Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.
Aunt Sophie doesn’t even get to fourth street
We had just played the Lolita tape I had made on Showtime, and repaired to the kitchen where Aunt Sophie was dispensing a midnight snack she had whipped up earlier. Narsai’s Nonfat Chocolate Banana Dessert, naturally served with lattes and cappuccinos. Knowing that Sophie would continue seeking seven-card stud high-low advice, Sara curled up on the couch with my copy of The Annotated Lolita, edited by Alfred Appel, Jr., the professor from whom I had taken an American Literature class at Stanford.
“You told me,” she summarized, “hands to play and hands not to play. And far more there seemed of the nots.”
“Yes,” I offered; “the only real trap on third street is boredom. Pretty much a hand is playable or it isn’t. But we can talk more about traps on fourth street.”
“Does hand selection,” she asked, “depend on position (relative to the bring-in), like in other stud games? That is, the farther away from the low card you are, the worse hand you can open with? I would guess no.”
“Aunt Sophie,” I responded, “that is a very astute observation, and would be my opinion as well. The only third-street position that matters, in my opinion, is whether you have an ace behind you, which dramatically changes the chances of your being raised. On the other hand, if you restrict your play to the hands I’ve mentioned, you can stand a raise or two.”
Cards to play
“So what,” she continued, “about starting cards relating first to how tight or loose, relatively, and how active or passive, is the game, and second in the pot how many are or will be the number of players or likely players. Beyond just saying what cards to play on third street, you could give a mention which hands to raise and which ones to call raises with, and so on, and why.”
“I’m not sure how best to answer this,” I answered. “In a normal stud or razz game, an early-round call-versus-raise decision should be based largely on whether you want lots of opponents, or relatively few. Unfortunately, in low-limit 7/8 games, a single raise isn’t likely to change your opponents’ decision on whether they will play a particular hand. This is why when you hold hands that aren’t playable against multiple opponents (like a large pocket pair that isn’t aces), they are generally unplayable period. This is because a single raise just isn’t likely to have an effect on the number of people who play. So I would say with your best hands, if several people are already in, you can raise for the reason of building a pot, or call if it’s already raised. Most of the time you are not doing wrong by meekly just calling along. I know aggressive play is winning play in other games, but in 7/8, until the hands have been defined, it’s not the best strategy.”
“And would you say,” she put in, even further you should tighten up your play if there is an ace behind you, particularly if it’s in front of an aggressive player?”
“Yes and no,” I temporized. “I would say better general advice would be only to play hands that can stand a raise, unless you are reasonably confident that you can get in for the minimum bring-in. That might only be if you have very passive players between you and the opener. In fact, if you want to generalize, since you are likely always to get many opponents, I would say that you should play only those hands that play well against many.”
“But even in a loose game,” she speculated, “there must be some pots in which the first few players don’t play. Or in a tight game, more often that would happen. How would the playable hands change as the opponents lessen? You could play maybe those large pairs?”
“If you absolutely know,” I stated, “that you’ll be up against only one or two, and if those remaining players aren’t exposing an ace, then hands like hidden kings might become playable. You won’t lose much money over the long run, however, by reflexively mucking them.”
“What if,” she posited, “there’s a raise on your right from a low card, and no one else has entered the pot, and it looks like you can get heads-up against the low draw because maybe the players behind you look likely to fold, is it worth a reraise with that big pair?”
“Well,” I said, “If you can get heads-up against a low draw when you’re holding a good high-only hand, you might be the favorite, depending on the nature of the low draw. But I took the liberty of running some of these hands through Mike Caro’s Poker Probe before coming over, and I discovered that against a reasonable low, say 6-4-3 of mixed suits, a hand like K-K-8 is a slight underdog. I would just say don’t do it, even if it’s just you, the opener, and one raiser. I can tell you that playing high-only hands in high-low games is a great way to get an ulcer.”
“Another ulcer,” she returned, “I need like a loch im kopf. So let’s get to fourth street strategy.”
I polished off my chocolate banana, drained the last of my latte, and glanced over at Sara, who had fallen asleep on the couch. “That can wait till next time,” I supplied. “Someone needs to be taken home.”
“Always next time you’re saying,” she grumbled.
“Next time,” I insisted; “positively fourth street.”
Thanks go to Mike Zimmers for strategy assistance on this fascinating game.