Archie Poker Strategy

How to Play Archie - Triple Draw High-Low

Archie Poker"Pour a little sugar on it baby." -- The Archies

"Archie" is the colloquial nickname for the poker variant of "Five-Card Triple Draw High-Low Split with qualifiers of an Eight-or-better for low and a pair of sixes-or-better for high." The game name alone reveals how much more complex Archie is than most other poker variants. In fact, Archie may be the most complex variant played in casinos as of this writing. It's a draw game where you literally might start drawing to A♡K♡8♡3♡x and end up with KKKKx or 8763A.

(There is a less common variant of Archie where to win high you need a pair of nines or better to win high. I'll touch on the key concept when playing with that rule difference below.)

Because of its high level of complexity, Archie is a great game for attentive, skilled players and a rather terrible one for inattentive or multi-tabling players who overvalue their own skills.

The structure is the same as other triple draw games, with betting after each draw and "cards speak" revealing the winner, but with minimum qualifiers for both low and high there is an additional element to both the betting/bluffing and the choice of what type of hands to play. Six-handed is most common but seven can be played with occasional reshuffling.

If nobody has a qualifying hand at the showdown, the pot is scooped by the best high hand. This makes the first bit of strategy obvious -- starting with a qualifier from the beginning, whether that be a pat hand or a high hand of one pair of sixes or bigger, you already have a hand that can qualify to win the pot. Anyone drawing to a purely speculative hand (a low, a straight or a flush) has to "get there" to make a qualifier. When you are purely on a draw, your brain should be thinking about whether or not to bluff if you miss on the last draw. Qualifying hands almost never need to ponder bluffing.

An interesting complexity of Archie is starting hands don't have anything like a static value. The more players that enter the pot, especially with drawing hands, the more they "school" together to give each other pot odds to continue drawing. Unlike a game like Omaha where if you have the nut flush on an unpaired board you know you have the best possible hand, there is no such concept in high-low draw (other than if you have a 5432A or a Royal Flush you know you will get at least some of the pot). You could have KKKQQ and someone drawing three to JJ could make JJJJ2. More commonly though, if on the first draw you have KKK but face four people drawing to straights or flushes, carnage could await you... or you could get drawn out on at the second draw but make a full house to win on the last draw. So, the more active the game, the more you need to focus on making very strong hands. Coming into a pot that is already multiway to draw to a garbage hand like 7♢6♡4♠2♣ is always foolish.

The hands that most define a weak Archie player are 1) entering the pot to draw two cards to low after someone else has already entered the pot, or 2) commonly reraise with any low draw that isn't also a flush or straight draw.

In any game, just because a hand is "playable" doesn't mean it should be played, but in Archie especially, if you have hand that doesn't scream out that it has to be played, you really don't have much, and your default play should be to fold. If you raise or call someone else, you should have a clear, logical reason for doing so under the circumstances -- something beyond merely, "oh, it's playable."

For example, flush draws should only be played occasionally. Raising with Q♡9♡7♡2♡ under the gun is to hate money. In contrast, a flush draw like AK76 not only is a bigger flush, but it also offers ways to alter your draw on later drawing rounds -- meaning possibly drawing to AA or KK or to a low on the last draw. While drawing to A♡K♡7♡6♡ is far better than drawing to A762 offsuit on the first draw, on the last draw only nine cards make your flush while sixteen cards will make a qualifying low.

If you feel your opponent(s) do not have a qualifier either, drawing to the AK76 gives you 21 cards that make you a qualifier. Drawing to A762 gives you 25 cards that make a qualifier. Of course, you are also drawing to an A762 piece of junk compared to a much stronger hand of an AK flush. On the other hand, if you call one bet from the big blind to draw to a pitiful flush like 9432, switching to any low draw will usually be a better move.

Low straight draws are one of the premium hands in the game, but entering the pot to draw to high straights should generally be avoided. As with any poker game, the bet-ability of a hand increases or diminishes its value. A hand that can bet or raise or reraise is not of the same value as one that wins at the same percentage but is so weak you only check and call. Just about the worst feeling in Archie is to have a 9-high straight and have your opponent stand pat in front of you. You can split with lows hands but you can't beat any legitimate pat hand. If you are pat from the start with a hand like a Jack-high straight, fine, it will win most of the time, but regularly drawing to such a weak hand is foolish. You'll usually miss the hand and when you make it you will often lose to better high hands.

One advantage of high straight draws in marginal situations like blind-against-blind hands is making a pair makes a qualifier. If you draw to KQJT, you have three cards to catch a 9 or bigger to have something. In contrast, drawing to a low like 7432 gives you the opportunity to only make a pathetic pair of sevens as an alternate qualifying hand. This is where straight draws work best, when it appears your opponent has as little as you have. High straight draws should be avoided in multiway pots, especially with multiple raises.

Pat hands rule in Archie. You know what qualifier you have and your opponents are never beating you if they are drawing cards (unless they draw one to four of a kind). But they don't come along that often. Three of a kind and two pair are not pat hands, but unlike low, straight and flush draws, they are qualifiers. Very generally, most of the hands you play should be two pair or three of a kind. While three of a kind is normally always playable, you should be selective with your two pair draws. 9922 in first position in a full game is a pretty poor hand. Even 6655 is better, because you have low straight blockers. When you have two pair, splitting the pot sometimes with a ragged low is inevitable, but you want to avoiding getting scooped by low straights.

This "avoiding getting scooped" isn't just the obvious desire. It makes 6655 a better hand (tho still pretty weak) than 9922, and it means you want to try to play two pair hands against "better" low draws like 642A, since it is drawing dead against you, as opposed to junk like 8754 that could actually beat you.

While 642A can scoop pots when playing against other low hands, it is an utterly useless hand against someone playing two pair. Watch your opponents. If you find them commonly reraising with 642A type draws, go after them since they don't understand basic Archie strategy.

Despite most players doing it all the time, commonly opening to draw to three low offsuit cards, even 543, is a big leak. Since they will draw to offsuit cards, most players also commonly play three low suited cards... and play them almost oddly strongly, as if, because the hand is "pretty", they have to give it extra appreciation. Three low suited cards is still not as strong as it appears, although you do want to play such hands as 5♡4♡3♡ or 3♡2♡A♡ if you can do it for two bets or less. (Part of the weakness of this hand is you often end up catching something like the 8♣, and instead of your very pretty hand that you had great dreams for, you end up drawing on the last draw to a lousy 8♣5♡4♡3♡.)

Given this is a common play, I want to again highlight that drawing to high straights is usually not a good idea. If someone starts drawing to 5♡4♡3♡, they will often be drawing to a flush on the last draw, even poor ones like 5♡4♡3♡J♡. "Bringing a straight to a flush fight" is a bad idea.

One of the challenges of Archie, especially online, is that it is hard to put people on hands. Some players just love doing stuff like drawing three to A♡2♡ to be oh-so-sneaky. Take care to note the habits of your opponents, including the habit of "undeceptive deception". Many players are almost comically obvious in their attempts at deception. For instance, some "sneaky" players would never, ever draw two cards to three of a kind. So, if they draw two, you can know for a certainty they are either drawing to one pair or to a low hand -- or rarely to something like A♡K♡T♡. (This also means that you should not be afraid to draw two card to three of a kind because most players will put you on a draw that is not three of kind.)

Consistent undeceptive deception is one of the clearest tells to be found in all poker. People who are always trying to deceive you are actually telling you what they have once you understand they don't have what they are pretending to have.

Archie chews up and spits out "tricky" players. Mostly they trick themselves out of their equity. For example, one "tricky" play to avoid is rapping pat on two pair or trips, and then betting after the last draw. You are going to get checkraised by most of the big flushes and full houses that beat you (and some hands that don't, like 6432A) and called by the hands that would have called you anyway if you drew one, like 764A7. Head up it is utterly pointless. (If you are last to act and three people took one in front of you, okay, rapping pat on an incomplete hand here might get it checked to you so you can show down, but head-up this play virtually never is best.)

An old High-Low Draw adage is: don't take points off the board. Holding 743AA, you could play this three different ways including folding it, but breaking the Aces will usually but not always be the worst choice. However, breaking a hand like A♡K♡Q♡8♡8♣ shouldn't qualify as "points"... although this can be a tough one sometimes on the last draw when you think it is likely, but you are not certain, your opponent has a low hand or draw. If you are going to break a qualifier to draw, be confident in your decision. When in doubt, a bird in the hand beats two in the bush.

One reason Archie is uniquely complex is because of how sometimes you will switch from drawing to high to drawing to low or vice versa based on your read of your opponents (even online). Sometimes you should switch because the math tells you so, but other times you should switch because of your reads on your opponents. Archie is a poker game where reading humans is a critical skill. There are no charts to help you here.

Reading opponents is especially important when you end up with something like 54329. This no qualifier loses to everything. You should be bluffing your no-Ace, no-pair no qualifers occasionally, but this should usually happen because of your read on your specific situation, not merely because "crap, I missed, I gotta bluff". For example, bluffing your one card draw into someone who has taken three on all three draws is suicide.

If you are playing in a lively seven-handed game, pay attention to when the deck will need to be reshuffled. The starting hands for seven players is 35 cards. If four people play and the draw is 3-3-2-2, that is already 45 cards with two draws to go. Things to be careful about include low draws in last position. If four or five players all are going low with two card draws on the first draw, the reshuffled deck will be full of big cards. If you are on the button with a low draw that doesn't get there after the first draw, you may want to consider folding because you are going to get reshuffled cards twice. On the other hand, if you have a hand like KKKA7, in pots like these, especially if two players are drawing 3 cards, you should always keep the Ace as a kicker, not for disguise, but you don't want to put it back in play for anyone drawing to AA. Similarly, if you have QQQJ5, and you decide to keep a kicker, keep the five because you don't want anyone drawing to a low straight to catch the five... and you do want someone drawing to JJ to catch a J.

One comment about Archie played with a pair of nines for high qualifier... don't draw to rough low hands. One of the prime regular Archie draws is to drawing to low straights like 7643 and 8764, but part of the value in that is that in addition to making a straight, or a qualifying low, you can make a qualifier by pairing 6, 7 or 8. That aspect of the game is gone in 99 Archie.

Weak poker players play Archie like it is a "I can be anything" cabaret. Because of this, if you are playing to win money, the opposite is the case. Archie is a complex game that rewards highly skillful, calculated, multi-level, situational thinking. The fact that most players don't approach it that way only serves to make that all the more true for thoughtful players who play to win.