7 Card Stud
Before the modern poker boom, 7 Card Stud was the most popular form of poker in the world. In American casinos, especially on the east coast, the game eclipsed Hold’em by a wide margin. In Europe, Stud was hugely popular and perhaps the most prestigious tournament on the calendar was a 7 Card Stud tournament held in Austria.
Stud is a staple of the world’s highest stakes mixed games, and online, although there may be fewer games to choose from than Hold’em or Omaha, they can be amongst the most profitable available.
7 Card Stud is most commonly played as a limit game, which means that all the bets are in predetermined increments, with up to eight players at the table. Stud is played with an ante, which on the MPN is set at 20% of the small bet (for example, in a €1/€2 game, the ante is set at €0.20). After everybody has anted, each player is dealt three cards – two private hole cards, and one face up door card. The player with the lowest door card must now make a compulsory bet known as the bring-in. This bet is half the size of a small bet (€0.50 in the €1/€2 game), but the player making it can also choose to make a full small bet if they wish.
If two or more players have the same rank of door card, then the player with the lowest suit brings in (suits are ranked in alphabetical order, from Clubs (lowest), to Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades (highest)). The action now proceeds clockwise around the table. Unlike a blind in Hold’em, the bring-in is not considered to be ‘live’, so when the action returns to the bring-in they cannot choose to raise unless somebody has already done so.
After the first player has brought it in, the next player to act may choose to fold, call, or complete the bet. For example, if Player A has brought in for €0.50 in the €1/€2 game, Player B could complete the bet to €1. Further betting proceeds as per any other limit game, with bets and raises being in increments of the lower limit.
After the first betting round is complete, each player receives another card face up, called Fourth Street, followed by another betting round. Now, the player with the best poker hand showing (usually the person with the highest card) acts first. There is also a special rule – if a player is showing a pair on Fourth Street, they may make a double-sized bet if they choose.
Fifth and sixth streets are also dealt face up, with a betting round after each, this time at the larger betting limit. Lastly, the river card is dealt to each player face down. There is a final betting round, followed by a showdown.
The Importance of the Antes
The larger the antes relative to the stakes, the more you lose simply by sitting in a game and folding, so the more hands you have to play (and the more aggressively you have to play them) to recoup those losses. Larger antes also mean that the starting pot is larger relative to the initial bet, so you’ll be receiving better pot odds on your initial call or raise than you would in a small ante game.
This concept applies to all games and formats, not just Stud ring games. In tournaments, the antes might change each level, meaning that you need to adjust your strategy slightly depending on the size of the antes relative to the stakes.
In the MPN guide to Five Card Stud, we discuss how critical it is to observe the cards that are displayed by your opponents, and factor them into your decisions. The importance of doing so cannot be overstated – you simply cannot win against reasonable opposition if you don’t pay attention to the upcards. Do whatever you can to remember them – repeat them in your head, come up with a clever mnemonic involving each card, or type them in the chat box (without pressing enter) or a Notepad window!
If the cards that you need are dead (displayed on other people’s boards) then your hand had just lost a lot of value, particularly if you have a drawing hand like a Straight or Flush draw. The earlier the position you are in, the more careful you have to be about entering the pot with a hand which is not very live.
Assuming you’re the first in, the upcards are neutral or favourable, and you have the highest card showing, you can complete the bet in order to steal the antes a significant portion of the time, particularly if the antes are large.
The ultimate stud starting hand is Three of a Kind, which is usually a significant favourite over any opposing hand except a higher Three of a Kind. A big pair, like Aces or Kings, also has good potential. With a big pair, you’ll usually want to narrow down the field on Third Street by raising, hoping to isolate on one or two opponents. By doing this, you increase the likelihood that you’ll win the hand unimproved.
Smaller pairs are also playable, but to play a small pair you ideally want your kicker to be either a suited connector (for example [7♠7♥] 8♥) or higher than your opponent’s door card (for example [7♠7♥] A♣ against a J♥).
Other playable starting hands include three big cards (like [A♥K♦] 10♠), plus Flush and Straight draws. Generally, you should avoid very small Flush and Straight draws, particularly if the pot has been raised (small Straight Flush draws, however, are very playable).
Playing the Later Streets
If your opponent pairs his door card, it’s likely that he has made two pair or trips (because people tend to enter pots with pairs in the first place). For example, if you hold [A♣ K♣] A♠9♦, be cautious if your opponent, who is showing Q♣Q♦, now comes out betting.
Big pairs can be difficult to play beyond Fourth Street. A big Two Pair will usually be enough to win a heads-up pot, but multi-way you must consider your opponents’ boards and the dead cards carefully before playing the same hand to a showdown.
If you started with a small pair, three big cards, or a Flush or Straight draw, you should typically look to improve in some way by Fifth Street, when the bets double. Otherwise, fold.
Fifth Street is your commitment point in a stud hand, and if you call on fifth you should plan to at least call on Sixth Street and the river unless your opponent catches very dangerous cards. A common sign of a weak stud player is a tendency to fold on Sixth Street, when by that point the pot is often so large that it’s correct to call down with any reasonable hand. If you can’t call on sixth, you probably shouldn’t have called on fifth either!