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The Lowball Variant of Poker
In Poker, Lowball is a simple variation of Draw.
The idea is to catch the lowest hand possible, to avoid a pair of anything higher.
Flushes and straights are not recognized; an A counts as a 1; the lowest hand is 5 4 3 2 A, called a 'wheel' or 'bicycle.' One pair of A's ranks below one pair of Deuces.
Anybody, in his turn, may open on anything.
You may encounter, also, one or two sharpshooting experts. Lowball is also popular in California, where it is often played with the wild Joker.
One detailed example: say, the group you have just joined plays Lowball on occasion, without the Joker. Player C, the dealer, has just announced it.
C deals. Everybody checks around to you. You hold Q, J, 3, 2, A. Should you open, or check?
Check. If anybody else opens, fold when the betting again reaches you. At Lowball, you should draw no more than one, and then only to a hand which can become an eight-high or lower.
When you hold three low cards and draw two, the odds are six to one against your catching an eight-high or lower.
The only time the pot offers money odds to balance the odds in a two-card draw is when many stay, and that means a)there are many low cards held by your opponents, lengthening the odds against you, or b) your opponents are nutty, and you can profit by staying sane.
Now, A deals. B opens. D folds. You hold 8 7 6 5 4 A. Now, do you raise, call, or fold?
Raise. Your hand is probably the best before the draw, and you plan to stand pat. However, it is one of the weakest eight-highs possible, and if several stay, you may be outcaught.
Protect your hand, as you would holding two pairs at Jackpots: try to drive out the opposition.
C deals. He and E check. A opens, F folds. You hold Q 8 5 4 A and you call. The others fold. B draws two. You discard the Q, draw one, and catch an A; you now hold 8 5 4 A A. B bets two chips. What do you do?
When a player draws two, the probability of catching a pair is approximately one in three and the odds against it are only two to one. Here again, the pot offers longer money odds. Since your pair is the lowest possible, call.
Where Lowball is played with the wild Joker, there is a slight increase in the number of playable hands. The odds in the draw are shortened when one holds three low cards with the Joker, and such a hand should be played optimistically.
A temptation to be resisted is to stay with two low cards and the Joker; the two-card draw remains unsound, because the odds are against catching an eight-high or lower are not sufficiently shortened.
If you enjoy both Lowball and Jackpots, here is a variation which speeds up the game by combining them and tends to eliminate passed-out deals: 'Jackson', also called 'Jacks-and-Back.'
Each deal starts out as Jackpots. If nobody opens with one pair of Jacks or better, the deal becomes Lowball; then anybody, in his turn, may open with anything. A low hand gives you something to hope for.