4. Seven Card Stud
|With three to a straight you need to be as live as possible from the start|
Despite being left out in the cold in recent years as Hold’em fever has gripped the poker-playing community, Seven-Card Stud still remains integral to high stakes mixed games as well as proving popular online.
If you’ve been schooled on Hold’em you’re going to have to get to grips with a completely new mindset regarding starting hands for Seven-Card Stud; not only do you need to think about three cards rather than two, but you also need to consider that other players can see one of your cards (the ‘up’ card) and observe what ‘up’ cards other players are showing to determine how live your hand is. On the basis of these factors you need to work out what your chance is of having the best hand, or at least being able to represent it. It’s also crucial to consider the number of players in a hand and whether you want to play multiway or heads-up and how to achieve this.
In terms of starting hand rankings, the runaway nuts is rolled-up trips (i.e. three of a kind) which is always playable, though you may want to play them slow or fast depending on what other cards are out. For example, if a King raises, an Ace re-raises, and you three-bet with --3 you’re likely to give the game away, so just call and wait until the bets double. However, if the action is multiway or there’s only a single raise you should certainly get another bet in.
After this a pair of Aces is an excellent hand, which is almost always playable, as are the other big pairs (though which card you have up may affect how you want to play them). This is because in Seven-Card Stud two-pair is a frequent winning hand and, as is the case in Hold’em, it’s always the hand with the highest pair that wins, e.g. Kings and Threes beat Queens and Jacks. With pairs smaller than Aces though, you need to consider the action before you and whether the up cards help or hinder your hand as well as the implications of your kicker and the other up cards.
Let’s say an aggressive player raises in late position with an Ace up and your hand is [Q♣]-[Q♦]-J♣ you would certainly re-raise if all your cards are live, because you want to get the pot heads-up while there’s dead money out there, and even if you don’t have the best hand you can easily improve. Similarly, you would want to re-raise if you held [7♣]-[7♦]-K♦, and an up Eight raises as you would want to take control of the hand and perhaps even force a fold from a pair of Eights as well as having many ways to draw out if your opponent keeps calling. However, if there are a number of up cards higher than your pair in a pot that has been raised before you’ve had chance to act, many of your cards are dead or you won’t be able to get heads-up, so you may want to fold immediately.
These are the hands that like to play heads-up, but in multiway pots you will also do well with three cards to a flush or straight, although take note of how high your cards are relative to the up cards as you may well have a chance of winning with a high pair, and you should always prefer to knock people out. Generally you want at least a couple of other players in if your hand has little or no high card merit and straight draws must be played more tentatively than flush draws in general.
Also, with a hand like [J♠]-[5♠]-7♠ you must assess early on how live you are. For example, if three of your flush cards are dead folding straight away is the best option, or if many of your pair cards are dead plus one or two flush cards you may also want to fold immediately. With three to a straight you need to be as live as possible from the start as you’re always vulnerable against better hands and not even guaranteed to win with two-pair.
However, the situation is very different on third street when you’re in late position and first to act or defending against a possible ante steal – here you can lower your standards drastically so that a hand with two cards higher than the relevant up cards is a reasonable holding, especially with something else like a twocard straight/flush draw. So with [A♥]-[4♣]-Q♥ you would certainly raise in late position if no Queen, King or Ace is showing, and if you’re the bring-in you could defend with a hand like [Q♠]-[10♠]-3♥ if an Eight raises.
The crucial decision in Seven-Card Stud is often whether or not to play on third street; by making good decisions there you will prevent the possibility of compounding errors later on where your bad choices can result in disaster.
Beyond this, though, there are still many opportunities for good players to outwit less savvy opposition on the later streets and either gain or save extra bets. For example, on fourth street, when you think you have the best hand it’s vital to do whatever you can to knock out other players, especially if you think there’s a chance they might fold a better hand. Bear in mind, though, that many players will automatically call on fourth street as the bets are still small, so it may take an imaginative check-raise to get rid of them or a bet into a player who is likely to raise immediately behind you.
The bets double on fifth street, and is therefore the moment of truth for most hands – especially draws that will have needed to improve to a strong position with only two cards to come and typically be only one card from a made hand with a high proportion of cards needed still live. With unimproved but still live pairs, though, you should usually be prepared to go to the river if conditions remain favourable and your kickers continue to look strong.
Sixth street is usually played on autopilot, as if you’ve called on fifth you’re normally going to the river (unless opponents’ boards are very scary) as the pot is so large. Your play on seventh street depends on where your hand has ended up, though calling with any kind of hand is usually correct and will ensure you’re less of a target for bluffs. For example, if you end up with [A♣]-[A♥]- 4♥-7♦-9♣-2♣-[5♦] and you face a bet from an aggressive player showing Q♠-J♦-10♠-2♠ who took the betting lead from fifth street onwards, you should definitely call because, although things don’t look too good for you, you’re still getting massive odds against a known aggressor who could easily have a busted flush or straight draw.
Remember, when playing limit games you can only make a small mistake by calling in this kind of spot, whereas folding the best hand for one more bet is an absolute disaster!