Poker pro Jennifer Harman is here to guide you through to the final table of a stud 8 tournament
When evaluating your starting hand, you should be watching the upcards. If you have 4♠-3♠-2♠ and the upcards are K♥, K♣, Q♥, J♣, 9♥, 4♦, 2♥, you would want to get as much money into the pot as possible, as all the cards you need to make your flush, straight and low are available.
However, if the upcards were A♠, A♥, 5♠, 6♠, 6♥, K♠, J♦, you would play much more defensively, as many of those same cards are gone.
You can also make guesses about your opponent’s hand – if a 2♦ raises on third street, chances are he has a good low draw. If a K♣ raises, it’s more likely that he has a big pair, like Kings.
When playing from fourth street onwards there are two concepts that you must understand: pot building and the squeeze play. You pot build when you have a hand that is guaranteed to win one half of the pot – but has no chance to win the other – and you’re up against two opponents.
For example, let’s assume you have (A♣-2♣)4♠-3♥-6♠. You know all the 5s are gone, so you know you can’t lose the low pot – and you also know you can’t make a straight to win the high. Your opponents are showing 7♥-6♣-K♠ and J♣-K♥-Q♥, and based on their upcards and actions, you put the first player on a low draw and the second on a good high hand – perhaps two pair or even a straight.
You should try to make this pot as big as possible without knocking out the low draw. If you act first, you might bet, hoping the low draw will call and the high hand will raise. You’ll then call, enticing the low draw to call behind you. If you act last, you’d hope that the high hand bet, then the low draw called – so you could raise. If the high hand recognises what you’re doing, he’ll flat-call and allow the low draw in. In both cases you’ve extracted an extra bet by trapping the player in the middle, building the pot in increments that will be easy for him to call.
On the other hand, when you are alert to opportunities to eliminate an opponent, you will have a bigger chance to scoop. For example, if you have A♥-7♦-6♠-3♣ on fourth street, and you’re up against an opponent with what you think is just a pair of Kings, and another opponent with what looks like a worse low draw, you should do your best to knock out the pair of Kings. You do this by forcing the Kings to call two bets at once – so if the low draw bets and you act next, you raise, forcing the Kings to make a difficult decision.
On the draw
Many stud 8 players are reluctant to play aggressively when they have not yet completed their hands. For example, when they are drawing to a low and their opponent obviously has a pair. However, it’s important to realise that you may have by far the most equity in the pot with the worst hand at the time. To take an extreme example, your opponent has 9♣-9♠– K♣-4♠, and you have (7♥-6♥)-5♥-4♦. The 5♣, 6♦, 9♦, 10♣, Q♠, K♦ are dead. You have seven high and no low yet, but you should be betting and raising as much as possible – your equity in the pot is over 77%!
Likewise, if you have a made low and your opponent has an obvious high hand with no low draw, you can bet and raise indiscriminately. You know you can’t possibly lose the entire pot, but may back into a lucky two pair or straight to scoop. Don’t be tempted to play passively and just call in these situations; pump the pot and maximise your winnings. Your opponent might even fold under the pressure, allowing you to win the entire pot straight away!
In the middle stages of the tournament, you’ll be forced to steal some antes to keep your stack alive. However, this is more difficult in stud 8 than any other stud game, as the bring-in often has a playable hand. You should rarely try to steal with a high card showing, instead opting to complete with your best low cards, especially Aces. An Ace is such a powerful card in stud 8 that it’s almost an automatic completion if it’s folded to you in late position.
It’s all change
As the tournament draws nearer to its end and the table gets short-handed, some hands change in value. Big pairs and ‘high only’ hands become more playable. After all, with the qualifier in place, it’s possible to scoop the pot with just a high hand, assuming your opponent misses their low. Therefore, you might play a pair of Kings if you were up against just one opponent and especially if a few low cards were already gone.
When heads-up, think about what your opponent has – and what he thinks you have – rather than the strength of your own hand. Most pots will be won before a showdown, so concentrate on exploiting the apparent strength of your board, and be aware that a mediocre low, plus a mediocre high, is often enough to win the entire pot. If you play aggressively and are lucky enough to scoop a couple of pots, you’re almost sure to win. Good luck!
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