Poker is a game with many variables. You need to consider the cards you hold, the cards your opponent holds, and the cards you think he thinks you're holding. You must consider his history of play and his consideration for your history of play. If you have a good imagination you can come up with dozens of other variables that can go into how you play your hand and how your opponent will play his hand. All true.
All of these variables could lead thoughtful players to conclude that any play, in any situation, might be appropriate. Or, similarly, all of these variables could completely paralyze the thoughtful player, as he wrestled with more possibilities than he could process. He might resort to impulsive play – a recipe for disaster.
I've found that it helps to have certain rules of thumb in stud to help guide my play in general. Sure, there will be exceptions. But for the most part, these are rules that can form a basis for solid play. I present you with four of them for now.
#1: Don't draw to a hand if your opponent is representing either a hand that you can't beat if you hit your draw or a draw to a hand that will beat your hand if you hit and he hits.
This comes up on Fifth Street and Sixth Street regularly. Here's an example. Your opponent shows three hearts on sixth street, including the Ace of hearts. He started with an exposed heart, hit another on fourth, a blank on fifth, and a third on sixth street. You have a flush draw in clubs and someone has folded the Ace of clubs already. He bets. If you hit a club on the river and he doesn't have a flush you will surely win. Even so, generally make this fold.
#2. Don't play against a paired door card without a made hand, unless at least one of the paired door cards is dead.
Again, this is a rule of thumb – there are exceptions. But for the most part, give your opponent credit for hitting trips when he pairs his door card, if that card is live. Many players ignore the power of a paired door card. They draw to a flush, actually make it, and then find out that their opponent either made his full house on the river or already had it when he bet. This isn't to say that you can't win a hand by drawing against a guy with a paired door card, but the occasions when you win the pot usually won't be sufficient to reimburse you for your losses when you miss and when you hit and still lose.
#3. Don't attempt an ante steal in a pot that's already been called.
Most of the time, if someone has called the bring-in, your raise will also be called. Of course you can raise for value if your cards warrant such a raise on third street, but you will generally fail to steal the pot by inducing your opponents' to fold if at least one of them has already decided to play..
Here's an example. You start with ( ) . The bring in, to your left, with the bet's $3.00. A raises to $10. A calls. The action is to you – all other players having folded.
While the King may have been attempting to steal and may fold to your raise, the Jack is highly unlikely to fold since he probably had a legitimate hand when he called.
#4. Call on the river if you have to pause long enough to think about whether or not you should call.
This is probably the most useful rule of thumb of all. If you have to think that means that there's at least some chance in your mind that your hand is better than your opponent. It's highly unusual in stud for a fold to be justified if you have even a small chance of having the best hand. This is because, with the five betting rounds, by the final betting round the pot is usually very large in relation to the limited final bet. So if you're pausing to think, then you generally should be calling.
Ed Note: We hear that Perry Friedman plays a lot of stud at Full Tilt. Go, and join him – what are you waiting for??