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Stud Poker Strategy: Rotation Tips

Stud Poker Strategy: Rotation Tips 0001

I've been playing in a lot of home games lately. That's a product of the price of gas. As the price goes up I am less willing to drive the 200 miles or so round trip to play at Foxwoods, my nearest major poker room. I've got to get my poker fix closer to home, hence the home games.

I love home games. The players are often worse than in a public room; the rake is sometimes significantly less; and the games are more convenient to get to. There are disadvantages, too, to be sure. It's harder to leave early (which I tend to do). There's always a chance that the player-banker will figure things out incorrectly and I won't get all of my money at the end of the night. And of course there's the slim possibility that the game will be held up or busted.

Even so, I've been taking my chances willingly rather than paying the $25 or so in gas.

It used to be, not that long ago, that a home game meant stud and maybe draw if the players were older. Hold'em was a novelty, if it was played at all, that I might introduce to change things up and take folks out of their comfort zone. But not now. As we all know, hold'em is now king. Stud isn't dead, to be sure, but it's much less common than it used to be.

If you're principally a stud player, as I am, you're often left to play it only as part of a rotation game – like H.O.R.S.E. or H.O.S.E. or Dealer's Choice. In those settings, especially if the crowd is relatively young, I find that I'm often playing hold'em against players who are principally hold'em players – no-limit hold'em players at that. They're relatively recent or poor stud players, if they've played it at all. And their inexperience translates into some exploitable errors in their play. I'd like to focus on how to take advantage of those errors.

I've noticed that hold'em players who are new to stud tend to overvalue and misplay certain hands. Let me list their errors and then write a little bit about how you can take specific advantage of each error.

Overvalues A-K-blank as Starting Hand

This is one of the most prevalent mistakes I have witnessed. Hold'em players fall in love with one of the three or four best starting hands in that game. They don't realize that it isn't a very good starting hand in stud. In fact, most of the time, without any other reason to play, I'll ditch A-K-blank if the bet is completed. In a tight-aggressive game, I'll even ditch it for the bring-in if there are players yet to act after me – that's how bad it is.

Your best countermove to this error is to generally try to isolate these bad players by playing back aggressively if they act behind you.

You need to be aware that if you see an ace, and they play their hand as if it were a pair of aces, if they then hit a king, you might well be up against kings with an ace kicker. In that case, you must obviously revise your opinion of their hand and respect their bets. But if they catch a blank, continue to push them.

Plays Too Many Hands on Third Street

Hold'em players are often used to playing very loosely before the flop – waiting to see a full five cards before making a decision about whether to fold. I've heard many hold em players say this at the table – things like "Can't get out until you see the flop." This may be fine for hold'em, especially no-limit in a very passive game. If everyone calls the large blind, the implied odds may well justify a call with any two cards. You go from seeing 2/7 of your hand preflop to seeing 5/7 of your hand postflop.

But not so in stud. In stud, on third street you are seeing 3/7 of your final hand. And by staying in for another card you're only improving what you see to 4/7 of your eventual hand. In fact, as any good stud player will tell you, the most important decision you make about whether to stay or fold is made on third street.

To exploit this weakness, raise more with your medium- and higher-valued hands. If you knew, for example, that you were against someone with a purely random hand – 2-7-J, for instance – you'd want them to be playing for as much money as possible against your medium pair or three high cards. So too here. Make them pay for their mistake.

Overvalues Medium and Low Pairs with Weak Kickers

In hold'em, especially limit hold'em, it's true that you can get away with a raise in late position with a pocket pair, if the hand has not yet been raised. Not so in stud. A hand such as 3-3-9 is surely not worth raising. And if someone with a higher-valued up card does raise, it should almost surely be folded.

To exploit this mistake, don't give these players much respect for their raises into a board that has higher-valued up cards. In a stud game with pretty good players, if a player shows (x-x)-4 and raises after (x-x)-10 has called and before (x-x)-Q has acted, I'll often give him credit for a big pocket pair – or at least a pair of fours with an ace kicker. But not in a rotation game with inexperienced stud players. In those games I'll be much more likely to call their raise – or if I have what I think is a higher pair, to re-raise.

Fails to Properly Consider the Strength of Opponents' Cards

This tendency is especially significant later in the betting rounds. I've noticed that these players tend to overbet their medium strength hands – like small two pair or premium pairs – without doing a good job of reading the board. This is understandable because of their inexperience with individual boards.

You obviously need to call more. This is made even more correct because, based on the other mistakes above, the pots will often be significantly larger than in the typical stud game among good players.

Plays Too Few Hands

Some good hold'em players are just trying to get through the stud rounds without losing their money. They'd be perfectly happy if H.O.R.S.E. were H.O.H.O.H. or H.H.H.H.H. So they do what they can to make it so, by playing very very selectively.

Note which players do this and take advantage of their disinclination by bluffing them mercilessly. Of course you have to pay attention to the other people in the hand – so you're not bluffing one individual who is likely to fold only to be called by three others who aren't.

I've also found that players are more likely to be timid and weak early in the stud round. It's hard for them to retain their resolve after a few hands of folding and watching others win. After three or four hands like this, their A-K-2 looks pretty damn good – and they're more likely to play it.

Good Players Tend to be Too Aggressive, Especially Early On

This last error is one that you, the experienced stud player, may tend to make. Many times, in rotation games, the stud expert feels that he is now in his element. He has waded through the rounds of the less desirous flop games and high-low games, and now finally has a chance to show his stuff at his favorite game. What's he going to do to press his advantage? Check more? Fold more? Call more? Of course not! He's going to be aggressive and bet and raise more!

Though I have given you some examples of when this should usually be done, it is a bad mistake to do it thoughtlessly or because of impatience or eagerness. Poor players often tend to call too much. You don't necessarily exploit this by getting more money in the pot when you have a hand that is likely to be behind. Better to wait, be patient, and pick your spots. But then, as an experienced stud player, you already knew, that didn't you?

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