Eight or Better: A Sophisticated Game for Experienced and Knowledgable Poker Players
Eight or better, also known as seven card stud Hi/Lo and seven card stud split, is a game that has very similar rules and betting structures to seven card stud. This game has been around for almost the same amount of time with the first major tournament featuring 8 or better (called seven card stud split at the time) starring in the 1976 World Series of Poker in the Binion's Casino Las Vegas. The buy-in was $1000, and there were only 17 entries. Doc Green won the tournament for $12,750.
Eight or better can be found on many online sites and casinos as it is still a popular game. It has recently featured in the 2018 World Series of Poker with multiple eight or better tournament events featured. The most significant eight or better tournament had a $10,000 buy-in and a $1,325,400 prize pool.
Being familiar with seven card stud, razz or Omaha Hi/Lo will be very useful in this game as skills are transferable. Rules and betting structure will be almost entirely the same as seven card stud. The main difference is that the pot is split into two in Eights or Better. One awarded to the highest ranking poker hand and the other to the lowest ranking poker hand. In addition to this rule, your low hand must be an eight high or lower, or you will not qualify to win this pot. If no one can make a hand that is eight high or lower, then the entire pot will be awarded the player with the best ranking high hand.
Before any cards are dealt, all players must put an ante into the middle of the pot. An ante will be a small predetermined amount of money. Each player will be dealt three cards, two face down and one face up. The player with the lowest face-up card will be designated the 'bring-in'. The 'bring-in' is forced to put in a small amount of money usually bigger than the ante, however, they also have to option to bring in a larger amount.
Action will continue clockwise, and players may call, raise or fold. Calling means matching the same amount of chips the 'bring-in' put in the pot, raising will mean putting in more chips than the 'bring-in' and folding will throw your hand away. Eight or better is played with a fixed limit betting structure. This means you can only bet and raise at predetermined fixed betting limits.
After completion of this round of betting, every player that still has cards will get another one face up. Whoever has the highest ranking two-card poker hand (face-up cards) will open up the action. They may either check or bet for this round. Checking is a neutral move and is the same as passing the action to the next player. If they choose to bet, they must wager the lower fixed betting size for this round.
After the last player has acted another card face up is dealt to all remaining players, whoever has the highest ranking three face-up cards will start the action. This time if a player chooses to bet they must bet the bigger fixed bet size from this point onwards.
All remaining players are then dealt a fourth face-up card. Another round of betting commences clockwise again, starting with the player with the highest ranking four card hand.
All players remaining will be dealt a final card, but this time it is face down for a total of 3 face-down cards and four face-up. A final round of betting will commence. All players that have completed this round of betting must now flip their face down cards face up and make the best high five-card poker hand and the best low five-card poker hand.
If no player has a hand that is eight high or lower, the entire pot will be awarded to the player with the highest ranking poker hand. If at any point you are the only player who has not folded you will instantly be awarded the entire pot in the middle.
High hand ranking table
Top five cards in sequence in the same suit
Any five cards in sequence in the same suit
4 of a Kind
Four identical cards of any value
Three of a Kind + A pair
Any five cards the same suite
Five cards of any suit in number sequence
3 of a Kind
Three cards of the same value any suit
Two cards of same value any suit
The highest value card in hand where A is Highest
Low Hand Ranking table
5, 4, 3, 2, A
5 to A high - Best Low hand possible
6, 4, 3, 2, A
6 to A high
7, 3, 2, 4, 5
7 to 5 high
8, 7, 6, 5, A
8 to A high
8, 7, 6, 5, 3
8 to 3 high
8, 7, 6, 5, 4
8 to 4 high - Worst hand possible that can still win the low pot
This game has a significant amount of information to consider on each round. You will need to look at all of your opponent's cards and try to determine the likelihood that they have both a high or low hand. You will need to be realistic about your own position in comparison to your opponent's face up cards.
You can get some idea from the cards your opponents are holding face up. If you see your opponent has a lot of face up high cards and not many low cards, you can determine it is unlikely they are going to eligible to win the lower portion of the pot. The same can be said for the higher pot. If they only seem to be holding low cards, there's a good chance their hand won't be strong enough to win the high part of the pot come the final round of betting.
Holding any Aces face down is very valuable. An Ace can be the lowest and the highest card in Eight or Better. A2345 is the lowest possible hand because straights and flushes do not count against having a low hand. A2345 can also be a straight or flush for the high hand and straights and flushes are generally strong hands.
Bluffing in a Hi/Lo game in most spots is not going to be great. This is because it is a fixed limit game and the amount you can bet and raise on every betting round is going to be marginal to the size of the pot. Your opponent is almost always going to get a good mathematical price to call. All players have a good chance of having a very low or very high hand and will call all the way down. Players are arguably folding the least amount in this form of Poker.
Players not folding is a good thing. This means when you make a good hand, your opponents will not fold and you will get paid.
Try not to bleed chips. What I mean by bleeding chips is calling too much in too many spots where it is obvious your opponent is holding a strong hand, but you believe you should continue calling.
Never, ever slow play your hand. Slow playing your hand is playing a strong hand passively or weakly. Remember, players don't fold in this game so there is almost no reason to slow play your hand. There will be some particular spots where it will be good to check a strong hand, but for the vast majority of situations, you will always profit more by betting and raising your strong hands.
Eight or Better has so many factors to consider on every round of betting. There is so much information that can influence what the optimal decision should be. I would not recommend this game for someone who has never played poker. The High/Lo logistics might confuse and frustrate new players and could be too much to take in too soon.
Sticking to a simpler or more traditional form of poker will be more fun and suitable for a poker newbie. If you have experience playing regular seven card stud, Omaha Hi/Lo or razz, the transition is easier due to the similarities in the game.
You can find a game of Eight or Better in most established casinos and online sites, and they often have cash games and tournaments running. This game doesn't even come close to the popularity that No Limit Texas Hold'Em or Pot Limit Omaha currently enjoys, but there is still plenty of action to be found if you look in the right places.
The game has been around for some time, and there are lots of advanced strategy tips to be found online. A great way to improve at this game is to read everything you can find, then try applying it to your games and see what works best.