Over the entire history of poker, Limit Seven-Card Stud may be the most-played version of the game in the world.
Before Hold'em became a dominating force in the poker world Stud was the big game all across America. In the post-Hold'em-boom poker world, Stud is becoming rarer and is mostly played by poker's old-timers.
Stud was a big game for decades for a very good reason. It's a wonderful game worth getting into and can make for a great break from the everyday grind of two cards.
Learn to Play 7-Card Stud
This article aims to help beginner players learn to play 7-Card Stud game in a solid, tight and aggressive style. It advocates balancing bluffs and semi-bluffs with mostly solid play and focuses on third-street play because this betting round is the most important.
If you play correctly on third street you will face fewer difficult situations in subsequent betting rounds because the game quickly becomes very complex as it progresses.
As in all forms of poker there are exceptions to the rules and the concepts addressed in this article should be understood as general guidelines only.
To be a truly successful player you must be able to make exceptions and use your judgment in order to determine the best possible play. It is virtually impossible to give clear-cut advice that applies to all situations.
The best general advice, as mentioned in this brief introduction to stud, is a line that you're probably very familiar with.
"You only play premium hands. You only start with jacks or better split, nines or better wired, three high cards to a flush. If it's good enough to call, you got to be in there raising, all right?" - Mike McD from Rounders.
Key Skills for 7-Card Stud
- Strict hand selection
- Discipline (the ability to wait for a good hand and not chase with second-best hands)
- Ability to read opponents
- Ability to remember the other players' up cards
Seven-Card Stud vs. Texas Hold'em
Here's a list of difference between the two games, some of which are glaringly obvious:
- There are no community cards.
- An ante and a bring-in bet are used instead of blinds.
- There are five betting rounds as compared to four in Hold'em.
- The player who has the best starting hand starts the action on every betting round, except for the first round of betting, when the lowest up card begins.
- You must remember the folded up cards.
- The number of players is limited to a maximum of eight.
- There is no positional advantage before the cards are dealt. The cards determine who acts first and last on every betting round.
- There is no dealer button, as every hand is dealt in the same order starting at the dealer's immediate left.
Structure and Antes
- All players receive two cards dealt face down (hole cards) and one card dealt face up (up card). The cards are dealt one at a time.
- The player with the lowest up card has to make a bring-in bet.
- The betting continues clockwise with the player to the left of the bring-in bet.
- A fourth card is dealt face up. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise.
- A fifth card is dealt face up. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise.
- A sixth card is dealt face up. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise.
- A seventh card is dealt face down. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise.
- All remaining players make out the best possible five-card poker hand.
The following table shows the most common betting structure in 7 Card Stud:
How to Play Limit Seven-Card Stud
- Be very selective with your starting hands: Nothing is more important than choosing the correct starting hand for a certain situation.
- Play the players: Assess the opposition quickly: who plays inferior hands, who folds at aggression, who bets with draws, who calls bets with weak hands and long-shot draws, who can be bluffed, who bluffs, etc.
- Pump it or dump it: Fold or raise. You should avoid calling unless you have a good reason (like trapping an opponent).
- Remember the up cards: Be sure to look at all of your opponents' up cards and remember them. It is very important to know if the hands are "live" (none or few of the key cards are gone) or not. The only way to get good at this is to practice. The more hands you play, the stronger you will get. Sign up to an online poker room, such as Poker Stars, to play as many free hands of Stud as you like.
- Raise with your strong draws: Betting on the come is even more valuable in Stud than in Hold'em, depending on which parts of your draw are "up" and which are in the hole, or "down". If you're on sixth street with a four-flush (meaning you have four cards to a suit, only needing one more to make a flush), and three of your suited cards are down, betting on the come is less likely to get a fold than if you have three suited up cards.
Common Mistakes in Limit Seven-Card Stud
- Playing too many starting hands.
- Not paying attention to which cards are out.
- Not folding with modest holdings and weak draws.
- Not raising with premium holdings, thus letting too many drawing hands in.
- Drawing for cards that are likely to give you a second-best hand. For example, calling an opponent who raised showing three to a flush with a straight draw is likely to land you with a losing, second-best hand.
- Paying exclusive attention to your own game and not that of your opponents. How many players are in on fourth street? Did someone raise on third street? What types of players are left in the pot? These are all questions to consider during play.
- Not being aggressive enough on third street (taking initiative) and fourth and fifth streets (following through/protecting hand).
- Calling all the way to the river without proper pot odds.
- Calling too often, instead of raising, when you have the best hand.
Strategy Advice for 3rd Street in 7 Card Stud
The most important decisions in Seven-Card Stud are made on third street. You must be able to decide whether or not to play a hand and how to play it.
Some hands play better in multiway pots and some in short-handed pots. The hands that play well in multiway pots are drawing hands, like three-flushes, three-straights and combinations of the two.
The hands that play well in short-handed pots are big pairs.
One of the most valuable skills in 7-Card Stud is the ability to be very selective about the hands you begin with. The problem with playing too many starting hands is that these mistakes are usually compounded in later betting rounds.
For instance, you might start with nothing and end up drawing to something with a hand you should not have been involved with in the first place. Mistakes like this can prove very costly in the long run.
There are a number of issues that should be taken into account when deciding which hands to play. They are as follows:
- Which cards are out?
- How many players are in the pot when it is your turn to act?
- Is the table tight or loose?
- How many players are sitting at the table?
- Has the pot been raised? If so, from what player and position?
- What is your position in relation to the raiser (if any)?
The most important factors to consider are what cards are out and how many players are in the pot. The combination of these two may sometimes make it correct to throw away the best hand on third street.
For example, in a multiway pot where you hold (J-J)7 and both of the other jacks and one seven are out, you should fold, even though no one has represented a bigger pair or has bigger up cards than a jack.
The chances of you still holding the best hand when all the cards are out are simply too small to justify calling or raising.
You can play this hand when you are in an ante-steal position (it is already short-handed), or in a multiway pot when all your cards are live.
And, while it is imperative that you remember which cards are out on third street, you must not stop there, as it's also crucial that you watch the other cards as they are turned up.
7 Card Stud - Best Starting Hands
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 (109) 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.
- Three of a kind (also called rolled-up trips). Starting with (A-A) A and on down.
- The big pairs AA-JJ. The hand is stronger when the pair is hidden, thus making the hand more deceptive to play against. Also, your kicker is important; a (J-J) A is stronger than a (J-J) 2.
- The big suited connectors, such as (A♠ K♠) Q♠, (K♠ Q♠) J♠ or (J♠ T♠) Q♠.
- The medium pairs TT-88 and medium suited connectors, such as (J♠ T♠) 9♠, (T♠ 9♠) 8♠ and (9♠ 8♠) 7♠.
- The big suited semi-connectors, such as (A♠ Q♠) J♠, (K♠ J♠) T♠ or (A♠ K♠) T♠.
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.
Stealing Antes in 7 Card Stud
A good way to increase your profits in 7 Card Stud is by stealing the antes. In a regular game you generally get enough pot odds to show a profit if your steal success is around 40%.
However, your chances do not actually have to be that good because there are times when you will win the pot even though someone called you down.
An example of this would be catching a scare card (usually an ace or a king, or a card that might not help your true hand but connects your show cards, making a straight or a flush possible in your hand) on fourth street. Doing so enables you to win the pot by betting and representing a big hand.
Oftentimes your opponent will fold a small pair on fourth street if you have been the aggressor and if you have higher board cards than his pair.
Another reason to steal the antes is because it adds deception to your overall game. If you only raise with legitimate raising hands, you will never get any action and thus will not win as much as you could.
Anytime you are on a steal, it is important that you consider your opponents' up cards. In general, consider stealing when you hold the highest or second-highest up card.
A good time to steal is when you have the second-highest up card and the highest up card has yet to act. This creates the illusion that you have a legitimate hand since you raised into a higher card.
When trying this move you must always consider what type of player is holding the highest up card. If that player is a good, aggressive player, be more cautious about stealing.
Occasionally, if you suspect another player might be stealing, you should attempt to resteal. A good time to do this is when you hold a bigger up-card than your opponent and your hand has some additional value, like a three-straight or a flush.
Since you were planning to call regardless, you may as well try for a reraise if it seems likely that your opponent is on a steal.
If you are playing in a tight game, you can steal when you are sitting up front holding an ace or king as your up card. This is usually a mistake in a loose game because the chance for a successful steal is much smaller.
In general, you should not try to steal when your up card is duplicated in any of your opponents' hands. Your opponents will know you are less likely to hold the hand you are trying to represent and that you will most likely not improve to that hand if you get played with.
Playing Rolled-Up Trips
On average, you will be dealt rolled-up trips once in every 425 times. This is the strongest holding you can start with, though it does not necessarily mean you should always slow-play the hand.
In a loose game, where lots of players give action with a wide variety of hands, slow-playing is almost always incorrect. A good time to slow-play the hand is when you do not want to give your hand away.
For example, a king raises and then an ace re-raises. If you then re-raise with something like rolled-up deuces you announce to the table what your holding is. In this case it is better to just smooth-call and reveal your true strength in later betting rounds.
An exception would be if you have been making many advertising plays or have frequently re-raised with hands like three-flushes. In these cases, your hand can be played fast from third street onward.
When slow-playing your trips, it is usually best to wait until fifth or sixth street before putting in your first raise. Such a decision should be based on what your opponents' likely holdings are, how many players are in the pot and how big the pot is.
Playing Big Pairs
The big pairs are AA-JJ. These hands should almost always be played. The only times to fold them are when you are fairly certain that you are up against a bigger pair, or when your cards are dead (both of the other cards are already out).
A pair of jacks can also be folded when you have a bad kicker to your pair and there are many big cards left to act behind you. Another occasion when it is correct to muck your big pair is when the pot has been raised and re-raised by players with bigger up cards than your pair.
For example, you hold a pair of jacks and a king raises only to be re-raised by an ace before it is your turn to act. Remember that a two-flush and/or a two-straight to go with your pair give additional value to the hand.
Before folding your big pairs, always consider the action and the opponents giving the action. If one of your opponents pairs their door card, and you don't have a four-flush or a four-straight, it is usually correct to fold your big pair.
Playing Small and Medium Pairs
When deciding whether or not to play the medium pairs, always consider the following factors (the first two are the most important):
- If you are not in a steal position make sure all your cards are live before you decide to play.
- Do you have a strong kicker?
- What are the other up cards?
- Is the game tight or loose?
- Your hand is stronger when your pair is concealed.
- Holding a two-flush and/or two-straight gives your pair additional value.
You should generally fold your medium pairs in raised pots, unless you have a bigger kicker than the pair the raiser is representing.
When you hold a medium pair and there are no up cards higher than your pair on the board, you should almost always raise with them. If you have a strong kicker to your pair, it holds certain advantages.
For example, it allows you to represent a higher pair than what you hold and it increases your chances of ending up with the best two-pair. If the pot is raised and you have a strong kicker, you should call.
If the pot has been raised and re-raised, you should generally fold no matter what additional value you hold.
The way you play three-flushes very much depends on four factors:
- How high are your cards?
- How many of your cards are live?
- What is your up card?
- What is your position?
These factors greatly affect the way this type of hand should be played. Some three-flushes play better heads-up and some play better in multi-way pots. If all your flush cards are live but none of your pair cards are, then the hand will be played better in multi-way pots.
This is because you will most likely need to hit your flush in order to win the pot. This will not happen as often as winning by pairing, so you want to ensure the pot is big enough for those times you hit your flush.
Remember, if all your flush cards are live the hand is almost always playable. If you have high up cards, you should almost always raise when you are first in. This strategy also works well with the ante-stealing strategy, as it adds deception to your play.
Three-straights are generally not as powerful as three-flushes. Nonetheless, they can still be profitable hands. You must consider the following factors when deciding whether or not to play three-straights:
- How high are your cards?
- How many of your cards are live?
- What is your up card?
- Do you also have a two-flush?
- What are the other cards on the board?
- Who and how many players are already involved in the pot?
- How much will it cost you to play?
- How well do your opponents play?
Obviously, the more factors working in your favor, the more advisable it is to play the hand.
When the pot has been raised and re-raised, only play three-straights if your cards are live, if you have high cards and/or a two-flush. When you hold smaller unsuited three-straights, such as (78) 9, the most important factor to consider is how live the sixes and tens are.
In general, do not play gut-shot three-straights unless you have high cards and/or a two-flush, and your gap card is live. For example, a hand like (QJ) 9 can be played if no tens are out and it appears that you could win the pot if you paired one of your hole cards.
Seven-Card Stud Hand Odds
|Hand A||Hand B||Dead Cards||Win Percentage|
|(AA)7||(QQ)7||None||Hand A wins 66.6%|
|(AA)7||(QQ)7||None||Hand A wins 63.9%|
|(AA)6||(99)J||None||Hand A wins 61.4%|
|(KK)8||(QQ)A||None||Hand A wins 55.8%|
|(AA)7||(J6)2||5Q||Hand A wins 72.7%|
The Effects of Dead Cards
Below are a number of tables displaying how your chances of making a certain hand change depending on the number of dead cards.
|Hand: Three-Flush||Chances of a Flush (%)|
|0 Dead Cards||23.6%|
|1 Dead Cards||19.6%|
|2 Dead Cards||15.8%|
|3 Dead Cards||12.3%|
|4 Dead Cards||9.1%|
|Hand: (55) A||Chances of Aces Up or Trips (%)|
|Number of aces and fives out: 0||41.0%|
|Number of aces and fives out: 1||34.1%|
|Number of aces and fives out: 2||26.5%|
|Number of aces and fives out: 3||18.3%|
|Number of aces and fives out: 4||10.5%|
|Hand: (67) 89||Chances of a straight (%)|
|Number of fives and tens out: 0||49.8%|
|Number of fives and tens out: 1||44.8%|
|Number of fives and tens out: 2||39.4%|
|Number of fives and tens out: 3||33.8%|
|Number of fives and tens out: 4||27.8%|
Stud is one of the oldest forms of poker and still a favorite game to many. Next time you're spreading a poker home game, add some stud into your rotation; you'll be glad you did!
View Best Rooms to Play: 7 Card Stud