Lowball poker is exactly what is sounds like, you have to make the worst possible hand to win. In Doyle Brunson’s legendary ‘Super System’, Joey Hawthorne wrote: “The first Lowball game was almost certainly played as a joke. Some guy was probably losing real bad and said, ‘It’s a shame there ain’t a game where the WORST hand wins, ‘cause I’d have all the money before daybreak!’”
There are numerous forms of Lowball spread in cardrooms today, but one of the most popular is Lowball Draw, which is essentially high five-card draw, where one round of betting precedes the draw and another follows it, turned upside down. There are two main variants, A-5 and 2-7, each of which plays in a slightly different way. In A-5, or California Lowball, the ‘nuts’ is 5-4-3-2-A (irrespective of suits), whereas in 2-7, or Kansas City Lowball, it’s 7-5-4-3-2 and flushes and straight play high. Pairs and trips are therefore very bad news! Games are limit or no-limit, and a joker is often used, making a 53 card deck.
In the limit games of California and a few other places there may be a ‘sevens rule’ in operation, whereby it’s obligatory to bet a 7 low after the draw, although in no limit games this is usually not the case. In that city, betting structures may also differ according to location and stakes – for example, in Los Angeles’ Bicycle Casino, games of $5-$10 Lowball and below play with one $5 blind and a standard structure, whereas a ‘$30 blind game’ will play with three blinds of $10, $20, and $30, but to open the pot the bring in is $60. It’s therefore strongly recommended that you check the rules – and your wallet – before getting involved.
Another popular form is A-5 or 2-7 Triple Draw, where the same rules apply, except that there are three draws and four betting rounds set on a standard limit structure. This is prevalent in the biggest dealer’s choice games in Las Vegas, where the likes of Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Daniel Negreanu and Jennifer Harman play $2,000-$4,000 limit!
Other lowball variations include Razz and London Lowball, both of which are low variants of 7-Card Stud. Razz is popular in Las Vegas and is played on a limit structure with the best hand adhering to the A-5 format of Lowball Draw. London Lowball, on the other hand, (which was first played in the Victoria Casino of that city) is a pot limit game where the best hand is 6-4-3-2-A and straights and flushes play high. Like the high pot limit stud games that are popular in the UK, in its most popular phase the games were absolutely huge.
Lowball is a highly skilful game in which the best players have made fortunes, but, as the quote above suggests, it’s also an action game where new players and gamblers can find a wide variety of hands to give their money away on. Just make sure you’re not one of the suckers!