7 Lowball Poker Variations and How to Play Them

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Lowball Poker

A lowball poker variation is one in which the lowest possible hand wins the pot at the showdown. It’s a nice change of pace from Texas Hold’em, and it’s not a single game at all. You can play multiple variations of lowball poker.

In this post, I’ll explain how to play seven lowball poker variations. Learn more about different variations that suit your needs as a gambler by checking out these games.

1 – California Lowball (Ace to Five)

California lowball is one of the two most popular variations of lowball poker. It’s often also called Ace to Five Lowball, and that’s because the lowest possible hand is 5-4-3-2-A. (That’s also called a “wheel.”)

Also, you can still win with a low hand in California lowball if it’s a flush or a straight. The winner in a California lowball game at the showdown is the player with the five lowest cards. Pairs matter, though, any hand without a pair beats a hand with a pair.
In fact, to determine a winning hand in California lowball, you just invert the standard ranking of poker hands.

One pair beats two pair. Two pair beats three of a kind. Three of a kind beats a full house. A full house beats four of a kind.

The other hands in the standard ranking of hands are ignored. Flushes and straights just don’t exist in California lowball.

Ace to Five is also the most common way of determining the low hand in a high-low split game like Omaha 8.

You evaluate the hand by looking at the highest card in the hand first, and if there’s a tie, you move on to the next highest card, and so on.

For example, a 6-4-3-2-A would beat a 7-4-3-2-A.

The easiest way to remember how to determine the winning hand is to treat it as a five-digit number starting with the highest ranked card and putting them in descending order.

64,321 is a lower number than 74,321, so that’s the winning hand in that situation.

2 – Kansas City Lowball (Deuce to Seven)

Kansas City lowball counts the ace as a high card. It also accounts for flushes and straights. The best possible hand in Deuce to Seven Lowball is 7-5-4-3-2, and it can’t be a flush.

Deuce to Seven is the second-most common lowball variant, but it’s not as common as Ace to Five.

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But as with California lowball, you invert the standard rankings of poker hands to determine the winner. Also, aces are always counted as high. A 5-4-3-2-A doesn’t exist as a hand, because the ace isn’t counted as low; it’s always high. It doesn’t even count as a straight.

In fact, you wouldn’t even list it that way. Since the ace is high, and since in lowball poker you always list the highest card in the hand first, you’d refer to it as A-5-4-3-2.

It’s a subtle but important difference.

3 – Ace to Six

Ace to Six Lowball is less common than either of the other two versions listed, but it’s played in the Eastern United States in England.

As with the other two lowball variations already discussed, the standard ranking of poker hands is inverted. A pair is better than two pair, two pair is better than three of a kind, and so on. And as with Deuce to Seven, flushes and straights matter; they’re not ignored the way they are in Ace to Five.

Since straights matter, the lowest possible hand becomes 6-4-3-2-A. As with the other variations, you can just convert the hand into a five-digit number for comparison’s sake but being careful to remember that flushes and straights count against you.

This makes 64,321 the best possible hand, followed by the second-best possible hand, 65,321 (6-5-3-2-A).

4 – Wild Card Lowball

Any of the above poker variations can use a wild card. When a wild card is used in California lowball, it’s a joker, and it counts as the lowest possible card that isn’t already in the hand.

For Example:

If you have a hand that consists of the 7-6-5-3-J, the joker would count as an ace, the lowest possible card that isn’t already present in the hand.

It’s unusual to have a wild card in a Deuce to Seven game, but it isn’t entirely unheard of either. In such games, the wild card counts at the rank that would result in the lowest possible hand.

In an Ace to Six game, a wild card is slightly more common than in Deuce to Seven, but it still works the same way. The card counts however it’s needed to make the lowest possible hand.

5 – High-Low Poker Games

A High-Low poker game is one in which the high hand and the best qualifying low hand split the pot.

And it’s possible that the high hand and the low hand are both in the possession of the same player, which means that player gets the whole pot. That’s called “scooping” the pot.

In some High-Low split games, you’ll play “cards speak.” In others, you’ll play with a “declaration.” In a “cards speak” game, you show your hand at the showdown and so does your opponent. The high hand wins half the pot, and the low hand wins the other half.

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In a declaration game, you must declare whether you’re trying to win the high or the low hand. You only win the low hand if you declared low, and you only win the high hand if you declared high.

In cards speak games, it’s common for there to be a qualifier to a low hand. Eight or better is one of the more common ones, which means that the highest card in a hand trying to win the low half of the pot is an eight. If you have any nine or higher in such a game, you cannot win the low half of the pot.

Also, any of these variations can be played with a varying number of cards. Seven-Card Stud is often played high-low. In that case, the player chooses which five cards to count as her high hand and which five cards to count as her low hand.

When you’re playing poker, bluffing becomes a bigger deal too because a successful bluff wins the entire pot instead of just half of it.

6 – Razz

Razz is the most common specific lowball poker variant. It’s a Seven-Card Stud game where your goal is to create the lowest possible hand. It’s usually played Ace to Five, although you might also wind up in a Deuce to Seven game.

In Razz poker, you start with three cards—two face down and one face up. The face down cards are called “hole cards,” and the face up card is called the “door card.” The player with the highest door card has to make the first bet. This is called “bring it in.”

Razz can be played with as many as eight players. It would be rare for all eight players to stay in the hand to the final card, but it does happen. In that case, of course, the dealer runs out of cards. (There are only 52 cards in the deck).

What does the dealer do?

He deals one final card in the center of the table to be used as a community card.

7 – Five-Card Draw Lowball

Another common Five-Card Draw variant is Five-Card Draw played lowball and with the inclusion of a joker as a wild cards.

In any Five-Card Draw game, you’re dealt five cards, all face down. There’s a round of betting, and after that, you discard and get replacement cards. That’s followed by a second and final round of betting and a showdown.

When you’re playing Five-Card Draw lowball, you’re normally playing the Ace to Five variant.

Conclusion

Those are the seven most common lowball variations, although, you can mix and match them with other games to have actual playable variants.

Razz is the most common lowball version of poker besides high-low variants like Omaha 8 or Better or Stud 8 or Better.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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