What would you think about playing a game of poker where the low hand wins, and straights and flushes don't even count? Lowball poker is a popular variety of poker in the United States, though it remains more popular the closer one gets to Las Vegas and California. So how do you play a game where the low hand wins?
In Lowball poker, the lowest possible hand you can have that still counts is 5-4-3-2-A. The ace is called the wheel, or sometimes the bicycle. Aces are always counted low in standard Lowball poker, never high. Therefore if you are holding a pair of aces and the player across from you is holding a pair of twos, you win. That being said, you should understand that actually winning a pot by holding a pair is considered a feat; winning a pot while holding a high pair is considered a miracle. There is another version of Lowball poker in which aces are always high instead of always low; in addition, in this version straights and flushes are applicable. Make sure you are playing under the non-standard rules before joining such a game.
Poker, of course, is a game that is highly dependent upon the variables of probability, but this is even more the case when playing Lowball. If you understand the probabilities involved to an adequate degree, you significantly increase your chances of improving your hand in Lowball poker. The average poker player who has had to suffer through a series of rotten hands underestimates the statistical difficulty of drawing a low hand. For instance, if you were dealt a 2-5-10-Q-Q hand, what would you do? The first instinct of most people would be to drop the queens and draw for two. You might get lucky, but more likely you'd lose. On the other hand, a smart player would immediately fold, realizing that even if he was lucky enough to draw two good cards, that 10 he's still holding is probably going to be too high to win with.
One good rule of thumb is never to take a chance holding three cards with your high card being anything above an 8. The statistical probability of drawing just two cards lower than an 8 that don't also leave you with a pair is just too great. That may seem unreasonable, but it's true. Many a Lowball player has wished he was playing a game of standard draw poker when by drawing two cards while holding such a hand and winding up with two pairs.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you got a hand with a 10 as your high card, it is advisable to stand. If you try to draw for something lower, especially if your next lowest is a 9 or even an 8, you are doing nothing but testing the odds. It makes no sense to discard in this scenario because you've already got a high card you yourself have to beat on your own draw. The better strategy is to take a chance on standing with a pat hand, especially if you can bluff well. Since the other players have no way of knowing what the high card in a pat hand is, you stand a far better statistical chance of bluffing an opponent for the win rather than going for a lower card in the draw.
Here is the basic lesson to learn when playing Lowball poker. Draw for only one card or stand pat. If neither of those options look promising, just go ahead and fold.
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