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 barges in
We lounged beneath an umbrella by the Mirage pool. It was too early for any BARGE events. Sara, Aunt Sophie, and I had flown to Vegas for four days of hilarity, including watching the ADBs (alt dot drunken bastards) trying to put a whole craps table on tilt by covering the layout with darkside bets (the don’ts) and screaming for the shooter to seven out. One of us, cheered on by the other two, would take part in the BARGE no-limit hold’em tournament, the winner of which would get cash, a guaranteed seat in the first Tournament of Champions, and the honor of designing the following year’s BARGE commemorative chip set. We had also seen the Tiltboys conduct the WRC (World Roshambo Championship, aka rock-scissors-paper) and try to put each other on tilt by tricking one another to view circles formed of thumb and forefinger held below waist level, the viewing of which rewarded the inadvertent viewer with a fist blow to the upper arm. The Tiltboys also vied with the ADBs to see who could consume the greatest quantity of the most exotic alcoholic beverages while playing such BARGE mainstays as Rocks ’n’ Beer and Chowaha. These will not be chronicled here, as you will find them elaborated elsewhere in the pages of a recent copy of this very journal.
While Sara lounged on a chaise longue poring over my copy of Championship Stud, uncharacteristically attracting little attention due to acres of similarly exposed nubile flesh, Aunt Sophie pumped me for more information on the game officially yclept seven-card stud high-low, but familiarly known as 7/8.
Whether to play
“So far,” I began, “we have covered whether to play on fourth street. To review, you continue to play if, one, you catch well (which, sadly, you won’t most of the time), or, two, you started with a super three-card hand, don’t catch well on fourth street, but also don’t lose much ground to the field. An example of this second situation could be starting with 2-5-6 of one suit and catching an off-suit eight or higher on fourth street. This is not a good catch, but when you look at your opponents’ boards, however, you see all of the following: none of the threes and fours are out; none or few of your suit are out; and none of your opponents caught a ‘monster’ card on fourth.”
“And what,” Aunt Sophie demanded, “is a ‘monster card’?”
“One,” I responded, “that would be likely to initiate strong action on the part of its holder. An ace in suit with the card of third street or a second good low card, for example.”
“Ah,” she assented, whether in acknowledgment of enlightenment or the appearance of the roving provider of provender and liquid refreshment I could not tell. “Three Red Hook Rye ales you’ll bring us, please,” she stated to that worthy, “and a tray maybe of little sandwiches like I seen you bring to those folks over there.”
“In this latter situation,” I picked up, “you’re willing to pay a single bet to take off a card. You would almost never initiate any action in this instance, but if it’s bet into you, and you don’t fear a raise behind you, it’s worth looking at another card.”
“And if to you it’s multiple bets,” she questioned, “or you just know this one player behind you raises on the slightest pretense and he has maybe an ace or his cards look decent, then you should get out?”
“Indeed you should,” I responded. “A good start has unfortunately turned into a hand on which you no longer want to invest much more.”
“Okay,” she nodded. “And if you catch a good card?”
“On those occasions,” I went on, “in which you’ve caught a really good card, you’ve preserved the scoop potential of your hand. This includes picking up a fourth card of your suit, particularly a low card of your suit, or getting four to a small straight. It also includes picking up an ace on fourth street, whether or not you had one on third street. It is virtually never a bad thing to pick up an ace on fourth street, if for no other reason than it takes a powerful card out of the deck, one that could be a threat in someone else’s hand.
Sweep or fall back
“Now,” I continued, “bearing in mind that you’re still in reasonable contention for the entire pot, it’s obvious that you want to make that pot as large as possible. What’s considerably less obvious is how to do this. Since you’ll be starting with low cards, you’ll usually not be the first action on fourth street. Ideally, the opener will be on your left. If so, and if there is at least one caller, you should raise. If the action comes directly from your right, however, a smooth call is probably more appropriate. This may seem counterintuitive to you, but remember our guiding philosophy for 7/8: plan to sweep, but fall back on a split.”
The waiter arrived with a tray loaded with tea sandwiches, plus a triplet of rubicund brews. Aunt Sophie signed the chit, after adding in a generous tip. I passed a glass to Sara, and had a sip of nectar.
“So,” I resumed, “an example. Consider the following fourth street scenario. A player to your right bets, you’re holding four terrific cards, and there are three or more players behind you with less terrific hands evident. A raise here might well drive out everyone but the original bettor, in which case you’re fighting for a much smaller pot, and most likely to split it anyway. I much prefer to allow weaker hands to come in for a single bet, and then hammer them on the later streets if and when I complete my hand.
A good tell
“If it’s checked to you, of course put in the first bet, unless you strongly sense that a bet is coming from the player to your left, in which case you’d try for a check-raise. Be really sure, though. I mean, you need a good tell on the player to your left. Of course, in some cases that’s as obvious as the player holding chips ready to bet, and you know this player never fakes that move. Just remember that it’s a sin to go for a check-raise and miss a fourth-street bet entirely. If you’d bet, though, likely you’d have been called in three or four places. Nothing is more frustrating than finally making a great hand on fifth street, betting into a small pot (because you didn’t build it earlier), and having everyone fold.”
“Well,” Aunt Sophie said loftily, “I hardly ever check-raise.”
“Even though,” I commented, “there are times when you ought to, most players try to check-raise far too often, and end up shooting themselves in the foot, figuratively. Better to bet 90 percent of the time in this situation. And remember about driving others who might have stayed for one bet out by raising a bettor directly on your right. Above all, avoid getting heads-up with what appears to be a better high hand. This is a very bad situation to be in, because you probably need to complete your low just to split the pot, and there won’t be any other players increasing your payoff.”
“Ah hah,” she offered. “A watercress sandwich you’ll have so as not to lose your energy.”
“Thank you,” I returned. “I should point out here that, in contrast to razz (a game we can maybe get into another time), on fourth street you have to truly catch well. If you started out with, say, two-three in the whole and a five up, and catch another two, don’t try to bluff or play the hand strongly here. In 7/8 it’s too difficult for your unsophisticated opponents (which in the lower limits will be most of them) to put you on a particular hand, and the split nature of the game implies you’re more likely to be called on the end.”
I had another sip of Red Hook, and speared a caviar sandwich.
“Let me conclude today’s discussion with,” I concluded, “a final note on catching well on fourth street. You need to be aware not just of your own cards. A comprehensive study of how you did on fourth street will take into consideration how your opponents — all of them — did, as well. There are times when you catch a card that would be perfectly playable in most circumstances, but the other upcards just don’t bode well for you. For example, let’s say you were drawing to 5-6-7 offsuit, and catch an 8. Not bad at first blush, but you notice that the board has has three positions with fours up along with another low card, and a nine has been exposed. (You of course have been keeping track of key folded cards.) Two things have happened here. First, your chances of making your straight (and therefore your chances of scooping) have been cut in half. Second, you’re now in very serious danger of making a losing low hand.”
The waiter reappeared with another tray to replace our dwindling supplies, and Sophie again went through the signing ritual.
“This last point is worth dwelling on,” I appended. “Many players interpret the ‘eight-or-better’ rule to imply that an eight-high is a very good hand. Lowball players in particular are prone to this fallacy. If you learn nothing else, burn into your poker psyche the reality that an eight-high is an escape hand more often than it is a scoop hand. You really should be trying for sevens or better in the early streets, and think of the eight as more of a possible out card. A rough eight is rarely a hand to draw to, especially when your straight potential is weak.”
The author again is deeply indebted to Mike Zimmers for significant input to this series.