Lowball: How to play

Lowball or low poker are variants 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.

The different possible rankings for low poker 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 nine-high or better is never more than 25 per cent. 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, the lowball version of Five-Card Stud also works well, and seven-card stud low is known as Razz.

California Lowball, also known as Ace-to-Five Single Draw, is similar to Five-Card Draw, 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. 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.