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Strategies
7-Card Stud Strategy Guide
by Max Drayman
20 Aug 2000
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7-Card Stud is one of the most demanding Poker games. There are a lot of cards on the table, each street demands a different approach, and the betting can move from modest to sweat-breaking in minutes. It's a skill, memory and strategy game that can be exhilarating, punishing and even humiliating. Our strategy guide will help you enjoy more of the former and suffer less of the latter.

Strategy Index

Bankroll Management
Choosing a Game
Playing the Cards
Trips
High Pairs
Three To a Flush
Three To a Straight
Playing Style
Reading the Players
To Bluff or not to Bluff?
Further reading
Bankroll Management

As mentioned in our Stud Rules section, the minimum Buy-In is typically 10-times the low limit, or $20 for a $2-$4 game. But playing with the minimum is not recommended. Using the 40-times recommendation, the player should buy in with a minimum of $80 for the $2-$4 games, $320 for the $8-$16 games, and $400 for the $10-$20.

You can always play with less, but the chances are you won't have enough to see you through to the point where you've got a feel for the other players and can bring your skills to bear. If you're underfunded you'll be nervous and therefore at a disadvantage right off the top.

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Choosing a Game

Stud games are defined by their betting limits. The low stakes online games are usually $2-$4 while the higher games are typically $8-$16 or $10-$20. I've seen land casino Stud at $100-$200 or higher, but these stakes are very rare on the web.

The game's betting limits tell the Stud player pretty much everything they need to know about the nature of the game, the expectations of the players, and the size of the bankroll you should have before you sit in.

The Ante

As mentioned in the Rules Section the usual Ante in the lower-end games is 10% of the low betting limit. When the betting limits climb so does this percentage, up to 25% or so. These higher percentage Antes actually change the nature of the game. The proportionally larger pot makes it worthwhile to come in strong in an attempt to "steal" the Antes.

Different games, different strategies

When stealing the Ante becomes a worthwhile proposition, the speed and intensity of play also increases, which in turn requires a shift in playing strategy. Stud players traditionally find it difficult to make the transition to the higher betting limits precisely because of this change.

Level of play

It should come as no surprise that the big games attract the big players. A rookie can and will get eaten alive by the sharks at the $100-$200 tables without learning much in the process. What's the point of that? Remember, Stud is a skill game and overestimating yours will cost you money.

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Playing the Cards

A major part of any winning player's strategy has to be card memory and card analysis. Studying what's on the table and what it could mean is critical in Stud. You must observe the upcards in each street and ask yourself:

  • does it help or hurt your chances?
  • does it help or hurt the receiving player's chances?
  • does it help or hurt the other player's chances?
Trips

Three of a Kind (a.k.a Trips, "a set") is the best opening hand in 7-Card Stud and the higher the rank the better. They can often win you the round without improvement and leave you great flexibility in your betting and positioning in the coming streets.

If anyone at the table knew you held Trips right off, they'd almost certainly Fold. The usual recommendation is to take it slow and hide what you've got. Bet modestly, Check or Call as necessary, until you're in the high streets (5-7th) where you can drag more money into the pot.

You want to keep as many players in as long as possible because you're probably going to beat them. This is called the "slow play" and is designed to maximize the pot.

If you're holding a set of "scare cards" (Aces or Kings), or highest door card, keep in mind that everyone is expecting you to Raise, so if you don't they're going to wonder what's up. With anything other than the scare cards there's no need to bother.

At "the turn" (fourth street) you continue to play modestly, keeping the other players in.

Once you hit fifth it's time to make the others pay to stay. If they're still in at the fifth, the chances are that they'll want to see the "river" (seventh street) and won't be scared off by the steeper action you provide.

As ever, watch the opponents cards watching for anything that could honestly threaten your potential win.

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High Pairs

After Trips, a High Pair (10s or better) is the best starting hand you could hope for. If the paired cards are in the hole (face down) that's even better: open cards are worth less since the others can see or surmise what you've got. This is a solid position for an opening Bet or Raise or even a re-Raise if you hold highest door, J or better.

Don't be afraid of strong betting in third and fourth streets because you want to eliminate as many players as possible while it's cheap to do so. You still need to improve on your hand so you don't want anyone to pull cards for free.

If there are better door cards on the table--you've got holed Queens and there's a King and Ace on the table--it's probably wise to leave it at a single Raise. If it's two Aces, for example, on the table then don't hesitate since it's already looking like a broken threat.

If you door card is reasonable, say a 10 or Jack, and the High Pair is buried you're in an ideal situation. Your Raise will look like you're moving on the Paired 10s, for example, and the other players will respond accordingly. You're in an excellent position to pull them in deeper in the later streets.

By fifth the remaining hands that do not have an obvious strong position (non-paired opens) are probably draw hands. Raise in order to knock them out.

Sixth and seventh: if you're not beaten by the open cards and you've improved on the Pair, Raise. Otherwise you have to consider Folding, or at least Check along if there's no Raises to match and nothing on the table looks threatening.

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Three to a Flush

Three cards to a Flush is a "drawing" hand: you need cards to make anything worthwhile. That said, it's worth a Raise, but how much money you can put behind it without giving yourself away is largely determined by your door card.

If your doorcard is Faces or Aces (A, K, Q, J), then the Raise will look like you're backing a high Pair. If your door leads, following a Raise and re-Raise will probably pass without being suspected.

The "head" cards, highest of the held cards, also affect how you play the hand. Assuming you don't have High door as above, you want J or better in the Flush to justify the betting. This way you're drawing to both the Flush and a High Pair to balance the expense.

If you've got a weak door or no High cards you need to get to fourth street as cheaply as possible since you're facing 5 to 1 odds against completing your hand. Consider mucking if any of the cards you need are "dead" (in another player's hand).

If Fourth street brings you a fourth for the Flush you're facing 1.5 to 1 against completing, which is good odds at this point and worth a Raise. Consider mucking if two or more of the cards you need are "dead" or if you've got no High Pair possibilities as an out.

Fifth street: you must have that fourth to the Flush by this point in order to justify further betting. If you get it, and especially if there's a High Pair out, consider raising. The odds are still reasonable that you'll complete (2 to 1 against).

By the sixth the odds are swinging against you at 4 to 1 to complete. You can only justify staying in if it's cheap and there's still some chance of an out. Otherwise muck.

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Three to a Straight

Again, we're talking about a draw hand, and this one's a lot tougher to complete than the 3-Card Flush. If you've got two or three High cards, you've got a chance at a High Pair as an out. This hand can sustain a Raise or even a re-Raise if it's an Outside Straight (can be completed from either end). But don't let A-K-Q fool you: that's an Inside Straight (only open at one end) and is better played for it's Pairing possibilities.

Throughout the round it's doubly important to study the other players cards for anything that could kill your Straight. If any one of the cards you could use is dead, it seriously detracts from your completion chances.

At fourth street you want another (consecutive) card in your Straight. If you don't get it, Fold unless all of your cards beat the up cards. If you've still got an Outside Straight you're facing 1.3 to 1 odds against completing and this is worth continuing to play. If you draw a fourth to the Straight and it leaves you with an Inside Straight consider folding unless you're holding the two highest up cards.

At fifth street you're facing 2 to 1 odds against completing. If you still have two of the highest up cards then it's worth Check or Call to continue to the sixth. Otherwise Fold. Four to a Straight is tempting to chase, but it's not nearly as good a bet as it looks.

By sixth street you're facing 5 to 1 odds and there's no justification to continue unless all necessary cards are still "live" (in play, not "dead"). If your open cards still lead, it's worth a Raise. Muck if you're facing a double Raise.

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Playing Style

There are a million hands is Stud and probably just as many ways to advise a player on their playing strategy. From all I've seen and read I'd say that it boils down to two options: Bull or Bear.

The Bear

This player is conservative, plays "tight", takes the risks only when there's something to back it up. In this play style the streets largely determine the player's action.

On third street the tight player has a simple choice, do they have the goods? If they're holding Trips, three to either a Flush or Straight, a high Pair (10s or better) or, at the very least, two of the highest cards (A-K) they bet. Otherwise they Fold without a second thought.

On fourth street it's a question of whether they've improved their initial hand, still appear to lead and have a solid chance of bringing it home. At this point only Trips, four to a Flush or Straight, Two Pair and no visible competition justify a bet. Otherwise the hand is over and nothing significant has been risked.

The rest of the round is the expensive streets and the tight player must believe they are holding the "nuts", the winning hand. If they're still trying to draw that hand, they'll only continue if it's cheap to do so, the cards they need are still alive (not showing), and the upcards pose no significant threat. Otherwise, they're gone.

Playing tight is about risk minimization. Nothing is ventured without the cards to back it up. If the betting gets too steep, Fold. If the cards are going against you, Fold. If you're running out of time and still don't have the cinch hand, Fold.

The Bull

Bullish, aggressive play, is almost the opposite. What you have in your hand is important, but it's equally important to assess how your cards appear to the other players. The bullish player manipulates their opponents expectations as much as they managing their own cards. And they push the game, following a "Raise or Fold" policy, forcing the other players to pay up or muck out.

The key to bullish play, in addition to knowing your game as well as the tight player does, is careful card analysis. It's a never-ending game of "how do my cards appear to him?", "am I supporting that perception with my actions?", "is he falling for it?", "can I use his expectations to get more money on the table?".

Sound tricky? It is! Bullish players make Stud the roller-coaster ride that it is and they demand the most of a player's powers of observation, card analysis, and psychological deception

Bull or Bear?

Is it better to be a "rock", play ultra-conservatively and only risk your money when you've got the nuts. Or is it best to play aggressively, only Fold or Raise, almost never Check, and force the other players to pony up or muck out?

While the beginning player might think that tight play is the shrewd approach, it's not necessarily so. First, you'll get the reputation of being a "rock" and few people enjoy playing with someone who is tight-fisted and super cautious. Worse, you're probably going to lose. When the other players can predict your card decisions they've got an huge advantage and that will put your money in their pocket.

Bullish play is favored among professional players. By choosing the "Raise or Fold" policy, they force more money out onto the table. And since their style is far less predictable they have more room to maneuver, more ways to attack, more opportunities to use your expectations against you. Bullish play and solid card skills wins the money.

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Reading the Players

Anything that gives a player's feelings or intentions away is called a "tell" and learning to read these is a key component of Poker play. Obviously when you play online, you're don't have direct access to this information, so the dynamics of the game change a bit. But there can still be ways to gain this type of information.

The chat box that appears in most online Poker games can be a dead give-away. I've been in games where players would jump on the chat box as soon as they read their cards and had a good hand. They're happy and they want to share their good feelings with others. A shrewd Poker player absorbs this information and uses it to gain a playing edge.

I've also seen players who would jump on and cuss the cards whenever he thought he'd received something good: he's trying to lull the other players into thinking they've got him beat. Same story: use what you know about his playing style to beat him and take his money.

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To Bluff or not to Bluff? The do's and don't of bluffing could fill a small book on their own, but here are a few of the most important things to keep in mind:
  • avoid bluffing heavy winners: they can afford to Call and usually do.
  • beginners are often desperate to know what you've got and will Call just for the sake of knowing.
  • experienced players play a cagey game, are studying your actions more closely, and are often easier to bluff.
  • ask yourself how good your cards might look to the other players. Don't bluff without at least a little something in your hand to make it look threatening.
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Further reading

As much as I've sweated over this Strategy guide, I have to admit that I've barely scratched the surface. 7-Card Stud is a very complex game and you'll need to study and play as much as you can in order gain proficiency.

For more information you can check out our Poker resource page or do yourself a favor and read the work of the experts. I suggest the following:

Championship Stud by Dr. Max Stern
Fundamentals of Poker by Mason Malmuth and Lynne Loomis
Seven-Card Stud for Advanced Players by David Sklansky
The Winner's Guide to Casino Poker by Edwin Silberstang
The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky
Super System by Doyle Brunson

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