One unfortunate aspect of the Dealer’s Choice event is the relative sparsity of games in the Stud category. There simply aren’t that many commonly-played variants which use the Stud format. Combining the Stud games with the other Limit games is not an option, however, because Stud games don’t provide any advantage to the player holding the Dealer button, and would thus never be chosen if they were not given a separate category of their own.
In the first run of the Dealer’s Choice event last year, only three Stud games were included. Fortunately, if the WSOP continues to add new games evenly across categories as they’re doing this year, the relative difference will become smaller. Last year the ratio of Limit Flop/Draw games (the most populous category) to Stud was 7-3; this year it will be 8-4, which is already a lot more reasonable.
Unfortunately, in terms of traditional games, they’re going to find themselves out of options quite quickly. The addition this year is Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo Regular, which differs only slightly from the Hi/Lo Eights or Better version which was already included. If they intend to keep adding games in future years, they may have to venture into more uncharted territory with a hypermodern variant such as Razzdugi.
Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo Regular is played identically to Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo Eights or Better, except for the omission of the qualification rule at showdown.
Players are dealt two face-down hole cards and one face-up door card to start with, followed by three more up cards and a final down card, just as in the other Stud variants. The lowest card showing brings in the betting on 3rd street, while on all subsequent streets it is the highest hand showing which is first to act. Big bets always kick in on 5th street.
At showdown, the pot is always split between the highest and lowest five-card hands, with straights and flushes not counting against low hands. This is where the game differs from Eights or Better, as there is no need to make an Eight-High or lower in order to be awarded the Lo half, and thus no chance for a Hi-only hand to scoop.
For the most part, the strategy for Hi/Lo Regular is the same as for Eights or Better. The primary difference is that the relative value of straight and flush draws compared to pairs is even greater in Hi/Lo Regular, which has an impact on starting hand selection as well as play on later streets.
In Eights or Better, it can be viable in some circumstances to play for a monster Hi hand and hope that the other players all miss their Lo draws. In Regular, however, the removal of the qualification rule means this hope no longer exists; two pair and three-of-a-kind hands need to draw perfectly to have even a halfway decent Lo, while full houses and four-of-a-kind make it almost impossible to scoop.
For starters, this means that most paired starting hands are unplayable in Regular, with the exception of a pair of Aces with a low kicker or a low pair with an Ace kicker. Aces-up or small trips have an okay chance of winning the Hi half unimproved, and you’ll only be trailing your opponents by one card for a good Lo. Broadway pairs are out of the question, however, and without an Ace, small pairs will have a very hard time improving enough to win Hi without taking themselves out of the running for Lo.
Conversely, the lack of qualification makes mid-range straight draw hands much more viable. Consider a hand like 876; in Hi/Lo, this is usually a trouble hand, as half of your straight outs are bad for your Lo possibilities. Conversely, in Regular, you can hope to win Lo with a 9- or even Ten-High if your opponents draw poorly, so these mid-range connected hands play a lot better.
On later streets, the game begins to resemble something in between Razz and Hi/Lo Eights or Better. Since pairs are generally bad for one’s scooping possibilities, players want to be shooting for five unpaired low cards first and foremost, and then try to make a straight or flush, or perhaps hope that one pair or even Ace-High is good enough for the scoop, which isn’t as unlikely as it sounds, given that the opponent is presumably also focusing primarily on Lo.
Players who’ve made a good Lo hand on 5th are in particularly good shape in Regular, as pairs now do help them. Having a pair and four to a Lo makes for a potential problem hand, but once the Lo has been hit, your potential avenues for improvement open up immensely.
Interesting situations can come up on later streets if a player who was shooting for a strong Lo instead backs into runner-runner two pair or three of a kind. At that point, it all comes down to hand reading, especially if the pot is still multiway; if the player’s hand is likely to be good for Hi at showdown, it can be worth continuing for the split if the pot is large and/or there are several opponents still putting chips in. Conversely, if it looks like one or more opponents may already have a straight or flush, or a strong draw to one, it is better to throw away such a Hi-only hand, as the odds of making the full house are much too small to be worth chasing, given that the best one can hope for is half the pot.
The difference between Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo Regular and Eights or Better is sufficiently subtle that the main strategic decision remains whether you want to play a split-pot game or a single-pot game. In this regard, the considerations are the same as those already discussed for Eights or Better: the split-pot variants are good for survival situations because the range of playable hands is smaller and you’ll be folding 3rd Street a lot, and because those times you do go to showdown, you will end up splitting a fair bit. Conversely, they’re poor choices when you want to play a lot of hands and try to chip up.
Assuming that you want to play one of the split pot games, the choice between the two versions is more difficult. Because there’s no need to qualify for Lo, you might expect that Regular leads to more split pots, but this is not necessarily the case and depends more on the players than the game. After all, a lot of split pots in Eights or Better occur precisely because someone is playing a Hi-only hand in the hopes that their opponent misses their Lo; since this shouldn’t be the case in Regular, you may or may not actually see more pots being split.
The odds that there is no qualifying Lo in Eights or Better depend heavily on the number of players involved in a typical pot. Split pots become a lot more common in multi-way situations, because it’s harder for everyone to miss their Lo at once. Conversely, heads-up situations are more likely to produce splits in Regular, as two-way draws are much more common, making it fairly likely that each player hits for one end and misses for the other.
Assuming, then, that the reason you’re choosing a split pot game is that a split will be satisfactory to you in your current strategic situation, and want to maximize that possibility, then probably your best choice at a loose table is Eights or Better, while Regular is preferable at a tighter table. This is, of course, assuming that players are still somewhat reasonable – if the table is so loose that players are overplaying their pairs in Regular, for instance, then naturally you would want to choose this game in order to capitalize on that error.
Up Next: Big O (New game for 2015)
The Dealer’s Choice series runs weekly, with one game (or pair of related games) explained every Tuesday. If you’d like to start from the beginning, click here.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.