Lowball Poker


Lowball or Low Poker is poker in which the lowest ranking hand wins. Most poker variants can be reversed in this way, but the name "Lowball" is most often used to refer to a low version of Five Card Draw Poker. On this page several versions of this game are described. They differ in the hand ranking, the drawing procedure and whether a wild card is used.

The different possible rankings for low poker are explained on the hand ranking page. The differences depend on whether Aces are counted as high or low, and whether straights and flushes count. Paired cards always count, so in the absence of straights and flushes a hand of five different ranks always beats a hand containing any duplicate ranks.

When drawing to a five-card hand to make a low hand, it is seldom worth drawing more than one card. If you draw two cards you will make a pair about half the time, and however low the three cards are that you keep, your chance of getting a 9-high or better is never more than 25%. For this reason, there are versions of lowball in which players have more than one opportunity to draw. In such a game you can afford to draw more than one card the first time, but if you stay for the last draw you will either stand pat or draw just one card, hoping for a low card that does not pair with any of your other four.

Although Draw Poker is perhaps the most usual form of Lowball game, the Lowball version of Five Card Stud also works well, and Seven Card Stud Low is also played under the name Razz. The name Lowball is also occasionally used to refer to the game called Jacks Back on this site, which begins as Five Card Draw Jacks or Better and is played for low if no one has a good enough hand to open.

California Lowball

Also known as Ace-to-Five Single Draw, this game is similar to Five Card Draw Poker, but in the showdown the lowest hand wins, using ace-to-five ranking. That is, aces are always low and straights and flushes do not count, so the lowest hand is A-2-3-4-5, then A-2-3-4-6, A-2-3-5-6, etc. AS always the highest cards of an unpaired hand are compared first, so for example 7-5-4-3-2 beats 7-6-3-2-A.

It is possible to play with an ante, but in formal games it is more often played with blinds. The dealer places a small blind and the next two players to the left of the dealer each place a big blind equal to the minimum bet.

Everyone is dealt five cards and there is a round of betting. If an ante is used this begins with the player to the left of the dealer. When blinds are placed, these count as bets and the first betting round begins with the player immediately to the left of the blinds; the players who placed big blinds are allowed to raise when the turn comes around to them even if no one else has done more than call.

After the first betting round, surviving players in turn, starting to the dealer's left, can discard any number of cards (in practice seldom more than one card) and are dealt replacements. There is then a second round of betting. If the game is played with blinds this is started by the first active player to dealer's left. If there are antes and no blinds, the second round is begun by the player who opened the first round of betting.

When Lowball is played as a fixed limit game, some play that the size of the bet is doubled after the draw and others play that it remains the same.

This game is often played with a joker added to the deck. The joker, sometimes known as the fitter, represents the lowest rank not present in the holder's hand. For example 8-6-4-A-joker is equivalent to 8-6-4-2-A.

Betting Sevens

Some play that a player who checks after the draw with a hand that is 7-low or better (five different ranks with nothing higher than a 7) and has the best hand at the showdown can only win the chips that were in the pot at the time of the draw. Any chips that were bet after the draw are placed in a separate pot that this player is not eligible to win.

Betting, calling a bet or raising after the draw entitles you to win the whole pot with your 7-low or better if you have the best hand at the showdown, provided that you did not check at your first turn to act after the draw. It is therefore unwise to check after the draw with such a hand, unless you intend to fold if another player bets against you.

Kansas City Lowball

Kansas City Lowball is also called Deuce to Seven Single Draw or sometimes Billy Baxter Lowball after the player who won the world championship in this game several times. In this game, Aces are always high and straights and flushes do count (and are therefore bad), but A-2-3-4-5 is not a straight, because the Ace is high. The best hand possible is 7-5-4-3-2 (hence "Deuce to Seven"), followed by 7-6-4-3-2, ... K-Q-J-10-8, A-5-4-3-2, A-6-4-3-2, ... up to the usual royal flush, which is worst. In other words, it's the exact opposite of normal high poker except for the A-2-3-4-5 rule.

The deal, draw and betting are similar to California Lowball. So far as I know, this game is normally played without a joker, and there is no equivalent of the "betting sevens" rule.

The Deuce to Seven page of the Play Lowball Poker site (archive copy) has further information on this game.

Ace-to-Six Lowball

This is Five Card Draw Poker using ace-to-six ranking, in which straights and flushes count but aces can be low. Normally A-A should be the lowest (and therefore best) pair, but A-K-Q-J-10 would count as a straight - but opinions may differ, so these details should be agreed in advance among the players.

This game is often ignored or said to be unusual in books and on poker web sites. This may be because it is not played in public card rooms on the American West Coast and rarely offered as an online game. However, I suspect it is fairly widespread in home poker games, particularly on the American East Coast and in Europe.

Triple Draw

In this game players have three opportunities to improve their hand. According to some sources the maximum number of players for this game is six. Certainly with a larger number of players the cards will frequently run out and discards will need to be recycled.

Normally it is played with blinds: the player to dealer's left posts a small blind, and the next player to the left posts a big blind, equal to the mimimum bet for the game.

The dealer deals five cards to each player and there is a round of betting beginning to the left of the big blind. As usual in games with blinds, the big blind player is allowed to raise even if the others have all folded or called. Then in clockwise order, starting to dealer's left, players may discard any number of cards and are dealt replacements. There is a second round of betting begun by the first active player to dealer's left. This is followed by a second opportunity to discard and draw, a third round of betting, a third discard and draw, and a fourth round of betting. In a fixed limit game, the size of the bet is normally doubles after the second draw, so that the last two rounds have big bets.

It happens fairly often in this game that the dealer runs out of cards. In this case all the discarded cards (the "muck") are shuffled and cut to form a new deck from which replacement cards are dealt to players who are still waiting to draw.

There are two versions of this game, depending on the hand ranking used in the showdown (see low poker hand ranking):

The Triple Draw page (archive copy) of the Play Lowball Poker site had further information on the history and variants of this game.

Double Draw

This game is similar to Triple Draw, except that players only have two opportunities to improve their hands by drawing cards. There are therefore three betting rounds: after the deal, after the first draw and after the second draw. Either ace-to-five or deuce-to-seven (or even ace-to-six) ranking can be used, as agreed by the players.

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This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com
© John McLeod, 2010. Last updated: 1st May 2015

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