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What is Hi-Lo declare? What if someone declares both ways but ties?

Author: Stephen Landrum
Last updated: Jan 2002
Copyright © 2009 Stephen Landrum
The official and up-to-date version of this answer is here.

Hi-Lo declare is a popular variation in home games that can be applied to any game that can be played hi-lo. The betting proceeds normally to the end of the hand, then everyone still in the hand declares whether they are going high, low, or both ways.

There are many variations to the rules, so it is best to make sure that the rules used in your game are announced in advance and that everyone agrees to them.

There are several ways that the hand can be declared. One of the most popular is to declare simultaneously with chips. Each player secretly conceals chips in their hand; then at the same time all players open their hands to reveal their declaration. Common systems for chip declare include using number of chips (for instance, no chips means low, one chip means high, two chips means both ways), or using color of chips (for instance white chips in hand mean low, red chips mean high, both colors mean both ways). Another way of declaring is for the players to announce aloud in turn (either from dealer's left, from the high showing hand, or from the last bettor depending on what's been agreed upon in advance). This latter form of declare obviously has a huge positional advantage for the player who gets to declare last.

After the declare, there may be another betting round, depending on the house rules. If there is an additional betting round, a "lock" bettor may be allowed to bet or raise, or may be required only to check and call depending on the house variation being used. A "lock" bettor is a player who declares one way and no-one else declares that way.

After the declare and optional betting round is the showdown. At the showdown, the best high hand (of the hands that have been declared as going high) and the best low hand (of the hands that declared low) split the pot. If everyone has declared the same way, then the whole pot is awarded to the best hand that way. If more than one player has they same best hand in the way they've declared they split that share of the pot.

If someone declares "both ways" (also called a "hogger"), things get more complicated. If the "both ways" player has the best high and the best low hand, then they win the whole pot. If they are beat in either direction, however, they win none of the pot. What happens if they have the best high but are beat low, or have the best low but are beat high is a matter of house rules (and can be a matter of great dispute if the players have not agreed beforehand). In some houses if a player declares both ways and has the best high hand but is beat low, the second best high hand is allowed to win the high share of the pot (the same reasoning applies if the both ways declarer has the best low but is beat high). In other houses, if a player declares both ways and has the best high but is beat low, then no-one wins the high, and the entire pot is awarded to the best low hand.

Another important variation in the rules to know about for declaring both ways is whether a both ways declarer is allowed to tie on either side. In some houses, the both ways declarer must win both sides free and clear, or get none of the pot. For instance if player A declares both ways, and player B declares high, and they both have the same straight, then player A gets nothing. Other houses allow the both ways declarer to get shares if the pot if they tie on one side (as long as they win or tie on the other as well). For instance if Player A declares both ways, and player B declares high, and they both have they same straight, then A would get 3/4 of the pot (all of low and half of high), and B would get 1/4 (half of the high).

It leads to the least complications in extremely rare situations if "second best" hands are allowed to win if a both ways declarer is beat in the other direction. If second best hands are not allowed to win, then situations can arise where no-one is eligible for a share of the pot and a long argument is likely to ensue. For instance Players A, B, C and D declare hi, low, both and both respectively. Player C has the best high hand, but player D has the best low hand, if "second best" hands are not allowed a share of the pot, then no-one is allowed to win. If "second best" hands are allowed to win, then player A wins high, and player B wins low. If "second best" hands are not allowed to win in your game, it's probably best to have a house rule to allow them to win in the case where no-one would otherwise be eligible for any of the pot.

In the case where all players have declared both ways, but no-one wins both ways, it's best to treat it as if the hand had been played without declare, and the best high hand and the best low hand are allowed to split the pot.

Hi-Lo Declare Examples

Here are some showdown clarifications for Hi-Lo Declare under different rule sets. For illustration purposes, the game used will be 7 card stud (so that there can be ties on either the high or low sides), but the concepts apply to any game that can be played Hi-Lo.

Rule variation #1 - "Both ways" must win free and clear (cannot tie), and 2nd best hands cannot win. This is probably the most popular rule set used, but needs some extra rules to settle unusual situations.

Rule variation #2 - "Both ways" hands are allowed to tie, and 2nd best hands are allowed to win if they are only beat by hands that are otherwise ineligible to win. This is the most liberal set of rules, and is almost always clear about how the pot is divided. Even this needs clarification if everyone declares both ways.

Rule variation #3 - "Both ways" must win free and clear, but 2nd best hands are allowed to win. This set is included because at least one home game is currently known to use it.

In the cases where no-one is eligible to win, an extra rule needs to be invoked to handle the situation (the pot rides to the next hand, second best hand is allowed to win, both ways allowed to win just one way, etc.)

+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| Declaration and hands:  | Variation #1   | Variation #2   | Variation #3   |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: high with KQJT9      | A gets 1/2 the pot for high                      |
| B: low with an 8532A    | B gets 1/2 the pot for low                       |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: high with KQJT9      | A gets 1/2 the pot for high                      |
| B: low with an 7532A    | B gets 1/2 the pot for low                       |
| C: both ways with 76543 |                                                  |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: low with an 7532A    | A wins the whole pot                             |
| B: both ways with 76543 |                                                  |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: high with three 9s   | B wins the whole pot                             |
| B: both ways with 76543 |                                                  |
| C: low with 8532A       |                                                  |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: high with flush      | A gets 1/2 the pot for high                      |
| B: both ways with 76543 | C gets 1/2 the pot for low                       |
| C: low with 6542A       |                                                  |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: high with three 9s   | C wins the pot | A gets 1/2 pot | A gets 1/2 pot |
| B: both ways with 76543 |                | C gets 1/2 pot | C gets 1/2 pot |
| C: low with 6 low       |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: high with 98765      | A wins the pot | A gets 1/4 pot | A gets 1/2 pot |
| B: high with 98765      |                | B gets 3/4 pot | C gets 1/2 pot |
|     and low with 7653A  |                |                |                |
| C: low with 76542       |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | A gets 1/2 pot | C wins the pot |
| B: both ways with 76543 |                | B gets 1/2 pot |                |
| C: high with KKJJ9      |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: both ways with 76543 | B wins the pot | A gets 3/4 pot | B wins the pot |
| B: high with 76543      |                | B gets 1/4 pot |                |
| C: high with KKJJ9      |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: both ways with 76543 | B wins the pot | A gets 3/4 pot | B gets 1/2 pot |
| B: low with 76543       |                | B gets 1/4 pot | C gets 1/2 pot |
| C: high with KKJJ9      |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | A gets 1/2 pot | none eligible* |
| B: both ways with 76543 |                | B gets 1/2 pot |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | B wins the pot | none eligible* |
| B: both ways with flush |                |                |                |
|      and 76543          |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | B wins the pot | C wins the pot |
| B: both ways with flush |                |                |                |
|      and 76543          |                |                |                |
| C: high with KKJJ9      |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
| A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | none eligible* | none eligible* |
| B: both ways with flush |                |                |                |
|      and 8543A          |                |                |                |
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+

In summary, Hi-Lo declare is popular and can add fun and variety to your home game, but arguments are best avoided by clarifying the particular house rules and unusual situations in advance.