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The Best Strategy for Triple-Draw Lowball

Triple-draw lowball until recently has been a kind of elitist game. But now that’s changing, and it should become a fine game for low rollers.

By “elitist” I mean that the gameMichael WiesenbergMichael 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!  was played only for very high stakes, giving beginners no chance of learning. The lowest I’d ever heard of the game being played was $10-$20, and that was rare. Mostly games were in the $100-$200 range—and up. And that’s where the elitism came in. Those who were expert at the game would not impart their strategy secrets. They wanted learners to pay the price. Rich suckers of course didn’t mind paying their dues. Such live ones had no better chance at triple draw than they did hold’em or seven stud. Good card players can adjust to any game, and adding another to the mix just gave them that more of an edge. Triple-draw definitely does not play like “traditional” (single-draw) lowball, and that’s one thing to trip up beginners. Those who play regular lowball badly will play triple-draw even worse. And of course the biggest edge that winning players have is not so much the excellence of their own play as the poor quality of play of their opponents.

Anyway, that elitism has ended. Players who were unable to learn the game because they couldn’t afford the stakes can now play on that great equalizer, the Internet. Triple-draw has been introduced online, and at affordable stakes. You can learn how to draw and generally what to expect in play money games, and then graduate to real money. Games are available at micro-stakes of 1 cent-2 cent all the way to $80-$160. Many limits exist between those two: $0.25-$0.50, $0.50-$1, $1-$2, $2-$4, $3-$6, $4-$8, $5-10, $10-$20, and $30-$60. Now players can learn online, just as with other games, and graduate to a b&m (brick-and-mortar cardroom, as opposed to online).

Before getting into beating this game, let’s define it first. Triple-draw lowball seems to have started in the Southwest, probably Mississippi, and apparently within the last five years. (Please, if anyone knows definitively the history of this wonderful game, do let me know by email to or letter to me in care of the magazine.) Both varieties of the game seem to have been played side by side, that is, ace-to-five and deuce-to-seven. The game originally was not played limit, but rather pot-limit. And the games were huge, often with blinds of $25 and $50. Now structured ( two-tiered limit, that is, like limit hold’em) seems more common.

Each game is played with the deck of 52, that is, without a joker.

Ace-to-five ranks hands exactly the same as the single-draw game, with the best being a wheel, next 6-4-3-2-A, next 6-5-3-2-A, and so on.

Deuce-to-seven ranks hands just as played in the $5000 buy-in (with unlimited rebuys) no-limit event of the World Series of Poker. Straights and flushes are ranked as high hands and the ace is high only. The best hand is 7-5-4-3-2 of mixed suits, next 7-6-4-3-2, next 7-6-5-3-2, and so on. In fact, the game is exactly opposite to high poker with one exception. The hand A-2-3-4-5 is not a straight; it is the otherwise-good drawing hand 2-3-4-5 topped by an ace. The hand is better than any other no-pair unsuited hand topped by an ace. A-2-3-4-5, then, beats A-2-3-4-6, and loses to K-Q-J-T-8 (even though that is not a hand that would ordinarily be played). While ace-to-five single-draw lowball is commonly played as a limit game (although no-limit used to be popular in California and other Western states), deuce-to-seven single-draw lowball is commonly played no-limit or pot-limit. The limit version is generally seen only in triple-draw.

Each game features three draws to make a final hand. The game is usually played six-handed, to minimize the need for reshuffling, although in a six-handed online game the deck often needs frequent reshuffling anyway, particularly in the smaller games where players tend to stick around with almost anything. In the early rounds, it is not unusual to see players take three, four, and sometimes even five cards. While drawing multiple cards is generally a mistake in single-draw lowball, in triple-draw it is often correct. Similar to Omaha, triple-draw lowball is a game of the nuts. You frequently see wheels (A-2-3-4-5 in ace-to-five and 2-3-4-5-7 in deuce-to-seven, although the term “wheel” isn’t as common in the latter game) and sixes (in ace-to-five) and sevens (in deuce-to-seven) on the final round. Since the game has no minimum betting requirement (like the sevens rule of ace-to-five single-draw lowball), check-raising is common on all rounds after the first.

I am not going to attempt to present a definitive strategy here. I will show poor plays regularly made by participants. Since, as I said, most of the money you win at poker comes from capitalizing on mistakes made by your opponents, knowledge of these mistakes should make you money. These observations may not pertain to the highest-limit games, but they certainly apply up to about $10-$20.

The biggest mistake I have seen players make is not knowing the rules. This comes up most often in deuce-to-seven, where I see beginners play the heck out of and stand pat on a hand with an ace in it, something like 8-6-3-2-A. That hand is a very bad hand that happens to contain a good draw. You might end up with that hand on the last round, but you certainly would never play it pat, anymore than you would stand pat on a K-6 in single-draw ace-to-five lowball. Sometimes hands don’t get shown down, so you see a newbie laboring under the misapprehension (that aces are low) for several hands. Eventually they figure it out—or just leave in confusion—but it costs them, sometimes a lot. If you’ve never played deuce-to-seven before, read the rules, play in the play money games, start in the lowest limits, and slowly work your way up.

Similar to this gaffe is knowing how to play deuce-to-seven but not realizing what game you’re in. You see players betting and raising, with one player either betting all the way or calling, and at the end he shows down some hand like in the preceding paragraph, or maybe 6-5-3-2-A or, worse, A-2-3-4-5. Sometimes the player embarrassedly types “Doh, this is 2-7” in the chat box, or sometimes nothing, but immediately starts playing deuce-to-seven properly. He knew how to play, but didn’t look at what the game was when he jumped in.

The next mistake is playing ace-to-five triple-draw as if it were single-draw. I have seen a player raise-open with a 10-9, and play the hand pat against three opponents for three drawing rounds. Yes, I have seen someone win in this situation, but that is extremely rare. A 10-9 wouldn’t fare well against three opponents in a single-draw game, but at least it would have a slight chance. Against even one opponent having three draws, a 10-9 is a huge dog. Even a 7-6 against three opponents drawing three cards is a decided underdog. Some people lose a lot of money and never figure this out. More common than a 10-9, though, is someone playing a rough 8 pat all the way against one or more players drawing to the nuts. Apart from losing with such a hand regularly, it may not be intuitively obvious to some players that this is a huge mistake.

Another big mistake is drawing rough. Since both varieties of triple-draw are essentially games of having the nuts or drawing to the nuts, drawing to considerably worse than the nuts is a losing proposition. Yet all the time I see players go three rounds when the best they can make is, in ace-to-five, a 7-6, or, in deuce-to-seven, an 8-7. Constantly drawing to substandard hands is very expensive.

The mistakes so far have all been erring on the loose side, but errors on the tight side may be just as expensive, albeit not directly observable. I see a pot capped on the second round because two players have good draws, while a third player tags along. That third player makes a 6 on round 3. The first player bets and the player with the 6 just calls, afraid that if he raises, one of the other two, who undoubtedly are drawing to monsters, might have him beat and raise or reraise. The first player stands pat, the holder of the 6 does the same, and the third player draws. On the last round, the first player bets, the second player calls, and the third player raises. The first and second players call. On the showdown, the first player reveals 6-5-4-3-2. The tight player shows 6-5-3-2-A. The third player does not show his cards, but a check of the hand history shows that he had 6-5-4-2-A. The tight player is pleased with his pot, never realizing that he left a lot of money on the table. He should have raised on rounds 3 and 4, not called. Player 3 still would have called, since he was drawing to a wheel, and player 1 would at least have called. He might have reraised. But, he almost certainly would have stood pat.

Related to the preceding is FPS (fancy play syndrome). It seems some players are more interested in being tricky than winning, and that philosophy just costs them money. For example, TightS gets dealt 6-5-3-2-A on the first round. Someone limps in first position, and TightS calls. Two other players come in, and both blinds play. So this pot has five players. The blinds take two and four cards. The opener takes two cards, TightS stands pat, and the other players take three and two cards respectively. The blinds and the opener check. TightS checks, and so does everyone else. Why did TightS check? Well, he hoped to trap someone. It’s not completely clear what he would have done if someone had bet behind him. I suspect he would just have called, not yet wanting to reveal his strength on what was still a “cheap” round in the hopes of keeping everyone in. On the third round of betting, the blinds take two cards each. The opener takes one, and the other two take two and one. Again the first three players check. TightS can’t hold off any longer. We’re now into the double-bet rounds. He bets. One of the players behind calls, as does the big blind. Everyone else is out. The big blind takes one card, TightS is still pat, and the player behind takes one card. On the last round, the big blind checks, TightS bets again, and the player behind calls. He has played with TightS before. The big blind folds. TightS shows his monster. The player behind mucks, without revealing that he had 2-3-4-5-7. TightS has won five bets altogether. But if he had been betting and raising all along, he might have won 10 or more bets. Yes, fewer participants would have been in, but those who had good draws would have called along. A variation of this situation is that one of those drawing multiple times makes better than 6-5-3-2-A and beats TightS. By letting everyone in, he made it easier for others to draw out on him. Also, by holding off betting his hand until round 3, he essentially told everyone that he had a good hand. After all, what hand could he bet on round 3 that he couldn’t bet on preceding rounds if he stood pat all along? FPS. He had been hoping to trap someone, but in the process either cost himself several bets or gave others essentially a free shot at drawing out on him. Whenever a player stands pat and skips a round in which he could have bet, that raises the suspicions of the other players. One of the keys to winning at poker is to bet the terrific hands exactly the same as you bet the not-so-good hands. Since it’s perfectly natural to bet good draws each round, betting does not give your hand away. So why not bet in a way that is consistent with a medium pat hand or a good drawing hand when you have a monster?

This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine.  © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg.

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