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High-Low Split Secrets, Plus Great Poker Factors

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

If you like to play high-low split of any variety — seven-stud, Omaha, or other — you need to understand this. What I’m going to talk about today is not widely known among average high-low players, but it’s something you MUST know to make the most profit possible.

Suppose you’re sitting there, playing your heart out. Ah, high-low is so interesting, right. You can relax and watch pots you’re not even involved in and try to analyze how you could have played the hands better. You can really exercise your mind, finding all sorts of clever avenues to explore. Or, optionally, you can do what I do — let your mind wander and wait for the next hand in which you ARE involved.

Either way, high-low is strange, because you’ll sometimes encounter a situation where you think you have an advantage. That’s good, right? But wait. Suppose the player you hold this advantage over is weak not sophisticated. Better, you think. But wait. He’s the aggressor, doing the betting. OK, you think, that’s perfect. I have the advantage and he’s doing the betting. What could be better? But wait.

He has his sights on the same the same side of the pot — high or low — as you do. Oh-oh is right! You often must throw your hand away in this situation. That’s because you and your opponent are BOTH at a disadvantage against an opponent who is clearly going to win the other side. Sure, yours is not as big a disadvantage as the unsophisticated opponent, but you BOTH have losing expectations. And, sadly, your hand is unplayable from this point onward. You can feel sorry for yourself, you can inwardly fume, you can shout out, "What gives, here?" But no matter what, you’ve got to pass.

By passing, though, you’re often leaving the player with a worse hand than yours in a profitable situation. He can now divide the money already wagered with an opponent likely to win the OTHER half of the pot. This is a frustrating, but common situation in high-low split. You can only punish the opponent by also punishing yourself. And it’s often better to grumble and give up.

Let’s take a 20-second time out to talk about something else. I posted a message related to today’s topic on the Internet newsgroup a few weeks ago. Lots of poker players from all over the world can freely exchange ideas and strategies on RGP. If you have a computer, are online, and have a newsreader, this group gets my highest recommendation. Drop by, read messages, or contribute. You’ll be glad. The following is edited from my originally posted message…

What if the high-low opponent going for the OTHER side bets? Now, even if the unsophisticated high-low opponent going for the same side as you doesn’t raise, just his call may make it unprofitable for YOU to call. Why? Because he has enough chance of beating you to make your continued play unprofitable. You are COMPETING for HALF the pot with an expectation of only winning slightly more than one-quarter (say 26 percent) of all money subsequently wagered. Fully one-third (33 percent) of it will be wagered by you. Sometimes this justified continued action, because there’s already enough money in the pot, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Strangely, this concept doesn’t require an unsophisticated opponent to be valid. Sometimes, from your opponent’s perspective, your hand appears to be different from what it is. He will then act aggressively (or you may know in advance that he will raise if you call) and you will be forced to pass. In passing, whether your same-side opponent is sophisticated or not, you will usually be leaving him in a profitable situation, while you unhappily surrender your money and your chances to win with an even-better hand.

Now, here’s the really important consideration: Although positional advantage is very important in high-low split, part of it is diminished by the fact that sometimes (especially in a three-way pot) the FIRST opponent going for one side (in practice, usually the high side in eight-or-better high-low split), can force from the pot a rational player acting afterward. Either a call or a raise will usually accomplish this miracle, whether or not you have a better hand than the intelligent player acting next. All he can do is mumble and pass. This middle-position opportunity is mean, but one that we should all take advantage of.

When you’re in that middle position — going for the same high or low side as the player to act next AND faced with a bet from someone going the other way all by his lonesome — you should call or raise if the opponent yet to act is knowledgeable, is not on tilt, and is likely to fold. Otherwise, you should throw your hand away. There’s pure profit in pursuing that strategy.

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