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The Art of Bluffing
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No Limit Play
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“Bluff Instead of Showing Down a Sure Loser”

            Pot-limit lowball draw (and its close cousin no-limit lowball draw) is an excellent gambling game. Most forms of poker tend to have their bluffing done early in a hand, where the bluffer has some kind of drawing hand that can still get lucky and win. In contrast, the bulk of the bluffing at lowball draw is done after you bust out. The typical situation is a one-card draw that pairs, especially a hand making a nearly hopeless higher pair such as sevens. A person with very little bluff in him can sometime survive at a game such as Omaha, but he is dead meat in a lowball game.

            There are two kinds of draw poker that are commonly played. The game of Ace-to-Five lowball does not have straights and flushes count against you, so the best hand is 5-4-3-2-A, a “wheel.” It is more often than not played with a joker, called “the bug,” which counts as the lowest card not making a pair. The other form of lowball is Deuce-to-Seven, where an ace is only a high card, and straights or flushes ruin a hand’s value. The best hand here is 7-5-4-3-2.
             This chapter’s approach is to discuss hands as if the game were Ace-to-Five. At the very end of the chapter, I’ll tell you what adjustments to make for Deuce-to-Seven play. I also think it better to assume the game is no-limit, which is probably the more frequent betting structure. 

                In California, and occasionally elsewhere, the game of limit lowball is quite often played with a rule that you must bet a seven or better hand after the draw. To check there guarantees an eight or worse. The merit of this rule may be debated at limit play, but for no-limit, it is clearly very bad. To give someone the knowledge that they have a lock hand when the enemy checks is definitely not in the spirit of no-limit gambling.
             Let us assume we are playing in a seven-handed no-limit Ace-to-Five game where the bug is in use. The game is usually played pass-and-out; before the draw you must either open or fold. What do you need to open?

             In early position, the values are pretty much the same as in limit poker. You need at least a one-card draw at a seven, or a pat nine. If this does not seem quite tight enough, we could screw it down to a one-card 7-5, or a pat 9-7. Perhaps the optimum would be to use the looser standard in a game with antes, and the tighter one with blinds only. Some super-tights wait for a one-card six or a pat eight; they do a lot of waiting, and get charged every deal.
             In late position, you need to loosen up a lot. By the time there are only a couple of people yet to act behind you, garbage such as a good two-card draw or a pat jack does not smell bad at all. Much depends on who those two players are who still can whomp you.
             The amount of a player’s bet or raise tells a lot about that person’s hand at no-limit lowball. A pat hand is much more likely to be a 9 or 8 than a better holding, and a pat six is hard to get. A player with a pat 9 or 8 is not enthusiastic about getting involved with guessing games after the draw against a one-card draw. He would rather end matters right away. Therefore, he tends to open for a greater amount of money than would a one-card draw, and his raises often overbet the pot by a wide margin. A big bet before the draw will be a passable hand, but not usually a monster.

             Even though a big raise does not show a whopper, it will still normally be a pat hand. A one-card draw such as 7-4-3-A has no business calling such a raise. A good guideline to follow would be to fold unless these conditions are met: you have an excellent draw such as a six-joker, and there is a sizable amount of money yet to be bet (so you can make money after the draw, or run a bluff).
             The “betting dialogue” between a one-card draw and a pat hand after the draw is a much more cut-and-dried conversation than in most poker situations. If the pat hand is first, he checks. To bet would be a strange play. If the opponent hits, he will have a good hand and bet himself (unless he has hit specifically an eight, where his play is unclear and depends on a number of factors). If the opponent misses, it is absolutely pointless to bet, as he won’t call.
               Some weaker players make the error of betting pat hands after the draw in this situation, on the theory of, “I really have a pat hand, and am not snowing.” (To snow means to stand pat on a bluff). Snowing should be a rare play; it is used only very sparingly by good players. You are not likely to get called on suspicion by a one-card draw that busted out (you might have him beaten by accident, if he paired). All a bet does is jeopardize money for no return. If the hand is that rare creature good enough to hope for a call by a one-card draw that hit, why would you ever telegraph the fact and discourage a bluff? 
                 If the one-card draw acts first, the play is also straight-forward. If he hits a good hand, he bets it. To check would be idiotic, as the pat hand is a big favorite to simply show his hand down. Betting into a pat hand after missing your draw is a common maneuver in lowball, so a bet there is subject to get called at any time.

                 You can see that a one-card draw against a pat hand figures to make the same amount of money whether it acts first or second, assuming the opponent has enough sense to check if he has to act first. This holds true whether the draw hits or bluffs. Therefore, position is not a major consideration for a one-card draw who is deciding whether to call a raise before the draw. The position is only helpful if the opponent turns out to be drawing a card himself, which would be unusual (for most players).
                 On the other hand, if you have a pat hand and get raised before the draw, position is highly valuable. You get to see whether an opponent draws, you might force him to act without prior information if he is unclear about whether to draw to a holding such as a pat 9-6 or 8-5, and your failure to reraise still leaves you with an unlimited hand. (Smooth-calling with a pat monster can work out well for you, and your opponent must consider this as a possibility).
              The most frequent matchup at lowball will be between a couple of one-card draw, do as follows:

(1) If you hit, vary your poker game by sometimes checking and more often betting.
(2) If you miss by catching a nearly hopeless card such as a 7 or 6 that pairs, bluff unless there is a good reason not to, such as feeling the opponent hit, or being against a habitual caller.
(3) If you catch an in-between card, check, and guess what to do if the opponent bets. Do not let the determining factor on whether to call be what you hit. If your opponent is a rational player, whether you have a king or a ten for low will not matter. You will either be way in front or way behind at the showdown. It is better to work at developing a good bluff-detecting nose.
               In most games, a normal-size bet after the draw will be somewhere between two-thirds of the pot and the full pot. When bluffing, simply make a normal-size bet for the game you are in. Some people foolishly tend to make a smaller bet when having a legitimate hand (hoping to induce a call) and a larger bet when bluffing (hoping to induce a fold). Obviously, it is worth your while to pick up on this type of tell.
               My experience is to be very wary about calling at the end when a one-card draw overbets the pot. Though it of course depends on who does it ad when your opponent is likely to show you a smooth six or a wheel. Don’t be afraid to muck a seven if your nose tells you it’s right.  

              A lot of ply in lowball revolves around eight-lows. They are the rough equivalent of two pair in a high game; an in-between hand that is difficult to play properly, even for good players. Therefore the fewer eights you build, the fewer problem you’ll have. I don’t draw to an eight when someone else opens unless it is an aggressive player in steal position. Most eights you hit should be from hands where you opened the pot in late position in sort of a semi-steal, and got called (or by hitting an 8 in the draw). 
              The worst thing you can do when hitting eights after the draw is habitually use them for your check-and-call hand. Then you are following the cards instead of your nose. There is nothing wrong with betting an eight at no-limit lowball. Remember, you will only have such a hand when a policeman apprehended your attempted ante-steal. He may still put you on a steal after the draw.
              Some players like to make a small-size bet when they make an eight. They also make the same size bet when stealing. This is bad poker. No matter which hand they hold for this dainty bet, a thunderously large raise rapes them. Even if they also make this size bet with a monster (not getting full value), monster are hard to get. The big raise is an overwhelming favorite to be against a hand that can’t call.
               Another reason to make your bets with an eight close to the size of the pot is the policeman who doesn’t know your game too well may be more likely to call on a bluff-catcher (bad eight, or a nine). He may put you on an inferior poker draw and figure there is no hand you could have hit that was worth that large a bet.
              A pat eight is a good hand, but a dangerous one. If you open and get raised, you need about a pat 8-5 to play back, depending of course on who it is and how deep the money. If you reraise an opening raiser and he or someone else plays back at you, this means serious trouble. Be sure to distinguish between a play-back that puts you (or the opponent) all-in, and one that still leaves a sizable number of chips to be bet. A reraise that is all-in may be a player who ha simply decided to “go with his hand.” A reraise that still leaves a lot of chips is almost always a powerhouse.

               Although we have been talking about Ace-to-Five lowball, Deuce-to-Seven lowball is not that much different, except for the obvious difference in hand-values. Here are a few pointers on playing “Deuce."
(1) The hand-value need adjustment as follows: The ace is only a high card at Deuce, but you  need to adjust by more than one level, because of the lack of a joker, and the rule about straights and flushes ruining a Deuce hand. A pat 9-8 at Deuce is markedly better than a  pat 8-7 at Ace-to-Five. It is more like a pat 8-5. 

(2) At Deuce, a one-card draw that makes a gutshot straight, such as 8-6-5-4, is much worse   than it looks, and an open-ended straight is practically unplayable.
(3) A draw in Deuce can never be all that good, because there is no joker. A reraise is a virtual   lock to be a pat hand of some sort. Seldom call a reraise if you are drawing. No-limit lowball I an attractive form of poker, both for enjoyment and profit. Perhaps more than in any other form of poker, the person who is a good psychologist and reader of opponents has a nice edge that will get the cheese.


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