The Newcomers Guide to Public Cardrooms — How to Play and Win UFA
If poker is America’s holy game, then seven-card and Texas hold’em are the prayers of choice for most parishioners. In spite of what you might read about Omaha high-low split being the “…game of the future,” stud and hold’em are still played by more people, in more locales, than any other forms of poker.
Once you enter a cardroom, “What game do I play,” is your most important decision. When you’re just starting out, choose one you’re familiar and comfortable with. If you’ve played a lot of stud in your regular home games, but not much hold’em or Omaha, put your initials up for a stud game. You will find a lot of recreational players in these games, particularly those with lower betting limits. The games are good, and you’ll find some players who are always willing to play with poor starting cards and continue to draw and pray, regardless of what they hold. And unlike you, they will not be students of the game.
In a $10-$20 7-card stud game (which I’ll use as an example, though you should not start out in a game this big) each player antes $1 and the low board card brings it in for $3. This bring-in is simply a forced bet, to stimulate action. Three raises are usually allowed on each round of betting. Each player can call the $3 bring-in, or raise the pot to $10. On each succeeding round of action, the high board initiates the action, with an option of checking or betting. Betting limits are $10 until the fifth card is dealt (fifth street, in poker parlance) at which point all bets and raises are in $20 increments. (But if there’s an open pair on fourth street any player has the option to bet $20 on that round, too.)
Most of your opponents will play too many weak starting cards, and call when they should fold. You, however, should be more selective. Deciding whether to continue with the hand you’ve been dealt is a critically important decision.
If you’re used to those fun-to-play, jam-it-up kind of home UFA games, you’ll quickly realize that you just cannot play every hand. You need standards. This is true not only for seven-card stud, but all forms of poker. Bobby Baldwin, former winner of the World Series of Poker and now President of Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel, reflecting about his early days at the table said that without standards “I was floating around, trying to figure out which hands were playable, which hands called for a raise, which hands should be thrown out.” Without standards, he added, “…you have to use 90 percent of your concentration deciding each time what to do with a given hand. All that mental energy should be devoted to studying your opponents and trying to decipher the small things which made this hand slightly different from familiar hands you’ve seen in the past.”
Baldwin’s advice is succinct. “Never sit in a game without having a preconceived set of guidelines telling you what your minimum calling and raising hands should be.”
Seven-card stud is a game of patience. In practice, you will not play many of your hands once you’ve looked at them. In fact, even initial holdings which might appear to have potential, such as three cards to a straight or flush, should be tossed away if you notice too many of the cards you need are your opponents up cards. Straight and flush draws generally have more value against a large number of opponents. When you have a flush draw, you want a large number of players in the pot (all of whom you can beat if you make your hand) and you’d like it to be relatively inexpensive to continue on with your hand.
Good players understand the relationship between card odds and pot odds. When the anticipated pay off from making your hand exceeds the mathematical odds against hitting it, that play is said to have a positive expectation. When the card odds are longer than the pot odds, you should fold.
If you are dealt a big pair in your first three cards, consider raising, to cut down on the number of opponents who might otherwise stick around and draw out on you. Big pairs play best against few opponents. This is a very different approach from most home games, where some players call with anything.
Be selective about the hands you play. But play those selected hands aggressively. Pots can get very large in seven-card stud games, and many players will chase with hands worse than yours. The more players in the chase, the more likely one of them will catch you. Aggressive play with a big pair will cut down the number of chasers. Try to eliminate as many chasers as you can, or make them pay for the opportunity to run you down.
While you need standards, it is important to realize that these standards are not fixed and immutable; they are dynamic! They vary with the situation, based on the number of players, the texture of the game (loose, tight, or somewhere in between), the ability of your opponents, and your position (Must you act first, or do you have the advantage of seeing what each of your opponents will do before you’re required to check, bet, fold or raise?).
Fortunately, you will not have to work these standards out for yourself. Excellent books on seven-card stud and Texas hold’em are available. If you see yourself as anything more than a recreational player, read some of them. Your understanding of the game will increase, and you’ll gain the confidence to make a successful transition from home game player to casino player. Roy West’s Seven-Card Stud is an excellent book for beginners.
Seven-Card Stud For Advanced Players, by David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth and Ray Zee is more thorough. I would have considered this book the definitive work on the subject, but for the authors’ statement that “Seven-card stud is an extremely complicated game…so complicated that we do not consider this book to be 100 percent complete.”
Although more players play seven-card stud than any other game, it is not the most popular game in many card casinos. Not any more. It has been rudely shoved off its plinth by Texas hold’em. It’s the game they play to crown the champion at the World Series of Poker each year. In the conclusion to this four-part series you’ll be introduced to this exciting game. We’ll concentrate on the limit variety. Wait, perhaps just a little while, before you decide to invest $10,000 in that no-limit game at the World Series!