The first thing to know about making a strong bluff in Stud is the odds of players actually having strong hands. Here are some charts of calculations from the MCU. All the following odds calculations are from the brain and pen of Mike Caro.
The Probability of Being Dealt Seven-Stud Starting Hands
(First three cards)
|Probability you'll be dealt this on the first three cards...||Expressed in %||Odds against it:||Possible Combos|
|3-jacks through 3-kings||0.05||1,841-1||12|
|3-sixes through 3-tens||0.09||1,104-1||20|
|3-twos through 3-fives||0.07||1,380-1||16|
|2-jacks through 2-kings||3.91||24.6-1||864|
|2-sixes through 2-tens||6.52||14.3-1||1,440|
|2-twos through 2-fives||5.21||18.2-1||1,152|
|Three parts of a straight flush||1.16||85.3-1||256|
|Three parts of other flush||4.02||23.9-1||888|
|Three parts of other straight||17.38||4.76-1||3,840|
|ANY three of a kind||0.24||424-1||52|
The odds against a player having rolled up anything (meaning trips off the deal) are 424-1. One thing I'd like to point out is that this table can be deceiving to math newbies. You have the exact same odds of being dealt rolled-up fours as you do rolled-up aces. The odds are only 5,524-1 on being dealt any one specific rank.
For the purpose of this article the only worthwhile numbers in this table are the final five. Get a very firm handle on these numbers, as it's important to know how weak the average Stud starting hand typically is.
Chance of Improvement for Various Seven-Stud Hands Long Range:
(You hold three cards.)
If you have A A A
|Probability your final hand strength after 7 cards is:||Expressed as a %:||Odds against it:|
|Four of a kind||8.17||11.2-1|
|Three of a kind||--||--|
* Actually 0.0028%
If you have A A 9
|Probability your final hand strength after 7 cards is:||Expressed as a %:||Odds Against it are:|
|Four of a kind||0.54||185-1|
|Three of a kind||9.89||9.11-1|
** Actually 0.0042%
If you have 10 J Q
|Probability your final hand strength after 7 cards is:||Expressed as a %:||Odds Against it are:|
|Four of a kind||0.07||1,431-1|
|Three of a kind||3.19||30.3-1|
As you can see from these numbers, the chances of improving are very slim. Once you take into account your cards and other show cards taking away outs, these numbers go down. If you're holding wired nines against the A A 9 , they're now down to catching a running pair, or the case nine, to make two pair. This will impact the percentage of improvement greatly.
It is very important to look around and see whether or not your hand is live. Most weak pairs, straight draws, flush draws, etc., are playable when your cards are completely live. For example, you start with ( 10 9 ) 8 . This hand is much stronger if all sevens are live, as compared to two of them being out. If all sevens and a jack are out, your hand is almost dead.
The only exception to this concept is when you hold a pair of aces or kings (when no ace is showing), which can be played in most situations even if the hand is almost completely dead. In order to make it easier when deciding what to look for in your starting hand, here's a list of the best starting hands.
Mike McD, in the much-quoted Rounders line, talks about having "nines or better wired, jacks or better split." This means having pocket nines or better for your two down cards, and pairs of jacks or better with one of them your show card. He also mentions "three high cards to a flush."
All the aforementioned hands are valuable Stud holdings if played properly. This is a very tight system for starting hands. If you find yourself playing too many hands, it's a great default to revert to.
Reading a Stud board is a very different skill than reading the board in a game such as Hold'em. Hold'em is a complex game due mostly to the simplicity of its design. With a five-card community board, the total combination of possible hands, excluding your two cards, is small and obvious.
Here's a quick example of what I'm talking about:
Hold'em: what beats you?
Board: K 4 A 6 9
Your hand: A K
Obviously, the only thing you lose to here is a set. At any point during this hand, flop, turn or river, the story was the same. You had the nuts, second only to a set (which you had a huge redraw against on the turn).
Stud: what beats you?
Hand 1: (X) (X) 8 10 9 K
Hand 2: (X) (X) J J A 7 (X)
Your Hand: A Q A 8 10 Q 2
You have a strong hand - aces-up. So are you good? What can beat you? Player one shows three to a straight; should you be afraid? Note the cards he needs to complete a straight:
Accounted-for cards include two jacks, two queens and one seven. Not to mention all the folded show cards, but being new to the game, you don't remember what any of those are. Player two is showing a pair of jacks. The only way this player can beat you is to have trips. A jack in the hole or on the river beats you. Again, knowing if any jacks were folded would be very helpful here.
As you can see, reading a board in Stud is a much more intensive, demanding feat than in Hold'em. There's more going on, with each player having their own board. The chances of a misread or of missing what should be a strong read are greatly increased.
People live in fear of the Ace. Hold'em players have come to learn that the majority of players are known to play any ace they're dealt under any circumstances. When a Hold'em-trained player sees an ace as a show card, they almost automatically assume the player is sitting on a pair of aces.
The fear of aces will make players fold anything but a strong draw. A player holding kings will often believe that they have to catch a third king or a second pair to win the hand. Bricks on their board or strong hands (or ones that look strong to you) can almost certainly win you the hand with some aggression.
The same way the flop in Hold'em can make or break any two cards, the show cards in Stud are always more important than the strength of your true hand. Play off the only information your opponents get to see. If you give them a reason to believe they're beat, more often than not they're going to act on it.
If you want to start playing Stud online for free, low or even high stakes, many of the top online poker rooms offer Stud as an option.
Perhaps more than in any other poker variation, bluffing is the keystone of successful Stud play. To bluff effectively you need to understand how to read the boards. And above all, avoid the dark-tunnel bluff - a bluff made without reason.
To make a true bluff, you have to understand the current state of mind of your opponents and their table images, the texture of the board, the betting patterns and the odds (both implied and pot). Is your opponent a math player on a draw? Are they on steaming-mad gorilla tilt? Are they trapping you?
What all of this information means to you is that Stud is far more suited to a strong small-ball game than Hold'em. With hands failing to improve past one pair far more often than not in the first four or five streets, players are usually left holding no more than rags and weak draws.
When you do get called, often you're up against a strong draw or combo draw, allowing you to win if they miss. Aggression in the opportune moments is crucial to long-term profit at the game.
The key with Stud bluffing is to truly play the other players, and the other players' hands. You're looking to play off plausibility. If your show cards make it very probable that your hand has theirs beat, it's hard for them to call.
Here are a couple of examples.
Their Hand: (X) (X) J 7
Your Hand: 6 2 A K
In this situation your opponent is, more often than not, sitting on a pair of jacks or less. Assuming you completed off the deal, or raised, after your opponent obviously bricked fourth street, it's almost a sure thing that they'll fold to a bet here. Even though you literally have nothing, the fact that you're betting show cards makes it seem probable that you're sitting on a pair of aces at the least.
Their Hand: (X) (X) 10 K K A
Your Hand: 6 3 10 J Q 2
In this situation you have nothing but a combo draw. Your opponent is showing a pair of kings. There is a very strong chance this player is on a strong two pair, or even trips. You don't believe they have a house (through your knowledge of odds, the cards you've seen folded and your reads in the hand), which means this is the perfect place for a semi-bluff.
Your opponent has no choice but to give you credit for a flush now, or a straight at the least. Almost all players will fold a two pair here, not wanting to draw to four or fewer odds against a made hand. If you do get called, you have a large number of outs to actually hit the hand.
View Best Rooms to Play: 7 Card Stud
What are the basic starting hand selections when it comes to Stud hi lo? And what are some Stud hi lo strategy tips that can help improve your game? Stuart Ritter gave us some tips - and most are related to stealing pots. Especially when the action is folded around to you. 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 everyone's up-card is lower then you should be stealing even if you have a terrible hand.
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.
Hands like run downs or high flushes like (4h5h)7h of hearts are way more valuable in multiway 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 pairs, 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 pairs, hence the importance 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.
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 would be 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.
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.
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 any significant presence or lack of one of the suits to memory. For example “no spades, four clubs”
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.
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."