In this instalment, we’ll be looking at two different, but very closely related games, 2-7 Triple Draw and A-5 Triple Draw. Despite their subtle differences, the overall strategy is very similar for both, so it makes no sense to treat them separately.
Lowball games in general are are almost always Limit, because of their heavy dependence on starting hands. Played Pot-Limit or No-Limit, too many pots would either be won or see all the chips go in on the first betting round, making the game less interesting. The exception is 2-7 Single Draw, which is included in the format as a No-Limit game because it only has two streets of betting to begin with.
Triple Draw Lowball games are not terribly popular with the general poker-playing public, either in tournaments or as cash games, because they tend to be a bit dry and formulaic due to the lack of public information in the form of up cards or community cards. They do, however, appear a lot in mixed games, both online and live, because they’re relatively simple to understand even if you’ve never played them. Furthermore, cash 2-7 Triple Draw in particular has seen a recent surge in popularity at the nosebleed stakes, perhaps because it’s so hard to find an edge in the more common games at that level.
Players are dealt five cards each, all hidden. Blinds and betting order work just as they do with the flop games. There are a total of four rounds of betting – the first two with a small bet and the last two with a (double-sized) big bet, again just like the flop games. After each betting round except the last, there is a draw phase, which proceeds in the same order as the betting, starting with the player to the left of the Button. Each player exchange as many or as few of their cards as they like, receiving replacements from the deck.
At showdown, the best low hand wins the entire pot, and it is here that the two games differ. In A-5 Lowball, Aces are low and straights and flushes are not considered. A-2-3-4-5 is thus the best possible hand, hence the name.
2-7 Lowball is a little more complicated; Aces are now the highest card, not the lowest, but this is a purely cosmetic change which doesn’t affect the strategy at all, but only serves to help players remember which of the two games they’re playing. The actual difference between the games is that straights and flushes do count in 2-7 Lowball, and will automatically lose at showdown (except in the unlikely event that someone has an even higher hand). 2-3-4-5-7 is therefore the best hand (as long as they’re not all the same suit), while 2-3-4-5-6 is among the worst.
Lowball games in general are more dependent on starting hands than other games because the best hands are very easy to make compared to quads, straight flushes and the like in other games. This is especially true in these Triple Draw variants. Because it is so likely for someone to make the nuts, you rarely want to be drawing for anything less, since the usual poker principle applies that drawing to the second-best hand is the worst thing you can do to yourself.
There aren’t the same variety of hands you can make in a Lowball game as in a regular Highball game, so preflop hand selection is quite simple: ideally, you either want a pretty good made hand, or four cards to the nuts. So, in A-5, something like 7-6-4-2-A (pat) or Q-5-3-2-A (discarding the Q) is a hand you’re almost always going to be playing.
As with other games, you can loosen up your requirements a little depending on the situation. Calling in position, or opening when you don’t expect too many callers, you can accept a draw to the near-nuts (6 high in A-5, 8-high in 2-7) and/or a two-card rather than one-card draw (e.g. Q-J-4-3-2). In blind steal situations, whether stealing or defending, you can go weaker still, but you would usually rather take a 3-card draw to the nuts than a 2- or 1-card draw to a mediocre hand.
Folding after the first draw is quite difficult – if your hand was worth drawing one with before, it is usually worth drawing one with again, especially in what is now a larger pot. The only way to get away from a drawing hand in Lowball is when you’re sure that an opponent has a sufficiently strong pat hand that only a very few cards can help you. This can be the case if two or more opponents get into a raising war, or if an opponent who was drawing one suddenly raises you and then stands pat.
It’s very important to note that because players only tend to start drawing when they hold several very low cards, a draw which hits will quite often be a better hand than one which was dealt pat. If you hit 8-high in 2-7 or 6-high in A-5, it will likely be good against someone who has been pat from the start, but is much less likely to be good if another drawing player has stood pat and seems to like his hand.
There is relatively little bluffing that goes on in Lowball outside of blind steals. Aside from those, the most common bluffing spot is on the final street of betting when both players have been drawing the whole way. There an opponent who has hit a pair may take one final stab at the pot in case his opponent has paired as well, or could be convinced to fold something like K-high.
Heads up against a straightforward and tight opponent, you can try a pat bluff, raising and staying pat after one or two draws when in fact you have missed, in the hopes of convincing him to throw away his own draw or weak made hand. This is of course risky, since you’re giving up at least one chance to draw to a legitimate hand in order to try the bluff, but it can be effective when your own image is tight and straightforward as well.
Differences Between A-5 and 2-7
Aside from fringe cases like picking up four suited low cards in 2-7, there are really only three differences between it and A-5, which make it a slightly deeper, slightly tougher game. These are that it’s a little easier to get burned on the final draw in 2-7, that a draw with both a 2 and a 7 is significantly better than other draws, and that it’s possible to lose with 7-high.
The reason for the first two is, of course, the possibility of making a straight. Holding four cards to the nuts in A-5, there is one rank of card that you can draw to make the nuts and 4 which would leave you stuck with a pair. With most draws to a 7-high in 2-7, you have to worry about a straight as well, so there is still only one card to give you your 7-high, and five which would leave you with little or no showdown value.
If you hold both ends, however – a Deuce and a Seven, plus two of the cards in between – you don’t have to worry about a straight. Now there are two cards to give you a 7-high instead of one, and only four which wreck your hand entirely. These sorts of draws should then be played much more aggressively than other kinds, and in fact, the most commonly given piece of advice for beginners in 2-7 Triple Draw is not to play any draw which does not contain a Deuce.
The downside to all this is that not all 7-high hands are the nuts. If you make 7-6-5-3-2, for instance, you can still lose to 7-6-4-3-2 or 7-5-4-3-2. This doesn’t happen all that often, of course, but it’s important to remember before you cap the final street with a non-nut 7-high.
Because these are the most straightforward games in the Limit Flop/Draw category, they’re good choices when you’re at a table with a lot of tough, tricky players. Your position as the Button also helps you a lot, especially in the first round of betting, since getting to see the action from most of the table will help you decide whether your marginal pat hand or two-card draw is worth playing. As long as you make good decisions regarding which starting hands to play and don’t consistently fall for pat bluffs, you’re much less likely to get outplayed later in the hand than in some of the other games.
On the other hand, the fact that the games are so sticky – that is, that it’s so hard to fold once you’ve decided to play a hand – makes it a dangerous choice in situations where you can’t afford to lose a lot of chips. You don’t want to bust on the bubble because you picked up an unfoldable draw which then missed three times in a row, or a pat hand against an opponent who hit his draw on the final street because you had no way of making him fold.
Up Next: Badugi
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.