Choosing Starting Hands in Stud Games

Unlike flop games, when you play seven-card Stud you are on your own. The cards you get are the cards you’re stuck with throughout the hand, except in the unlikely event that everyone stays to the last card and the dealing program needs to turn up a common card in the middle of the table. Seven-card Stud also differs from Hold ’em and other flop games in that you have a lot more information about which cards are available and which cards aren’t. As an example, consider the hand in Figure 8.8.
In this eight-handed game, you know the identities of 10 cards that are no longer avail- able for you to draw: the three cards in your hand and the upcards of each of your opponents. Unless you have the lowest upcard and post the bring-in, you have a very good sense of whether you should put any money into the pot. You have to keep track of dead cards in your head when you play in a brick-and-mortar casino, but you can use a software program to keep track of them when you play online. For example, you could use the Excel worksheet shown in Figure 8.9 to track which cards are out.

Figure 8.8 You get a lot of information early in the hand in seven-card Stud.

Figure 8.9 Tracking dead cards was never easier.

Clicking a cell with a card value shades the cell, indicating the card is out. When you click the Reset button, a macro removes the shading from the cells so you can track cards dur- ing the next hand. You can download the workbook from

Choosing Starting Hands in Seven-Card Stud

So which hands should you play in seven-card Stud? As opposed to breaking the analysis down by position as we did in Hold ’em, we’ll break it down by type of hand and discuss how position affects your choices during each discussion.

Playing Three-of-a-Kind on Third Street

If you’re dealt trips, you’re rolled up and have a tremendous starting hand. In fact, ac- cording to a 100,000-hand simulation in Turbo Seven-Card Stud, trip Deuces wins 72 percent of the time, trip Eights wins 79 percent of the time, and trip Aces wins 84.5 per- cent of the time against seven random hands when everyone stays to the river. Trips are so strong that you don’t have to worry if the fourth card of your rank is someone else’s upcard. The winning percentage for trip Deuces, Eights, and Aces drops only by about 2 percent when the fourth card of that rank is in another player’s hand. The bad news is that you won’t be rolled up that often. But when you are, raise until they make you stop.

Playing Pairs on Third Street

Pairs from Tens to Aces are great hands, but they’re a bit more vulnerable than trips, particu- larly when one or both of the other cards of your rank are dead, or you have a lousy kicker. For example, the hand in Figure 8.10 is pretty good if no one has an upcard larger than your pair, but it would be pretty dicey if there were a Queen and a King to follow you.

Figure 8.10 You can play unless you can’t improve to trips, or there are bigger cards behind you.

You can play a pair of Aces in the hole regardless of your kicker and whether there are any Aces in other players’ hands. The reason Aces are so good is that if you make two pairs, and there’s a good chance you will, you will have Aces-up, very probably the best two-pair hand. Believe us, you will win a lot of hands with two pairs. In a 100,000-hand simulation in Turbo Seven-Card Stud, A♣A♠2♦2♥3♣4♥6♣ won right at 50 percent of the time when every other player stayed to the river.

With that information in mind, you can usually play any pair of Tens or higher as long as you have a good kicker and no one with a larger upcard has raised you. If a player with a bigger upcard has raised, you can still call if you have a good kicker (preferably one that duplicates the raiser’s upcard) or re-raise if you have a larger pair than you figure them to have.

Pairs lower than Tens are still decent hands, provided your pair is live (there are no cards of that rank on other players’ boards), your kicker is higher than any callers’ door cards,

and no more than one of your kicker’s mates is gone. Be warned, though: When you play

a small pair, you need to improve quickly or get out of the hand.

Playing Three to a Flush on Third Street

Flushes are powerful hands in seven-card Stud, but they’re a lot harder to make than you’d think. When your first three cards are the same suit, the odds are 5 to 1 against you making your flush by the river, assuming none of the cards you need are in other play- ers’ hands. This guideline applies to any three cards of the same suit, but if the upcards behind you are high and unmatched (that is, there’s an Ace, King, and Queen behind you), you might consider folding or just calling the bring-in.

If no one has raised before you, you can play if there are two cards of your suit out, but not if three or more are gone. If a player raises into you, and you have an Ace-high flush started, you need to determine whether the player is trying to steal or is raising on a good hand. If you have big cards and think your opponent may be trying to steal the antes, you can call if one of your flush cards is gone, or if you have three to a straight flush. If two flush cards are gone, and your cards aren’t high enough to make a solid two-pair hand at the river, you should probably give the player credit for a better hand and fold.

Playing Three to a Straight on Third Street

It’s easy to call when you have an Ace, King, and Queen as your first three cards, but calling with the hand in Figure 8.11 might give you pause if some of your opponents’ upcards are Tens or higher.

When you have three cards with no gaps, and all
of the cards you need are live, the odds are about
6 to 1 against you making a straight, so you can
certainly call the bring-in or even a full bet if your lowest card is an Eight or higher. If there is a one-card gap in your potential straight, however, you need to think very seri- ously about folding if any of your straight cards are dead. In fact, you should fold to a full bet if any of the cards you need to fill the gap are in another player’s hand.

Figure 8.11 Sure, you could im- prove to a straight, but will you?

You should also be careful of three-card straights that contain Aces, mainly because your outs are cut in half. For example, if you hold the hand in Figure 8.12, you must catch a Jack and a Ten to complete your straight. This hand contains three big cards, which is great, but it has a relatively low straight potential.

Figure 8.12 Big cards are good, but you have an inflexible straight draw.

Choosing Starting Hands in Seven-Card Stud High-Low

Omaha high-low is a game that takes the middle cards out of play, but Aces rule in seven- card Stud high-low. Because Aces play for both high and low, any hand with an Ace is definitively better than a similar hand without one. With that said, however, you do need to remember that both the high and low hand (if there is one) take half the pot, so you can still play for the high half of the pot if you have a good starting hand relative to how other players’ hands develop.

You can always play three of a kind in the pocket, of course, because you have a very, very good shot at capturing the high half of the pot. The set of Eights we tested in the seven-card Stud high section won 26 percent of the money in a 100,000-hand Turbo Stud 8 simulation, 0.3 percent of which were from four consecutive low cards fulfilling the ultimate backdoor low draw. You’re also a big favorite to win the money when you start with three consecutive suited cards ranked Five or below. With 5♣ 4♣ 3♣, for example, you would win 38 percent of all money put into the seven-card Stud high-low pot. Three consecutive but unsuited low cards are also a very good hand.

Other two-way hands you can play aggressively are a pair of Aces with another low card or three low cards (again, those cards ranked Five or lower) that include an Ace. On the high side, you’re looking good when you start with three cards to a high straight flush or what appears to be the best high hand based on your opponents’ cards. For
example, if you have the hand in Figure 8.13, and the highest card on board is a Jack, you should figure to be in good shape to win half the pot.

Figure 8.13 This hand works in high-low, provided no one else has a competitive high draw.

Be very careful about playing three cards that are ranked Eight or lower, though. These hands are generally not strong enough to play against more than one other opponent go- ing for low.

Choosing Starting Hands in Razz

Choosing starting hands in Razz, which is seven-card Stud played for low, can be fairly easy. If you want to take the simple way out, all you need to do is look at your cards and see if they’re all unpaired and below an Eight. Because flushes and straights don’t count, you can disregard many of the considerations that come into play in seven-card Stud and seven-card Stud high-low.

You do need to pay attention to the other cards on the board when you decide whether to play your hand or not. In Razz, you want to see cards on the board that duplicate the cards in your hand. Every card on the board that could have paired you is another breath of life to your bankroll. If you hold the A♠2♥6♣ and see two Fours, two Threes, and a Five on the board, for example, you should definitely fold the hand. In general, you should fold if you see more than three cards ranked Five or below that you need to make an Eight low or better.

Razz is a brutal game, with wild swings. Be prepared to weather a lot of storms if you take this game on.

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