The Basics of Hi-Lo

The Hi-Lo poker modification in online gambling says the pot can be split after a hand's showdown, and that hands can be played to win either portion. The player with highest hand takes half the pot. The player with the lowest hand takes the other half.

The usual poker hand rankings determine high hands. Low hands are ranked as in Razz poker, where straights and flushes don't count. The best low hand is sometimes called "the wheel" or "the bicycle", and is ace-two-three-four-five.

Hi-Lo games in online gambling usually require low hands to qualify as such by being sufficiently low. A typical qualifier is "eight or better", which means only hands whose highest card is an eight count as a low hand. The hand obviously cannot have a pair or higher ranking.

Someone always wins the high portion of the pot, because there's always a best hand or a tie for the best hand. But a low hand qualifier can result in no playable low hands. In that case, the high hand winner receives the low portion of the pot as well.

In the event there is no showdown because all players but one fold before the river, the sole remaining player wins the entire pot even if they have a low hand that doesn't meet the qualifier.

Declaration versus Cards Speak

Hi-Lo games are further distinguished by whether players must declare their intent to play for the lowest or highest hand. If they do, the variation is known as declaration Hi-Lo. Otherwise, it's known as cards speak Hi-Lo.

In declaration Hi-Lo, players state whether they're playing for high or low before a hand begins. After the showdown, the low players compare hands to determine the lowest, and the high players compare hands to determine the highest.

In cards speak Hi-Lo, everyone is in the running to win either half of the pot, and nobody knows for sure who is playing for high or low until the showdown.

The Hi-Lo poker modification was introduced early in the 20th century, possibly as early as 1903. But it wasn't quickly embraced, taking at least a couple decades to become popular.

These days, stud and Omaha Hi-Lo games are quite prevalent. As a matter of fact, limit Omaha Hi-Lo is an extremely popular World Series of Poker circuit event.

Talking the Talk

As you might expect, Hi-Lo play has a popular lingo all its own.

Players often use the words 'low' and 'high' to refer to the portion of the pot associated with a winning low or high hand. For example, a player in the hunt for the highest hand is "playing for high" or "going for high". A player is "going both ways" with cards that are good for a low hand or a high hand.

The player who had the lowest hand "won the low". Likewise, the player with the highest hand "won the high".

"Scooping" occurs when a player wins both portions of the pot. Splitting the high portion or low portion of the pot due to a tie is sometimes called quartering the pot.

While the Hi-Lo modification can be applied to pretty much any form of poker, it's mostly used in conjunction with seven-card stud and Omaha poker.

Omaha Hi-Lo is often called Omaha Eights or Better, or just Omaha Eight, because it's usually played with the eights or better low hand qualifier.

Splitting the Pot

A pot containing an even number of chip units is split evenly between the high and low winners. In the case of an odd number of chip units, the extra chip goes to the player who won the high.

When players tie, they split the half of the pot they were going for. If that half of the pot contains an odd number of chip units, the odd chip goes to the hand with the highest-ranking single card. If there isn't one, the suits of the cards that tied break the tie. Spades is highest, followed by hearts, diamonds, and clubs.

A Whole New Strategy

The Hi-Lo modification changes game strategy significantly.

The first thing you must keep in mind is that splitting the pot implies lower pot odds. That means a player going for high needs either a stronger draw for a reasonable expected value, or more opponents betting and raising to improve pot odds.

Standard Hi-Lo strategy recommends that the player currently highest, or who receives a strong high draw should lead bet and raise. Conversely, lows should simply call before the river, especially on earlier streets.

This is fairly obvious for high players, because their expected value is either high or increasing. But the reasoning for lows is that a low hand is always at risk of missing the qualifier on a bad draw. There's no point in betting hard until it's clearer the chances of that happening are lower.

However, a low player holding the nut should still consider betting and raising if there are more than two opponents.

There's another important consideration. While players going for low can only win the low portion of the pot, players going for high can scoop if remaining lows don't get their draws.

Overall, since half a pot usually isn't very lucrative, the best strategy is playing hands most capable of scooping. That means mostly playing starting hands that could go either way. The best starting hands are thus aces, cards of the same suit, or low runs like a suited ace-two-three.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Hi-Lo Poker?

    Hi-Lo is a type of poker variant where the player with the lowest hand and the player with the highest hand share the pot winnings, rather than all the money going to the winner.

    Popular types of hi-lo include Omaha Hi/Lo and 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo.

  • Where can I play it online?

    You can play top versions of hi-lo poker games at any of the sites featured in our list of the best hi-lo poker sites.

    You'll find that almost all the big name poker sites offer different hi-lo poker variants now. That's because online gamblers seem to find it seriously exciting playing this twist on the classic game.

  • How does it compare to other variations?

    First of all, the main and most obvious thing is that you're not just playing to get the highest-ranking poker hand because you could also pick up cash and win with the lowest hand as well.

    You'll also see that a lot of hi-lo poker games operate with Pot Limit rules, so you won't be able to bet more than the cash that's in the pot in any one single bet.

  • How long do the games last?

    There's no difference between how long a standard Texas Hold'Em game and an Omaha Hi/Lo game will continue for. The game will be as long or as short as the players want it to be

  • How much can be won?

    Because the pots are split between the player with the highest value hand and the player with the lowest, the amount of money you can win from a single pot is usually smaller than it would be in other online poker games.

  • Is it recommended for beginner players?

    Hi-lo is ideal for newbie poker players because the rules are simple and there's less complicated strategy involved than there is in a game like Texas Hold'Em.

    Don't forget you can always try out poker games for free to get a feel for a new game variant before you start putting the real cash down on the table.

  • Is there a tournament option?

    Yes, just explore your chosen poker site's tournament schedule to find the hi-lo game you're most interested in playing and then buy in to the tournament.

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