"The day is for honest men, the night for thieves." -- Euripides
In Lesson 4 we looked at starting hands that you may want to play. In this lesson we'll examine hands that, in general, you don't want to play. These hands include three to a flush, three to a straight, and three high cards.
You Have the Bring-In
You're about to look at your cards, but the dealer deals you the 2, so you're stuck with the bring-in. Do you just make the bring-in or do you look at your cards and, depending on what you hold, complete the action?
In general, I always just bring-in the action. Assume that I am rolled up with, say, (22)2, and that I have just brought the action in for $3. The 9 calls, the A completes, with everyone else folding. Of course you're going to call - you will represent a pair of deuces (or a hidden pair); it is very unlikely that the A will play you for being rolled up. Why waste the deceptive value of your hand?
Now let's look at some other hands you might hold while having the bring-in: (a) (7J)2, (b) (7J)2, (c) (2J)2, (d) (43)2, and (e) (TT)2. In case (a) you have a trash hand - three cards that in no way work together. This is a hand that you should want to fold. If someone completes the action fold. In case (b) you have a three-flush. You should play this hand like any other three-flush (see lesson 4): consider how many clubs are outstanding, how live your cards are, etc.
In case (c) you have a split pair - a very small split pair. My willingness to continue with this hand (if the betting is completed) is dependent on how live my cards are and the other up-cards. Assume that your cards are live, the T completes the bet, with the 9and the K calling. I would call the completion with this hand - yes, I'm trailing (presumably the T and the 9have pairs while the K has a drawing hand) but if I catch on fourth street I'm likely to win the pot. But everything needs to be right - had the K re-raised I would fold.
In case (d) you have a low straight draw. I dislike straight draws, and I really dislike low straight draws. In case (e) you have a buried pair. If my cards are live I will happily play this hand.
Trash Hands. You're dealt a trash hand and you do not have the highest up-card: say you have (J3)8. Fold. It really is that simple - fold your bad hands and you'll be a step above many of your opponents. If you should happen to have the highest up-card (or the highest remaining up-card) you can consider an ante steal (discussed below).
These are hands that look good but usually don't play particularly well. Examples include (34)4 (a small split pair with a two-flush), (47)Jand your hearts are live but your cards are not, and (45)6 (three to a straight with a two-flush). In the first case even if you make two pair you're probably not going to be a winner. In the second case all you have is a flush draw (because your cards are not live); it's much better to have two ways to win. In the final case you have three to a small straight with a two-flush. It looks pretty but it plays ugly.
Avoid trap hands and you'll save bets. Each bad bet you don't make adds to your session results. Of course, it's hard to fold hand after hand (when all you get are poor starting hands) but if you want to be a winning player you have to do that. Remember, the cards even out in the long run.
The structure that I've used in describing example hands has been a $1 ante, $3 bring-in with $10/$20 limits. This is a middle-limit stud game. (I use this limit because it's the stud limit that I'm most familiar with. However, $10/$20 is a middle limit game where you should have at least $500 for a buy-in.) Low limits include $1 to $5 spread limit, $3/$6, $5/$10, and $6/12. The $1 to $5 spread limit game is sometimes played with a small ante (10¢ to 25¢) and sometimes with no ante. The $3/$6, $5/$10, and $6/$12 games are played with antes (usually 50¢ to $1). Ante stealing is when you raise (or complete the betting) in hopes of taking the antes and the bring-in. For example, you're dealt (79)A and are last to act in a $10/$20 game with $1 antes and a $3 bring-in. The 2 brings in the hand and everyone else folds to you. You complete to $10 in the hopes of taking the $11 already in the pot. If the bring-in has a bad hand you're likely to pick-up the pot.
Ante stealing is essential to winning stud play at higher limits. However, at low limits (or when there is no ante) stealing is of little value. Many low limit stud games play like no fold'em hold'em games: you have to show a hand to win the pot. In that case stealing is almost useless: you can't bluff a calling station! However, in both relatively tight games and/or 'higher' low limit games raises usually are respected. Those are the games where ante stealing matters.
Now suppose you're up against (??)A when you have (27)2 and the A has completed the bet. Your opponent is representing a pair of Aces while you have a lowly pair of deuces. Should you call the completion?
First, look at the pot odds (assume a $10/$20 stud game with a $1 ante and a $3 bring-in). There's $21 in the pot and it will cost you $7 to see fourth street. Do you have at least a one in three chance of winning the pot?
If you're up against a player who never steals, then you have an easy fold. You're trailing, and why chase the rock? However, if you're facing a player who varies his actions then you probably should call. You may have the best hand, and if you catch on fourth street you might take the pot there. If you happen to know that your opponent is stealing you can consider re-raising. It's likely, though, that he will call (at a minimum) - he has the pot odds to do so.
Note that in this analysis that we did not consider whether your cards were live and whether you had more than one opponent. These are obviously important factors when facing a potential steal raise. The more opponents you have, the better the pot odds you will have. And the less live your cards are the more likely you should fold. Finally, if all you're holding is a trash hand folding is likely the correct decision.
In the next lesson we'll look at fourth street where draws get closer to fruition or the trash can.