Following his excellent advice on PLO SNGs, Ben Wilson is back to tackle the more complex PLO hi/lo SNGs.
Ranked up there with cricket when it comes to confusing games where nobody really understands the rules, split-pot hi/lo games are avoided like the plague by the majority of players. To the uninitiated, hi/lo games can be considered downright incomprehensible, but one of the things that make life fun is trying something new.
With buy-ins starting as low as $1+$0.20 on Pokerstars one of the best ways to learn a new game whilst minimising the risk to your bankroll is by playing Sit and Goes (SNG’s) or Single Table Tournaments (STT’s). Both PLO and PLO hi/lo are available as SNG’s and both games improve your board reading abilities and your post-flop play – you have to play down the streets in a pot limit game. Add in the fact that there are some exceptionally bad players out there who don’t seem too bothered about learning the basics and you can make yourself some decent money. All in all, just what you are looking for in a poker game.
Spot the Difference
In hi/lo the pot is split between the best high hand and the best low. In order for there to be a qualifying low however, there must be three cards ranked Eight or lower on the board, if there isn’t then the high wins everything. Straights and flushes don’t count against you so the nut low in PLO8 is A-2-3-4-5. Often this is good enough to win the high as well, especially if your Ace is suited as you can also make the nut flush.
While you have to use at least two of your four hole cards to make the best hand, you don’t have to use the same cards to make the high as you do the low. However, with four cards to choose from some players stay in till the river with any old bag of spanners and make the mistake of just drawing to the low. With no high hand and no re-draws for the nut high or nut low if the cards in their hand are counterfeited (i.e. hit the board on the turn or river) many players come unstuck. The key to success at hi/lo is playing to scoop (win the whole pot) rather than playing to win half. For example, you call a raise with 9-7-4-3 and the flop comes 7-8-Q. Not only is bottom pair unlikely to be good here, even if it is the likelihood of it holding to the river is slim. Your low draw doesn’t even give you a decent chance to win half the pot and is behind to draws like A-2 up to A-6 and even 2-3. Even if you are up against a high wrap like 9-10-J-Q you will only hit your low around 60 percent of the time and then only for half of the pot, the other 40 percent of the time you will miss and get scooped.
Even if you are drawing to the nut low, if your hand has nothing else going for it then you are asking for trouble; you may well be up against an opponent holding the nut high with both high and low redraws so even if you hit you will get quartered (only win a quarter of the pot) as the best high will take half of the pot and you will split half of a half with the best low.
Where to Start
The secret to a good PLO hi/lo game is picking the right starting hands. It is important to remember that every showdown will have a high hand winner but there will not always be a qualifying low. Therefore hands that can scoop become premiums and some of the strong starting PLO high hands like double-suited Broadway rundowns lose some of their value. Middling rundowns lose even more value, as hands like 10-9-8-7 are not going to win the low and are speculative at best when it comes to winning the high.
Double-suited big pairs like A-A-K-K to A-A-10-10 still retain their value but now hands like A-A-5-5 to A-A-2-2 become premiums as do A-A-4-5 to A-A-2-3. Ace rundown hands like A-4-5-6 down to A-2-3-4 are great hi/lo starting hands and if they are double suited then so much the better. Naked A-2-X-X hands however, should be treated the same as A-K-X-X hands in PLO high – worth a look in late position if you can get in cheap but shouldn’t be played out of position, especially if there has been some serious pre-flop action. Whilst the majority of decent starting hi/lo hands should contain an Ace (as it plays both ways) it can often be worth raising in position with the more traditional PLO high hands to thin the field as 30 percent of the time there will be no qualifying low hand.
Playing the Field
There are some SNG fundamentals that remain the same no matter what game you are playing. A tight approach will serve you well in the early stages of a hi/lo SNG, especially in early position and you should only be playing premiums in the first three seats. Chip retention is more important than accumulation and the pot limit nature of the game means it’s tough to raise an amount that will make the other players fold, especially when the blinds are low. Widen your hand range and play your position aggressively by raising with good PLO high starting hands. Don’t be afraid to call in position with a wide variety of hands and outplay the opposition down the streets; just don’t commit lots of chips to a pot in the first three levels unless you hit the board hard.
Conversely, if you have the nut high don’t be afraid to jam the pot and make players pay to draw to the low, just be aware that like in normal PLO hands like naked nut straights and sets with no improvements (no chance of your hand getting better on later streets) are vulnerable and can see you committing chips to a pot where you are the underdog.
As the blinds begin to increase, the tight aggressive table image you will (hopefully) have created for yourself during the early levels should start to come into play. Check-raising in early position becomes a more viable play as you can now commit enough chips to a pot to make others fold and you get first stab at the pot as well. However, be aware that there is less bluffing in hi/lo; some players find themselves unable to fold their low draws, so think carefully before putting in a pot-sized continuation bet with nothing but air. Unless you are pot committed it is sometimes better to check-fold and save your chips for an all-in pre-flop raise if you are getting short, especially if you have missed the flop by miles.
As you get to the later stages your play will be dictated by your stack size. If you are the big stack you should be taking shots at the short stacks with hands containing any combination of high and low cards, especially as the bubble approaches. The fact that you will be a 60/40 dog at worst means you can afford to ramp up the pressure as you only need to hit once to knock someone out. Conversely, if you are the medium to short stack you are looking for a spot to double up, so don’t be afraid to commit yourself pre-flop with a hand containing any Ace; giving you draws to both the low and the high.
The Highs and the Lows
Everyone has heard the adage ‘knowledge is power’ and nowhere is that more true than at the poker tables. The more you know about a game the better you get at it, and the more you know about a player, the better your chances of outplaying them; Will someone check to you if you re-raise pre-flop? Will they call a check-raise on the flop? Paying attention to the opposition’s playing tendencies, stack sizes and table dynamics is the key to success in any game of poker, and in hi/lo the difference between success and failure often comes down when and how you play your hands as much as how you play against your opponents. Learning new poker variants like hi/lo is good for your game and poker skills are transferable, so in addition to picking up new skills to add to your arsenal you can also level up and improve the overall standard of your game.