"Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed." - Phaedrus
In this final lesson of this series, we will take a brief look at seven card stud tournaments. This is by no means a complete look at tournament play; rather, it is an introduction highlighting differences between ring game play and tournaments.
Structure of Tournaments
All tournament play, be it seven card stud, hold'em, or Omaha, is a timed event with ever increasing limits. If the limits did not change correct strategy would be identical to ring game strategy. Of course, if the limits never changed a tournament would never end.
In a typical $100+$20 tournament, you will begin with $800 in tournament chips (T800), a small ante (at most T5), and low limits (T15/T30). Every 30 minutes or so the antes and limits will increase, forcing players to act: if you don't act you are anted out of the tournament.
Position in a stud tournament is very important - you do not want to have the bring-in while you want the player to your left to have it. This increases your chance to ante-steal the pot. There are far fewer multi-way pots than in ring games.
In all tournament play, as you get more chips your chips are individually worth less (on a per-chip basis). The value of your chips is based on where you finish in the tournament. In a typical $100+$20 stud tournament, there will be around 150 entrants and two tables (16 players) will receive cash winnings. However, as in most tournaments only the top three places receive substantial paydays.
Tight and Aggressive
You can't reach into your pockets and buy more chips in a tournament (excluding rebuy tournaments). Thus, every time you make a loose (marginal) call, you're decreasing your chances of winning. Tight but aggressive play is rewarded in tournaments. Because of this, there are a number of plays that are standard in stud tournaments.
First, the player with the highest up-card usually makes the completion. This is also where position comes into play: it is much better to be the last player to act with an Ace rather than the first player with an Ace. Suppose you hold (25)A and there's another Ace and a King left to act behind you. It's hard for you to make the completion. But if you hold the only Ace, and the (say) three remaining players left to act have various low cards, you can easily complete the bet.
Second, if you're going to play (on third street) and you're the first player to act after the bring-in, complete the bet - don't just call. Unlike live games you're goal is to increase the chance of you winning the pot, not increasing the size of the pot you're going to win.
Over time with a drawing hand it is probably correct to call - you will increase your expected value (your one winning hand of five will be a large pot). However, in a tournament, by decreasing the number of opponents (by not allowing 'free' calls) you will increase the number of hand you win (although the pots will be smaller). Given that you can't reach into your pocket for more chips, I believe that this is the correct strategy.
Third, don't give free cards. Your goal is winning the tournament (or finishing in the top three places). In general, free cards lessen your chance of winning. Don't allow your opponents to catch up.
Be Wary When Scary
When you're faced with a scary looking board (from an opponent), be wary. For example, you hold (KK)834 and your opponent has (??)JT9. Your opponent bets. Folding is likely the best option. While your buried Kings might be ahead, you may be facing a straight, a flush, or even two pairs.
Remember, always ask yourself what your opponent holds. Most players look at their own hands but ignore their opponents' holdings. Don't fall into that trap - carefully examine your opponents' motives.
Be Scary When Wary
When you have a scary looking board be very aggressive - your opponents almost have to fold (unless they're holding monster hands). For example, you hold (93)KQJ. You made an ante steal and got called. You bet fourth street. You should bet fifth street. If your opponent holds (TT)7Q4, how can he call?
Of course, remember that you can't bluff a calling station. He knows that if he calls you down he will win the hand sometimes so he'll do so. If you're up against a calling station just play good, solid poker. But if you're up against thinking opponents play aggressive, solid poker and capitalize on your strong-looking boards. I can guarantee you that your opponents will.
When play becomes short-handed, even small pairs become big hands. Ace high looks like a monster. The mantra changes from 'be aggressive' to 'be very aggressive' when holding anything. Additionally, remember that short-chipped opponents will be playing tight, hoping to either slip into the money or place higher. Let's look at a couple of examples.
You're playing at a five-handed table, with everyone just one player from the money. You have a large stack. You hold (??)?. The 2, with a medium stack, brought in the action. The next two players folded. The other player left has the 8 as his up-card (he has a medium stack). Unless you have an obvious tell from your opponents, you should complete the bet. Neither of your opponents is likely to risk his tournament fate when he's one out of the money.
You may have noticed that I didn't even say what your hand is - it doesn't matter! You're playing 'big stack' poker, when you have a big stack. However, should the bring-in have a small stack, you must be more careful because he's likely to call if he has any sort of a hand. Let's say the bring-in is very short stacked. I might fold a total trash hand as the bring-in may be pot committed. I don't mind a very short-stack winning a few chips because I prefer to be a whale among minnows.
A Final Thought
Learn to read players. Watch them carefully and observe their tendencies. Reading players is of vital importance in tournament play. On hands that you are not involved in try to determine what your opponents hold. Then compare their actual holdings to what you thought they held. If you keep at this you're reading skills will improve.
That's it for this series on seven-card stud. I envy those of you who live near great stud games - stud play is much different than hold'em and can be quite profitable.