Seven-card stud is a deceptively complex game and the key to beating it is by carefully analysing each street
Over the past year or so, no-limit hold’em games have gotten tougher. It makes sense when you think about it. The fish have either improved or gone broke. So, if you want to continue making money from poker, you will have to improve your game at a faster rate than your opponents or explore games with a bigger edge.
When I first started playing poker, I learned by sitting behind my father. He played an old game where you get two cards down and one card up. Three more cards are dealt face up and one face down. What is this game that helped pad my father’s wallet for years? It’s seven-card stud and it’s making a comeback.
Not to belittle hold’em, but compared to seven-card stud, it’s a very simple game. The more complex a game is, the bigger edge you’ll have over your competition. When speaking with Negreanu, he told me that seven-card stud hi-lo is his favourite game. I asked him why and he said his opponents make more mistakes in stud than they do in hold’em.
There are three essential skills of seven-card stud. Firstly, determining what the probability is that your hand will improve to be the best at showdown? Secondly, knowing who you are playing against and what their tendencies might be – this will help you understand what hand they may have. And finally, a good memory is very important. Knowing which cards are live and dead is absolutely essential in this game.
The most important decision you’ll have to make shouldn’t be a surprise to you. After you are dealt three cards, should you continue? And more importantly, you’ll need to know if your hand improves, will it be the winner? There is no point improving your hand and getting a very costly second best hand. For example, if you hold (7-9)-9 and your opponent has a King showing then if you put your opponent on a pair of split-kings you’re approximately a 2/1 dog to win this pot.
Even if you catch a 7 on fourth street, you’re still only a 55% favourite to win the pot. To contrast that, if you start with the higher pair and you catch your second pair, you’ll win the pot more than 80% of the time. If there is a moral to this story, it’s fairly basic. Start with the better hand and you’ll win more often. However, were you to fold your pair every time your opponent’s door card is higher, your opponent could steal the antes and bring-in quite often. You’d be giving up too much value to your opponent.
Kickers are important in seven-card stud as they have a huge impact on the success rate of your small pairs. You’ll want your kicker to be higher than your opponent’s likely pair. Obviously, if you have split fives, you’d love your kicker to be an Ace, but it’s not always necessary. If your opponent has opened with a 9 showing, you can put up a fight with (5-Q)-5 as long as you are drawing live. In absence of a big card, you’ll want your kicker to be a straight and/or a flush card.
It can be difficult to be accurate about the probability of hitting your hand because of the many variables in stud. But let’s look at some basic examples of the probability of hitting a flush when you start with three suited cards. In a full-ring game if you’ve seen none of your suit, you’ll hit your flush 23% of the time by showdown. Make sure you keep track of all the exposed cards, because if you see three clubs exposed you’ll only make your flush 12% of the time.
When deciding to play a three-flush or not, I pay a lot of attention to how big my cards are. I’m obviously hoping for a flush, but if I back into a pair, it might be big enough to take down the pot.
If you’re dealt a four-flush on fourth street, your hand is now quite strong. If none of your flush cards are dead, you’ll make your flush 55% of the time by seventh street. Even if four flush cards are dead, you’ll still make your flush 35% of the time – not bad odds, depending on how many opponents you have.
The key to beating seven-card stud is careful analysis of your opponents’ holdings. There is no better way to show this than by playing a hand out.
Seven-card stud: $ 20/$ 40 limit ($ 3 antes, $ 6 bring-in)
Full-ring game (eight-handed)
Mrs X: (X-X)-10?
Mr C: (X-X)-7?
My hand: (K?-K?)-4?
As low card, Fred tosses his $ 6 in. Mrs X and Mr C fold. Jacko completes ($ 20) with a Jack. With two tens and two hearts dead, I put him on split Jacks. Remember, you can’t make a straight without a 10 or a 5 in your hand. Jacko knows this and wouldn’t raise with K-Q-J (also very unlikely considering the exposed cards). Paul decides to call and I think he could have a straight draw as I don’t see any eights or nines. He also could have (A-10)-10. So when the action gets to me, I want to put a bit of heat on my remaining opponents.
I make it $ 40 to go. My opponents know that I must have hidden aces, kings sense. I hate playing my hand face-up like that, but I’ve found that there are enough bad players out there that will pay you regardless. Red folds and Cowboy calls. He is good and must know that I can beat a pair of Queens, yet he still calls. I don’t see any other spades, so I conclude he probably has three spades (most likely with the ace hidden). Fred folds, but Jacko and Paul call.
Pot: $ 190
I’ve hit my two pair, but at this point my hand is pretty obvious. I bet $ 40 (I’m allowed to put a full bet in because of the open pair) and Cowboy calls. That surprises me, but then it occurs to me that he does have three spades and probably a pair of aces now. Jacko folds, but Paul calls. He is fairly weak so I don’t put anything past him.
Pot: $ 310
I bet $ 40 as I don’t want to give anyone a free draw. Cowboy raises. I put him on a pair of aces with a four-flush. I think he’s trying to buy a free card on sixth street unless he improves and then of course, he’ll bet. Paul calls which would suggest he might have some sort of straight draw, but I’m dubious.
I think Jacko had split Jacks and I’ve seen two exposed sevens. Paul may have two-pair and be too stubborn to release. My hand is definitely vulnerable, but I don’t think folding here is an option. I raise. If these guys are going to chase, I’m going to make them pay. Cowboy calls and Paul calls. Now I’m quite sure I’m ahead.
I’m first to act. Do I bet? First off, let’s look at Cowboy’s hand. The five couldn’t have paired him as I think he started with three spades. If Jacko indeed had split Jacks, it’s unlikely that the Jack on sixth street paired Cowboy. He probably still has one pair of Aces and a four-flush. There are five dead spades and four in his hand, so only four remain. I’m more scared of him making two pair than the flush.
Paul’s board is looking very scary, but does he have the straight? Jacko started with two Jacks and Cowboy has one so it’s unlikely Paul would have a six in his hand. I still think he has two-pair and has picked up an open-ended straight draw.
I think I still have the best hand. If I think Paul will bet, it’s an easy check. Let him bet, I raise and drive out Cowboy. It’ll be tough for Paul to re-raise me even if he does have the straight. It’ll also be very tough for Cowboy to call because he doesn’t know if Paul will re-raise. If I don’t think Paul will bet, I need to bet. No free cards! I check, Cowboy checks and Paul takes the bait and bets. I raise. Cowboy folds. Paul calls.
Pot: $ 830
Do I bet the river? I don’t think my opponent will fold two-pair because the pot is so big and he is getting over 20/1 on his call. And I don’t think he can raise even if he has the straight. I bet $ 40 and Paul calls. I win a $ 910 pot, but not without some sweating. My hand was definitely vulnerable, but if you carefully analyse the play you’ll be able to tell if you’re ahead. That is the key to beating stud.