Wiesenberg (s081 poker): Sophie VI

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.

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Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie VI

Nu, tsatskeleh,” began Aunt Sophie, “is fifth street done now?”

We still occupied our reserved booth in the coffee shop of the Anaheim Club, discussing seven-card stud high-low, known in many quarters as 7/8. Sara read Douglas Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork, Gödel, Escher, Bach, not for any class, merely as an intellectual exercise and a pursuit of pure perusing pleasure.

How to play

“Oh, indeed it is,” I responded. “In fact some might opine that we beat fifth street to death in assessing all the various possibilities. While sixth street has just as many possibilities, play on sixth street is considerably simpler than that on fifth. This is because we often face a difficult decision, based on many factors, such as live cards and the double size of the bets, of whether to play on past fifth street. If the decision to continue play has been reached correctly, it is very rare that we choose to fold on sixth street. The main decisions, therefore, are usually not whether to play on, but how to play on. And even this is simple: by sixth street, the hands have taken shape and you should have a pretty good idea of where you are.”

The fabled waitress drifted by, proffering caffeinic replenishment and caloric provender. I accepted another latte, Aunt Sophie opted for a cappuccino, while Sara was pleased to receive an infusion of PG Tips, a smoky tea popular in England but virtually unknown in America.

“If,” I continued, “you have a lock for half the pot, the time for slow-playing is over. You want to pound on your opponents on sixth street. Bet, raise, reraise. There are only two exceptions to this:

“One, if your hand is so strong that your opponents are drawing dead, you may want to keep them in, and so would not generally raise one opponent who has just bet directly from your right. (This was also true of fifth street.) But don’t try to get too cute here; if no one else has bet, you absolutely must.”

“Two, if your raises would drive out everyone except someone with whom you must split the pot, you should try to keep the field multiway, so long as you can get at least one bet in on sixth street.”

“I don’t think,” Aunt Sophie put in, “with betting my hand a problem I will have if it’s good. Getting one will be the problem.”


“Indeed,” I offered. “So, if you are fortunate enough to have a lock on the whole pot — and allow me some license here, since true locks are extremely rare — then you can be supremely aggressive. Remember that since you’re expecting to keep all of the bets that go in, it’s okay to play hard here even if this restricts the field. Besides, making the pot bigger here will make it harder for people to fold on the end. So if you have a powerhouse here, and they stay with you anyway, they’re likely to stick around hoping for half the pot after all the cards are out. Make them pay to draw on sixth street, and how wonderful if they pay to be drawing dead.”

“Did you know,” Sara stuck in gratuitously, “that Hofstadter’s ‘Contracrostipunctus,’ which expands upon the connection between musical counterpoint and poetical acrostics, itself embodies an acrostic?”

“Hah?” demanded Aunt Sophie, while I remarked that I had indeed noticed it at the time of my reading, adding that the acrostic stated that it was an acrostic, which was in itself one of those hidden marvels Hofstadter had enjoined upon the reader to discover for herself, a sort of “I yam what I yam and thass all I yam.” Sara returned to her reading after shooting a withering look my direction.


“The above situations are wonderful,” I went on, “except for one detail: they don’t come along very often. It is far more common to be holding a made hand but to have one or more draws out against you. This is especially true if you have made a rough eight for low (which is one reason I don’t like playing for eights, as I said before). There are times when you hold a hand like 8-7 in the hole with 6-4-2-7 on the board on sixth street, and you’re facing boards like 6-A-3-X or 5-4-3-X or even 8-5-4-2, in addition to one or more better high hands. Your draw for high is very thin, and your low, albeit made, is quite fragile. In the lower-limit games, it can be nearly impossible to move someone off of a big draw. Remember that we pointed out above that once we play past fifth street, we’re usually tied on till seventh. That applies to all players, not just the good ones, but perhaps even more so the bad ones, who might be where they are with little chance for any part of the pot. However, if a high hand bets to your right, a raise here might knock out some of those draws. Raising here is akin to raising before the draw in lowball with a pat nine: it means that you’re going to get beaten a lot of the time, so you may want to use this only against opponents who can get away from a hand here. The flip side of that coin, of course, is that the pots you do win half or all of are going to be that much larger. Some lowball players are reasonably successful rarely playing nines. Those who do so selectively make more money, although at the expense of greatly increasing their variance. Analogously, those who raise with weak but made one-way hands in 7/8 in the face of better draws probably make more money than those who don’t, but they also see much higher variance. Their losses are greater when they lose, in addition to their wins being higher. The hidden benefit is getting paid off in situations in which you do have the nuts if you’re known to push in situations in which you don’t.”

“And more,” asked Aunt Sophie, “to come, I hope?”

“Definitely more,” I supplied, “but not today.”

Continued thanks go to Mike Zimmers for input on this series. And Lynn for sparing him for a few minutes.

Next: 082 Aunt Sophie on Hester Street


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