Going Deeper into Seven-Card Stud

Seven-Card Stud is a game of contrasts. Start with a big pair, or a medium pair and a couple of high side cards, and you want to play against only a few opponents — which you can achieve by betting, raising, or reraising to chase out drawing hands.

If you begin with a flush or straight draw, you want plenty of opponents, and you’d like to make your hand as inexpensively as possibly. If you’re fortunate enough to catch a scare card or two, your opponent will have to acknowledge the possibility that you’ve already made your hand or are likely to make it at the earliest opportunity. If that’s the case, he may be wary of betting a big pair into what appears to be a powerhouse holding such as a straight or flush.

That’s the nature of Seven-Card Stud. The pairs do their betting early, trying to make it expensive for speculative drawing hands, and those playing draws are betting and raising later — if they’ve gotten lucky enough to complete their hands.

Starting hands

Most of the time you’ll throw your hand away on third street. Regardless of how eager you are to mix it up and win a pot or two, Seven-Card Stud is a game of patience. If you lack patience — or can’t learn it — this game will frustrate you to no end.

Many players lose money because they think it’s okay to play for another round or two and see what happens. Not only does this usually result in players bleeding their money away, the very fact that they entered a pot with less than a viable starting hand often causes them to become trapped and lose even more money.

Before making a commitment to play a hand, you need to be aware of the strength of your cards relative to those of your opponents, the exposed cards visible on the table, and the number of players to act after you do. After all, the more players who might act after you do, the more cautious you need to be.

Starting with three-of-a-kind

The best starting hand is three-of-a-kind, which is also called trips. But it’s a rare bird, and you can expect to be dealt trips only once in 425 times. If you play fairly long sessions, statistics show that you’ll be dealt trips every two days or so. Although it’s possible for you to be dealt a lower set of trips than your opponent, the odds against this are very long. If you are dealt trips, you can assume that you are in the lead.

You might win even if you don’t improve at all. Although you probably won’t make a flush or a straight if you start with three-of-a-kind, the odds against improving are only about 1.5-to-1. When you do improve, it’s probably going to be a full house or four-of-a-kind, and at that point you will be heavily favored to win the pot.

With trips, you will undoubtedly see the hand through to the river, unless it becomes obvious that you’re beaten. That, however, is a rarity.

Because you’ll be dealt trips once in a blue moon, it’s frustrating to raise, knock out all your opponents, and win only the antes. Because you are undoubtedly in the lead whenever you are dealt trips, you can afford to call and give your opponents a ray of hope on the next betting round.

The downside, of course, is that one of your opponents will catch precisely the card he needs to stay in the hunt and beat you with a straight or flush if you’re not lucky enough to improve. When you have trips, you’re hoping that one of your opponents will raise before it’s your turn to act. Then you can reraise, which should knock out most of the drawing hands.

Most of the time the pot is raised on third street, the player doing the raising either has a big pair or a more modest pair with a king or an ace for a side card. But your trips are far ahead of his hand. After all, he is raising to eliminate the drawing hands and hoping to make two pair in order to capture the pot. Little does he know that you’re already ahead of him, never mind the fact that you also have ample opportunity to improve.

Your opponent will probably call your reraise, and call you all the way to the river especially if he makes two pair. Here’s what usually happens. In the process of winning the pot, you earn three small bets on third street, another on fourth street, and double-sized bets on fifth, sixth, and seventh streets. If you’re playing $10–$20, you’ll show a profit of $100 plus the bring-in and the antes. If you’ve trapped an additional caller or two who wind up folding their hand on fifth street, your profit will exceed $150.

Big pairs

A big pair (10s or higher) is usually playable and generally warrants raising. Your goal in raising is to thin the field and make it too expensive for drawing hands to continue playing. A single high pair is favored against one opponent who has a straight or a flush draw. Against two or more draws, however, you are an underdog.

It’s always better to have a buried pair (both cards hidden) than to have one of the cards that comprise your pair hidden and the other exposed. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, it’s deceptive. If your opponent can’t see your pair — or even see part of it — it will be difficult for him to assess the strength of your hand.

If fourth street were to pair your exposed card and you come out swinging, your opponent would be apprehensive about your having three-of-a-kind. This might constrain his aggressiveness and limit the amount you can win. But if your pair is buried, and fourth street gives you trips, no one has a clue about the strength of your hand, and they won’t until you’ve trapped them for a raise or two.

Big pairs play best against one or two opponents and can sometimes win without improvement. But you’re really hoping to make at least two pair. If you are up against one or two opponents, your two pair will probably be the winning hand.

Having said that, a word of caution is in order. It’s critically important not to take your pair against a bigger pair, unless you have live side cards that are bigger than your opponent’s probable pair. For example, if you were dealt J♦A♥/J♠, and your opponent’s door card is Q♠, her most likely hand is a pair of queens if she continues on in the hand. (The slash mark indicates that the two cards to the left of the slash were dealt to the player face-down. The card to the right of the slash was dealt face-up.)

MASTER A WINNING STRATEGY

Become a winning Seven-Card Stud player by mastering these strategic elements:

If you have a big card showing and no one has entered the pot on third street when it’s your turn to act, you should raise and try to steal the antes.

This game requires immense patience, especially on third street. If you don’t have a big pair, big cards, or a draw with live cards, save your money.

Drawing hands offer great promise. But to play them, your cards must be live. Draws are also more playable if your starting cards are higher in rank than any of your opponents’ visible cards. This can enable you to win even if your draw fails but you are fortunate enough to pair your big cards.

After all cards have been dealt and you have a single opponent who comes out betting, you should call with any hand strong enough to beat a bluff.

Seven-Card Stud requires strong powers of observation. Not only must you be aware of whether the cards you need are live or not, you must also be aware of the cards most likely to improve your opponent’s hand.

Fifth street, when the betting limits double, is a major decision point. If you buy a card on fifth street, you’ve probably committed yourself to see the hand through to its conclusion.

As long as your ace is live, you can play against the opponent. For one thing, she might not have a pair of queens. She might have a pair of buried 9s, in which case you’re already in the lead. Even if she does have queens, you could catch an ace or another jack, or even a king. An ace gives you two pair that’s presumably bigger than your opponent’s hand, while trip jacks puts you firmly in the lead.

Even catching a live king on fourth street can help you. It offers another way to make two pair that is bigger than your opponent. You may be behind at this point, but you still have a number of ways to win.

Small or medium pairs

Whether you have a pair of deuces or a bigger pair is not nearly as important as whether your side cards are higher in rank than your opponent’s pair. If you hold big, live side cards along with a small pair, your chances of winning are really a function of pairing one of those side cards — and aces up beats queens up, regardless of the rank of your second pair.

Small or medium pairs usually find themselves swimming upstream and need to pair one of those big side cards to win. Although a single pair of aces or kings can win a hand of stud, particularly when it’s heads-up, winning with a pair of deuces — or any other small pair, for that matter — is just this side of miraculous; it doesn’t happen very often.

Playing a draw

If you’ve been dealt three cards of the same suit or three cards that are in sequence, the first order of business is to see if the cards you need are available. (Carefully check out your opponent’s exposed cards to see if any of the cards you need are already out.) If the cards you need are not already taken, you can usually go ahead and take another card off the deck.

If you see that your opponents have more than two of your suit or three of the cards that can make a straight, you really shouldn’t keep playing. If your cards are live and you can see another card inexpensively, however, go ahead and do so. You might get lucky and catch a fourth card of your suit, or you could pair one of your big cards and have a couple of ways to win. Your flush could get back on track if the fifth card is suited, or you could improve to three-of-a-kind or two big pair.

Drawing hands can be seductive because they offer the promise of improving to very large hands. Skilled players are not easily seduced, however, and are armed with the discipline required to know when to release a drawing hand and wait for a better opportunity to invest their money.

Beyond third street

Fourth street is fairly routine. You’re hoping your hand improves and that your opponents don’t catch the cards you need or a card that appears to better their own hand.

When an opponent pairs his exposed third street card, he may well have made three-of-a-kind. When this happens, and you have not appreciably improved, it’s usually a signal to release your hand.

Fifth street is the next major decision point. This is when betting limits typically double. If you pay for a card on fifth street, you’ll generally see the hand through until the river, unless it becomes obvious that you are beaten on board. It’s not uncommon for any number of players to call on third street and again on fourth. But when fifth street rolls around, there are usually only two or three players in the hand.

Often it’s the classic confrontation of a big pair — or two pair — against a

straight or flush draw. Regardless of what kind of confrontation seems to be brewing, unless you have a big hand or big draw, you’ll probably throw away many of your once-promising hands on fifth street.

In fact, if you throw away too many hands on sixth street, you can be sure that you’re making a mistake on both fifth and sixth street.

If you are fortunate enough to make what you consider to be the best hand on sixth street, go ahead and bet — or raise if someone else has bet first. Remember, most players will see the hand through to the river once they call on fifth street. When you have a big hand, these later betting rounds are the time to bet or raise. After all, good hands don’t come around all that often. When you have one, you want to make as much money as you can.

When all the cards have been dealt

If you’ve seen the hand through to the river, you should consider calling any bet as long as you have a hand that can beat a bluff (assuming you’re heads up — playing against just one other player). Pots can get quite large in Seven- Card Stud. If your opponent was on a draw and missed, the only way for her to win the pot is to bluff and hope you throw away your hand. Your opponent doesn’t need to succeed at this too often to make the strategy correct. After all, she is risking only one bet to try to capture an entire pot full of bets.

Most of the time you’ll make a crying call (a call made by a person who is sure he will lose), and your opponent will show you a better hand. But every now and then, you’ll catch her speeding (bluffing), and you’ll win the pot. You don’t have to snap off a bluff all that often for it to be the play of choice.

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