Ace to five low poker (A-5)
In A-5 low poker games, the ace is the lowest card in the deck. Straights and flushes are neglected and don't count against a low hand.
As a consequence, the lowest (and best) five card poker hand in these games is A-2-3-4-5.
Pair, two pair, trips, full houses and quads always count against a low hand, so a hand like A-A-2-3-4 (a pair of aces) is higher than 4-5-6-7-8.
The ace-to-five rule is used in most games of low poker and high-low poker, such as Razz (Seven Card Stud Low) and Omaha High-Low.
Deuce to seven low poker (2-7)
If instead you regard the ace as the highest card and also give due respect to straights and flushes, the lowest possible hand is 2-3-4-5-7.
You'll find this way of looking at things in a very popular game called 2-7 Triple Draw.
Smart trick to compare low hands
So, let's try your ability to judge low poker hands. In a game of A-5 low poker, how do the following three hands rank?
For many players, this is a really tricky question. More than one home game has been thrashed after controversies over this kind of match-ups.
Which is completely unnecessary, seeing that there's a really simple rule to settle the issue.
Order each hand from high card to low card, while replacing aces with the number 1. Then look at the hands as if they were numbers.
Lets' try this method on the examples above:
See? It's easy to see which of two numbers is lower. That's also the lower hand. It turns out that in this list, the hands are listed from best to worst.
High-low split poker
Once you've come to appreciate the beauty of low poker, perhaps your old friend high poker comes back and knocks at the door. Maybe you feel split between the two, so what should you do?
It's obvious, you should be playing high-low split poker.
In high-low games, the highest five card poker hand shares the pot equally with the lowest hand. They split the pot, hence the name.
Most high-low games use the A-5 rule to define the lowest hand. The best low hand, A-2-3-4-5, can also be used as a decent high hand, an ace-to-five straight. It's in this context that this hand has got its nickname, the wheel.
Importance of scooping
The pot being split between two or more hands gives rise to a couple of new concepts that are very important to grasp: scooping and being quartered.
In high-low poker, if for example you flop a straight draw, there's one thing you need to realize: you could be drawing to win only half the pot. Of course, this makes your pot odds much worse.
Winning both the high and the low part of the pot is called scooping, and is a really important concept in high-low poker, for the reason just mentioned.
However, besides winning both high and low, there's actually one other way to scoop in high-low poker - see below.
Risk for being quartered
If scooping is great, being quartered is no good at all. It means that you win half the low pot, while an opponent win the high pot alone, plus half the low pot.
The problem with low hands is that they are never the absolute nuts. Even if you hold the best possible low hand (the nuts), there's always a chance that another player has the same low hand.
If you get quartered, you can actually have the best hand and still lose money. You put in half the pot and won a quarter pot.
The risk of being quartered is another reason for trying to scoop.
Qualified low hands (eight or better)
Most high-low games require that the winning low hand is an actual low hand, not just the lowest hand among a bunch of high hands. To qualify as a low hand, a five card poker hand cannot contain any card higher than 8. It has to be eight or better.
This means that a hand such as A-2-3-4-9 doesn't qualify as a low hand, while 4-5-6-7-8 does.
If in a hand of high-low poker no player can show down a qualifying low hand, the whole pot is won by the best high hand. This is the other way of scooping mentioned above.