I play Stud primarily in Connecticut, at either Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods. The game has great action back on the East Coast. On a typical weekend there are probably 20 or so games to chose from among all of the $5/10 and higher games, and another 30-40 games of 1-3 or 1-5. Though the level of play surely improves as the stakes go up, there are good games at nearly every level.
I tend to play $5/10 to $15/30 (occasionally $20/40 if I am feeling frisky). I am not by nature a gambler, tending to be tighter and sometimes less aggressive than is optimal. Even so, because my game selection and fundamentals are very sound, and I have good self control, I have managed to make a decent profit during the 8 years or so that I’ve been playing seriously.
I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about how to win at low and mid limit 7-Stud.
I’ll start with a weakness in my play which I’ve corrected and which I find in some otherwise good Stud players.
That’s playing too TIGHTLY on 6th and 7th Street.
Here’s what happens.
The home game player decides to move up to casino play. He wisely consults a few books and learns about starting hands which winning casino players play. He is a disciplined learner. He learns some basic rules and only plays High pairs, low pairs with a high kicker, three flushes and three straights. Simple, right? With some effort and self control he changes from the loosey-goosey style of his home game play to the tight style of the casino. He learns the power of the strategic fold. He’s even learned to raise with premium pairs.
Gradually, and painfully, he’s learned to throw away the 9-K-A double suited, the 3-3-6, the 4-5-8 and even the 3-9-9 which he played for profit in the passive easy games at his kitchen table. Hell, he’s even learned the self control to fold 20-30 hands in a row if necessary while he patiently waited for one of those few starting hands worth play. He is a rock and LOVING IT!!!
As he’s played he’s also learned how to play conservatively on fourth street. He proudly folds his low pair if they don’t improve (if he didn’t fold it on the deal already). And he concedes to the power of a paired door card (expecting trips), even if he has a higher pair.
He has taken his lessons about tight play to heart, priding himself on his ability to avoid those fifth street trap hands like two low pair and inside straight draws or any other Slot Gacor hands which show a small likelihood of winning by the River. He’s augmented his play by noticing which of his cards are dead, and the self control to fold hands when the cards he needs turn up in front of other players.
As he’s learned he’s seen himself starting to lose less than before. True, he’s not winning much. But his bankroll is shrinking only slowly — at times not at all. So he’s feeling pretty good about his play.
But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
There is a problem with this style of play in 7-Stud, especially on the later streets.
What happens, I’ve found, is that you get afraid to lose a hand. You see it as a personal defeat. And while in the past you dealt with your fears of losing by playing too aggressively and loosely, now the problem is reversed.
On sixth street you have a four flush; when someone pairs his door card and bets you FOLD. On the River you have Aces. Your opponent with a three flush on board, bets. You think about it, know that he rarely bluffs, and surmise that he is probably betting the flush. You FOLD because you don’t want to show down a loser.
These are all terrible, awful HUGE mistakes.
What you have done, unwittingly, is substituted HUGE mistakes for the small mistakes you made in the past by playing too loosely.
What do I mean by a HUGE mistake? Aren’t all mistakes created equal in poker? Why would a fold in this situation be a HUGE mistake?
Well, all mistakes in poker are not created equal. Here’s why.
If the pot is $100 in a $5/10 game and your opponent bets $10 on the River with a four flush showing and you have two small pair, if you CALL and he has the flush you are making a $10 mistake. If you KNEW he had the flush you shouldn’t have called. So calling was a mistake. It cost you $10. Hence, a $10 mistake.
But what if he bet the $10 and you FOLDED and he only had a four flush and a pair? Simply put, what if he bluffed you and your small two pair out of the pot?
Well, that is a $110 mistake! If you knew he had only a pair you would have CALLED (or even raised). So folding was a mistake. It cost you $110 which you would have won had you called. Hence, a $110 mistake.
On the River, and to a lesser extent on 6th Street, you have to be willing to make small mistakes to avoid making HUGE ones. Let’s take the example above. If you called incorrectly 10 times in a row it would still not be as bad as folding once. Put another way, you would have to be more than 90% sure that your opponent really HAD the flush for the fold to be worthwhile.
(Keep in mind, this is limit poker we’re talking about. The bet at the end is going to be a very small percentage of the total pot. If the game were Pot Limit or No Limit it would be a different story because your bet on the end could be as large or even larger than the entire pot.)
Simply put, if the pot is large you have to be just about certain that your opponent isn’t bluffing for a fold to make sense (and you have to be able to beat a bluff of course).
This is often a hard thing for a new, tight player to do. This is true for two reasons I have found. On the one hand it goes against all of the work you’ve been doing in transforming yourself from a loose, careless, happy go lucky home game player. You have simplistically started to think of folding as a sign of good strong play and calling as a sign of weak play. You’ve been assiduously inhibiting your urge to toss chips into the pot. So on the River, when you think you’re probably beaten, your newly learned response is to toss in your cards instead.
Perhaps most significant, you are afraid to LOSE!!! Your new style has affected your overall courage. You have become terribly risk averse. This is especially so if you are unwisely playing in a game which is even slightly too big for your bankroll. And that’s often the case when you’re switching from home game play to casino play. You played $1/2 at home or maybe even $2/4 and now you’re playing $5/10. And it’s a much more aggressive game in the casino with more betting and raising. So it plays like $10/20 would play with your home town crowd. Now, instead of risking $40-50 in a home game, you’re risking $200-400.
To become a complete winning player you need to learn to call on the River in 7 Stud, even when you think you have probably (but not certainly) lost the hand.