"Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." - Albert Schweitzer
"Garbage in, garbage out." - Unknown
As in most forms of poker your success will be determined in large part by the hands you elect to play. In stud you will be dealt several kinds of hands: Pairs (and trips), three-flushes, three to a straight, three high cards, and trash hands. You'll also be dealt the bring-in where you are required to begin the action on the hand. In this lesson we'll look at pairs and trips, primarily.
If you are dealt three of a kind, such as (55)5, you are rolled-up. This is the best possible starting hand in seven-card stud, one that you will be dealt one in every 425 hands (you'll get the absolute best starting hand, rolled-up Aces, one in every 1381.25 hands). Needless to say, this is a hand you can play in any situation for as many bets as you like.
Let me digress for a moment. An important point in stud is what the average winning hand is. Various authors (Stern, West, and Brunson) state that in stud two pair is the average winning hand. Intuitively, this feels right (based on the games I've played). Remember, though, just because two pair is the average winning hand, if one of your opponents has four to a straight and another has four to a flush, making two pair is likely not going to turn your hand into a winner.
Another issue in stud is ante stealing. For now (we will cover this topic in more detail in lesson five) just remember that there is a tendency in stud for the highest up-card to complete the bet in order to steal the antes. Of course, some of the time that hand will also be the best hand.
Now, returning to what you should do when you're rolled-up. Assume you have (55)5 and have the bring-in. I will usually just bring in the action. Raising with a small card is a statement that "I have a great hand." Why tell your opponents that? You already have a hand that unimproved will likely win the pot. I will raise with a 5 showing occasionally - you must vary your play.
If I am not bringing in the action, and there is a higher up-card left to act, I will usually just call the bring-in. Most players will read you as having a flush draw, straight draw, or a small pair. I will raise on a later street.
If I am last to act, and the betting has seen a lot of callers to the bring-in but no completion, I will likely make the completion. I do this because I want a large pot and most of the players in the hand will call.
Finally, if I have the highest showing up-card (for example, I have rolled-up Aces), I will normally complete the bring-in (or re-raise). This is the action I'd take without being rolled-up so I do the same thing when I am rolled-up.
This is another very strong hand. A big danger signal in stud is when a player pairs his door card (the Third Street up-card). When you have a buried pair and make trips players will rarely make a correct read. Buried Aces, Kings and Queens are almost always playable even if the other cards are not live. If I am in an action-filled game I will raise with my high buried pairs; however, if normally the high up-card is the raiser, I am more likely to just call the bring-in (or completion). If I have the bring-in with a high buried pair I'll just make the bring-in. Why tell my opponents that I have a great hand?
With buried pairs lower than Queens (and all split pairs - see below), you must look and see if your cards are live. Assume that you have (55)7 and the other up cards are 2, 5, 7, J, 7, A, and 6. Your cards are dead (there is only one five and one seven remaining in the deck). Why would you want to play a hand where you will need to make very lucky catches in order to win the pot?
However, when I have the highest up-card and a buried pair I am likely to complete the action even if my pair is dead (but my up-card isn't). For example, if I have (55)A and the other up-cards are as above (except that the A is now the 7), I will usually complete the action.
An example of a split pair (one card up, one card down) is (57)5. Having a split pair by itself does not make your hand playable. I will, almost always, play a split pair of Aces or Kings; my play of other split pairs is dependent on how live my cards are, how my opponents tend to act, and the betting on the hand.
Assume that you have (57)5 and are last to act and the other up-cards are 2, 5, 7, J, 7, A, and 6. If the Jcompletes, the 7 and the A call, why would you want to continue in this hand? Always ask yourself what your opponents are likely to have. Someone has a pair larger than fives. There's probably a flush draw out against you. And your cards aren't live. Wait for a better opportunity.
Now assume you have the same hand but the other up-cards are 2, 9, 4, K, 8, 3, and 4. After the 2 brings in the action, it goes fold, fold, call, fold, fold, call to you. Your pair of fives may even be the best hand; your fives, sevens and clubs are all live. I'd definitely play the hand (to fourth street), and I'd complete the betting most of the time (if possible, I'd like to get heads-up and I'd like to knock out the being-in).
A very important concept with pairs is to play hands with good (large) kickers. It's a terrible feeling to pair your kicker while your opponent pairs his higher kicker and wins the pot. A good way to avoid this problem is to pass on hands with poor kickers. Which hand would you prefer: (57)5 or (5K)5?
Three Honors to a Straight Flush
Hands like KQJ are excellent starting hands. You have a flush draw, a straight draw and three high cards. Of course, if your cards are not live your hand can be passed. In general, I dislike playing draws; however, playing two draws for the price of one appeals to my sense of value.
In the next lesson we will look at the next tier of starting hands: three to a flush, three to a straight, and three high cards. In lesson five we will look at the poor starting hands.