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 on Hester Street
“So tell me, Dollink,” asked Aunt Sophie, “why can’t the streets have different names? Third street, fourth street, fifth street, sixth street, seventh street. So boring.”
We were ensconced in our second home, a booth in the coffee shop of the Anaheim Club, discussing seven-card stud high-low, known to cognoscenti and other bon vivants as 7/8. Sara was working on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.
“What were you thinking of,” I responded. “Ralph, maybe or Sam? Or how about Della Street?”
“What a coincidence!” exclaimed Sara. “I just got to the clue ‘Mason’s secretary,’ and of course the answer is ‘Street.’ Cle-ver.”
“Something a bit more imaginative,” inserted Aunt Sophie, “I was thinking. Like in hold’em, turn, flop, river, much more interesting. Or poetical. How about maybe Hester Street instead of seventh street. I mean, everyone knows what number you’re on, for heavens sakes.”
“Uh huh,” I interpolated, “and you’d probably like Delancey Street for sixth, wouldn’t you?”
“Yah,” she returned, “such a nice sound!”
“Mmm hmmm,” I murmured. “And you wouldn’t be missing your years in Brooklyn, would you?”
“Go on,” she said, sternly, but I hadn’t missed the moistness in her eyes. “No romance or poetry in your soul.”
“Actually,” I added, “your idea has a certain charm, but I doubt we could overcome the inherent inertia of upwards of 200 million poker players and 200 years. But to continue where I think we should, we’re at seventh street, or, if you wish, Hester Street.”
“Please,” she begged, “do enlighten us.” I knew no sarcasm was intended.
“Seventh street,” I continued, “is probably the most straightforward street. No more trying to decide whether to stick around to see if you’ll make a hand, whether to make those drawing pay for the privilege when you already have the best hand, or deciding to slowplay to get others to draw dead. On seventh street, you should get rewarded for the self-discipline you exhibited by refusing to play all those trash hands. If you’ve been playing according to the tactics we’ve discussed earlier, you’re an odds-on favorite to win at least part of the pot. If it looks like you have a lock or a pretty sure thing on both ways, it’s simple. Bet and raise as much as you can. If you’re going to get the whole pot, don’t try for an extra bet by slowplaying. So if you have a small straight or flush, and the pair of queens on your right bets, raise. Maybe the weaker lows behind you might fold when they would have called a raise, but you don’t really care, because all you’re getting is one or two extra bets, which you get by raising anyway if you beat the high hand. What you’re hoping for is two and three extra bets from those that insist on calling behind you. Sure, you may bet super unlucky and be beat both ways, but that happens seldom enough to warrant gambling on these potential scoop hands.”
“That is,” paraphrased Aunt Sophie, “raising in the long run is worth more than calling when such a good hand you got.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “But let’s say you’ve got an apparent lock for only one way. Now you don’t want to frighten those behind you, because if you raise, you might end up just splitting the pot with the player who bet. So if you had a good six low and that pair of queens bet to your right, you would flat call, so the weak lows behind you would also call. Remember that if you end up splitting the pot, you profit by only one bet for every two calls. If you get lucky, one of the players behind you may raise. Either with a low close to but not as good as yours. Or with a better high hand than that of the initial bettor. Now the gloves can come off when it comes back to you, and you can reraise. This time you’re likely to get called. Of course, if the queens bets and two players call, you raise.”
“What if,” queried Aunt Sophie, “you got a hand that you’re not sure of for either way?”
“This,” I replied, “is much trickier. If you think you have a good shot for one way or the other, go ahead and call, and maybe even call one or two raises. After all, that hand that figures to have a better low than yours might have a hidden full house, or be trying to scare you off with a worse low. Or maybe the two queens is going low, and your two pair will win high. If it’s suddenly three bets to you, you’re going to have to bring in your knowledge of the players. The size of the pot is a determinant, also. You’d hate to lay down what ends up having been the best for half the pot in a huge pot, but if it was a small pot, and you have to put in a lot at the end, well, they say you can’t be a good player without sometimes laying down the best hand.”
“And are there,” Aunt Sophie wondered, “any big mistakes players make on seventh street?”
“Indeed there are,” I supplied. “This mistake is mostly made by beginners, but you see it a lot, particularly in the smaller games you’re interested in. When it’s head up on seventh street, you’ll see a player who has a lock for one direction fail to bet or raise because she assumes that her opponent is going the other way. For example, the player with a board of 7-6-4-2 bets. She has a well-concealed full house and just calls, sure that the pot will be split. On the showdown, she discovers that the other player had a pair to begin with, and ended up with two pair, and no low. She scoops, but should have gotten an extra bet. Or she has 6-4-3-2 showing and A-7-K in the hole. The 7-8-9-T board bets. She assumes he must have a straight or pair, and just calls again. Turns out the opponent had started with 2-3 in the hole, and just kept calling along, hoping to make the straight or back into a low. Instead, he caught a king on the end. She scoops with her 6-4 low, winning high on the strength of the ace. I know that’s an extreme example, but you’re likely to see idiots betting anything on the end. He might be hoping his king is good for high, but why he doesn’t just check, I’ll never know. Or maybe he thinks you completely missed and will throw away your hand for one bet.”
“Ah ha,” offered Aunt Sophie, “I see. Not raising, I have made that mistake.”
“There’s another benefit,” I put in, “to making such a raise. If you don’t raise in situations in which it’s absolutely impossible to scoop, that is, there’s no way to accidentally back into half the pot, then when you do raise, clever players will figure out what you’re doing, and be able to back away from a hand, and save a bet. For example, you have that same 6-4 as before. Your opponent has a pair on board, and bets. Or maybe checks, and so you just show over your cards and tell the dealer to chop it up. If he bets, raise. If he checks, bet. This way when you have the nuts, say a guaranteed scoop hand, or a hand that might back into the whole pot, and you then also raise, your opponent can’t tell if you’re betting or raising only because you have a lock on half the pot or you might be able to get the whole pot. Don’t make that mistake. And let’s say the player who bet the pair of queens has a full house, and raises you back. Go ahead and reraise, even if others later accuse you of wasting time. The reasoning is the same. You want action when the situation comes up and you truly have a monster with a lock for both ways. And don’t forget those truly lovely times when you get your opponent to lay down a better hand. Betting or raising in this situation on the end should be automatic, and I’m amazed at how often I see someone check it down on the end.”
“Poifect sense it makes,” she nodded.
“And another big mistake,” I emended, “is bluffing. I almost absolutely never bluff in 7/8, for reasons we discussed earlier. For a bluff to work, your opponents must put you on a hand, and in low-limit, split-pot games, there are too many hands that they can put you on that still allow them to call. Throw in pot odds, and the optimistic nature of low-limit high-low players, and you’ll soon find that bluffing just isn’t going to work often enough to be profitable.”
“Any others?” she inquired.
“Yes,” I remarked, “betting with less than the nuts. One thing to consider on seventh street is, for opponents who were drawing, the pigeons have come home to roost. On sixth street, you were happy to pound upon them mercilessly. On seventh street, however, they’ve either made a hand or busted out. Since you know your opponents won’t call a bet on the end with a busted draw, it’s often correct to check hands that were eminently bettable on sixth street. Players who are familiar with draw lowball will readily grasp the logic, but for others, perhaps an example will suffice. Say you’re playing against a player who never bluffs or misrepresents a hand. On third street, he has a five of spades showing, and his aggressive betting tells you he probably has two other low spades in the hole. On fourth street, he catches a six of spades. On sixth street, you’ve backed into a rough eight and a draw to a straight eight. He’s caught two large red cards, which have slowed him down. On the end, you catch a blank and are first to act. Betting here on a regular basis could make it easy for your opponent to raise you with a monster one-way hand. While you’re probably correct to call if he does, you’d have been better off checking and calling. If you’re beat both ways, you save a bet, and by checking you make it easier for an opponent to take a shot at bluffing you.”
“That’s it on 7/8?” Aunt Sophie complained.
“Actually,” I concluded, “there’s an awful lot more that could be said about 7/8, but most of the rest of that is situational. That is, to say further would in most cases involve discussing specific hands, and that we can after you play them and wonder if you did so correctly. So for now I’m going to conclude, and let you get out there and apply your knowledge.”
Aunt Sophie rose, obviously eager to play. “On my way, Dollink,” she finished.
“Oh, just one more thing,” I appended.
“Yes, Mr. Columbo?” she threw over her shoulder.
“For more good advice,” I advised, “do read the 7/8 section of Championship Stud. In fact, read the whole book.” I didn’t know if she, having already passed the coffee shop cashier, had heard me. I wondered if anyone was around to take this sage advice.
“What’s a three-letter word for bitter vetch?” demanded Sara.
“E-R-S,” I filled in, “but you and I both know that definition would never appear in a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.”
Thanks again to Mike Zimmers for all the help he provided on this 7/8 series.