Stud Poker Strategy - Lessons For My Father, Part One
My father Herb is retired and plays in two poker games each week with other retirees in his retirement "village". One is a "ten cents game"; the other a "twenty cents game" -The betting structure is not exactly the same as in a standard poker room. But the games are similar to $.10/.20 and $.20/.40 respectively. They play 7-Card Stud and 5-Card Draw. They play for two hours each session.
My Dad and I talk about these games from time to time. I find in these conversations interesting and potentially useful discussion points for many poker players - even those who usually play much higher. Let me share some of the things we've discussed lately.
The first observation I'll share is how my Dad talks about the game. It's instructive, I think, because it's similar to how many people think about poker - and their poker play in specific. Here's a sample of how a typical conversation begins.
"Hi Dad. Did you play poker today?"
"Yes, I sure did. Same as every Monday. I didn't do very well either. (chuckle)"
"Why? What happened?"
"Oh, I lost about $15.00!"
"$15.00? Really! Wow. That's a lot of money in that game. What happened?"
"Well, I don't get it really. I mean I made one mistake - but I think just one. So I think it must have been the cards. Some of these guys are so lucky. It's unbelievable. These two guys won all the money - and one of them is not very good. But they often seem to win. I really don't understand it. I did have this one hand, though, that was really excellent. I had a full house and someone called me with a flush. I made some money on that hand."
"I see. Tell me about the mistake."
"Oh, it was really stupid. (chuckles) REALLY stupid. We were playing 7-Card Stud. I was dealing. A guy with a King was betting the whole way. I had a pair of 9s in the hole. Everyone else was in until Fifth Street when he paired his King. I called. On the next card he didn't improve but I got a second pair - 3s I think. So I called. I was going for a full house. Then I got the last card. I looked down and saw that I got a third nine in the hole — for a full house. The other guy bet. I raised him - but just by one chip [instead of the maximum of two chips] so he wouldn't fold. I didn't want him to fold because I had the full house. Anyway, he calls and I say 'full house - nines and threes' and I flip over my down cards. I start to reach for the chips when he says, 'hold on Herbie - I don't see a full house". And then I realize that I don't have a full house - I just have the same two pair that I had before the last card. I had looked at one of the 9s again and thought it was a third 9. Isn't that awful! What a terrible mistake. THAT cost me a lot. The pot was huge."
Let me interrupt the conversation and make some observations on what has already been said - because I think it's typical of how most poker players think.
First of all, you should know that my Dad has read my book on 7-Card Stud (Winning 7-Card Stud. Kensington, 2003), read numerous articles of mine, and has been playing poker for quite a while - though seldom in a casino or in a serious home game. He is a smart and well educated professional man who has a doctorate from Harvard in education, and was the CEO of a publishing company.
Smart though he is, and even with all of his poker reading, his poker thinking is infantile - as is that of many otherwise intelligent people. The mistake that he noticed was probably the smallest mistake he made all evening. It was certainly the smallest mistake he made during the play of that hand — embarrassing though it must have been. Let's look at his story more closely.
First of all, a player with an exposed King, who had been betting the whole way, pairs his door card on Fifth Street. My Dad calls him. This is a terrible mistake. A paired door card is very powerful. When it's a pair higher than yours you absolutely should fold.
Then my Dad catches a second pair. His call on Sixth Street is at best marginal - only made possible by his mistaken call on Fifth Street. His play on the River, caused by mistakenly reading his last card, is only a mistake of one single bet - the last raise. He should have called on the River since he called on Sixth Street. The pot was large enough to justify a call even if there was just a tiny chance that his opponent was bluffing with less than two pair. The one chip raise is practically insignificant. In fact, if there was even an infinitesimal chance that it would succeed it would have made sense as a bluff - considering how large the pot had become by then.
The mistake was not the "stupid" one he made but rather, broadly speaking, it was in how he viewed the game as a whole - not focusing on his important decisions but only on his slip up. Is it any wonder that he viewed his opponents' success as a product of luck?