Most of the players on this forum are trying to specialize in no limit hold em. Further, most are trying to employ a tight aggressive style. Stud requires a very tight and very aggressive game, and really teaches you how to push marginal edges. I am convinced that by learning stud, players become better at hold em. Note that this guide assumes basic knowledge of how stud works, so I don’t discuss the rules of the game, but I do go over what I think is an optimal strategy for playing. I assume that you are playing a full table game, which consists of 8 players.
One other note is that to show cards hidden, I will use (). So, (99)A means you have 99 in the hole.
I would advise playing very tight on 3rd street. A lot of players waste many bets early on, and saving them adds up in the end. I’ll break down the hands that should be played into 3 sections (same as Chip Reese did in super system)
1) Premium pairs/trips
2) Drawing hands
3) Small pairs
I consider premium pairs TT and up. The reason TT is a premium hand is that a straight cannot be made without a T or a 5, so the possession of 2 of them greatly reduces the odds that another player will make a straight.
If there is no raise in front of you, raise with a premium pair as long as there is only 0 or 1 higher cards showing behind you. If there are 2 or more, just call. If there is a raise in front of you and the card showing is higher than yours, call if your kicker is higher than the doorcard showing, and fold otherwise. For example, suppose you have (AT)T, and a Q up raises in front of you. Your hand is strong enough to call, granted that you have live cards. This brings me to my first rule:
Do not play non-made hands with dead cards out. That is, if there are dead aces or tens in the above example, avoid the situation. However, if your hand were (AT)A, and you had dead cards out, you could go ahead and reraise because you have the strongest hand barring a freak rolled up trips or AA with a higher kicker.
Let’s change the above situation a little. Say your hand is now (TT)A, so you have the A showing. I would go ahead and reraise with this hand. Having the TT concealed is much stronger, if you manage to spike a T, then you have a very deceptive 3 of a kind. Further, you may be able to make the Q fold on a later street with continued aggression by representing split aces.
Let’s change the situation once more. Suppose your hand is (TT)J or (TJ)T, and the Q up once again raises in front of you. Unless you are getting very good odds on your call (4:1 plus), and you have no dead cards, and there are no higher cards left behind you who may reraise, then you should fold. Stay away from these situations. You could make 2 pair and still very easily lose the hand. This shows very much how powerful a kicker can be in a stud hand. Just some numbers, here are odds on 3rd street of the following matchups:
QQ2 vs. TTJ: TTJ wins 38.5%
QQ2 vs. TTA: TTA wins 43%
Although the percentage difference is only about 5%, the added fold equity of TTA and the power of the kicker make the hand worth playing.
The goal with the premium pairs is to eliminate as many players from the pot as possible. If you have a pair that is higher than anyone else’s doorcard, you want to raise and reraise as much as possible. These hands can win a showdown unimproved against 1 opponent, but against multiple opponents you need help to win. You must push your marginal edge very hard, and your goal should be to get as many people out of the hand as possible. Thus, play it fast and hard.
On the other hand, with rolled up trips, the very strongest starting hand in 7 stud, you want to keep as many people in as possible early on until the bets double. These hands will often improve to a full house or better, and even when they don’t they will frequently win. Just a quick numbers check against 2 of the strongest possible 7 stud hands:
777 vs. Ac Ah Kh: 777 wins 83%
777 vs. Qc Jc Tc: 777 wins 75%
Thus, I would generally not raise with rolled up trips on 3rd street. I want to keep everyone in the pot until the bets double and I can really make some money off some 2 pairs, draws, and other random holdings.
There are 2 types of drawing hands: 3 to a straight, 3 to a flush. Flush draws come more often, so they are obviously a better hand. There are three considerations when playing drawing hands – your position, your door card, and dead cards.
With drawing hands, you want as many people in the hand as possible, increasing your pot odds. Thus, you almost never want to raise with them (there are a couple exceptions which I will go over).
With three to a straight, first examine how strong your cards are. KQJ is a much stronger hand than 876 because if your cards pair on 4th street, you now have a premium pair. Secondly, look for cards that will fill your straight. With an 876, the most important cards are 9 and 5, with T and 6 being important as well. If there are 3 or more of these 16 cards dead, don’t even consider playing the hand. With 2 dead cards, it is a marginal play, with 0 or 1, the hand is playable to 4th street. That is, granted there are other players in the pot. I would not play a lower 3 straight to a raise (unless there were a lot of people in), but I may play a KQJ to a raise if I have cards higher than his door card, thus giving me a possibility of making a higher pair than he has.
With a 3 flush, I examine similar properties. First, check how many of your suit are out. With 3 or more out, fold the hand immediately. With 2 out, only play the hand if you have a couple of high cards that can make a high pair. With 0 or 1 out, go ahead and play the hand, granted you are not heads up against a raiser.
Probabilities of making flush (# of dead cards showing on 3rd street)
0 dead cards: 23.6%
1 dead card: 19.6%
2 dead cards: 15.8%
3 dead cards: 12.3%
4 dead cards: 9.1%
As you can see, if there are more than 1 or 2 dead cards, the likelihood of making a flush becomes very low.
Again, with these hands you want as many people in the pot as possible, so they don’t play well heads up or against a raise. If you have a hand like (Qc6c)5c, and are raised by a J up, it is acceptable to call because if you catch a Q you could very well have the best hand. However, with 3 cards lower than a jack, I would not call the raise unless it is a big multiway pot.
As I said, there are some exceptions to the rule of not raising with these hands. Let’s say you are in last position, meaning the player in front of you brought it in, and there are a bunch of callers in front of you. Suppose you have (5cKc)Ac. Go ahead and raise if there are no aces and kings showing. The table will probably give you credit for a pair of aces, they will probably all call, increasing your pot odds, and you have a good likelihood of improving on the next street. An ace, king, or club on 4th street will improve your hand tremendously. Further, nobody will expect you to have started with a 3 flush, so if a club comes, your flush draw will be hidden very well.
Another time I would raise is if nobody has entered the pot, and everyone remaining behind you has a lower card showing than your door card. You can raise and expect to take down the antes and bring in a good percentage of the time here.
One note about drawing hands is that if you don’t improve on 4th street (either make a 4 flush/4 straight or manage to get a premium pair), you will usually be folding the hand here. The only time I would advise taking a card off and continuing to 5th street is if the pot was raised on 3rd street, and there are a lot of people in, so you are getting good money odds still. Otherwise, just fold the hand and cut your losses.
If you make a 4 flush or 4 straight on 4th street, you will almost always see the hand to the river (unless you have a 4 straight and someone is showing 3 or 4 to a flush, or other situations where you feel you may be drawing dead like someone has trips on board). In fact, you might want to raise in multiway pots on 4th street to get more money in. Let’s say you are last to act, and the first player bets, and 2 people call. With a 4 flush or 4 straight, go ahead and raise here. You are 47% to make the flush and 43% to make the straight, so unless the original bettor makes it 3 bets to go and the other players fold, you will be correct in raising. Even if he does reraise, you are still ok, just call and try to hit your draw. However, if he does call as do the others, your raise means you are getting 3:1 on your money on an almost 1:1 shot, a winning proposition.
There are 2 types of smaller pairs. Wired or concealed pairs such as (77)A, or split pairs, such as (7A)7.
With split pairs that are smaller than premium hands, you want to try and win the hand on 3rd street if possible. I generally don’t take too much value in split pairs unless one of the following holds:
1) My upcard is the highest card showing, meaning my split pair could be the best hand
2) My kicker is higher than anyone else’s door card, similar to the situation detailed before about ATT vs Q showing
3) There are many players in the pot giving me good odds to try and hit my 3 of a kind
If I’m the first to enter the pot with a few people already having folded, I’ll raise and take a stab at it (assuming 0 or 1 up cards are higher than mine, if 2 or more are higher I will probably fold unless I have a very good kicker). If everyone folds, great, I won the antes. If someone calls, I’ll make my decision on the following streets based on a lot of things, like his door card, his 4th street card, my kicker, what comes on 4th street for me etc. If he reraises me, I’ll call granted one of the 3 previously stated conditions hold.
If there are limpers in front of me, I’ll limp in and try to improve cheaply. If the hand is raised twice in front of me or twice behind me, I’ll throw it away, protect your money when you don’t have good odds of improving.
If you are playing against a raiser with a higher doorcard than yours (representing a higher pair), check and call or just call till 5th street. If you don’t make trips or improve to 2 pair with your kicker (remember you wont play the hand unless your kicker is higher than his doorcard!) then fold.
An advanced play I like to use often here is to raise with the 2nd best hand.
Let’s say I have (7A)7 showing on 3rd street. It is raised in front of me by a K, and I call. 4th street comes and we look like this:
When he bets into me, I will raise. For one, if there are other players left to act behind me, it puts a lot of pressure on them to cold call two bets, so they will most likely fold, making this a heads up pot. Secondly, unless he improves, he will likely check to me on 5th street, and if I don’t improve I can take a free card. This saves me half a bet because the bets double on 5th street! If I do improve, I will bet on 5th street, GAINING me that extra half a bet on 4th street.
Notice that this play requires a few things to work. First off, it requires that if my board is stronger than his, meaning I will be first to act on 5th street, then I will have the best hand. The only way for me to be first to act is if a 7, 8 or A comes, all of which improve my hand to 2 pair or trips. Consider the following situation:
I could easily be first to act on the next street without improving. Getting a K, Q, or J could make me the best hand on board, and I wont have the option of giving myself a free card in this situation. Here, just call and try to improve to aces up or trips.
Playing concealed pairs is very different. The play of concealed smaller pairs is based on what your upcard is and what you want to represent. If you have a hand like (22)A, and no aces are showing, you should raise. You might win by representing split aces, you could improve to three deuces later on and nobody would ever expect it, or you could pair your ace and make a very strong aces up.
What’s different about concealed pairs is that you can limp in with a bad kicker because of the power of making concealed trips. With split pairs, if I play a terrible kicker, then hit my doorcard, people will be very wary of trips, and may fold or just call down, which doesn’t give me enough equity to continue in the hand. However, with a concealed pair, you can limp in and possibly hit a concealed set, which can very easily get paid off. It’s sort of like hold em, hitting a set with implied odds.
Despite that, if the pot is raised in front of you, and your kicker is not higher than the raiser’s doorcard, just fold. Or, if the pot is raised twice behind you, fold it as well. You want to hit trips as cheaply as possible, do not go calling all sorts of bets early on to hit what is basically a 12:1 shot by 5th street.
5th/6th/7th street play:
By 5th street, you will either have an obvious fold, a premium pair that is looking to hit a 2nd pair or trips, a drawing hand that you will pay to 7th street to see, or a made 2 pair or better. Most of the play on 5th/6th street is relatively straightforward. With made hands, you want to bet/raise as much as possible to get as much money in as you can. With drawing hands you want to call until you hit (then you have a made hand which you can play aggressively) or fold on 7th street if you miss. The only non-straightforward hand is the unimproved premium pairs.
Usually you will want to continue aggression with them on 5th street. Sometimes you will win the hand against an unimproved opponent, and other times they may call or raise, or you may even not be first to act (i.e. they have an open pair showing).
Let’s suppose you are first to act. I would bet out. If they fold, great. If they call, I would assume a drawing hand. If the draw doesn’t seem to hit on 6th street, bet again. I would then check call on 7th street. This minimizes my losses against a made draw, and maximizes my wins against a missed draw that may bluff on the end. I use this play often; even with 2 pair when I am sure my opponent will not have made anything except a flush or straight.
If you are raised, be very careful. This goes for trips and 2 pairs as well. First, I would think about what cards are already dead, and how the hand has been played so far, trying to put my opponent on a hand. If there were any way I’m behind I would make a decision. With only 1 pair I would consider folding on scary boards, possibly calling to the river trying to hit 2 pair. With 2 pair I would call down (unless the board is really scary AND I wasn’t getting decent pot odds at all) trying to fill up, but even if I didn’t, I’d call the river (again, unless the board was very scary). Same goes for trips. If I did fill up with either of these hands, bet out on the river and get as much money in as possible.
Again, that is under the assumption that I may be behind. If I have trips or a solid two pair and I know my hand is best, I’m going to keep reraising. But If my opponent may have a straight or flush or something else, I’ll play it cautiously and check call or fold if I’m certain I’m beat and don’t have odds to draw out.
Now suppose that you are not first to act. Consider the following situation.
He raised 3rd street, you reraised, he called, so you are fairly certain he has a pair of jacks. He then called your bet on 4th street, hit an open pair on 5th street and bet out. I would raise him here. Yes, you know for sure that he has 2 pair and your hand is not best, but raising is the correct play. For one, unless he has JJ or a 2 in the hole (both of which are very unlikely), he wont reraise you (he may even fold!). If he folds, great. If he calls, he will likely check the next street (unless a J or 2 comes up). If you don’t improve to 2 pair, check behind. If you do improve to 2 pair, bet! This costs you the same amount to see the 7th card if you miss, and gains more if you hit.
Important other things:
You always always ALWAYS want to remember every dead card. I cant emphasize this enough. When drawing to a flush you want to know exactly how many of your suit remain in the deck. You want to know if on later streets, cards other players get are already dead. It decreases the likelihood that the player has made another pair. Knowing all the dead cards allows you to better piece together what your opponent might have. For example, say you have (JA)JTT5 showing, and another player has (xx)K642 showing. If you knew there to be dead sixes fours and twos, then it is less likely that your opponent has improved to 2 pair. This allows you to continue your aggression.
That leads to the second point, of trying to always be aggressive. Whenever you think you have the best hand, you should raise, reraise, cap it, etc. Stud is a limit game, you don’t want to miss out on bets that cant be made up later in the hand. By playing aggressive you maximize the amount of money that you win.
That being said, don’t be stupid. If someone pairs his door card, be very wary of trips, even consider folding. If you are raised, consider that you might be behind, and you might want to call down. Another example is say you have (Q7)Q, the Q being the highest card on board. Lets say you raise the bring in and are reraised by a 9 showing. Reraise him back to 3 bets. If he makes it 4 bets to go, he might have KK or AA in the hole. Don’t be stupid and keep trying to run him over unless you improve by 5th street. In fact, If I didn’t improve by 5th street, I would almost certainly fold. This brings to mind a hand I recently played.
I had (A6)A, and it folded to me. I raised with only the bring in behind me. He called with the 3d. The next street gave me an 8, and him the Kd. I bet again, and he called. Now, I figured him for a 4 flush. 5th street: me: (A6)A88, him: (xx)3dKdT. I bet again, and he called. 6th street didn’t improve my hand, but gave him an A. I bet into him, and he raised me. I reraised him back, and he capped. Instantly, I knew he had QdJd in the hole and he walked into a straight. I didn’t make a boat on 7th, check called and saw the exact hand I knew he had. I know aggression is key, but there were a few hands that had me beat here. He could have had 33, KK, TT in the hole, as well as QJ. The fact that I put him on a flush draw before does not mean that was the only possible hand he could have. I should have been happy with the pot out there and should have just called down. Instead, I cost myself 2 bets being overaggressive.
This example brings in another point. If by the 7th card, there is any chance you have the best hand, call. If you were on a completely missed draw, sure, fold the hand, or if you cant beat the board you see, fold. But if you have aces up and are scared of trips, but you think he may just have a smaller two pair, call. Pot odds justify it. If there is 40 in the pot and it’s 4 to call, if you are ahead only 1 in 9 at this point you are making a +EV decision by calling.
A final point I’d like to make is about picking up pots. If people are acting like they are allergic to the money out there, by all means bet and try to take it. However, it is hard to bluff in stud. For one, it is not a positional game. The best hand leads each round, so if you are bluffing up front, you don’t know what people behind you will do, and if you are bluffing from behind, you probably don’t have a very strong hand. These forces work against each other, so keep them in mind when you consider bluffing. That being said, I do try to pick up a lot of pots, and occasionally get myself into trouble trying to run over an opponent. I would advise using it sparingly and in heads up pots.
There are situations where a bluff is very good though. Let’s say your board has a 3 flush showing but you have nothing. Your opponents check to you, go ahead and bet. If you have anything at all, you may even want to raise a bettor. It does require that you know if your opponent will call you down or not, but this could be a profitable play, and has worked for me often.
Occasionally if I’m sure my opponent wont call, I may bluff on the river. This is a VERY risky play because usually someone who goes to the river calls that last bet, but if you are very sure he wont call, then go for it. Just be very careful in executing this play.
If you are new to stud, this guide may seem overwhelming to you. It contains a lot of information and may have some unfamiliar terms to you. My advice is to read through it once, play a few hours, then come back and read it again, and play some more. There is a lot of insight in what I’ve written, and it’s hard to pick it all up at once. Using the techniques in this guide I’ve managed to become a winning 7-stud player, and in turn it has made me a better overall poker player.