Cooperating in Poker

Poker Sharing: Especially High-Low Games

High Low Poker Sharing"I cannot do everything, but still I can do something."
-- Helen Keller

An important poker principal that is seldom discussed, and is in fact completely alien to most players, is the concept of sharing. Most players function under the misguided notion that a poker game is one against all, every man for himself. This greedy, self-centered approach ignores the communal nature of the game.

Sharing is more obvious in High-Low Split games, where the best high hand splits the pot with the best low hand. Usually a hand has to meet a qualifying requirement for low, so sometimes the high hand will win the whole pot. Sometimes more than one player will simultaneously have the identical best high or low hand, which leads to pots being "quartered". High-Low games tend to be more profitable for good players than high or low-only ones partly because most players are hopelessly greedy and oblivious to the concept of sharing. High-Low tactics are to a large degree the science of ever-changing allegiances between players that manipulates the betting.

Playing High-Low, you should always be thinking about the implications of sharing. You want to play hands that will scoop whole pots rather than split pots because scooping is not twice as good as splitting, it is considerably better than that. Scooping is where you make your winnings, but winning a scooped pot is rare. You have to fill the time between scoops with pots where you split. It's an exaggeration but not far off to say that winning High-Low players break even by splitting, and win the money that they scoop.

It's no coincidence that most players don't understand sharing, and many players simply can't handle the frustrations involved in High-Low poker. Since there are two ways to win, it is fairly easy to have something. People will incorrectly play too many hands, incorrectly share, steam and tilt because they are losing a lot of pots, and will fall short of that "break even splitting" idea. Everyone will scoop pots. Winning players make their scoops their profits, while losing players can't make up their losses in the split pots with their scoops. So, while we want to play hands that tend to scoop, we need to work hard to play our split pots at a breakeven pace.

Suppose you are in an Omaha8 hand, and as the second of four players you bet your nut flush draw on the flop. The third player raises you, you reraise and everyone calls. On the turn, it comes your flush, but no low. You bet again and only the third player and the first call. On the river it comes a low card, and you have no low. Now the first player bets. You have the nut high, but the correct play here will usually be to call, not raise. Ninety-five percent of players will make a foolish raise here -- a raise that will run out the third player, leading to splitting a smaller pot with the first player. The correct play is to share with the low hand, and induce the third player to reluctantly call. You win a half bet by calling while a greedy raise will win you nothing.

At the same time, assuming the first player has the nut low he made a mistake by betting. He killed your action instead of sensibly sharing. He should have checked, let you bet, gotten a call from the third player, then checkraised, then you would "share" and just call, hoping to get an overcall from the third player. (On the other hand, if the first player has a bad low, a bet will often makes sense because he knows most players will raise out the third player who might have him beat.)

High-Low sharing in a nutshell is extracting the most you can from your losing opponents in temporary cooperation with the player going the other way from you. Making the most money will sometimes be the result of you betting less money!

But this is only scratching the surface of sharing. In all games, not just High-Low, situations will arise where cooperative betting is the correct play. In multiway pots, some players will commonly share the equity of a situation. In a seven-way pot, for example, it will commonly be the case where two players have a positive expectation. To be obvious about it, if these two players each have a 50% chance of winning the pot while everybody else is drawing dead, the two should manipulate the betting so that they get the most dead money into the pot as they can. It would be greedy and just plain stupid to bet in such a way that leads to them sharing no dead money.

It's most clear in High-Low games, but in any poker game, while your poker money is yours, proper playing is a never-ending merry-go-round of temporary betting allegiances where you share equity, wagering tactics and positive expectation with other players at your table.

See also Poker Greed and the Introduction to Omaha Strategy