Identifying Winning Hands

Winning Seven-Card Stud generally takes a fairly big hand (usually two pair, with jacks or queens as the big pair). In fact, if all the players in a seven- player game stayed around for the showdown, the winning hand would be two pair or better more than 97 percent of the time. Even two pair is no guarantee of winning, however, because 69 percent of the time the winning hand would be three-of-a-kind or better, and 54 percent of the time the winning hand would be at least a straight.

A straight is the median winning hand: Half the time the winning hand is a straight or better, half the time a lesser hand will win the pot.

If you plan to call on third street, you need a hand that has the possibility of improving to a fairly big hand.

Because straights and flushes are generally not made until sixth or seventh street, you should raise if you have a big pair (10s or higher). In fact, if someone else has raised before it’s your turn to act, go ahead and reraise — as long as your pair is bigger than his upcard. The goal of your raise is to cause drawing hands to fold so your big pair can win the pot — particularly if it improves to three-of-a-kind or two pair.

Big pairs play better against a few opponents, while straights and flushes are hands that you’d like to play against four opponents (or more). It’s important to realize that straights and flushes start out as straight-and flush-draws. Draws are hands with no immediate value and won’t grow into full-fledged straights and flushes very often. But these draws have the potential of growing into very big hands, and those holding them want a lot of customers around to pay them off whenever they are fortunate enough to complete their draw.

Comprehending the Importance of Live Cards

Stud Poker is a game of live cards. If the cards you need to improve your hand are visible in the hands of your opponents or have been discarded by other players who have folded, then the cards you need are said to be dead. But if those cards aren’t visible, then your hand is live.

Many beginning Seven-Card Stud players are overjoyed to find a starting hand that contains three suited cards. But before you blithely call a bet on third street, look around and see how many cards of your suit are showing. If you don’t see any at all, you’re certainly entitled to jump for joy.

But if you see three or more of your suit cavorting in your opponents’ hands, then folding your hand and patiently waiting for a better opportunity may be the only logical course of action.

Even when the next card you’re dealt is the fourth of your suit and no other cards of your suit are exposed, the odds are still 1.12-to-1 against completing your flush. Of course, if you complete your flush, the pot will certainly return more than 1.12-to-1, so it pays to continue on with your draw. But remember: Even when you begin with four suited cards, you’ll make a flush only 47 percent of the time.

If you don’t make your flush on fifth street, the odds against making it increase to 1.9-to-1 — which means you’ll get lucky only 35 percent of the time. And if you miss your flush on sixth street, the odds against making your flush increase to 4.1-to-1. With only one more card to come, you can count on getting lucky about only 20 percent of the time.

This also holds true for straight draws. If your first four cards are 9-10-J-Q, there are four kings and an equal number of eights that will complete your straight. But if three kings and an eight have already been exposed, the odds against completing a straight are substantially higher and the deck is now stacked against you, and even the prettiest-looking hands have to be released.

CONSIDER THE ODDS

Here are some odds that will help you put the game of Seven-Card Stud in perspective.

424-to-1: The odds against being dealt three-of-a-kind. (At an average of 30 hands per hour, you’ll start with three-of-a-kind every 14 hours or so. That’s why it hurts so much when you’re dealt a hand like this and lose!)

5-to-1: The odds against being dealt any pair on your first three cards.

18-to-1: The odds against being dealt three suited cards.

3.5-to-1: The odds against making a full house if your first four cards make two pair.

6-to-1: The odds against making a straight if your first three cards are sequenced.

5-to-1: The odds against making a flush if your first three cards are suited.

1.2-to-1: The odds in favor of improving to at least two pair if you start with a straight flush draw like 10♦J♦Q♦.

1.4-to-1: The odds against making two pair if you start with a pair in your first three cards. The odds are 4.1-to-1 against making three-of-a-kind or better.

1.1-to-1: The odds against making a flush if you begin with three suited cards and catch a fourth card of your suit on the next round. But if you don’t catch a fourth suited card on fourth street, the odds against making that flush jump all the way to 2- to-1!

4-to-1: The odds against making a full house if you hold three-of-a-kind and three other cards on sixth street.

The first three cards are critical

Starting standards are important in Seven-Card Stud, just as they are in any form of Poker. Those first three cards you’ve been dealt need to work together or contain a big pair to make it worthwhile for you to continue playing.

Position

Position (your place at the table and how it affects betting order) is important in every form of Poker, and betting last is a big advantage. But unlike games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha, where position is fixed for all betting rounds during the play of a hand, it can vary in stud. The lowest exposed card always acts first on the initial betting round, but the highest exposed hand acts first thereafter.

Because there’s no guarantee that the highest exposed hand on fourth street will be the highest hand on the subsequent round, the pecking order can very from one betting round to another.

Subsequent betting rounds

If you choose to continue beyond third street, your next key decision point occurs on fifth street — when the betting limits typically double. Most Seven- Card Stud experts can tell you that a call on fifth street often commits you to see the hand through to its conclusion. If you’re still active on fifth street, the pot is generally big enough that it pays to continue to the sometimes bitter end. In fact, even if you can only beat a bluff on the river, you should generally call if your opponent bets.

By learning to make good decisions on third and fifth street, you should be able to win regularly at most low-limit games.

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