Beginner Tips and Strategy for 7-Card Stud Games
You’ve learned the basic rules of the great game of 7-Card Stud. Congratulations! Before you play for money, however, you need to learn how to play 7-Card Stud strategicallyso you can beat your opponents.
Those who are new to poker, or who have never really played the game seriously, think that the essence of winning poker is deception. Ask them what the most important action is at the poker table, and they will tell you it is bluffing.
The Reality of Winning Poker
In reality, however, most of the money that you win in the typical low and medium stakes games will be without trickery or deception – but rather with good, solid play. In other words, you’ll profit from learning a good, straightforward style of play – where you bet your strong hands, you fold your weak hands, and you draw to hands when you have the proper odds to do so.
Below is a simple method for doing exactly that. Consider it the strong foundation on which you will build your poker education. Before you learn how to be deceptive, learn how to play in the solid and conservative way I describe below.
It won’t be very exciting. But it should at least help you hold your own while you develop the experience that you’ll need to learn how to move on to more creative ways of playing this great game.
Betting Strategy on Third Street (First Three Cards)
Your most crucial betting decision comes on Third Street, the first betting round when you have your first three cards. Most players play too many hands and play them too passively – checking and calling when they should be betting and raising.
Here’s a very simplified guide for what starting cards to play, and how to play them. Of course, as you develop an ability to read your opponents, you will expand and alter this list to suit each separate situation.
But for starters, here’s a very conservative strategy -
Limit yourself to the following 3-card starting hands:
Three of the same suit (3-flush)
Three cards in sequence (3-straight)
Three cards, ten or greater
Three of a kind (Trips)
That’s it! And you will not always play these hands, either.
You will fold your pair if you are facing a raise from a player who, based on your read of his exposed card, his betting action, and the type of player you believe him to be, has a pair higher than yours. The one exception to this is if you have an Ace or King kicker (the third card in your hand) and his hand is likely to be a pair lower than your kicker. In that case, you may call – but only if all of your cards are live.
If you believe you have the highest pair, you will raise, and re-raise if someone else has already raised.
You will only play a pair lower than Jacks if you believe it to be the highest pair, or if you have an Ace or King kicker (the third card in your hand) - and if you do not believe he has a pair higher than your kicker, and the pot has not been re-raised.
You may also play a pair for just the bring-in amount, even if you think you are not the highest pair, if the pair is hidden (known as a “pocket pair”). In all such instances, you want all of your cards to be live.
A hidden pair is more valuable than a split pair because with a hidden pair you can make trips without your opponent seeing any sign of strength.
Playing Three Cards of the Same Suit (3-Flush)
You can play a 3-flush:
1. If no more than two other cards of that suit are out
2. If it is headed by at least a Queen
3. If you are facing no more than one complete bet
4. If no more than one of your high cards is out
5. And, if you have some reason to believe that the pot will not be heads-up by the end of that betting round
If you play, you want to play as cheaply as possible. Call the bet. Do not raise with this hand.
Playing Three Cards in Sequence (3-Straight)
You can play 3-straights – but you wouldn’t be hurting your game too much by never playing them. When you do play you want your hand to have at least some potential for making a high pair.
So, only play 3-straights headed by a card that is likely to make the highest pair. Do not play them if there is a re-raise. Do not play them if they have a gap (QJ9). Do not play them if they aren’t live . By “live” I refer to the cards still remaining unseen.
“Live cards” are cards that are still unexposed and therefore may still be dealt to you. So, for example, if you have an open-ended straight draw: 8-7-6-5, and need the 9s or 4s to make a straight, you want to know if the 9s have 4s have already been dealt to other players.
If you only see one 9 or 4 dealt to another player, they are said to be “live” (meaning there is still the possibility of getting one dealt to you). If you see two or more 9s or 4s, they are said to be “dead” – meaning the chances of getting one dealt to you are relatively slim.
1. No more than 2 out of the 9 available cards of their rank should be exposed
2. No more than one primary consecutive cards (for example a 9 when you hold QJT) and one secondary (for example an 8 or an A) or two secondary cards are exposed
If you play a 3-straight, call; don’t raise.
Playing Three High Cards
You can play any three cards, Ten or higher, provided you have at least two over-cards to all of the exposed cards on the board, and you do not face more than a completed bet, and no more than 1 of the 9 cards you need to make a pair is dead.
Call and do not raise with three high cards. You are looking to make the highest pair on the next card.
Playing Three-Of-A-Kind (“Trips”)
Trips are usually strong enough to win the hand even if they are unimproved. Bet and raise with this hand, unless you have some good reason to believe that you will knock out all of your opponents by raising – in which case just call.
Keep in mind that if a player has already called the forced bet, unless they are extremely tight or timid, they are likely to call your raise. Similarly, if they have bet, and if another player has called, they are likely to call your raise as well.
On the other hand, if you have been playing very few hands, if most of the players at your table seem to be even moderately tight, and if you think you might scare them all into folding, then just call.
Playing Fourth Street
Fourth Street is the second betting round. You are still in the lower tier of betting unless a person pairs his door-card, in which case he may bet the higher tier. He has that option, as does everyone who enters the pot after him.
In general, if you led the betting on Third Street, and if you believe you are still in the lead, you will generally continue to bet. If you pair your door-card and now have trips, you will usually bet the higher tier – as everyone will be suspicious if you only bet the lower tier.
On the other hand, if your opponent pairs his door card and you do not, you will fold to his bet – even if you made two pair. You will raise if you made a higher set than the one that he is representing. You will call if you made a lower set than the one that he is representing.
If you called on Third Street and were chasing with a drawing hand like a 3-flush or a lower pair and an Ace kicker, you will generally continue to chase unless any of the following things happen:
• Your betting opponent seems to have improved • The hand becomes heads up • The cards you need to improve are less live
Fold your three high cards to a bet if you haven’t made a pair you believe to be higher than the bettor.
Playing Fifth Street
Fifth Street is the third betting round and the second most important one in 7-Card Stud, as the limits double. In general, if you are in at the end of Fifth Street, you will tend to stay until the River (Seventh Street). So, it’s essential that you fold your marginal hands unless the pot odds warrant you to continue to draw.
If you believe you hold the best hand, you want to continue to lead the betting, just as you did on Fourth Street. You want to raise your opponent’s bet if they go first. The only exception might be if you made a very strong hand like a full house or quads and you want your opponent to improve to give you action on later rounds – in which case you should only check and call.
For example, if you started with a pair of Aces, and see opponents who do not have an exposed pair or three to a flush or straight; and you believe you are still in the lead, you should bet your hand. Don’t become timid and check just because of the possible hands your opponents may have.
Now is the time to fold unimproved hands like 3-straight and 3-flushes. Even though it is still possible to get two running suited cards or two cards in sequence to make your flush or straight, the odds are far too long to justify a call. Fold to a bet.
Fold your unimproved pairs and two pair if you are reasonably sure you are playing against an overpair – (unless you also have a live kicker higher than their overpair). Even if your betting opponent only has a single higher pair to your lower two pair, you are only a very slight favourite.
You need to understand that even if you are not sure you are behind, you may be in a situation when you are either a big underdog or a small favourite. This situation is the case if you have two pair, but your opponent has either a single higher pair or a higher two pair. If your opponent has just a single higher pair, it’s true you are a favourite – but not by much.
Say, for example, you are sure your opponent has either a pair of Aces or Aces up – and you have Kings up. If he has Aces up, you are a huge underdog with your Kings up. But even if he only has a pair of Aces, you are only very slightly ahead with your Kings up (roughly 55% to 45%).
Generally speaking, on Fifth Street, if you’re not sure whether you are either a small favourite or a big underdog, you should fold.
Playing Sixth Street
In general, if you are in on Fifth Street, you will be in on Sixth Street. This is generally true because of the large pot odds you are getting on Sixth Street. Just as a reminder, “pot odds” refers to the size of the pot compared to the size of the bet you must make to see the next card.
On Sixth Street, with normal betting, since there have already been three betting rounds, the pot has become so large, that in a limit 7-Card stud game, where the size of the bet is fixed, you are generally getting excellent pot odds for your call.
So, for example, in a typical $10/20 stud game, with 8 players, the pot on Sixth Street could easily be $100 or more. When your opponent bets $20, you are getting 6:1 pot odds for your $20 call.
If you call and draw the winning hand just one time in six, you will break even on your call. Since you probably won’t be around for anySixth Street betting without a reasonably strong hand yourself, generallyyou should call anySixth Street bet.
There are exceptions, however.
If you are drawing, you should fold if your opponent appears to hold a hand that you will not be able to beat even if you draw perfectly. So, for example, if you have a flush draw, and your opponent who has been betting since Third Street, and has an exposed pair, pairs his door card, or makes trips; you should fold to a bet.
Similarly, if you are drawing to a flush, and an opponent who has also appeared to be drawing to a flush now seems to make a flush that is higher than the flush you will make if you hit your flush, then you should fold.
If you believe yourself to still be in the lead, you should continue to lead the betting. Even if you still only have your one premium pair, for example, if you judge yourself to be in the lead, you want to continue to bet – even though it’s possible that your opponent is ahead.
Playing the River
Unless the hand has been played heads up from Third Street on, there will usually be at least six large bets in the pot when the final betting round begins. Accordingly, you should call a bet on the River - unless you are satisfied, or nearly satisfied that you are beaten.
One of the biggest mistakes a losing player makes in 7-Card stud is incorrectly folding a hand on the river. A mistaken call on the river loses you one bet. A mistaken fold on the river loses you many, many bets!
Even so, there are times when you are confident, or nearly confident you are beaten on the River and should fold. If an opponent bets, representing a flush, for example, and a third player calls, and you have only a pair, it is probably safe to fold. The bettor may have been bluffing, but the guy who called him will almost surely have you beaten.
In most situations, however, on the River, err on the side of calling a bet if you think there’s even a small chance that you may have the better hand.
Additional 7-Card Stud Strategy & Tips– Adding Deception
Most of the money you win in the low and mid-limit games will be by carefully adhering to a conservative, tight-aggressive strategy;
1. Betting for value
2. Folding poor starting hands
3. And only continuing to draw when you have the pot odds to justify it
It’s the strategy that I described above. Even so, as you face better players, who know what you know about starting hand values, you will face deception. Therefore, you will need to use some trickery and deceit of your own to gain an advantage.
Here are some specific “moves” you can employ toward that end.
As the stakes get bigger, and in tournaments, the size of the initial pot increasingly warrants deceptive attempts to steal it. So, for example, in $75/150 stud, with a $15 ante and a $25 forced bet, the initial pot in a full game will be $145 – nearly double the initial full bet of $75.
An astute player, in the right spot, can get nearly a 2:1 return on his $75 investment (as opposed to even money in the typical lower stakes game) if he raises the bet and everyone remaining folds, winning him the pot. He can do this, sometimes, without having any real value in his hand.
It’s called an ante steal. And it is frequently employed in the bigger games and in tournaments.
Here’s how it would play out:
Suppose you started with a hand that wasn’t strong but that looked like a strong hand to your opponents. Say you had (7c 2d) As. Let’s also imagine in this perfect set up for an ante steal, that you were sitting to the immediate right of the forced bet – the player with the lowest exposed card.
Here is how that would look:
(Going clockwise around the table)
This is an attempt at an ante steal.
You have a few things going for you here that make this move likely to succeed:
1. You have an Ace showing
2. You only have one opponent left
3. You have one of your opponent’s “outs” in the hole, making it less likely that he has a pair
4. And your Ace is live –with 3 remaining unseen Aces
This situation makes it an ideal opportunity for you to employ some deception and complete the betting by raising to $75. Unless your opponent is very, very loose, he will likely fold – winning you the pot of $75.
That’s an ante steal.
Of course, if you do this too frequently, the ploy may become expected, and your attentive opponents may well suspect you of attempting a steal. Those who are particularly good at the game may employ the counter-strategy of re-raising you – even when they have nothing – hoping that you’ll give up right away and fold.
In summary, it makes sense to try an ante steal when the following conditions are met:
1. You have the highest exposed card 2. You are in late position – with only one or two opponents yet to act 3. No players have yet called or raised the forced bet 4. Your opponent(s) are tight 5. You have an image as a tight player yourself 6. You haven’t tried this move in at least ten hands or so 7. Your cards are live 8. Your opponent’s cards are at least somewhat dead
Buying a Free Card
There’s a deceptive betting ploy that is employed chiefly on Fourth Street when you’re still in the lower tier of betting. It’s known as “Buying a free card”.
Here’s an example of it:
You’re dealt three suited cards and improve to a fourth suited card – especially a big suited card like an Ace or a King -- on Fourth Street. Your opponent starts with what looks like a pair and is the early aggressor. While the conventional move with your flush draw would be to call, instead you raise. Typically, if he doesn’t fold, he will call you and then check to you on Fifth Street.
If you catch your fifth-suited card for a flush, you can bet. But if you missed your flush card, you can check behind and get the Sixth Street card for “free”. I put the “free” in quotes because, of course, it isn’t really free. You paid for it with your raise on Fourth Street.
But, since the raise came on Fourth Street, when the betting was still in the lower tier, it only cost you half of what it would cost for you to play the hand conventionally. Since the cost of seeing Sixth Street would typically be the higher tier bet, your move saves you half a bet.
Here’s a specific case in a $10/$20 stud game that will help you see how you saved money with this move.(I’m omitting the play of the other six players who all folded.)
Playing your flush draw conventionally:
Cost to you of drawing to your flush (conventionally): $40
Playing your flush by buying a free card:
Cost to you of drawing to your flush (buying free card): $30
This deceptive move has other advantages. It may win you the pot on Fourth Street if your opponent concludes that your raise means you have improved to two pair or trips.
You also have the opportunity towin the pot by betting on Fifth Street when your opponent checks. He may decide that, while it was worth calling your $10 raise on Fourth Street, it’s not worth calling your $20 bet.
In any event, you set up your move on Fifth Street with your half-priced move on Fourth Street.
A semi-bluff is a bluff with a back-up plan. If the bluff doesn’t succeed in knocking out your opponent, your hand has a way to improve to the better hand – or, at least to look like it has improved. Your opponent is likely to fold when you bet on the next card that is dealt.
Here’s an example of a semi-bluff:
You hold (Ad Qs)Qd. An aggressive opponent with a King raises on Third Street. You and a couple of other players call. On Fourth Street, the King does not appear to improve and bets again. The other players fold.
You are dealt another diamond, for a hand of (Ad Qs)Qd Td. You call with your pair of Queens and 3-flush.
On Fifth Street, you receive another diamond: (Ad Qs) Qd Td 6d. Your opponent, undeterred, bets again. You employ a semi-bluff by raising him.
You have two ways to win.
First, your raise alone may convince him to fold, presuming that you have hit your flush. But, even if he calls you, you may get another diamond or an Ace or a Queen on the next card to surpass him – even if he has Kings Up.
Accordingly, a bet on 6th Street may win you the hand. And, if he calls you, you may still improve on the River to overtake him.
This moveis a variation of the semi-bluff, with threeways to win. It is a semi-bluff that is also a value bet.
Here’s an example. It is heads-up. Your opponent has been leading the betting the whole time. He has (x x) Qs 8s 8d. You have: (Ad 9d) Jd Td 9s. He is high on board and bets again.
The conventional play would be to call – expecting he had Queens up while you drew to your flush or Aces up or trip 9s. But, let’s look at the three components of a semi-demi-bluff and see why you might want to raise here.
Firstly, you have the possibility of being ahead with your pair of nines. Secondly, you could convince your opponent that you have just hit a straight – bluffing him out of the pot. Or, thirdly, you might improve to a flush or Aces Up or Trip 9s on the next card – to go ahead of his likely holding.
Three ways to win – a semi-demi-bluff.
Check-Raising and Slow-Playing
Just as bluffing is betting designed to fool your opponent by making your hand look stronger than it is; there is also action intended to make your hand look weaker than it is.
Chiefly, there are two ways to do this – in one betting round or in two betting rounds. The former method is a check-raise; the latter approach is a slow-play.
Let’s look at each in turn.
A check-raise consists of exactly what the name implies – a check to look weak and prompt your opponent to bet, and then a raise once he has bet. This moved is made to either get him to fold or to extract extra money that he would not have put in if you had just bet your hand conventionally.
Here’s an example of a well-executed check raise:
It’s Fifth Street. You have one remaining opponent.
(x x) Kd 7d Th
(Qh Qs)Js As Qc
You have just hit trip Queens and are high on board. The King led the betting on Third Street. You bet on Fourth Street when you hit the Ace.You are now high on board on Fifth Street.
You check, with the expectation that the King will bet. He bets. You raise him. You hope he will call you, so you will get an extra bet than you would not have gotten had you played your hand conventionally. But, you’re also happy to take the pot right there.
This play requires two streets to work. Accordingly, since you are giving your opponent an opportunity to improve, you need to be considerably stronger than with a check-raise, You don’t want your opponent to get this free card and go ahead of you.
An example of a slow-play would be as follows:
(Ah Ad) Ks As
(x x) Qd Qs
You raised on Third Street, and your opponent called. On Fourth Street, your opponent paired his door-card Queen and bet the double amount. A slow-play would be for you to only call rather than raise.
With your trip Aces, you are not worried too much about your opponent improving. You don’t raise, not wanting him to fold, and willing to chance giving him a free card. So, you only call.
He will almost surely bet Fifth Street when the bets double. And you can then raise. His uncertainty and the large pot size may convince your opponent to play along until the river, especially if he really has trip Queens.
Had you raised on Fourth Street you might have scared him off – winning yourself much less.
A Final Word of Caution About Deception
Don’t get carried away with these deceptive moves. Just because you can employ deception, doesn’t mean you should. Make sure to take the proper measure of your opponent. Deception only works against an opponent who is perceptive enough to notice what you are doing.
Similarly, you should also consider your own image in the mind of your opponent. If they see you as someone who is very aggressive and tricky, they may not believe you have what you are representing.
Deception works best when it is unexpected.