Before hold’em took over, the game of choice was seven-card stud
Seven-card stud has been described by Phil Ivey (who began his career playing stud in the card rooms of Atlantic City in the early nineties) as the game with ‘the most luck and the most skill’. Unlike hold’em, where the possible hands a player can have are constrained by the community cards, in stud each player has their own face-up cards in front of them, totally changing the way the game is played.
At the end of a hand every player ends up with three hidden ‘down’ cards and four visible ‘up cards’ from which they must make the best five-card hand. There are also five rounds of betting (one more than hold’em) which adds another layer of complexity.
The rules are straightforward enough – each player gets dealt two down cards and an up card to start with. This is known as third street. After this round of betting three more face-up cards are dealt individually with a round of betting after each. The final card is dealt face down and then there’s a final round of betting.
There are no blinds in stud. Instead, each player posts an ante before the beginning of the hand, and the player with the lowest up card posts a ‘bring-in’ bet. After this, betting proceeds in a limit format with two rounds of small bets (third and fourth street) and three rounds of big bets (fifth to seventh street).
So, in a $10/$20 game each player might post an ante of $0.50 with the low card also posting a bring-in of $3, and betting proceeding in limits of $10 and $20 depending on the street. Antes are typically 5% of the big bet in smaller games and 10% in larger ones and tournaments. Right, that’s the basics out of the way, now let’s get started.
1. STARTING HANDS
Hold’em players will need to make a few adjustments when selecting starting hands in a stud game. The value of your cards is affected not only by the face-up card you have showing, but also the face-up cards that other players are showing and your position in relation to the bring-in.
Your hand may be made much stronger or weaker depending on whether the cards that are showing are ones that you need to complete pairs, flushes or straights, and whether they are higher or lower than the ones you hold. However, it should also be noted that because each player has their own up cards, hand values run much closer in stud, as it is much harder to be dominated by another hand.
Three of a kind is a monster hand in seven-card stud and should always be played. The only problem you will face is how best to get as much money into the pot as possible, which will depend upon your up card. If you have 2-2-(2) then you may want to play cautiously on the early streets to avoid giving your hand away, but if you have A-A-(A) then you should put in every bet you can, as people will suspect that you have a strong hand anyway.
High pairs are extremely strong as it is unlikely anyone will have a better starting hand, and if you pair your kicker you will likely have the best two-pair hand in play. What exactly constitutes a high pair will vary according to the other up cards showing.
For example, with 10-8-(10) you are in good shape if all the other up cards are lower than a 10, and you should raise and re-raise to limit the field and make people pay to hit their draws. However, if there are many face cards and Aces out then it is much more likely someone has a higher pair, so you should exercise caution.
LOW PAIR/HIGH KICKER
A high pair is extremely strong both on its own or when it makes two pair. However, because each player gets dealt their own face-up cards in stud, a low pair with a high kicker is also fairly strong as it can still improve to a winning two pair which will beat a middle pair with a middle kicker. For example, if you have 2-A-(2) against an opponent’s 10-8-(10), you still have better than 40% equity.
For this reason, low pair/high kicker hands should still be played aggressively on third street by raising and re-raising in order to disguise your hand. You also give yourself additional ways of winning if you catch scary cards, as you can force another player to fold incorrectly.
LOW PAIR/LOW KICKER
Unlike the other pair hands, this one should be played with caution or folded as it is rarely in good shape. You will often find yourself trailing to a better pair and even when you do make two pair you will still be vulnerable to other hands making a better two pair against you. Note that your opponents’ face-up cards are again important in defining such a hand, with 10-8-(10) now falling into the low pair/low kicker category if there are several face cards or Aces out behind you.
THREE TO A FLUSH
This is a very playable hand in stud, although you should always note the number of your flush cards already out. If this is none or one your hand is very live. With two out it becomes marginal and with three or more it becomes unplayable unless it also has high-card or straight potential.
With drawing hands you should still play aggressively to disguise your hand and steal the antes in late position, however you should also try to play multi-way pots where possible to maximise your winnings when you do hit.
THREE TO A STRAIGHT
This is a very overplayed hand in stud and should be approached with caution or folded unless you have overcards to the other players’ face-up cards and your pair and straight outs are very live. This is because some of the time when you make a straight you will lose to a flush or full house anyway, and sometimes you will end up making two pair so you want it to be a good two pair when you do.
Therefore a hand like J-Q-(K) is very playable against many low cards, however one like 7-8-(9) is largely unplayable if there are many high cards out or some of your straight and pair outs are dead.
THREE HIGH CARDS
Players will often assume you have a big pair when you raise with a high up card, so it is often fine to raise or re-raise with three high cards as you will often improve. Generally you should do this in late position or when you have the highest up card and overcards to your opponents’ up cards.
If a small card raises in late position you should re-raise them to apply pressure and disguise your hand. You can also raise loosely when you are in late position with the highest card remaining and almost any two other cards if you have tight players behind you.