How to Play (and Win) at 7 Card Stud Poker
7 card stud is the most popular stud game you can play. It’s been that way since the Civil War, in fact. 5 card stud is popular, too, and you can even find 6 card stud games in some home poker games. But if you prefer to play poker in a casino setting, 7 card stud is the one you’ll find spread most often.
In 7 card stud, you bet on a hand that consists of 4 face-up cards and 3 face-down cards. None of the cards are shared between the players. It’s a lot of fun, and the rules are straightforward.
Sine Texas holdem is so popular now, it seems natural to compare all poker games to the one that the most people are most familiar with. Here are some of the differences from Texas holdem:
- You get 7 cards instead of just 2.
- There are no community cards.
- You have 5 betting rounds instead of4.
- More cards are exposed, and memory becomes more important.
- Tighter play is rewarded in 7 card stud.
- 7 card stud is a harder game to play well.
- Any hand is possible most of the time. (In Texas holdem, if the community cards don’t include a pair, no one can possibly have 4 of a kind. That’s just one example.)
- The order of betting often changes from one round of betting to another.
The Basics of 7 Card Stud Game-Play
You need patience, attention, and a good memory to win consistently at 7 card stud poker.
But you also need to understand the basics of how to play:
Dealing 7 Card Stud
The game starts when each player is dealt 3 cards—2 face down, and one face up. In Texas holdem, you only start with 2 cards, so you immediately have more information than you would have in Texas holdem. You also get to see all the other players’ face up cards, which gives you more information about which cards are still in the deck.
The rounds of 7 card stud are called “streets.” When you’ve received your 1st 3 cards, you’re on “3rd street.” Each additional round is the next street.
The 1st 3 cards you get—3rd street—is your starting hand, and it’s followed by a round of betting.
Each additional card is another street. When you get your 4th card, you’re on 4th street. When you get your 5th card, you’re on 5th street.
The cards on 4th, 5th, an 6th street are dealt face up. The river—the 7th card in your hand—is dealt face down.
There’s a round of betting after every street. I have more to say about that in the next couple of sections.
Antes and Bring-Ins Are Forced Bets and Drive the Action
In Texas holdem, the forced bets are called “blinds,” and they rotate around the table. You only have to make blind bets when it’s your turn.
In 7 card stud, though, you have a forced bet on every hand. It’s called “the ante.”
Like other poker games, most 7 card stud poker is played with specific betting limits, like $5/$10. This means that bets in the early rounds are made in increments of $5, while the bets in the later rounds are made in increments of $10.
The ante is a fraction of a bet, and the amount varies based on the game. Most of the time, the ante is 10% of the small bet. In the theoretical $5/$10 game we’re discussing, the ante would be 50 cents.
The betting starts with “the bring-in.” This expression is used for both the bet and the player making the bet. The player with the lowest card showing must place the bring-in bet. If 2 players tie for the lowest ranked card showing, the suit is considered:
Notice that they’re in alphabetical order. The tying player with the lower suit based on that numbered list must make the bring-in bet.
The bring-in bet is usually half the size of the small bet—in the $5/$10 game we’re discussing, it would be $2.50.
In a lot of home games, the bring-in bet isn’t used. The antes are the only forced bet in such games. The bring-in bet is almost always used in casino poker games, though.
Betting then happens around the table starting on the left of the bring-in. The 1st person to the left of the bring-in has the following option:
How Much to Bet and When
Betting proceeds around the table. The first raise on 3rd street is always to bring the bet up from the size of the bring-in to the full bet size. Other raises after that must be in increments of the small bet.
Player 1 brings in for $2.50. Player 2 calls the bring-in bet, putting another $2.50 in the pot. Player 3 likes her hand, so she raises to $5. Player 4 likes his hand, too, so he re-raises, making the cost to enter the pot now $10.
Once all the players have either put their money into the pot or folded, the next card is dealt. This is 4th street. There’s another round of betting, and checking is now also an option.
The 1st player to act is now the player with the highest-ranked face-up cards. Ties are now broken by suit, with spades being the high suit. (It’s in alphabetical order again). This is a major difference from Texas holdem, by the way—in Texas holdem, the order of betting stays the same every round. In 7 card stud, the betting order often changes on each street.
Bets now must be in increments of the small bet ($5 in our example), unless someone has a pair showing. If you have a pair showing, you can bet the size of the big bet–$10–instead of $5.
On 5th street, the bet sizes double. In our example, we’re looking at $10 increments.
On 6th street, the bets are still the high bet amount–$10. The order is still determined by the player with the highest cards.
7th street is dealt face-down. (It’s also often called “the river.”)
Most games limit the number of raises to 3 or 4, but there’s an exception to this, too. If you’re playing heads-up with another opponent, the number of raises is unlimited. (You’re heads-up if everyone else has folded besides you and one opponent.)
Anyone who hasn’t folded after the river card gets to participate in the “showdown.” Your face-down cards are turned face up, and you make the best 5 card hand—using the standard rankings of hands in poker—to determine who wins the pot.
Another Exception—Spread Limit Games
Not all 7 card stud games follow the above betting rules. Spread limit games might have minimum bets that are much lower than the larger bets. An example might be a spread limit game with a minimum bet of $2 and a maximum bet of $8.
The ante is usually eliminated from spread limit games, and the bring-in is the forced bet that drives the action. The bring-in amount in spread limit games is the same as the lowest possible bet. In the example we’re looking at, the bring-in would be $2.
All raises in a spread limit game must be at least the same size as the previous bet. If someone bets $4, you can’t raise $2. You must raise $4.
Deciding When to Hold ‘em and When to Fold ‘em
I’ve discussed the importance of tight play in previous posts about general poker strategy, but it’s important to reiterate here:
If you want to win at 7 card stud, you need to be patient and wait for good hands.
This means you’ll often fold on 3rd street.
Sometimes you’ll fold because you have nothing promising at all.
And sometimes you’ll fold because you have a promising hand, but the hand is “dead.” (I’ll talk more about live and dead hands in the next section.)
Making that 3rd decision correctly can be the difference between break-even play and losing play.
With Apologies to Kenny Rogers, NOT Every Hand Is a Winner
If you want to win a hand in 7 card stud, you’ll usually need a big hand. If you don’t have 2 pairs, with one of those pairs being jacks or higher, you’ll almost certainly lose a showdown in 7 card stud. Often you’ll need a hand better than that, like 3 of a kind or a straight.
Unless you have the possibility of getting a big hand (2 pairs or better) on 3rd street, you should go ahead and fold.
The other thing to consider is how well your cards fit together. Do you have 3 connected cards, like 9, 10, jack?
That gives you a possible straight.
That gives you a possible flush.
If the cards are high (jacks or better), suited, AND connected, you have lots of possible big hands.
You also have lots of potential if you have a pair or a 3 of a kind on 3rd street.
But you should also pay attention to the other players’ face up cards, and try to remember what they are. When a player folds, his face up cards go in the muck, so you can’t just look at them.
Let’s say you have 3 cards on 3rd street that are all diamonds. You’re hoping to get a flush.
If 4 of your opponents have diamonds showing as their up cards, your hand is “dead.” Many of the cards you need to fill your flush are already gone from the deck, changing the probabilities dramatically.
You have 13 cards in each suit. If you have 3 of them, 10 of those cards are still out there.
But if your opponents show 4 of those 10 cards, you only have 6 cards still out there.
If you have a pair of jacks, and 2 of your opponents have jacks showing as their board cards, it’s impossible to upgrade to a 3 of a kind of jacks.
On the other hand, if your opponents are NOT showing the cards you need, your cards (and hand) are “live.”
Starting Hand Selection in 7 Card Stud
3 of a Kind
This is the best possible starting hand in 7 card stud. You can often win at the showdown without improving your hand. You still must pay attention to what other cards are on the board, though. The odds of getting a 3 of a kind on 3rd street are 424 to 1, so you won’t see this hand often.
The trick is deciding how to play this hand. If you raise with it, you risk all the other players folding and not getting paid off. You’d hate to win nothing more than the antes.
Your other option is to call and let your opponents get more money into the pot. But the more opponents in the hand, the more likely it is that one will draw out on you.
Some awareness of your opponents’ general playing tendency can help you decide what you should do.
If someone raises before you when you have trips on 3rd street, you should assume he has a big pair. This is the ideal situation, in fact, because you can raise and re-raise him all the way to the river and have a good chance of beating him. After all, even if he gets 2 pair, you have him beaten.
The next best possible starting hand in 7 card stud is a big pair (10s or better). You should probably raise with this hand on 3rd street, because you want to drive out the players drawing to straights or flushes.
Pay attention to what happens after 3rd street, though. If it’s obvious that 2+ players have flush or straight draws, you’re no longer the favorite. The more opponents who are trying to draw to a hand, the more likely it is that at least one of them will hit their hand.
A “buried pair” is best, by the way. That’s a pair where the 2 paired cards are face-down. If one of the cards is face-up, your opponents have more information than you’d like for them to have.
A big pair can win against a single opponent or even 2 even if it doesn’t improve. But if you can’t drive out your opponents, and if your hand doesn’t improve, you’ll have to give it up by 5th street.
You also want to pay attention to your opponents’ board cards. If you think your opponent has a bigger pair than you, you should get away from the hand. (For example, if you have a pair of 10s, and your opponent has a queen showing and is playing aggressively. You should assume he has a pair of queens.)
The exception is if you have a live ace. That’s an ace kicker where no one else has an ace showing. In that case, even if your opponent is ahead of you in the moment, you can pull ahead if you hit one of the 3 aces out there or one of the 2 cards that might give you 3 of a kind.
Small and Medium Pairs
These are playable IF your 3rd card is a high-ranked card. Your goal is to either hit 3 of a kind or get 2 pair with that high-ranked card. It’s hard to win with a small or medium pair.
You need to pay attention to what your opponents are showing and what you think they might have in the hole. That and your kicker determine whether you want to stay in the hand.
3 cards of the same suit or 3 connected cards give you a draw to a flush or a straight. The important factor to pay attention to here is whether your cards are live.
If your opponents have some of the cards you need for your flush or straight, you’re better off folding. If none of the cards you need are showing, play passively and see how 4th street goes. Be prepared to give up on 5th street when the bets double if your opponents are very aggressive, especially if you haven’t improved your hand.
If your opponents have 2 or 3 of the cards you need, fold the drawing hand and wait for another opportunity.
Understanding When to Raise and When to Call
One thing 7 card stud has in common with Texas holdem is the way certain hands play:
- Pairs win more money against fewer opponents.
- Flush and straight draws win more money against more opponents.
If you have a pair, you should raise, especially if it’s a big pair. If your opponent re-raises, re-raise him back unless his board card is higher than your pair. Your goal is to “thin the heard.” You don’t want to make it easy or cheap for your opponents to draw to a straight or a flush.
On the other hand, you won’t know if you have a straight or a flush until at least 5th street. And most of the time, you won’t fill your straight or flush until at least 6th street. Until then, you have a drawing hand.
Drawing hands lose more often than not, but when they win, you want the pot to be big enough for you to get paid off. You build a big pot by having lots of players still in action. On 3rd and 4th street, if you have a life flush and/or straight draw, play more passively so you can try to develop your hand without paying much for it.
The rule of thumb for flush draws on 3rd street is to fold if 3 or more of the cards of that suit are showing on the board. The odds of filling the flush are too small to make the hand worth playing.
Use the same rule of thumb for 4 card straight draws. If you have the 10, jack, queen, and king, any 9 or any ace will give you a straight. But if a combination of 3 aces or 9s have already been dealt, your hand is dead. Get away from it and wait for a better spot.
Handling the Later Streets
The most important decision you make is on 3rd street, but the next most important decision is on 5th street. That’s when the size of your bet doubles.
If your hand is good enough to call with on 5th street, you’re probably pot-committed. You have so much money in the pot that you should probably stay in the hand until the river. The only time you’ll fold is if you’re obviously beaten by opponents’ cards on the board.
If you’re still in the hand on the river, you should call as long as you have a hand that can beat a naked bluff. The only time you’ll fold here is if you’re beaten on the board.
If you’re getting beaten too often during the showdown, you’re probably overplaying your hands on 5th and/or 6th street. Re-evaluate your decision-making during those 2 rounds.
7 card stud is a lot of fun and easy to win cash at, but only if you’re incredibly patient and attentive. The 2 most important streets are 3rd street an 5th street. If you can master those 2 moments of the game, you can win lots of money in the long run.
Big pairs are great, but you need to play them aggressively to thin the field so you don’t get drawn out on. Drawing hands are great, too, but the trick is to make sure:
- Your cards are live, not dead.
- You can get lots of other players in the pot to pay you off.
Finally, if you’re still in the hand on the river, you should almost always call, even if the only hand you can beat is a naked bluff. The time to get out of the hand is a lot earlier than 7th street, or even 5th street, really.