A look at 2-7 lowball strategy

The 42nd annual World Series of Poker is off and running. With many of the events having increased registration year after year and the new elaborate ESPN final table stage drawing positive feedback, the excitement is definitely in the air at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

The first week of the WSOP was highlighted by the $25,000 heads-up event. Britain's Jake Cody became poker's youngest triple crown winner by defeating Gus Hansen (the 2010 WSOP Europe heads-up champion) and Yevgeniy Timoshenko in the semifinals and finals, respectively.

During the second week, the spotlight shined brightly on the $10,000 2-7 lowball championship final table. Combined, the final seven players owned 19 WSOP bracelets, and one of those players was the defending champion, David Baker. Phil Hellmuth, the 11-time WSOP bracelet winner, came close to adding to his record by winning his first non-hold 'em bracelet, but despite a 3:1 chip advantage heading into heads-up play, four-time WSOP bracelet winner John Juanda overcame the deficit and captured his fifth bracelet and earned $367,170.

With its similarities to no-limit hold 'em, 2-7 lowball (sometimes referred to as Kansas City lowball) has had a small resurgence over the last few years. The $10,000 buy-in deuce-to-seven lowball event had a 25 percent increase in registration from 2010 to 2011 (101 to 126), and the $1,500 buy-in deuce-to-seven lowball event had a solid increase of 10 percent (250 to 275).

Having recently made the WSOP final table in the $1,500 buy-in deuce-to-seven lowball event, which was won by Matt Perrins, I have been asked numerous times for some tips on how to play the game. Here's a review of the basic strategies for the game that many poker players have referred to as the purest form of poker.

Basic Rules:

This version of poker is a five-card draw game in which the lowest hand wins, which is the complete opposite of most games played in poker. In this version of lowball, straights and flushes do count against you and an ace is considered only high. Thus, the best possible hand is 7-5-4-3-2 unsuited (hence the name deuce-to-seven). That hand is often referred to as "No. 1," since it's the best hand.

Each player is dealt five cards, and as a result, the table is limited to seven players, as opposed to the nine- or 10-handed action you'll find at a full-table no-limit hold 'em game.


Deuce-to-seven lowball has a similar set up as hold 'em with a small blind, big blind, button and antes.

There is one significant difference between the two games: There is no limping allowed. To enter a pot, you must raise.
Since there is only one draw in deuce-to-seven lowball no-limit, there are only two rounds of betting: predraw and postdraw. Just like in hold 'em, the minimum raise predraw is double the big blind and the minimum bet postdraw is the amount of the big blind.

Basic Strategy:

A) Being dealt No. 1 in deuce-to-seven lowball is extremely rare, about 2,550:1. However, there are other hands that are very powerful. Here is my way to remember the order of best hands in deuce-to-seven lowball: 4-5-9.

4: number of seven combinations
5: number of 8-5 (one) and 8-6 (four) combinations
9: number of 8-7 combinations

There are 34 combinations of 9, so you can see how powerful it is to have an 8-low or better. Generally, a hand that is 9-low or better is a solid hand. However, you often see 10-low as the winning hand.

B) Advice on drawing:

Rarely do you want to draw more than one card. Of course, there are exceptions, such as blind versus blind or big blind defending versus a very aggressive player. To be successful, try to limit your draws to one card. If you do not need to draw a card, you would stand "pat."

Additionally, you would rather draw to a hand that is "smooth," or with low cards after your highest one (ex: 9-4-3-2), rather than "rough" (ex: 9-8-7-2). The reason is very similar to the hold 'em concept of your kicker. In hold 'em, if you play A-J and flop an ace, you could lose a big pot to your opponent's A-K. Similarly, if you catch your 9-low, your opponent could have a smoother 9 and you will lose a potentially critical pot.

One of the golden rules of deuce-to-seven lowball is that if your opponent draws one card and you have a jack-pat, or a hand that requires no draw, you should not draw and remain pat as you are a favorite. If your opponent draws two cards, you should remain pat with a queen or better as you are a favorite to win the hand.

C) Position:

In no-limit hold 'em, everyone discusses the importance of position. In 2-7, position is paramount because you will not only know how much they will bet but also know how many cards they will draw before you have to decide.

For example, if you are holding a J-8-6-4-2 and your opponent draws one card, you should stay pat as you are a favorite (as explained above). However, if your opponent stays pat, you can toss your jack and draw to an 8-low. Even if you miss, your opponent could check to you in position. Position is a huge, powerful advantage in deuce-to-seven lowball.

Lowball is a great game, because you are able to incorporate a lot of no-limit hold 'em strategies to this five-card draw game. If this game intrigues you, I hope to see you next year at the WSOP, and as for everyone else, good luck at the tables and I hope to see you at a WSOP final table this summer.

Bernard Lee is the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal, weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and radio host of "The Bernard Lee Poker Show."