The basic idea of High-Low Poker is that the best Poker hand and the worst Poker hand split the pot. The original purpose of High-Low was to give holders of poor cards a chance to play. The game was found to be so enjoyable that it now rivals regular Poker in popularity, and it is a staple in Poker clubs and gambling casinos having a Poker room.
Any form of Poker may be played high-low, whether or not there are wild cards, but the most popular version for high-low games is Seven-Card Stud. In a high-low game, there are usually two winners, the player with the highest hand taking half the pot and the player with the lowest hand taking the other half. The high hand takes the odd chip if the pot will not divide evenly. In some cases there may be a single winner, as that player wins both the high hand and low hand (see explanation that follows).
Some people play a version of High-Low that includes declaring whether they are trying for high, for low, or for both. After the final betting interval, but before the showdown, each player must declare what he is trying for. There are various methods of declaring, and the players should agree in advance which will be used. The most common method is that before any hands are shown, each player decides mentally what he is trying for. If the player decides upon low, he places one chip in his hand without letting the other players see it. He places two chips in his hand if he opts for high, and three chips if he is going for both high and low. When all players have "declared" (decided), they open their hands to reveal how many chips they are holding. If all players have decided the same way; the best hand in that category takes the whole pot.
When playing for both high and low, a player mentally selects two five-card hands from among the cards that he holds. (This is the one exception to discarding two cards in Seven-Card Stud prior to the showdown.) If a player claims both high and low, and is tied or beaten on either, he loses any title to the pot. If no one wins in full accordance with his declaration, all declarations are disregarded and the active players divide the pot equally.
Since straights and flushes do not count, the lowest hand, as in Lowball, is 5, 4, 3, 2, A. However, in some high-low games, the ace is always ranked highest, and flushes and straights do count and would interfere with the low hand. In such a case, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2 would be the lowest possible hand as long as all five cards were not of the same suit. It is very important for players to agree on what the lowest hand will be in High-Low. It is strongly recommended to allow aces to be high or low and for flushes and straights not to count for low hand. Thus, the wheel or bicycle (5, 4, 3, 2, A) would be the lowest possible hand.
With wild cards in a high-low game, any wild card ranks as a "zero", and the lowest hand would be 4, 3, 2, A, "0" in a game where, if there had been no wild cards allowed, the wheel would ordinarily be the lowest hand. Again, it is necessary for players to agree on what the lowest hand will be before play begins. Many experienced players agree that wild cards are best suited for high-hand games only, rather than for games of Lowball or High-Low.
In this version, played in Poker parlors and some home games, a qualifier of eight or better is needed for a player to be in contention for the low half of the pot. That is, a player cannot declare for the low hand unless he has a hand no higher than 8, 7, 6, 5, 4.
In recent years, this game has become very high popular in casinos that have Poker rooms. It is considered to require more skill than any other version of Poker.
For this version of High Low Poker, each player receives two cards face down, and five cards are dealt face down to the center of the table. After the first betting interval, three of the five center cards are turned face up in the center. Then there is a second betting interval, followed by one more center card being turned up. Then there is a third betting interval, and the last center card is turned up. Then there is a final betting round. The player must use his best five cards, taken from the two in his hand and the five turned up in the center of the table.
Omaha is similar to Hold 'Em, and it is also very popular in American casinos with a Poker room. Each player receives two cards face down and five cards are dealt to the center of the table. There is a betting interval, and the center cards are turned up one by one, with a betting interval after each card is exposed. All players still in the game must make hands of five cards using two cards from their own hand plus three from the five cards in the center. Generally in High-Low Omaha, a qualifier of eight or better is needed for a hand to be in contention for the low half of the pot.
For this version of High Low Poker, each player receives three cards face down. He arranges them in any order desired, but may not thereafter change the order. There is a betting interval. Then each player receives four face-up cards, one at a time, with a betting interval after each. Next, each player turns up his first face-down card, followed by a betting interval, and then his second face-down card, followed by the final betting interval. The last card is then turned up for the showdown.
After an ante from all players, the dealer gives five cards, face down, to each player and puts an extra hand ("widow") of five cards in the middle of the table. He must deal to each player in turn around to the left, one card at a time, then to the widow, then to himself last. Each player has the option of exchanging his hand for the widow, or keeping his hand as it is. If a player takes up the widow, his original five cards are placed face up on the table and become the new widow. Each player in turn has the option of taking up one card or all of the new widow and replacing it with cards from his hand. If a player wishes to play the original hand, he signals by knocking on the table, but he may not draw and knock at the same time.
The process of exchanging cards continues around the table until some player knocks. A knock means that this player will show the present hand as soon as it is his turn, so that each player has only one more chance to exchange cards. No player may draw if he has knocked. A player may knock before the widow is exposed, if desired.
If no one takes the widow until it comes around to the dealer, the dealer must either take up the widow or turn it face up on the table. Even if the dealer knocks, and does not take up the widow, he must spread it on the table for each player to see and draw once more. A player may pass at any turn - that is, decline either to exchange or to knock; however, he may not pass at two turns in a row. Having passed on the previous round, he must either exchange or knock.
After the knock and the final round of draws, all hands are shown, and the highest takes the pot. The lowest pays a "forfeit," or penalty in an amount of chips agreed upon beforehand. Some players prefer to have a round of betting before the showdown.
Strictly speaking, this game is not a form of Poker, but it is often played for variety during some social Poker games. Each player in turn, beginning on the dealer's left, places any bet up to the limit, and names "red" or "black." The dealer gives the player five cards face up. If three or more are of the color named, the dealer pays the bet; if three or more are of the opposite color, the dealer collects the bet. If all five cards are of the same color, double the bet is paid or collected.
In one other game called Red and Black, the cards are dealt as in Draw Poker, but the object is to make up hands of high or low point values. The point values are: king, queen, jack and ten - 10 each; ace - 1; other cards - their pip value. All red cards are plus values, and all black cards are minus values. Thus the hand, K, J, 8, 7, 3 would count minus 12. The high count and the low count divide the pot.
Many games played at social Poker sessions are not in the Poker family. A familiar one is Red Dog (also called In-Between), which is explained in Chapter III - Casino Games. Also appearing in that chapter is a game from Asia called Pai-Gow Poker, which is actually in the Poker family, but is, strictly speaking, a casino game, with a format on the order of Black Jack and other casino card games. Thus, this new game serves well as a link between Poker and casino games.