, I’d complete (and hope they have trash). 7) Even if you get called, you have an ace, which gives you the advantage over your short-stacked opponents for high (assuming they have three low cards). Completing is clear here, too. 8) B; It’s a short-handed table, and any three-low should be played. You may be behind but you may be ahead. 9) A; The most likely outcome on this hand is a chopped pot. You don’t have a made hand yet, and you can’t beat his pair of sevens. Checking is correct. 10) B; Your bet has two ways of working. It looks like you have a made low; however, you really have a pair of eights. Your bet will likely pick up the pot; if he continues with the hand, he likely has two pair or trips and you’ll need to either make your low or improve your high.