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seven card stud

“The overlay is of paramount importance”

          A great deal has been written about this game when played with a limit betting structure. I have assumed you are familiar with that form of the game.
          The high card usually starts the ball rolling in seven stud pot-limit. This is to help prevent the pot getting too large too soon. Most people play conservatively on third street, and there is seldom a double-raise at this stage. Thus, the pot grows only gradually in size. Even in small games there may be betting at the river.

           Over 20 year ago I played the following hand against Jack. Card four I held (7 7) K & against (??) 8 4. The pot was $3 and I bet $2, which he called. Pot size now $7.
            Card five I had (7 7) K 7 9 and Jack (??) 8 4 K. I was first to speak and might have made a gesture of impatience. He may have bet out of turn, overlooking the fact that my 9 made me high. He bet $4. The rules were very strict in England at that time; if he bet out of turn, he was barred from betting or raising on that card. The dealer asked whether I had checked. I genuinely answered I didn’t know. “What do you mean, you don’t know?” queried the dealer. “What I said, but I condone the bet and call.” The dealer was mollified, play continued, and now the pot stood at $15.
             Card six (7 7) K 7 9 7 and Jack (??) 8 4 K 2. I checked and he bet $15, which I called. The pot was now $45.
              On the river I squeezed my last card, but as I hadn’t improved, I checked. He bet $45 and I raised $135, which he called. Thus, there was a total of $405 in the pot. Note the effect of that $4 bet. Without it, the pot would have been only $189. Jack lost $108 more than if there had been no bet card five.
               When I told a soft, tight player this anecdote he said, “A check would have suited you down to the ground on fifth street.” Forget about how things actually turned out. I suspect he is mathematically wrong. My potential win from the $4 investment was far greater than the actual small sum under consideration. 

                We have seen at least eight-fold inflation in Britain since then, but the game is still played by much the same players with played the same stakes as before. Thus, unfortunately, the game is played too small now to attract me. In earlier days I used to win extremely regularly, such that for some years my hourly rate was $9. Even after a losing session, I could go home and think, “I played five hours, therefore I’ve won $45.” Invariably at the year’s end this was proven to be more –or-less correct.
                 Most players cannot bring themselves to play in a smaller poker game. This is the “macho” principle. Somehow it reflects on their manliness to drop a notch. It is noticeable some of the best Vegas players don’t have this hang-up, especially when they have been running bad. I used not to mind at all playing small while waiting for the big game. It kept me away from the blackjack table, where I at best break even. Now I am more reluctant to expend energy on a game where I figure only to win small.

                 The great thing about seven card stud poker is that it is a perfect game for winning. If you can gauge the playing strength of your opponent and provided he isn’t extremely good player, you can come out ahead over a period of time almost regardless of what cards you’ve been dealt. I am sufficiently arrogant to believe I can virtually give a card start to certain tight, soft players. ( I would never claim this against a wild, loose player.)
                 The wild ones are much more dangerous and will often win money from me- even though, in the long run, they may be bigger losers than players of the first profile. Generally speaking, it is essential to play much closer to standard trick-free poker against very weak or strong opposition. The weak players may have your intricate maneuvers simply go over their head, whereas the strong may pick up on what you are doing.


  1. As in limit poker, play only with trips, a pair, three to a flush or three to an up-and-down straight. Last in hand against only the forced bet, a call with a live ace in the hole or such as 10 9 7 with all J 8 6 live can be considered. Naturally, you may raise on any holding you like. A bet or raise can be made with any cards in poker; a call must be with a genuine hand.
  2. Raising with three to a flush or straight constitutes a bluff. The action is mathematically unsound. Three to a flush is roughly 3-1 against making a four-flush if your hand is fully live, although the pairing possibilities makes it nearly even money to improve. If you are reraised and call, the pot is probably getting too big for the amount of money left to win. Also, if you do make a four-flush, usually you want several players in the pot.
  3. A concealed pair is significantly more valuable than if split. Thus (3 3) 7 is better than (7 3) 3. This partly because of the explosive nature of mystery trips and partly because it is easier to hit a 7 than a 3. If you do so, you may well secure the pot on fourth street. With two small pair, this is often the best result.
  4. Secondary holdings with the pair are much less important than in limit. The starting hands 6 6 A or 8 8 9 have a special resonance. But in pot-limit, you may be all-in before they become relevant. 
  5. If you are playing in a game where the  low card brings it in, then if you are the only person left, everybody else having  folded, all you need to raise is a dry king, three-flush or three-straight. This will include your percentage of bluffs.
  6. In limit poker it is received wisdom that buried aces or kings are better slowplayed. This is because you tend to win small pots or lose large ones with such holdings. If the pot is large, they are impossible to release with only a limit bet. In pot-limit you can protect your hand. Also, you can muck them if things go wrong. Thus, fast action with big pairs is much more sensible.
  7. Again, the advice in limit is to play the hell out of your low trips. Now the rewards are far greater for slow poker playing such a hand.

                   Because I take ferocious action even with quite mediocre holdings, I can fast-play my monsters as well. One of the joys of poker is that players have different styles. What can be right for one player may be totally wrong for another.


  1. Muck junk as rapidly as possible.
  2. The potential overlay of a hand like 10 9 is gigantic. Any card A though 6 plus the 5, 4, 3, 2 can be hit to strike fear into your opponent. Beware of an aggressive player who checks such a hand. He probably intends to check-raise or slowplay a monster.
  3. A four-flush is at least as good a hand as a pair of aces. It is true the flush draw only makes it 48% of the time, but sometimes the player makes a wining two pair anyway. 

                   Basically I want to avoid an all-in coup where I hold such as (A 4) A 9 against a four-flush. This is giving the opposition even money. Thus I am more likely to bet fourth street than check-raise. If my opponent bets and I raise, then the pot is often big enough for him to reraise all-in. If I have bet and he raises, then I can call. Next card I can set him in if he hits a blank and have the best of it, or pass if he improves. If he hits an open pair, I may pass my dry aces. His weakest hand is probably a four-flush and a pair, and that is favorite against my hand. Naturally, two pair or trips are favorite against a four-flush, but it isn’t that big a deal.
When you first play all poker variations, it is best to learn how to play tight. Later on you can learn to play loose, but the option to fall back is always there. If your opponent has an open pair against your four-flush, then potentially he has a full house, and you are drawing to lose. Similarly, if a player is already in the pot with what looks like a four-flush, a then four to an up-and-down straight is a losing tight situation. You may both improve with an extremely traumatic result. However, one of the main benefits of a straight is that people are much less ready to believe in them than flushes. Thus, you are more likely to be paid off when it does blossom.

Against a good poker player, it is sometimes worth calling with a hand such as (Q J) 10 8, or (Q J) 10 9, facing an open pair of 8’s. This is again because you are more likely to get paid off. The anomalous nature of your hand will pass over the head of a weakie. The above middle-pin straight is a better proposition than (Q J) 10 J because now a 9 isn’t so obvious a middle-pin.

One important principle of pot limit is that although aces may be a slight favorite against one flush-draw, they are a big dog against two flush-draws. Thus, suppose you bet with (A 6) A 4, one player raises with (??) 9 7, and the next reraises with (??) Q 5. It is correct to pass. Overall, they both miss only 25% of the time. When looking down the barrels of the guns of two players each with an open two-flush, it may be wise to check a high pair. But I prefer to bet, and then run for the hills when the going gets rough. This principle of the made hand being an underdog to two players each on a draw can apply even on fifth street. Player A has (J 10) 9 8 7. Player B (A A) 6 2A. Player C (Q Q) Q 5 4. In an all-in coup, Player B has the best of it. He wins 41.3%, Player A 33.5% and Player C 25.2%. The three flush helps Player B. The whole situation is quite different from a game such as omaha. Here the likelihood of one player improving hardly impinges on the other player’s chances. Note that if the pot stands at $100, Player A bets $90 all-in, and Player B calls all-in, then Player C is correct to call, even if the players turn their cards over and show him he is beaten in two spots. He wins 25.2% of the time, and will win $280 for his $90 wager.

A hand worth mentioning in poker mythology is an open-end straight-flush draw such as (7 6) 9 8. This is so likely to improve, with 15 outs on each of three cards, that it scores 48.5% against trips on fourth street. But don’t hold your breath; it is 2500-1 against being dealt this hand. Last time it happened to me I was up against aces with only one club and no 4s or 10s showing or passed in a nine handed game. All the money went in. At the end of the hand, I was the proud possessor of (7 6) 9 8 4 3 2, a 9-high. That’s what I call going down in style!




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