Whenever a new form of poker is introduced in an area, good players look on that as an occasion to find some really good games.
It happened in California when hold'em was first introduced. ManyMichael Wiesenberg made his living playing poker for 10 years before turning to a career as a writer. His books include 'Free Money: How to Win in the Cardrooms of California'; 'The Dictonary of Poker', and 'The Ultimate Casino Guide. Check out his writings on everything online draw poker! Nevada experts took regular trips to the Golden Berry Patch—or moved there permanently—and cleaned up playing against all those who had no familiarity with the game but liked the action that twice as many betting rounds as they were used to brought.
It happened on a larger scale when poker first appeared on the Internet. This time it was an online berry patch. Anyone with cardroom familiarity had an edge on these games because suddenly tens of thousands were playing whose only poker experience was with home games, most of which provide no preparation for games in which some people were not playing for fun and were actually trying to win. Many didn’t even have that much experience. They just liked to gamble. And gambling it was for them. Meanwhile, the experts cleaned up. In fact, some who were just break-even players or even overall losers suddenly discovered that their moderate skills were enough to beat all those newbies.
It happened again when draw poker was introduced online. Everyone thinks he can play draw, because that is the game everyone is familiar with from the movies and TV, and probably the most common home game. In reality, most players don’t have a clue about draw poker. And that includes those who play hold'em and seven-card stud well. Part of the reason for this is that while recently a lot of good material has been published about the popular games, the only good literature about draw is inaccessible to most players. Further, online draw is a different game from what was played in cardrooms, so even the old-time draw players are at a disadvantage. Draw is still found at several online cardrooms, and the games are still good.
It happened yet again, but this time on a much smaller scale, when lowball was introduced online. As sometimes happens when a new venue opens or when a new game is introduced, this time the berry patch withered. But the games lasted about a year, and during that time were incredibly juicy.
I’m talking about ace-to-five lowball with one draw, not the triple-draw varieties (both ace-to-five and deuce-to-seven) that are popular now. Players jump into a game they have never played before and think they can pick it up just by playing a few hands. That’s not the case in lowball, in which many actions are not intuitively obvious.
While it’s true that “any two cards can win” in hold’em, playing them regularly is not a winning strategy. Nonetheless, someone who plays two random cards online in low-limit games in which often half the table sees the flop will get lucky often enough to be able to continue playing that strategy. The poor hands are not that big an underdog against average or better hands.
It doesn’t work that way in lowball, though, because there’s only one chance to catch up. The rough pat hands and the multiple-card draws are huge underdogs to the hands played by those who know what they’re doing. On the first round of hold’em, any hand has a reasonable chance against almost any other hand. But in lowball the hands that many of these players who attempted to educate themselves had no chance of winning. I often saw players call to the cap only to be drawing dead or otherwise play a hand in such a way that it had zero percent chance of winning
For example, a player would come in cold for three or four bets to draw to an 8 or 9 against someone with a pat 7. And of course call the bet after the draw—sometimes raise—if he made the hand. Players regularly called multiple bets to draw two, three—and sometimes more!—cards. A three-card draw against the worst pat hand most knowledgeable players would play (a rough 10, for example, 10-9-8-7-6) is about a 6-t-1 underdog. Against better hands, the three-card draw could be a 75-to-1 dog. And yet I saw these plays all the time. And this game had no joker, unlike most ace-to-five games in cardrooms.
I once had a pat 6. The pot was capped before the draw. I and two others all stood pat. I bet, and got a call and an overcall. This was at an online cardroom in which, in the draw games, all hands were exposed at the showdown, so I got to see right away what these people were playing. The first caller had a rough 10, a questionable enough hand with which to cap, stand pat behind a pat hand, and then call after the draw. The second player had J-10-8-7-6. He had little chance even before the draw. If both players had drawn one card, he would win a bit less than 20% of the time. That would not justify putting a third of the money into the pot, but at least he would have a chance. But standing pat behind two pat hands and calling after the draw, he could win only if both were bluffing—or total idiots.
Speaking of idiots, though, I did actually see a player win in that exact situation. He stood pat in a capped pot behind two other pat hands. The first player was bluffing with two pair. The second had stood pat on a Q-J and called, presumably convinced both before and after the draw that the first was bluffing. So the overcall with the jack won. This happened in a game in which I was not getting good cards and could just shake my head and hope the pixels would change. I’ve heard players in brick-and-mortar cardrooms say, “I don’t want to get on a rush. I just want the cards to break even.” That’s what I was thinking.
Near the end of a lowball tournament, I saw a capped pot. The first player stood pat, and the second drew a card. The first bet and the second called with a pair of tens! I never understood that one. The guy had played reasonably sanely till then. You rarely draw to tens to begin with in lowball. And if you do, you certainly don’t call a pat hand when you pair your top card. That was a play that could only work if the first player were bluffing—and then, bluffing by standing pat on something worse than two tens. But a bluff was unlikely, because the second had demonstrated that he was a calling station.
Players did not understand the value of a hand. That is something that you pick up from experience. I saw a player stand pat on a hand like Q-6-5-4-2 against a one-card draw. I guess the player figured out for himself that if you don’t draw you can’t pair, and if the other player pairs on his draw, you might lose if you pair higher. I imagine he would have drawn if the first player stood pat. Of course, the player always called after the draw when he stood pat on his queen. The player didn’t make the next step in the reasoning, though, that while a queen is certainly better than a pair, standing pat against a one-card draw has negative expectation while drawing often gives the player a better chance of winning than the opponent. Many times I drew one card against a pat hand and thought that I lost when I caught a jack or queen. I often was pleasantly surprised to win the pot when I checked.
While most players managed to grasp the concept that a pat jack or queen was not a great hand against another pat hand or a one-card draw, they didn’t manage to reason it out that you should still draw to a good drawing hand against a two- or three-card draw. For example, a Q-7 is the favorite over any two-card. However, drawing to the 7 is even better. And drawing has the advantage of ending up with a hand that has the potential of winning one or more bets after the draw, thus increasing the expectation. For example, Q-7 against a typical two-card draw wins about 60 percent of the time. But drawing one card wins 65 percent of the time. And a better one-card draw against a worse two-card draws increases the margin. Since the pat queen invariably called the one-card draw, he lost a big bet after the draw probably 90 percent of the time.
Players didn’t learn from observation, either. Or they interpreted incorrectly. Say I had the big blind and someone limped on the little blind. He drew three cards. If I had Q-J-10-2-A, I would stand pat, even though I likely had a better three-card draw than his. Here the first player hardly ever made a betting hand after the draw, and my chance of winning the pot was much better than drawing three. Seeing this, though, the opponent might make the erroneous conclusion that a pat queen was a good hand. One player on my right regularly “told” me his hand by his bet before the draw. If he came in for a raise, he was pat or had a good-one card draw. If he limped, he had something else. But once he was in, he always called my raise. When he limped, I would raise with some pretty rough one-card draws, my better two-card draws, and any pat jack or better. He saw me stand pat—and win—against him with a lot of pat jacks. That convinced him that a pat jack was a terrific hand.
When I played in these wonderful games, I would cap with any pat hand better than a 10—and against some players even with a 10. I would also cap with any one-card draw to a 7 or better—and, again, against some players with an 8 draw. This made me look like an action player, and got me lots of calls.
Sometimes a player who did have a clue about lowball would sit in the game. I could usually tell such a player because the player was too tight. One of the players boasted that he was an old-time Gardena player. I could tell, and I played circles around him. When he put in action, I got out of the way. When he played cautiously, I pushed my good draws and pat hands. He saw me bet very rough hands enough times against the live calling stations that he called me too often. This player complained that he “couldn’t beat a crazy game” like this, and quit after awhile. He went back to the draw games where his tight play was enough to scrape out a few bets per hour.
From the Official Dictionary of Poker:
(n) An easy (to beat) game, particularly one full of live ones gambling it up.
(n phrase) In ace-to-five, the rule that states that you must bet a 7 or better (that is, a no-pair hand topped by a 7, 6, or 5) after the draw. Many years ago, in a very few clubs, failing to bet a 7 could cost you the entire pot; nowadays, it costs you only the action (betting) after the draw. In such a case, if a player passes a 7, and then calls with it, if the player who bet has worse than the passed hand, the bettor gets his money back, and the player who passed the 7 wins what was in the pot before the draw; if the player who bet has better than the passed hand, the bettor of course wins the whole pot, that is, the bet after the draw along with the remainder of the pot. The purpose of the rule is to speed up the game (by preventing players from passing good hands, and then waiting for the action to get back to them so they can raise).
This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine. © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg.
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