We show you how to beat the once massively popular game of seven-card stud
Until recently, seven-card stud was the most popular form of poker in the world. In American casinos, the game eclipsed hold’em by a wide margin. In Europe, stud was hugely popular and perhaps the most prestigious tournament on the calendar was the Poker EM in Austria – a seven-card stud tournament. Stud is a staple of the world’s highest stakes mixed games, and although there may be fewer games to choose from online, they can be among the most profitable available.
How To Play
Seven-card stud is most commonly played as a limit game, with up to eight players. Stud is played with an ante, which is typically set at between 10% and 33% of the small bet (for example, in a $ 5/$ 10 game, the ante will usually be between $ 0.50 and $ 1.75). After everybody has anted, each player is dealt three cards: two private ‘hole’ cards and one face up ‘door’ card. The player with the lowest door card must now make a compulsory bet known as the ‘bring-in’. This bet is typically slightly larger than the ante, but the player making it can also choose to make a full bet if they wish ($ 5 in the $ 5/$ 10 game).
If two players have the same rank of door card, then the player with the lowest suit brings in (suits are ranked in alphabetical order, from clubs to diamonds to hearts, with spades the highest). The action now proceeds clockwise around the table. Unlike a blind in hold’em, the bring-in is not considered to be ‘live’, so when the action returns to the bring-in they cannot choose to raise unless somebody has already done so.
After the first player has brought in, the next player to act may choose to fold, call or ‘complete’ the bet. For example, if the bring-in was $ 2 in a $ 5/$ 10 game, the player would complete the bet to $ 5. Further betting proceeds as per any other limit game, with bets and raises in increments of the lower limit.
After the first betting round is complete, each player receives another card face up, called ‘fourth street’, followed by another betting round. Now, the player with the best poker hand showing (usually the person with the highest card) acts first. Fifth and sixth streets are also dealt face-up, with a betting round after each at the larger betting limit. Lastly, the river card is dealt to each player face down. There is a final betting round, followed by a showdown.
The Importance of Antes
A key poker concept we haven’t yet touched upon in this series is the importance of the antes (including the bring-in) to your decision-making. The larger the antes relative to the stakes, the more you lose simply by sitting in a game and folding, so the more hands you have to play (and the more aggressively you have to play them) to recoup those losses. Larger antes also mean that the starting pot is larger relative to the initial bet, so you’ll be receiving better pot odds on your initial call or raise than you would in a small ante game.
This concept applies to all games and formats, not just stud ring games. You’ll find that ante structures vary significantly between poker rooms (for example, PokerStars’ antes are typically lower than Full Tilt’s). Which structure suits you best depends on your preferred playing style and the type of opponents you’re facing.
In last month’s examination of five-card stud, we discussed how critical it is to observe the cards that are displayed by your opponents, and factor them into your decisions. The same is true for seven-card stud. The importance of doing so cannot be overstated. You simply cannot win against reasonable opposition if you don’t pay attention to the up cards. Do whatever you can to remember them: repeat them in your head, come up with a clever mnemonic involving each card, or if you’re playing online, type them in the note box.
If the cards that you need are dead (displayed on other people’s boards) then your hand has just lost a lot of value, particularly if you have a drawing hand like a straight or flush draw. The earlier your position the more careful you have to be about entering the pot with a hand that is not very live. Assuming you’re the first in, the up cards are neutral or favourable, and you have the highest card showing, you can complete the bet in order to steal the antes a significant portion of the time. This is particularly the case if the antes are large.
The ultimate stud starting hand is three of a kind, which is usually a significant favourite over any opposing hand except a higher three of a kind. A big pair, like Aces or Kings, also has good potential. With a big pair, you’ll usually want to narrow down the field on third street by raising, hoping to isolate one or two opponents. By doing this, you increase the likelihood that you’ll win the hand unimproved.
Smaller pairs are also playable, but to play a small pair you ideally want your kicker to be either a suited connector or higher than your opponents’ up cards.
Other playable starting hands include three big cards (like A-K-10), plus flush and straight draws. Generally, you should avoid very small flush and straight draws, particularly if the pot has been raised (small straight flush draws, however, are very playable).
Playing The Later Streets
If your opponent pairs his door card, it’s more likely than usual that he has made two pair or trips (because people tend to enter pots with pairs in the first place). For example, if you hold [Ac Kc] As 9d, be cautious if your opponent, who is showing Qc Qd, now comes out betting.
Big pairs can be difficult to play beyond fourth street. A big two pair will usually be enough to win a heads-up pot, but multi-way you must consider your opponents’ boards and the dead cards carefully before playing the same hand to showdown. If you started with a small pair, three big cards, or a flush or straight draw, you should typically look to improve in some way by fifth street, when the bets double, or fold.
Fifth street is your commitment point in a stud hand, and if you call on fifth you should plan to at least call on sixth street and the river, unless your opponent catches very dangerous cards. A common sign of a weak stud player is a tendency to fold on sixth street, when by that point the pot is often so large that it’s correct to call down with any reasonable hand. If you can’t call on sixth, you probably shouldn’t have called on fifth either!
Beyond the obvious lowball and hi/lo variants, there are some novel twists on the seven-card-stud theme. Here are some examples:
Third street through the river are dealt as community cards, shared by all players. It’ll never catch on.
In this split pot variant, half the pot goes to the best traditional poker hand, and half to the player with the highest spade in the hole. Don’t even think about entering the pot without a spade.
Fourth street is dealt face up in the centre of the table. The dealer then holds an ‘auction’ for that card. The player who wins places his bid into the pot, but can choose to either keep the card himself, or give it to another player of his choice. From that point on the game is dealt normally. It’s good fun to buy a brick on fourth street, and force it on an easily-tilted opponent!