December 05, 2005
Stud-8 or Better is a great game. The rules are nearly identical to regular 7-Card Stud, but there's one key difference. At showdown, the pot is split; half is given to the player with the best high, and half to the player with the best low. In order to take a portion of the pot, a low hand must have no card higher than an 8. If there is no qualifying low, the high hand takes the entire pot.
With players aiming for both high and low hands, Stud-8 invites a lot of action. But beginning players, even those with some 7-Card Stud experience, often come to a Stud-8 table with a poor understanding of what hands do well in this split-pot game.
To understand what types of hands you should play in Stud-8, you must grasp this key concept: In Stud-8, you're looking to scoop pots. By scoop, I mean that you want to take both the high and the low halves of the pot. That's where you're going to make your real profit.
The starting hands that are most likely to make you the sole winner of a big pot contain three low suited connectors. For example, As-2s-3s and 4h-5h-6h have great potential. They'll often make unbeatable lows and have a flush or a straight to go along with them. So, if you see a hand that starts with three low suited cards, look to play it aggressively.
You should play hands with three low cards, especially those that include an Ace. A starting hand like Ac-2d-7c may not have potential to make a flush, but there is a good chance that you'll create a solid low. And the Ace gives you a shot at a decent high, with something like Aces-up. Even a hand like 4-5-7 has enough of an opportunity to make both straights and lows to make it playable.
The major mistake that new Stud-8 players make is that they play aggressively with hands that might serve them well in a regular game of 7-Card Stud. For instance, a hand like T-J-Q plays well when you only need to be concerned about creating a high hand. But in Stud-8, this is a hand that should be mucked. With no chance of making a low, a player could find himself chasing a draw that would only net half the pot. Those sorts of situations will often lead to dreadful results.
Big pairs, like Jacks, Queens and Kings, are also difficult to play in Stud-8. A quick example will illustrate the problem big pairs present. Say you're dealt a Queen and a 7 in the hole, and another Queen as your up-card, giving you a pair. After the betting on third street, two other players remain, one showing a 5, the other a 3. This appears to be a good situation for you, as the other two seem to be looking for lows. But then, on fourth street, the player who had a 3 catches an Ace and you find a 9. Now you're in a very difficult spot. The Ace might have helped your opponent's low draw and perhaps added a straight draw to his hand. Or it might have paired an Ace he had in the hole. It would be difficult to know where you stand. Even if you were ahead, you need to be concerned that your opponent will pair the Ace or hit a straight before the end of the hand.
If you're going to play big pairs in Stud-8, proceed with caution. Be ready to dump the hand if one or more of your opponents develop a scary board.
The later streets in Stud-8 can be lot of fun as players try to figure out how their opponents' hands are developing. It takes practice and experience to become a good Stud-8 player. But if you follow the suggestions for starting hands I discussed here, you should be on your way to playing Stud-8 profitably.