"Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door." - Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Here's this lesson in a nutshell: raise more and bluff less. It's really that simple in low-limit stud.
Why do you raise a pot in poker? There are three reasons:
- To increase the size of the pot;
- To limit the field; and
- To establish yourself as the aggressor. Many times a raise will accomplish more than one of these goals.
First, one misnomer should be resolved. When you make the first raise on third street, you're completing the bet. This is a standard play you should make when you have a good hand: this was covered in Lessons 3 - 5.
Stud hands tend to be a pair (or pairs or trips) against other pairs and draws. On early streets in low-limit games, players usually consider only their hands - not what you are holding. Suppose you have (AA)A. The 2 brings it in, the T completes, and the K calls. Should you raise? Of course - you have the best possible hand, the T and the K will almost certainly call, and you are the favorite on the hand. You want your opponents to pay for their draws.
Unfortunately, in low limit games to establish yourself as an aggressor by raising is almost irrelevant. Low limit players tend to have blinders on (unless your board become truly threatening; e.g. 789T). This also means that raising to limit the field is almost useless. Thus, your primary reason to raise in low-limit stud will be to increase the size of the pot that you think you'll win. It really is that simple.
Let's look at a few examples. You have (89)7TJ.
You have three opponents: (??)287, (??)K96, and (??)K22. On third street the 2 brought in the hand, with the other players calling. On fourth street the K9 bet with all calling. Now, on fifth street the pair of deuces bets and you must act. Do you call, raise or fold?
It's clear that you should raise. You have a straight, a made hand. You're likely up against two-pair and some other draws (or perhaps buried pairs). Make the drawers pay! Because your most likely result is winning the pot you should raise.
Let's take another example. You hold (99)2887. You have two opponents. The first holds (??)Q744 while the second has (??)5JJ2. All of your cards are live. On every street the Queen has bet (the betting has been checked to him). Now, on sixth street the pair of Jacks checks, you check, the pair of fours (the hand that was the Queen) bets, and the pair of Jacks raises. Should you call, re-raise or fold? You have two pair. It appears that at worst both of your opponents hold two pair. Without knowing the pot size (to compute your pot odds) this question can't be answered. However, your inclination should be to fold - you are trailing and must hit one of your four outs to win the hand.
Suppose you hold (78)9T. You're up against two opponents: (??)K4 and (??)A9. Let's assume that each of your opponents has at least a pair. Who is the favorite? According to a PokerProbe simulation you are the favorite (you will win 62% of the time). Now suppose that one of your opponents is rolled-up. You will still win the most hands (48%) - the player who is rolled up will win 44% of the time.
A straight-flush draw, thus, is not really a semi-bluff; rather, you have the best hand (but it just hasn't become a made hand yet). You should be betting or raising. But what happens if you don't catch your good cards. Assume that on fourth street the Ace bet, you raised, the King folded and the Ace called. On fifth street you catch a blank (say the 4) while your opponent also catches a blank (2). You are still the favorite and should bet (or raise).
On sixth street you catch the 7 while your opponent gets the 8. Your opponent checks to you. You are still the favorite - a PokerProbe simulation shows that you will win 53% of the time. Bet. When you bet you have three ways of winning the hand: your opponent may fold, you may draw out and make the best hand, or perhaps your opponent is also on a draw and your pair of sevens is the best hand.
On seventh street you catch the A. Your opponent checks. Should you bet?
Here the answer is dependant on your opponent. If the read is correct, and your opponent has at least a pair (presumably of Aces), you cannot win unless you bet. However, if your opponent is a calling station who never folds betting is wrong. But you must be certain that there is a 100% chance of your opponent calling. Then, and only then, is checking correct. Let's say that you think there's a 25% chance that your opponent will fold if you bet. If you work out the math, you will see that betting is correct. The expected value (EV) of checking is $0 - you will not spend any money but cannot win any of the pot. If you bet (say you're playing $5/$10 stud), if you're wrong you will lose $10. If you're correct you'll win what's in the pot. There's $85 in the pot less the house rake (assume that's $4), so the net pot is $81 (eight antes of $1, one bring-in of $2, three completions of $5, and six bets of $10). Indeed, for the bet to be wrong there must be only a 10/91 chance of your opponent folding - a 10.99% chance.
It's one thing to semi-bluff, betting with a hand that may be the best hand (or is most likely to become the best hand). But what if you have absolutely nothing and raise like you're rolled-up. In most low limit games you're throwing your money away. Because your opponents are only concerned about their own hands they will continue to throw money into the pot. If on fifth street your board looks threatening perhaps they will consider folding. Otherwise, on to the river they go!
Remember the cardinal rule of bluffing: you cannot bluff a calling station. Etch that into your brain. Write it on a 3 by 5 card if you must. In this year's main event of the World Series of Poker, many name players tried to bluff calling stations. They found themselves home a bit earlier than they would have liked. Low limit stud is full of calling stations. This means that you should raise whenever you possibly can but bluff only very, very rarely.
Lesson 11 looks at eyeglasses, reading, outs, and 6-7-8 (that is, miscellaneous topics). Eyeglasses? Actually, glasses (and I wear them) can lead to a big tell.