You're a Hold Em player. You've gotten pretty good at it. So you've decided to learn another game a well. You figure that you'd like to take advantage of the many loose stud games with lots of bad players. So what do you need to know about stud so you can beat these games? Even if you don't become an expert, can you learn to play well enough to extract some profit from the really good stud games that are out there?
I'm writing this two part series for you guys and gals - to show you some of the basics so you can pick up this great and often very profitable form of poker. Admittedly, these are just the basics - but with practice and a little extra reading from time to time you should be able to beat stud even mores consistently than you are now beating Hold Em.
Let me give you a simple, mechanical way of playing the game and then add some theory at the end of this article to help you continue to learn as you play. I'll take you rapidly through every stage of the stud game, giving you simple instructions to follow so you can start off with a low risk method of play. As you develop your skill at the stud table you'll be able to expand your repertoire. But for now, follow these instructions explicitly.
You start with three cards. The first thing you as a hold em player must do is forget about the starting requirements for Hold Em. I can't tell you how many Hold Em players I've seen playing with AK, AQ, or with suited connectors. Forget those hands. Your selection in Stud, with three cards to start, is going to be much more selective.
You will fold every hand except the following - and you will not play these hands all the time either as we shall see. But for starters, only play: Trips, a pair, a 3-Flush, and a 3-Straight. Let's look at pairs first.
Ideally, you want to play a Premium Pair - that's a pair of Tens or higher. You generally want to play these pairs for a raise. But you need to be careful. You want to be the highest pair on Third Street, the first betting round. If a higher card raises in front of you then you should consider folding even if you have a Premium Pair. You don't want to go heads up against a pair of Kings if you have a pair of Queens. But if you estimate that you're the boss hand, make other pay to stay around or make them fold. You certainly do not want to lure people in, even with a pair of Aces, by just calling the bring-in bet (the low card showing on Third Street must start the betting in 7-Card Stud). Make the full raise. If you knock everyone out, fine. You've won a pot. If you get one caller that's ideal -as you figure to be well in the lead.
Other pairs are playable. But you want to have a kicker higher than the other up cards - preferably an Ace or a King. So 6-6-K is a playable hand as long as you don't see an Ace behind you or raising in front of you. What you're hoping to do is get another King or 6, giving you Trip 6s or Kings Up - strong hands in 7-Card Stud. It's also to your advantage to have a hidden pair. That way, if you make Trips, your opponent won't see it and will probably continue to call all of your bets until the River.
What you want to avoid is a split low pair with a weak kicker - where even if you hit two pair you might not be the boss two pair. Down that way lies a lot of losses. So toss your low pairs with low kickers unless you can just get in for the bring-in. You also want to make sure that both your low pair and your high kicker are live - no one else has one. If one of the five cards that you must have to improve this hand are gone then you have just diminished the value of your hand by 20% and it becomes unplayable. Toss it.
3-Flushes and 3-Straights are playable, but only under certain circumstances. First of all, you can't play either for a double bet. So if someone bets and someone else raises you must fold no matter how strong they might otherwise be. Your cost is too high relative to the chances that you might win the pot. You need to be careful that you're not sucked in to playing this hand for a double raise. If a high card raises in front of you and there are a couple of higher cards after you - especially if they're held by aggressive players, then you might want to fold, lest you call the raise only to have the hand re-raised. Better to wait for a better situation.
Your 3-Flushes and 3-Straights must be highly live. You don't want to play the straight draw if more than one of the primary cards are gone. If you hold T-J-Q then you don't want to play if there's more than one King or 9 out. You also toss the hand if there's a combination of two primary and secondary cards out. A King and an Ace out and you fold. Two Aces out and you fold. Two 8s or a 9 and an 8 out and you fold. We're not looking for reasons to play hands in these games where you're starting; we're looking for only the strongest hands to play.
You can play 3-Flushes if no more than two Flush cards are out, but you need to have at least one an Ace, King or Queen. If at least one of those cards isn't a high one, then you fold if you see more than one Flush card out. 3-7-9 and two Flush cards out elsewhere and you fold. A-K-3 of hearts and you call unless you see three or more hearts out, in which case you fold.
The key here is recognizing that your starting hand is much stronger if it can improve in two ways - either by moving toward a Flush or by becoming a Premium pair. If there's a high card then you give yourself three more cards that help you. That's a 30% improvement in your chances.
You also want to play your Flush and Straight draws against as many other opponents as possible. While some like to get tricky by raising with them from time to time - and while there's some profit in this at times - I don't' recommend it when you are starting out. Just try to call until you make your hand. Try to keep in opponents so the eventual pots will be large.
Trips, of course, are playable. Don't worry about them too much. Just one word of advice. Tend to raise with them unless you think that a raise is likely to knock everyone else out, in which case you should just call and let others raise or call for the first round. Thereafter you're going to be betting aggressively until the River.
That's a simple outline of how to play the first three cards. Next, we'll deal with how to generally play the remaining four rounds of betting - and how it's different from Hold Em play.
Ed Note: We think Pacific Poker has some of the best Stud action