The first decision point in a game of seven card stud poker is on third street, when you must decide whether or not to play your hand. That’s not the only decision you have to make, though. You also need to decide HOW to play that hand.
The factors that go into these decisions are many. Seven card stud poker is far more complicated than Texas holdem or even Omaha. One of the factors that make the game more complicate is the large number of cards that you can see before ever making a decision. These cards disappear from you as they are folded, so seven card stud rewards a good memory.
The cards that have been revealed aren’t the only thing to think about. The strength of your hand is another factor. The tendencies of the other players to bet, raise, and fold matter, too. Some starting hands work better in a hand with fewer players, while others work better when you get lots of players to come along with you.
This post looks at most of these facets affecting your starting hand decisions in seven card stud. It focuses exclusively on seven card stud, rather than stud 8. I might write another post in the future covering starting hand considerations for that variant.
Live Cards vs Dead Cards
One of the most factors to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to play your starting hand is whether or not those cards are live. You can only know this if you’re paying attention to your opponents’ face-up cards. If the cards that will improve your hand are already in your opponents’ hands, you’re drawing dead. You might even get into a situation where you have the best hand on third street but should fold it anyway.
Let’s say you have a pair of kings and a seven. You figure that you probably have the best hand in the game at this point. But there are only four kings in the deck, and you know that two of them are already in your opponents’ hands. It’s impossible to improve your hand by getting another king. Let’s say that you also see two more sixes out there, too, which means there’s only one six left in the deck.
It’s almost impossible at this point for your hand to improve much. If the king and six are suited, you might have a flush draw possibility, but most seven card stud poker players heavily discount the possibility of a flush draw unless they have three suited cards on third street.
Also, you what if some of the other cards of that suit are already out there? You can be drawing dead to a flush, too. In fact, if you only have two cards to a flush on third street, even having one or two cards of that suit out there already can dramatically affect your probability of getting a flush.
Also, keep in mind that live cards can make hands which seem marginal much more playable than you might think on third street. If all the cards you need to improve your hand are still out there, this is a huge advantage over having several cards dead.
Trying to Steal the Antes
The ante in seven card stud is a critical factor, too. It’s important to try to steal the antes when you can. You’re said to be “stealing” the antes when you raise with a hand that’s an underdog if it gets called. Your goal is to win the antes when everyone else folds.
One of the important factors to consider in every poker game and in every situation is the pot odds being offered. You’ll usually get paid off at 4 to 3 when you try to steal the antes, which means that this is a profitable move if it succeeds 2 out of 5 times.
In other words, you can try to steal the antes and get called more often than not and still come out ahead because of the potential size of the payoff.
And really, if you have any chance at all of winning the pot later in the hand, you add even more to your expected value.
So, any time you think you might be able to steal the antes, you should try to do so. You don’t have to succeed often to make this a profitable play.
A lot of times, the face-up card you’re showing has a lot to do with your ability to steal the blinds. If you have a live ace or king showing, and no one else has a card that high showing, you’re pretty intimidating.
The actions taken by the other players matter, too. If you’re facing a bet, a raise, and a re-raise, you’re obviously not going to be able to steal the blinds.
The Best Possible Starting Hand Is 3 of a Kind
You’ll only see a 3 of a kind (“rolled up trips”) once out of every 425 hands on average. It’s the best possible hand you can start with in seven card stud, but you should usually play it fast. If you’re the first one in with it, bet. If someone else has bet, you should raise. If there’s been a bet and a raise, you should re-raise.
One of the easiest principles of poker to understand is that you put your money in the pot when you have the best of it. Having the best possible starting hand doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win at the showdown. In fact, depending on how the hand develops, you might have to slow down dramatically in how you play the hand.
But the probability is strong that if you have rolled up trips, you’re the only one at the table who does. And if you have the best hand, the best move mathematically is to get your money—and your opponents’ money—into the pot as fast as you can.
You’ll never fold three of a kind on third street.
A Big Pair Is the Next Strongest Starting Hand in Seven Card Stud
A pair of aces isn’t nearly as strong as three of a kind, but it’s still one of the strongest hands in seven card stud. You’ll almost never fold this on third street, although you might need to change speed later in the hand. If your aces are dead, you do need to be careful, though.
A pair of kings or a pair of queens is also a strong starting hand. You’ll rarely play these any way but fast, but keep an eye on whether the cards are live or not. A pair of kings or a pair of queens loses a lot of value if the cards are dead.
A pair of jacks or a pair of tens is usually a playable hand, but watch out for players with face-up overcards. If you’re reasonably sure that your opponent has a pair of queens, kings, or aces—or even if their overcard is live—your jacks or tens are probably better off folded—especially if they’re dead.
In fact, you should always be aware of the overcards on the table. Even if you have a pair of queens—a strong hand—if someone with a king hasn’t acted yet, and someone with an ace behind him hasn’t acted yet, either, you could be in big trouble.
One of the aspects of seven card stud poker that makes it more interesting and more complicated than Texas holdem is the changing value of your starting hand based on what the other players are holding. In Texas holdem, you don’t know what the other players are holding. But in seven card stud, you know at least some of what they’re holding.
You also want to keep in mind the other aspects of your hand. A big pair that also has two suited cards has flush potential, which makes it far stronger—especially if that suit is live. Connected cards also offer straight possibilities. And you can, of course, hope for a combination of this. For example, KKQ, where the queen is suited with one of the kings, is a much stronger hand than KK6, especially if all three cards are of different suits.
The best way to play a big pair is to bet, raise, or re-raise with it. You do this to thin the field, as a hand like this is likelier to win against fewer opponents. If you let too many other players into the pot cheap, you’re likely to get drawn out on by at least one of them.
Medium and Small Pairs Are Sometimes, but Not Always, Playable
Any pair lower than a pair of tens is a medium pair or lower. The strength of this kind of pair is dramatically less than a pair of tens or higher.
You have lots of factors to consider when deciding whether you want to play a medium or small pair. For one thing, what’s your kicker like? If you have an ace or a king as a kicker, your hand is much stronger.
For another thing, are your cards suited or connected at all? An 887, where the 7 and one of the 8s are suited, might be playable because of the possible hands they could make. You have straight and flush possibilities here.
Also, what are the other cards on the table like? Is your pair live or dead? What about the kicker? Is it live or dead? If your cards are suited, how many other cards of that suit are already out there?
When you get later in the hand, and the bet sizes go up, you have some harder decision to make. This post is mostly about starting hand play, so maybe I’ll cover that in a future post.
Three Suited Cards Are Often Playable, Too
The two main things to think about when decided whether to play three suited cards are:
- Are your cards live?
- How high are your cards?
If three or more cards of the suit you need to complete your flush are already out, you’re probably better off just folding here. Your hand is dead.
Of course, higher cards are better because you could still draw to a big pair if you have a big card in your hand. Having two big cards is better.
If you have straight possibilities, that’s great, too. Look to see which cards you have that connect and/or how many gaps are between them. There’s a huge difference between a suited 10JQ and a suited 257.
Three Connected Cards Are Sometimes Playable, but This Is One of the Most Speculative Starting Hands
You don’t automatically play three connected cards. You do some of the same thinking with possible straights that you do with other starting hands.
Are your cards live or dead? (And you need to think not only in terms of the cards you need to make a straight, but also of the cards you need to make pairs. You need multiple opportunities to win.)
Do you have big cards that might pair?
Are two of your cards suited?
The Face up Cards of Your Opponents Are SO Important
It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of the face up cards on the table. They make all the difference in the world to how playable your hand is. Most seven card stud players don’t pay enough attention to which cards are out.
You’re looking for hands with possibilities. These possibilities include turning a high card into a pair of high cards. So, if you have a high card, you need to pay attention to whether the other two high cards are already out there. They also include the possibility of turning a pair into three of a kind.
Possible straights and flushes should always be considered, too, especially if your starting hand consists of three suited cards or three connected cards. The magic number is three. If you have three suited cards, you’re drawing dead if three cards of that suit are already out there. After all, there are only 13 cards in each suit.
The difference between having three cards of that suit out there and none is the difference between having 10 outs and 7 outs. That’s a dramatic difference, odds-wise.
The best possible hands have multiple possibilities for improvement. But if you’re not paying attention to the other players’ up cards, even the ones that have already been mucked, you don’t really know if those possibilities are actually possible.
Seven card stud is far more complicated and interesting than Texas holdem. You can see this just from the multiple factors you must consider when looking at starting hands in the game. Starting hands in Texas holdem mostly just consist of pairs and suited connectors. And in Texas holdem, you don’t have to consider what cards are already out there.
But seven card stud isn’t so complicated that you can’t figure it out. This post provides an introduction to the subject of starting hands in the game, but mostly, you need to learn how to THINK about your starting hands as compared to your opponents’. Providing some rough categories and some factors to consider is as good an introduction to that subject as I can imagine.