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Lowball, the version of seven card stud when the best possible hand is A-2-3-4-6 off-suit, is a tricky game. Someone once told me it was merely 2 per cent skill and 98 per cent luck. I think it is more complicated than most players realise. It certainly can be very expensive. Here is a case in point.

In a seven-handed game at the Grosvenor Victoria, no one had any low card showing. In this, the big game, everyone antes pounds 10 and the high card has to "bring it in", that is, make a forced opening bet, for pounds 25. (It seems a lot but it works out much the same for everyone in the long run.) Luigi, a competent player, called the opening bet on a queen and Liam, a very shrewd player, raised on his 10 showing. Eli, who had a reputation on both sides of the Atlantic as a fearless gambler, called on a king showing. Now the money was such that Luigi of course felt he must call the raise.

On fourth street, that is the second up-card, Liam caught an 8 and bet the pot, now worth pounds 580. Eli gaily chose to call with a K-Q, which is a terrible hand! And again Luigi called. (He may even have the best hand.) On fifth street, all three players caught nines. Liam bet the pot. pounds 1,700 all-in and Eli finally surrendered. What were Luigi's chances?

Luigi (A-2) Q 7 9

Liam (? ?) 10 8 9

Clearly, Luigi is looking for a 3,4,5 or 6 to win (an 8 is probably not good enough), that is 16 cards out of the 37 he doesn't know about. His chance of hitting on sixth or seventh street works out at about 2- 1, which is what the pot is paying. So he should call. Liam may, after all, have a bad card in the hole, and be bluffing. The key to the play is that Luigi has to improve only once, by drawing a low card to make a 9-7 low; whereas if he makes it, Liam would need to improve twice, by catching low cards on both sixth and seventh streets.

If there were a lot more money to be bet, it would be different. Luigi would have to decide, if he improves, whether Liam would fold. In the event, he caught an 8 on sixth street to nose ahead. But Liam outdrew him on the river to make a better 9-8 low and win a pounds 5,000 pot. It is easy to get sucked into these kind of hands at lowball. It's a matter of judgement whether it's worth it.