I recently finished fourth in the $8.80 H.O.R.S.E Micro Millions event on PokerStars.
I'm not an advanced mixed-game player by any means and I found myself facing a lot of spots that were uncomfortable to me on a basic level.
One of the games where I had more questions than answers was Stud Hi.
So I reached out to pro Stuart Rutter for his advice regarding some of the scenarios I was confronted with.
It's All About Stealing
Lee Davy: There were times where I wasn’t sure what my basic starting hand selections were?
Stuart Rutter: If we're talking about opening when the action has folded around to you, then the most important part of Stud Hi is stealing.
It’s a game that’s all about stealing. The later your position in the hand, the more actively you want to steal.
If it folds around to you just before the bring-in, for example, then you can steal 100% of the time and it’s going to be really difficult for anyone to defend.
So the later you get to act in the hand the more stealing you should be doing. If you have the highest up-card, in the latest positions, you want to steal all of the time.
If you have a Jack showing and every ones else’s up-card is lower then you should be stealing even if you have a terrible hand.
Lee Davy: Why is stealing so important?
Stuart Rutter: The reason stealing is so important is because the antes are so high. So when you're stealing, just for the price of a completion, you're probably laying yourself 2:1 odds.
That’s $20 to win $40, or the similar equivalent depending on your stakes, meaning if you get away with that steal 1 in 3 times you show a profit.
Also, you can go an awfully long time without getting a proper hand in Stud Hi.
Lee Davy: So what constitutes a ‘proper hand?’
Stuart Rutter: Hands like run downs or high flushes like (4h5h)7h of hearts are way more valuable in multi-way pots.
If pots are going to be contested heads-up, or three-way at most, then Stud Hi is a game that’s all about pairs.
If you go down the streets you will find that it’s often a race to make two pair, as that’s the hand that wins at showdown a high percentage of the time.
If you have a Jack up, and also a pair of Jacks, that’s a massive hand. But if you have a Jack up and just a pair of deuces in the hole, and there are only low cards behind you, that is also a very good hand.
Even if you run into a pair of tens your equity is not too bad (something like 38%). Having that high kicker card counts for quite a surprising amount because as long as you have the opportunity to make Jacks-up you're not in a bad situation against a pair of tens.
The hand that gets beat so often at showdown is the lower two pair, hence the important of the kicker card.
If you're stealing with a pair of sixes you're so much stronger if you have an ace in the hole than you are if you have say (6x6x)5x.
It looks nice, and can make a straight, but unless you're in a multi-way pot it doesn’t come into it much.
Lee Davy: Whenever I play Stud Hi at lower stakes I try to be tight and play good starting hands, but my opponents seem to just play every hand. Hence I never seem to win a pot!
Stuart Rutter: Either they are generally getting great hands all the time - which is just not happening - or they are over playing their hands too much and you are doing the right thing by playing tight.
A lot of times you will run into a brick wall of cards, you’ll get frustrated, and your bring-ins and antes will be bleeding away. But it’s well worth it when you get a hand.
There are not a lot of things that transfer well between NLHE and Stud Hi but this is one that does.
If everyone is playing very loose then tighten up; if they're playing very tight then steal more.
Lee Davy: What’s the biggest mistake that players make in Stud Hi?
Stuart Rutter: Every time you call a bet it’s a relatively small amount of chips, but the mistake you make in Stud is rolling mistakes, street after street.
The first mistake is playing their poor hands on third street. They make a half of something on fourth and it’s cheap so they call, then they call again on fifth.
Now they get close to showdown and so they might as well continue to the river. All these small mistakes suddenly snowball into a big amount of chips.
Just be patient and you will be rewarded.
Lee Davy: I wasn’t sure when to bet or raise when I was semi-bluffing?
Stuart Rutter: Say you have four to a flush -- on fourth or fifth street it’s a semi bluff but you're also betting for value because your equity is so good.
If you have a really strong draw you could even raise it for value, especially if you have the draw to the nuts in a multi-way pot.
Each time you get one of your opponents to put another bet in you are doing really well. Also, consider the state of your board versus theirs.
If you have (Tx9x)KxQx, against a really weak board that reads (xxxx)6x2x, then you're definitely barreling in that spot, especially if the king and queen are showing.
The stronger your board, and the weaker theirs is, the more eager you should be to barrel off in those spots.
Lee Davy: When should I be looking to bail out of a hand?
Stuart Rutter: If you have a flush draw and you're calling to draw to that flush, then you should generally stick it out until the river.
But if your opponent pairs their door card and could have a house or trips, and is betting aggressively, then you might want to bail out.
Another time to bail out is when your suit becomes so dead there are only two or three outs left in the deck and you don’t have the odds to call.
This means the dead cards become really important. If you have (8x9x)TxJx and you've seen that four of those sevens or queens have gone, you will not have the odds to draw to those hands.
So watch the dead cards and play accordingly. This is something very new to a NLHE player because there are no dead cards in NLHE.
Lee Davy: Dead cards?
Stuart Rutter: You cannot overstate the importance of dead cards in Stud Hi.
Knowing how to use them is one thing, but of course the first tricky task is remembering what they are. This is something that can only come with practice.
When you have all the third street cards out, arrange them in order and say to yourself, for example, “two, four, four, five, nine, Jack, Jack, Queen.”
You will also want to commit to memory any significant presence or lack of one of the suits. For example “no spades, four clubs”
(Read those two lists again, turn away, and see if you can remember them. Keep practicing)
Once you know the dead cards it's vitally important that you obey them. A marginal decision of whether to play, say (Ax9x)9, against a mid position raise from a Jack up is changed completely according to how many aces, nines and Jacks are dead.
A hand like (Ac7h)7c is stronger than (7c6c)7h without knowledge of the dead cards, but if in the first hand a seven, ace and four clubs are dead this would become a fair bit weaker than the second if no sevens, sixes, and only one club was dead, and the straight possibilities were live.
In the best stud games your perceived board will change according to what is dead.
If you catch (Ax7x)7xQxJx, but two of each picture were dead on third, a good player will not give you credit if you were to barrel with your hand.
On the other hand, if you caught (Jx7x)7xJx and it were the case Jack, your hand is now even stronger because of the lack of credit you will receive.
Lee Davy: Another problem I had was a lack of understanding of when to try to get all the money in when I felt I was losing fold equity.
Stuart Rutter: Be aware of the point when the effective stacks have got so low that both of you are committed to the hand.
If you only have two big bets left then almost definitely you and your opponent are committed to the hand and so it will be a mistake to barrel off.
Let’s say you are slightly deeper and you have four or five big bets left. When you are stealing, or maybe betting on fourth street against a weak board, you have tremendous leverage.
You're making a statement that once you make this bet there are three or four big bets to come. It’s tremendous leverage.
You can make some great semi bluffs on fifth street in the knowledge that it will cost them three big bets to go all the way with you.
You're saying to them, "You either fold now, or you are going to have to call three big bets."