Poker Game Guide: Seven Card Stud

Guide to Seven Card Stud

Seven card stud was the most popular form of poker before Texas hold'em burst onto the scene in the early 2000's. Some argue that holdem started taking over for stud in the 1970's, and it did gain in popularity because the main event of the World Series of Poker used Texas hold'em.

But 7 card stud still had a strong following through the 1980's and 1990's.

Stud is a strategically challenging game where partial information dictates play. Unlike Texas hold'em or Omaha, in seven card stud there are no community cards except in one rare circumstance which I've covered below and each player will receive seven cards in order to make their best five card poker hand.

On this page you'll find a basic how to play guide and the rules of the game followed by a strategy section. This will arm you with the information you need to hit the felt and start honing your seven card stud skills. As always, when reading a poker guide you can only get so far, and the best way to learn the game and become an expert is by actually playing it.

How to Play – Seven Card Stud Rules

Seven card stud uses standard poker hand ratings with a royal flush being the best hand. The betting rounds are a little bit different from other forms and antes are used instead of blinds. Read on and we'll cover how the game is dealt, antes, bringing in, and the betting rounds and structure.

Hand Rankings

I've outlined some examples for you below to show what hands would beat others and some of the basic hands and associated strengths. Seven card stud uses standard poker hand ratings, listed below from highest to lowest.

Hand Description Example
High Card A hand with no other combination. Valued by it's highest ranked card.
Pair Two cards of the same rank
2 Pair Two pairs combined
3 of a Kind Three cards of the same rank
Straight Five consecutive cards
Flush Five cards of the same suit
Full House A pair and a three of a kind combined
4 of a Kind Four cards of the same rank
Straight Flush Five consecutive cards of the same suit
Royal Flush A straight flush that runs from the 10 to the Ace

To spice it up you can also occasionally find a hi/lo variant of the game which splits the pot with half being awarded to the highest ranked hand and the other half going to the low hand. Hi / Lo stud is a much more complex game however and we won't go into it in too much detail here.

How the Game is Dealt

Unlike many other forms of poker there is no designated dealer in seven card stud. Play begins with every player entering the pot by wagering an ante. The value of the ante will be determined by the table limits you're playing or by the house. For example if you're playing $10 / $20 limit seven card stud, the ante could be $1.

After each player has placed their ante in the pot the dealing will begin with each player receiving three cards. The first two of these cards will be dealt face down and are known as the hole cards, with the third card being face up and called the door card.

Dealing for Seven Card Stud

Betting Rounds

To start the initial betting, one player will make a bring in bet. Using the above limits, the bring in could be $5. The player who brings in is determined by the door cards, with the lowest ranked card bringing in.

This player also has the option to complete, which would be a $10 bet and is considered the first raise. In a limit game a complete bet is equal to the lower limit and the bring in is usually half the low limit.

From here the play continues clock wise around the table, where remaining players have the following options.

  • Fold
  • Call
  • Raise

If the initial player only brings in for $5, then other players can complete for $10 and this is considered the first raise.

Once every player has had the chance to act, remaining players are dealt a fourth card which is called the 4th street card. As we don't have a dealer button to determine who acts first, in seven card stud the player displaying the highest ranking hand with their two face up cards acts first, and this continues on the remaining streets.

At this time there is another round of betting, followed by the 5th street, which is dealt face up and followed by a round of betting. A sixth card is dealt face up with another round of betting at this point. Finally 7th street, which is the players 7th card, is dealt face down. From here there is a final round of betting and a show down where players expose their best five card poker hand and the highest ranked hand wins.

Seven card stud is usually a fixed limit game. Using the above limits of $10 / $20, this means on the 3rd and 4th street the limit for each bet is $10, and on the 5th, 6th, and 7th streets it is $20. The game has one exception to this betting rule, If a player has a pair on the face up cards on the 4th street they may bet double the limit, which would be $20 in our example.

Running Out of Cards

It's possible to run out of cards in seven card stud. If there are still 8 players remaining when the 7th street is due, the dealer will place the last card in the middle of the table and this will act as a community card for all players to use.

Seven Card Stud Strategy

Becoming a winning seven card stud player requires many of the same skills needed to win playing Texas hold'em or Omaha.

Though stud isn't as popular as it was at one time, you can still find games available in larger poker rooms and online. Because most of the best players have moved over to playing Texas hold'em there's a great deal of opportunity for smart players to profit at the stud tables.

In this section of our game guide you'll learn the basic strategy you need in order to become a break even player. You'll then learn the advanced tactics used to start making a long term profit. There's also some strategy advice for the hi lo version of the game.

To start with, we've provided a few words on hand strength.

Hand Strength

Hand strength in seven card stud is a lot different than in Texas hold'em. It's probably closer to Omaha. While a simple high pair in Texas hold'em, such as King of HeartsKing of Spades, will often win the pot in that game, in seven card stud a pair is not a strong hand and often one or more players will be showing a pair on their 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th street. Often three of a kind or stronger will be required to win at show down in seven card stud.

The best possible starting hand in seven card stud is 'rolled up' aces (for example Ace of SpadesAce of Diamonds Ace of Clubs). This is where you're dealt two aces face down and one face up. This is an extremely strong hand and you have a very low chance of losing with this. If you get any card rolled up you're in a very good position.

Basic Strategy

Remembering the Cards

The first step to becoming a winning long term seven card stud player is remembering every card that's been played. You can see the up cards for all of the players still in the hand but when a player folds, her hand is no longer visible.

At first most players find it difficult to remember every card they've seen, so we've put together a series of tips that will help you to take advantage of all of the available information on every hand.

Tip #1

You don't technically need to remember every single card you've seen. The only ones that you must remember are the ones that have something to do with your current hand. The issue is that with your first three cards almost any card can come into play later in the hand.

The only cards that can be safely ignored are when you have three low cards, when you hold three high cards, or when you have a set. With three low cards you can ignore face cards, but don't ignore the aces because they can be used to make a five high straight. If you have three high cards without an ace you can ignore low cards.

When you have a set you can ignore just about any other cards, but you may need to know the values of folded cards to determine your possibilities of making a full house later in the hand.

Tip #2

Ignore suits when your first three cards are three different suits. Knowing the suits that have been played can help you determine the odds an opponent has a flush late in the hand but it won't come into play often. You still need to remember the rank of the cards to see how they change your odds later in the hand.

Tip #3

When two of your first three cards are the same suit, their suit is the only one you need to track. The odds of drawing a flush with only two out of your first three cards are suited is low, but it does happen from time to time.

Tip #4

You can train your brain to remember every card that's been revealed every hand. Start by tracking the cards, including your own, in hands where you fold. You won't have the added pressure of making playing decisions so it's the best way to start.

Work on this on every hand until you have it down perfect. It doesn't matter if this takes weeks or months, as long as you keep making progress.

As you should fold most of your hands you'll quickly get a great deal of practice. Don't get discouraged, because you won't be able to memorize all the cards right away. But it's a learned skill so in time your brain will start remembering.

Once you're able to remember all of the cards folded when you aren't involved in the hand focus on just the first up card for every hand when you're still in the hand. When you have that mastered it's only a short step until you're remembering all of the folded cards.

Starting Hand Selection

The next basic strategy area you need to consider if you hope to be a winning player is starting hand selection. Your starting hand selection depends somewhat on your opponent's up cards, but some hands should never be played and some should always be played.

As we've already mentioned, the best starting hands are three of a kind (called rolled up) followed by three high suited cards, pairs, three high unsuited cards, and other three card hands that work together in some way.

Just like in most forms of poker, the player who enters the hand with the best starting cards wins a higher percentage of the time than her opponents.

Your starting hand in any single game is a matter of chance based on the randomness of the shuffle, but over time you'll receive the same collection of starting hands as everyone else who plays 7 card stud.

What this means is you have to fold hands that don't have a chance to turn a long term profit as quickly as possible.

Hands without flush or straight possibilities, ones with three cards that don't work together in any way like King of SpadesEight of Diamonds Three of Hearts, and low hands with no pair are examples of poor hands that should be folded as quickly as possible.

You also need to watch out for trap hands. Starting hands with medium and low pairs are playable in most games but if they don't improve they rarely hold up. One of the keys is determining when to get out of the hand and when you should keep drawing hoping to hit a three of a kind or two pair.

Pot Control

One of the biggest weapons you have is the ability to influence the size of the pot. It might not seem like you have much control because when you're drawing to a better hand all you can do is check and call and when you have a big hand all you can do is bet and raise, but both of these actions is a form of controlling the pot size.

You want to put as much money in the pot as possible when you're the favorite and as little as possible when you're not.

The challenge in most hands is figuring out when you're the favorite and when you aren't. In the situations we just mentioned it's easy. If you're drawing to a straight or flush you're behind in the hand so in most cases you don't want to build the pot until you hit your hand. If you have three of a kind or better you'll want to build the pot until it's clear an opponent has a strong hand.

But what do you do when you have a middle to high pair or even two pair against an opponent who shows a pair?

It depends on your opponents, how they're playing the hand, and the cards you see around the table.

The important thing is always be aware of the pot size and know whether you want it to be bigger or smaller.

In limit seven card stud this is important, but if you play pot limit it can be the difference between winning and losing a great deal of money.

The size of the pot can quickly climb in a pot limit game so you don't want to get stuck drawing to a weak or second best hand in a big pot. Keep the pots as low as possible when you're drawing and build them when you're the favorite.

Outs & Pot Odds

When you play Omaha or Texas hold'em determining the number of outs is fairly easy to do. You always start with the same number of cards and the same number of known cards are available in each stage of the hand. After the flop you know the values of your cards and the three community cards, and you know one more card value after the turn.

But when you're playing seven card stud the number of known cards changes all the time.

It's still a straight forward calculation, but you have to pay attention and use the skills for memorizing the cards that have already been played that we covered above.

Imagine the following example.

  • You're playing with six other players and start with three hearts.
  • In addition to your three cards you know the values of six other cards.
  • You know the deck holds a total of 13 hearts and you hold three of them.
  • You therefore know that that ten hearts remain in the deck.
  • If one opponent has a heart showing there are now nine hearts remaining.
  • Four of your opponents fold, leaving three of you in the pot.
  • On the fourth card you and one of your remaining opponents both receive a heart.
  • Now you have four hearts and two have been dealt to other players.
  • You have seven outs to make your flush on the last three cards you'll receive.

At this point it's important to note that you shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that all of your opponents have been dealt cards you can't see and some of the hearts are probably among those cards. While it's true that some of the hearts are probably out of play, the only information you can act on is how many cards you get to see. Every other card is unknown.

In the example, you have seen your four cards, one card of four of your opponent's and two cards of two of your opponent's. This is a total of 12 cards, so you haven't seen the value of 40 cards. You have 7 out of 40 cards to complete your flush on the next card dealt. Let's continue with the rest of this hypothetical hand.

  • The fifth card is dealt and no hearts are dealt on the round.
  • You still have seven outs, but now they are out of 37 unseen cards.
  • The sixth card is dealt and one of your opponents receives a heart.
  • Now you have six outs for the final card out of 34 unseen cards.
  • To make a happy ending, you receive your fifth heart as your final card.

As you can see from this example, your number of outs, and unseen cards, change throughout the hand.

Don't panic because you don't think you'll ever be able to figure all of this out while participating in a hand.

While some of the best players can figure exact percentages and odds on the fly, most of us can't do it perfectly. The good news is you don't have to do it perfectly. You just have to get it close enough to make the right decision.

In the example above, you'll almost always be correct to stay in the hand because when you hit your flush, even though it won't happen as often as you miss, you'll win enough to make up for the times when you don't hit it.

That's the magic statement that winning seven card stud players understand and losing one's don't.

The secret of long term profitability in any form of poker is putting yourself in situations where you'll win more in the long run than you'll lose and escaping from situations where you'll lose more than you win in the long run.

A big part of this is determining how many outs you have and comparing it to the amount you can win when you hit your hand.

Most hands aren't as easy as the flush example, because you have different ways of winning the hand. Though we didn't spell it out, the assumption with the flush example is if you don't hit the flush you lose the hand. But the truth is if one or more of the non-suited cards got paired with one or more of your hearts you could possibly win the hand without hitting the flush. It won't happen often, but it does happen sometimes.

Instead of hitting your flush on the last card let's say you paired your highest card and neither of your opponents show a hand that can beat it. The odds of you winning the pot at this point are small, but in a limit game if you only have to call a single bet you almost always have to call in this situation.

Here's why.

Let's say at this point the pot has $200 and you have to call a $10 bet to find out who won. This means that you only have to win the hand one out of 20 times to break even. Even if you lose the hand 19 times you'll break even in the long run if you win once. If you win two times out of 20 you'll turn a profit in the long run making this call.

Do you think you can win 5% of the time in this situation? We can almost guarantee you'll win at least 5% of the time.

What if the pot only has $150 or $100?

This is where it gets a little tricky, but you still need to try to guess your overall chances of winning and compare it to the amount in the pot.

If you think you can win the hand one out of 15 times or more you need to call if the pot has $150. If the pot has $100 you need to determine if you can win one out of 10 times or more.

Every decision you make while playing 7 card stud can be boiled down to the same type of mathematical decision. It's not easy because you don't know exactly what your opponent holds and you don't know your true chances of winning, but as you gain experience you can get a good idea of the possibilities and make an educated guess.

Table Selection

One of the easiest ways to improve your overall results while playing 7 card stud is playing with opponents who aren't as good as you at the game. We know it sounds simple, but most stud players don't even consider the competition before joining a game. It's common for only one or two tables to be active so players just sit down at the first available seat and start playing.

If you want to win as much money as possible playing poker you need to find every advantage possible. If you can't find games filled with weaker players than you why don't you try to create a game? Of course you'll continue working on improving your abilities, but spend some time trying to recruit players you can beat.

You might ask why weaker players would join a game, but it's no different than players taking the first available seat at an open table. Some of the world's best backgammon players travel all over to play rich and powerful opponents. These opponents usually know they aren't as good as the pro, but they want to play against the best and are willing to pay in the form of their losses over time in order to do so.

Poker and backgammon have some things in common, including the chance that a poor player will beat a good one on any given day. The feeling of accomplishment when a poor player beats a better player can be significant and make the long term losses worth it to the lesser player.

The point we're trying to make is you won't know if the worst poker player you know will play in your game unless you ask. Just remember to treat them well even when they do get lucky and beat you every once in a while. You don't want to run them off.

Finding or creating games filled with players who aren't as good as you is a powerful enough strategy that if you don't follow any of the other advice on this page except this you can go from a losing player to a winning one.

How much do you think you could win if everyone started with $1,000 and you started playing against five first time players? More often than not you'd win $5,000.

What if instead of playing against five players who haven't played before you play against the best five seven card stud players in the world? More often than not you'd lose your $1,000.

We don't know how to make it any more clear than that, but over 90% of the people who read this advice won't act on it. Make sure you're in the 10% and your bankroll will thank you in the long run.

Intermediate and Advanced Play

We've combined the intermediate and advanced seven card stud sections because once you master the basic strategy items covered above you'll be well on your way to being a winning overall player. Everything else works to improve your overall play and profitability, so the line between intermediate an advanced is blurred at best.

Once you learn which hands you can play and which ones you need to fold early in the hand, the next thing that changes your long term profit is how you play on the fourth through the seventh cards.

You need to continue using what you learned above about how to determine your outs and comparing your chances to win against the amount in the pot and apply it to each round of betting action.

It's easy to write about doing this, but in reality it takes a great deal of practice and experience to improve. Even the best players make mistakes, but the key is getting it right more often than getting it wrong.

The next two areas, reading your opponents and mindset, will both help you improve your advanced playing tactics.

Reading Opponents

Most poker players instantly think about tells when they see or hear something about reading their opponents, but in truth you can learn a great deal about the strength of an opponent's hand by the way they bet and act throughout a hand.

Compare their actions with the cards showing in their hand and around the table and when they start betting and raising and / or when they check and call.

You also need to know as much about their overall playing tendencies as you can. The only way to learn about your opponents is to watch them play and remember every time they play a hand or difficult situation. Most low limit players tend to play too many hands and bluff too much, so if a player has these tendencies you can use this information when you need to make decisions.

Here's an example:

In the situation we discussed above about calling a $10 bet on the river with $200, $150, or $100 in the pot, if you knew for a fact that the lead bettor on the river had a tendency to bluff too often you'd call the bet with only $100 in the pot, because the odds are he missed his draw and you'll win more than one out of 10 times.

Though this is an advanced play beyond the scope of this page, it might even be correct to raise in this situation if it can get the third player in the hand to fold a better hand than yours. The math on this decision is extensive and the truth is you only make the play if you know the playing tendencies of both your opponents well, but a raise can have a positive expected long term value in some situations.

Most players will never reach the point where they even realize a raise may be the best play, so when you start thinking about the game at this level you're probably beyond the scope of this page.

This leads to the subject of your mindset.

Your Mindset

The best poker players in any form of poker are not the ones with the best natural abilities. The best poker players are the ones that work at making themselves the best player they can be and work endlessly on putting themselves in positions where they win more than they lose in the long run.

This all starts with your mindset.

If you aren't willing to work hard and do whatever it takes to be a profitable long term seven card stud player there isn't much we or anyone else can do to help you. It's acceptable if you just want to play for fun and aren't interested in working at getting better, but don't say you want to be a winning player if you don't do anything you need to do in order to improve.

Learning and using everything on this page is a great start. The next step is start playing as much as you can and pay attention while you're playing. With time, dedication, and experience you can be a winning player.

Hi Lo Strategy

This page is mostly about the high only version of seven card stud because it's by far the most common form of the game found in poker rooms, but we wanted to touch on a few things.

The same general ideas for strategy pertain to 7 card stud high lo as the ones used on Omaha hi lo, so it's a good idea to read the strategy section on that page as well.

All high low split pot games have their long term profitability based on the ability to scoop pots and win at least three quarters of pots where the low or high is split again.

In order to scoop pots you either have to win both the high and low half of the pot or win the high half when no low hand qualifies.

Low starting hands that offer straight and / or flush possibilities are valuable. Starting hands with a pair and two low cards also offer some possibilities, but every starting low hand will have to improve in order to win part of the pot. You only have a total of seven cards to work with, so you won't see as many low hands qualify as you do in Omaha 8.

While most seven card stud high low games have an 8 qualifier like Omaha high lo, don't make the mistake of assuming this is the case. Always check the rules so you know for sure what qualifies as a low hand and what doesn't.

One of the fastest ways to lose money playing seven card stud high lo is to play low only draws. A starting hand of 2, 3, 4 looks great but you still need two more cards 8 or lower that don't match your current cards to qualify for a low. It does happen, but chasing a low hand when the pot has a great deal of betting and raising will lose money in the long run.

Not only are you drawing to a fairly long shot hand, you're almost always only drawing to half the pot. Of course you probably want to see the fourth and fifth cards if possible with a hand like this to see if a straight draw materializes, but if you haven't improved on the fifth card you probably need to fold to any bet.

Summary

It should come as no surprise that seven card stud was once the most popular form of poker. It's a great game which gives partial information to players and forces some great action.

The game is very easy to pick up and can be easily played by beginners after just a few hands. It's a great entry level poker game or an alternative for those that have been focusing on Texas hold'em and want to expand their poker repertoire. The hi / lo variant of seven card stud is also fun, but a little more complex so it might be a good idea to hone your skills at standard seven card stud before moving on to the split pot variety.

Simply follow the strategy advice on this page and not only will you have a great time playing seven card stud, you'll also have a great chance to win a little money along the way.

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