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HIGH-LOW SPLIT POKER GUIDE


 


High-Low split pot poker has many appealing features and is great for a home poker game. We encourage you to give it a try. The number and frequency of playable starting hands is increased, so more players are usually active in each hand and they tend to stay in longer. There is more action in each hand so the pots usually are larger. With twice as many pots to award, there are more chances to win as well as the hope of "scooping the pot" by winning both the high and low hands. Additionally, there is extra skill involved in reading other players' hands and declaring your own hand.

Just about any poker game and nearly all of the poker game variations we describe throughout HomePokerEdge.com can be played as high-low split, so the information we provide here can be especially valuable.


How to Play High-Low Split Poker

 

In High-Low split poker games half the pot is awarded to the player with the highest hand and half is awarded to the player with the lowest hand. If 2 or more players tie in the same direction they evenly split that portion of the pot. The high hand is easily determined as it conforms to the standard hand rankings of poker. There are varying methods that can be used to designate the low hand. There are also options to determining if a player's hand is competing for the high hand, the low hand or both. These factors are detailed below.


Playing Tips for High-Low Split Poker

 

High-low split poker games present some challenges not seen in high-only poker games. Most of the time you are competing for just half the pot, so your pot odds for drawing are often poor. Additionally, home game players tend to play quite a bit more loosely in split pot games, so you usually have more competition. In theory, it would be preferable to tighten your starting hand requirements and play only hands that have multiple ways to develop into winning hands. That is easier said than done, especially in a home poker game environment. Rather than fold hand after hand, you might be able to get away with playing starting hands that are just a little bit better than the hands the others play, particularly in an unraised pot.

Ideally, you want a starting hand that has a good chance to win either high or low (or both). Ironically, the best way to have a chance of winning both high and low is to start with low cards, especially if it includes an ace. Aces are especially valuable in high-low split since they are both the best high and best low card. Aces suited to low cards, such as A♣ A2♣ 3 in Omaha, are even better. Even if a good starting low hand does not develop for you the hand may turn into aces-up, a straight or flush that can win high. If you start with high cards only, they can never turn into a low hand, so you are competing for no more than half the pot.

For a home poker game high-low split poker is best played as a fixed limit game, not pot limit. The reason is that in pot limit an opponent with a lock one way can make is so expensive that even if you hold the leading hand the other way you cannot afford to call. Faced with the possibility of ever increasing pot sized bets the pot odds may become too unfavorable to justify continuing.

You can get more insight to high-low split poker in general and the mainstream high-low poker games like Omaha-8 in many books.


1st Decision: Declaration or Cards Speak?

 

One of the most important consideration for high-low split poker games involves how a player’s hand is designated as either high or low, or both. It has a significant impact on how you should play and the skills you need to be successful. High-low designation can accomplished either by just showing cards ("cards speak") or by means of declaration. There are 2 declaration methods: simultaneous and sequential. In either of these declaration methods each player must choose and announce if they are going high, low or both and their hand is valid only in the direction they select. This puts a premium on your ability to determine (or guess) which way the other players are going. In a declaration game the ability to read your opponents' intentions can win you additional pots even when holding just mediocre cards. Once made, a declaration is binding. There is no remedy for a mistake. When the time comes to make declarations take your time and make sure you make the declaration you want to.

Cards Speak (no declaration): Short for the cards speak for themselves (i.e. they are what they are). In a cards speak situation after the last round of betting the players simply show their hands. The best high and low hands are determined by looking at the hands and the pot is divided accordingly. If 2 or more players tie in the same direction they evenly split that portion of the pot. This is a simple method and eliminates much of the need to read the other players hands. In situations where you are fairly confident your hand is either the best high or best low but you aren't certain which, cards speak is to your advantage since there is no decision to be made. It also eliminates the risk associated with declaring for both high and low.

Simultaneous Declaration: Each player must declare if their hand is high, low or both by using chips to reveal their decision. Typically, players place one closed fist on the table and when the signal to declare is announced they open their hand to reveal: no chip if going low, one chip if going high or 2 chips if going both ways. Never allow a player to put both hands on the table at declaration time. By placing 1 chip in one hand while having none in the other and waiting just a second after the other players have revealed their decision such a player can change their decision to a more advantageous one.

Unlike cards speak, in situations where you are fairly confident your hand is either the best high or best low but you aren't certain which, simultaneous declaration puts you into a precarious position. You will be forced into guessing which way to declare. If you guess right you may win half the pot. If you guess wrong you will win nothing. Thus, simultaneous declaration requires you to not only analyze the strength of your opponents' hands but also to predict if they will declare high or low.

Sequential Declaration: In this method after the last betting round the last player to bet or raise must declare first. Moving clockwise around the table from there, the other players verbally declare one at a time. (In stud, if no one bet the declaration starts at the high hand showing. In non-stud games if no one bet start at the first active player to the left of the dealer.) Sequential declaration provides a huge advantage to the player declaring last, especially in a head to head situation. If all the other players have declared in the same direction the last player can declare opposite and guarantee themselves half the pot.

With sequential declaration if you are fairly confident your hand is either the best high or best low but you aren't certain which your primary objective is to try to maneuver so that you will be the last to declare. This is especially vital in a heads-up situation where declaring last assures you of half the pot and possibly all of it.


Additional Rules with Declaration

 

Whenever declarations are used your game needs a couple of additional rules. The first is regarding a player calling both high and low. Specifically, will losing or tying in one direction disqualify a win in the other? The recommended rule is that a player declaring both must win both ways. If they lose or tie in one direction, they lose in both. Without this penalty every player could declare both high and low on every hand and you have essentially created a no declaration (cards speak) format.

The second rule involves betting and raising by a "locked" player. There will often be times where only one player has declared in one of the directions. Because they have no competition they have assured themselves of or "locked" that portion of the pot. You should set a rule as to whether a player in that position is allowed to bet and raise or not. How you decide is largely influenced on how aggressive or restrained you want the game to be. If you allow them to bet and raise they, of course, should do so at every opportunity since they will always profit. This makes it more uncomfortable and expensive for the other players and your game develops a more aggressive or no mercy style. If you wish to have a more restrained or friendly atmosphere you would restrict a locked player to only being able to call the other players' bets.


2nd Decision: What is the Lowest Hand?

 

It is absolutely essential to know exactly what the best low hand is, but in a home game different people may approach it in different ways. Commonly, 5432A is considered the best, which does not disqualify straights and flushes for the low and allows an ace to be used either high or low. Thus, 5432A rules gives more opportunity for a player to win both the low and high shares of the pot. Another reasonable alternative for a home poker game is 6432A. This also uses the ace for either high or low, but under 6432A rules straights and flushes do disqualify the low so there are fewer opportunities to win the entire pot. Keep in mind that, when an ace may be counted as either the highest or lowest card, a pair of aces may be counted as both the highest and lowest pair.

Far less common for a low is 75432 which also does not allow straights and flushes to be used low and counts the ace as a high card only. Deuce to Seven Lowball (aka Kansas City Lowball) is an example of a game using 75432 as the best low hand, but it is played as a low hand game only.

To determine the winning low hand, always start by comparing the highest card of each hand. For example, 76542 would beat 8432A. If the first cards are the same, go to the second card to determine the winner. For example, 75432 beats 7632A. If the first 2 cards are the same, compare the third cards, and likewise, the fourth or even the fifth until the winner is determined. Below is a chart that ranks the top low hands in the typical low hand ranking schemes.


Low Hand Rankings

 


5432A Rules6432A RulesDeuce to Seven
Low Hand RankStraight/Flush IgnoredStraight/Flush DisqualifiesStraight/Flush Disqualifies
Best5432A6432A75432
2nd6432A6532A76432
3rd6532A6542A76532
4th6542A6543A76542
5th6543A7432A85432
6th654327532A86432
7th7432A7542A86532
8th7532A7543A86542



When Playing 6432A as the Best Low

 

If you are playing under 6432A rules realize that it is slightly more difficult to draw a low hand compared to 5432A rules. This can be especially problematic with a game that requires a qualifying low hand (eg. Omaha 8 or better). As an example, say you hold an A2 and the flop comes 45X (X = any card 9 or higher). In a 5432A game there are 4 cards (3,6,7,8) that will make a qualifying low. In a 6432A game only 3 cards (6,7,8) will make you a qualifying low. The 3 gives you a straight. That might give you the winner for high, but it does not qualify for low. If there is another card to come, you still have a low draw. In this example, a 6 will now give you the nut low. A 7 (or 8) also gives you a qualifying low of 7432A (or 8432A), but, neither of those hands are the nuts. For example, if the board shows 7543X your 2A makes your hand 7432A. But, that would be beaten by a player holding 6A which would give him 6543A.

Another thing to be aware of under 6432A rules is that you will never make the absolute nut low if your have to play a 5 from your hand. That does not mean that you should not play low cards that include a 5. In fact, in a game like Thirty-Two which requires the use of 3 hole cards, having a 5 as your highest low card (eg 542) can certainly be a winner and is obviously superior to a 6 low like 62A.


Counterfeiting & Protected Lows

 

Counterfeiting is a term used when what was a leading hand is ruined or turned into a loser. It is most dramatic with low hands and most easily observed in common card games such as variations of Omaha and Hold'em. (Counterfeiting that occurs in stud variants would more likely be described as missing a draw.) Here is an example:

In Omaha 8 or Better you hold hole cards of A2KK and as of the turn the board reads 348Q. At this point a qualifying 8 or better low is possible and you currently have the best low hand possible (8432A), so you are anticipating winning half the pot. However, suppose on the river an ace falls. While you still have 8432A as your low hand there are now 6 other holdings that will beat you (76, 75, 72, 65, 62, 52), plus another (82) that will tie you. What had once been the best low hand has now become merely the 7th best and virtually a guaranteed loser. The situation is the same if a deuce comes on the river. Your 8432A low will be beaten by any player holding 76, 75, 7A, 65, 6A or 5A and tied by 8A.

This example illustrates an important concept regarding low hands:
In shared common card games you are in a very vulnerable position when starting with only the minimum number of low hole cards (ie. 2 low cards in Omaha, 3 low cards in Thirty-Two). There is a significant probability that 1 of your cards will appear on the board and ruin your low chances. Therefore, having the protection of additional low cards (such as 32A in Omaha), gives you a much higher chance of making a winning low. Even if a single ace, deuce or trey falls you still have an excellent low. Thus, when you have more than the minimum number of low cards in your starting hand you have what is referred to as a protected low.


Scooping the Pot: Declaring Both High & Low

 

The chance to win or "scoop" the entire pot by declaring for both the high and low hand should always be on your mind. It is very rewarding since taking both the high and low gives you winnings that are several times larger than winning in just one direction. But, it is also risky since you could end up winning nothing, so it requires giving consideration to several factors. Before you try it, make sure you give thought to:

The number of players left in the hand. The more competion you have, the better both of your hands must be.

The amount of betting and raising. If other players are initiating the betting or raising and re-raising bets they probably have excellent hands. Be less likely to try to scoop under these circumstances. If you have been leading the betting with none of the other players raising you can feel more confident about declaring both ways, but you must still exercise good judgement. A skilled player is often able to recognize the likelihood that their low hand is probably a tie. Their proper response is to back off on betting and raising. You must also be alert to this and not mistake your opponent's play as necessarily meaning their hand is weak.

Knowledge of your opponents. Is there a player in the game who will lay low with a monster hand and let other players do the betting and raising? If so you must be careful.

How powerful are your hands. Your most vulnerable hand is often your low hand. Even if you have the nuts you can still be tied and thus lose the entire pot. To declare both high and low against multiple opponents without the nut low is usually a risky proposition.


When Another Player Declares Both High & Low

 

When you are involved in a hand in which another player has declared both high and low, it is usually incorrect to fold. There is usually enough money in the pot to make it correct to call just one more bet. This is especially true if you are the only competition in one of the directions. It is almost always true when that is the case and another player who has declared in the opposite direction than you leads out and bets into the both way player or raises the both way player's bet. That usually indicates that the other player feels they can beat or tie the both ways player. If they do, you win in the other direction regardless of your hand. However, if another player who has declared in the same direction as you is the one betting or raising, you should continue only if you feel that you have a chance to beat his hand. You need not be 100% convinced of that, as there is usually enough money in the pot at the showdown that folding for one more bet is wrong most of the time.


If 2 Players Declare Both High & Low

 

Things get a bit more complicated when two or more players declare for both high and low. How the pot is split depends on whether or not there are other players in the game or not.

If there are no other players in the game the win both/lose both rule is ignored and splitting is made the same as if played with cards speak rules.

If there is another player(s) in the game the win both/lose both rule is maintained. If 1 of the "both ways" players wins both ways outright they are awarded the entire pot. If each of the "both ways" players lose or tie with any other player they are disqualified and win nothing. The pot is then split in the usual manner. Should there be only 1 other remaining player, that player wins the entire pot.


Risk Does Not Always Equal Reward

 

Opportunities for winning both the high and low hands occur infrequently, especially in a game that requires a declaration. Designating 6432A as the low hand also makes it more difficult to scoop. That means the pot is split the vast majority of the time. If there are other players going in the same direction as you, this becomes a very important factor in determining if you should bet and raise or simply check and call. If there is more competition in your direction than in the other you will not win as much as you risk. Here is an example: One player has declared high. You and 2 other players have declared low. If you bet and all the others call, the pot will increase by 4 bets. If you win, you will get back 2 of those bets (the other 2 goes to the high hand). You had one chance in 3 of winning, but were only paid off at even money. Unless you have a hand that you are confident will win, you should not bet or raise in this situation.

On the other hand, when there is less competition for your direction than the other direction it is to your advantage. For example: You and one other declare low. 3 other players declare high. A bet that is called by all adds 5 bets to the pot. While you have an even money (1:1) chance of winning, should you do so you will win 2.5 bets which is a 1.5:1 payoff.

When you are the only player to declare in a direction you are an automatic winner (make sure your hand qualifies!). If the rules of your game do not prohibit you from raising in such a situation, you should bet and raise at every opportunity, since it increases your profit at no risk.


Be Alert for Ties

 

Ties for low are not uncommon, especially when playing wild card games. You need to be alert for circumstances that may tip you off to the probability that you and another player(s) have the same hand. When you are playing under declaration rules, you will typically win very little when you tie and can even end up losing money. It is usually foolish to bet and raise if you strongly suspect a tie. With cards speak a tie is not bad if you also have a decent chance of winning high. If not, you are in the same situation as declaration rules.

There are occasions where a tie is a virtual certainty, so you must be aware of them. For example, in Omaha 8 or better if the board shows something like 5432X you can be confident of two things: if you don’t have the nut low you’re going to lose and if you do have the nut low you are going to tie. With such a board 4 hands (A2, A3, A4, A5) make the best low. And, while with any of those hands you also would have a 5-high straight, you’d be beaten by 5 other hands (62, 63, 64, 65, 67) that make 6-high or 7-high straights.


Playing Games That Require a Qualifying for Low

 

When you are playing poker games that require a certain minimum for the low hand like Omaha 8 or Better or 7 Card Stud 8 or Better you cannot rely solely on low cards. You also need options for winning high just in case you don’t make a low hand that qualifies. You can liberalize your high hand starting card standards and be more conservative with low draw starting hands. If all you have is a potential low hand it can cost you a lot of bets while you wait and hope a qualifying hand materializes. It may not, and you are competing for only half the pot. Incidentally, sometimes players forget they need a qualifying low, so make sure that low hands are always shown and actually do qualify. When there is no qualifying low hand the whole pot is awarded to the high hand.


High-Low Poker with Wild Cards

 

There is no reason that wild card games can not be played as high-low split poker. However, as expected, wild cards make it considerably easier to draw an excellent low hand. You need to have very strict standards regarding the rank of a low hand you are willing to play. The number and nature of wild cards has a huge influence, so, often playing with anything less than the best low is a risky proposition.


Chopping the Pot

 

If a high-low split game gets down to just 2 remaining players an opportunity to chop the pot occurs. Provided both players agree, rather than playing on to the showdown, they may just split the pot. An exception to this may occur in games that require a minimum qualifying low hand (eg. Omaha-8). If the board is such that a qualifying low hand is not possible the hand is played out to the showdown and the entire pot awarded to the highest hand.


An Easy Method to Split the Chips

 

You will be able to split chips much easier and efficiently if the chips are valued multiples of 2. That is, each higher value chip should be twice as much as the next lower valued chip. An example would be $0.50, $1, $2.

With chips valued that way, here is an example of how to split them:
Gather each color chip and place into a single stack.
As though you are making a vertical line with the chip stacks, place the $2 stack in front of you, the $1 stack behind the $2 and the $0.50 stack behind the $1. You now have what looks like a vertical line of chip stacks in front of you with the highest ($2) closest and the lowest value ($0.50) furthest away and the $1 stack in between.
Side by side, split each single stack into 2 equal stacks. If there is an odd chip place it to the right of the 2 equal stacks.
Work from the highest valued chips to the lowest valued chips:
If the stacks are equal, give 1 stack to each winning player.
If there is an odd chip place it on top of the stack on the right. Then take a single chip of the next lowest value chip from the right hand stack and place it on the left hand stack.
Continue this process.
If an odd chip of the the lowest valued chip still remains award it based on your house rules.

You can speed up the process if a player who has dropped out of the hand starts to gather and stack the chips before the end of the hand.


Awarding an Odd Chip

 

When playing high-low split or if 2 or more players tie for a hand, often an odd chip will be left over and it will not be possible to split the pot evenly. Designate a consistant method for awarding that odd chip. Possible ways of doing it are: The odd chip always goes to the high (or low) hand. The odd chip always goes to the player closest to the left of the dealer. Another alternative could be that any odd chip is left for the pot of the next hand.


SOME LOW POKER HAND PROBABILITIES

 

When playing high-low split or low only poker games information identifying the probability or odds for low poker hands is extremely important to know. Although it is often very difficult to find, especially for 6432A rules, we have it here.


Probabilities for Low Hole Cards

 

Approximate percent probabilities of being dealt the following LOW hands in 2, 3, 4 or 5 cards.

Hand 2 cards3 cards4 cards5 cards
2A1.2%2.4%7.2%12%
3A or 322.4%4.8%14.4%24%
-----
32A-0.3%1.2%2.4%
42A or 43A or 432-0.9%3.6%7.2%
-----
432A--0.1%0.45%
532A or 542A or 543A or 5432--0.4%1.8%
-----
5432A---0.04%
6432A or 6532A or 6542A or 6543A or 65432---0.2%



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5 Card Low Hand Probabilities: 5432A Rules

 

5432A as the best hand. Straights and Flushes do not disqualify low hand. Approximate probability of being dealt these low hands in 5 cards.


5 Card HandPercent ProbabilityThis Hand or Better
5432A0.04%-
6432A0.04%0.08%
Any Other 6 Low0.16%0.24%
Any 7 Low0.59%0.83%
Any 8 Low1.38%2.21%
Any 9 Low2.76%4.96%
Any 10 Low4.66%9.92%


The probability of being dealt any single unpaired 5 card hand is slightly less than 0.04%


7 Card Low Hand Probabilities: 5432A Rules

 

Approximate probability of being dealt these 5 card LOW hands in 7 cards (eg. 7 Card Stud High-Low or Razz)
5432A as the best hand. Straights and Flushes do not disqualify low hand.


5 Card HandPercent ProbabilityThis Hand or Better
5432A0.6%-
6432A0.6%1.2%
Any Other 6 Low2.4%3.6%
Any 7 Low5.5%9.1%
Any 8 Low9.9%19%
Any 9 Low14.3%33.3%
Any 10 Low17.7%51%



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5 Card Low Hand Probabilities: 6432A Rules

 

6432A as the best hand. Straights and Flushes disqualify low hand. Approximate probability of being dealt these low hands in 5 cards.


5 Card HandPercent ProbabilityThis Hand or Better
6432A0.04%-
Any Other 6 Low*0.12%0.16%
Any 7 Low*0.55%0.71%
Any 8 Low*1.33%2.04%
Any 9 Low*2.71%4.75%
Any 10 Low*4.62%9.37%


* Excludes hands which make straight or flush.
The probability of being dealt any single unpaired 5 card hand is slightly less than 0.04%.


7 Card Low Hand Probabilities: 6432A Rules

 

Approximate probability of being dealt these 5 card LOW hands in 7 cards (eg. 7 Card Stud High-Low or Razz)
6432A as the best hand. Straights and flushes disqualify low hand.


5 Card HandPercent ProbabilityThis Hand or Better
6432A0.6%-
Any Other 6 Low*1.8%2.4%
Any 7 Low*5.1%7.5%
Any 8 Low*9.6%17.1%
Any 9 Low*14.1%31.2%
Any 10 Low*17.6%48.8%


* Excludes hands which make straight or flush.