Stud Poker Strategy - Sliding to the River
I want you to think of the play of a hand of 7-card stud symbolically – at least for a few minutes. Think of a slide – like the one you used to use in the playground when you were a young child.
When you get your first three cards you are at the top of the slide. You look at the cards. You can choose to descend the slide or not. No energy is needed to do either. You either go forward and slide down or you continue to stand at the top of the slide and wait for another hand.
But once you make a decision to join in the betting you start your descent down the slide. Each separate betting round brings you further down the slide. And as you descend you pick up speed.
With each betting round it therefore becomes more difficult for you to stop your descent. So too does it become more difficult for your opponents to stop their descent. The momentum of the slide propels you each to finish at the bottom of the slide – with the final betting round when you get off and climb back up for the next hand.
Viewing a stud hand in this way helps shape your strategic decisions throughout the hand – both for how you play your own hand and how you try to manipulate your opponents in the play of their hand.
Beginning players, without much self control, need to be extra careful about entering with borderline hands – lest they be carried through to the bottom, caught up in the momentum that they cannot resist. As players become more experienced and more skilled, they can enter more hands – because they are better equipped to stop themselves as they descend.
The key to stopping your own descent is to think about your hand as it develops – and to be willing to fold when you think the odds no longer favor your calling. You need to have the temerity to stick your hands to the side of the slide and stop your descent, knowing that it is easier to continue down the slide to the next card and the next round of betting. It is a skill that separates the good from the bad stud player.
Similarly, when playing against an inexperienced player, expect them to continue with the hand, calling until the river as the hand develops. They will be caught up in the momentum of the hand as they descend down the slide – hoping for that miracle card, propelled to the river, without the strength to stop themselves.
Here's an example from an actual hand I played the other night in a Greek-American social club in the Boston area. I was playing against a truly poor player: we'll call him Jeb. He was enthusiastic about poker to be sure – but without skills.
I was dealt (AT)A (suits are unimportant in this hand). He was dealt (8K)8. A low card to my right brought it in. I raised. Jeb called. Everyone else, knowing me to be a tight aggressive player, folded.
An experienced player might make the same move on Third Street – perhaps thinking that I was trying to steal the antes with my raise. They might have hoped that others would have called to avoid going heads up, since the raise came so early in the round of betting. Heads up this is a very poor call – with a kicker lower than the pair the raiser is representing.
But the difference is that the experienced player would be able to stop his descent in later rounds of betting if the picture didn't improve for him. An inexperienced player traps himself into the slide, as you will see as the hand progresses.
On Fourth Street we had the following:
An 8 and King had been folded on Third Street. Queens were live, as were my cards.
I bet. Now would have been a good time for him to fold. He's descended the slide but hasn't really picked up speed. I might have been on a steal, but Jeb's chances of catching up if I wasn't have slimmed considerably. But he was caught up in the descent – and so he called.
On Fifth Street we had the following:
I didn't hit a second pair. Neither did he. The bets doubled. On we went down the slide. I bet. He called.
On Sixth Street we had the following:
Once again I bet, having Aces up now. I was eager for him to call. He paused some and then finally called – as if to say "I've gone this far – I might as well see what happens in the end".
On the river we had the following:
I bet. He called. We showed our hands. He said, somewhat sheepishly, "I never filled up". True.
By the way, just for the mathematical among you, I've put the winning percentage – the percentage of the time that the hand wins in a heads up match to the river – below. If you're so inclined to test yourself, go back and see what you think the percentages are as the hands descend the slide. Then check and see if you were correct in figuring how much of a favorite I or he was as the hand progressed.
Here are the percentages:
On Third Street with my pair of Aces against his pair of 8s I was a 74:26 favorite. That's about 3:1
On Fourth Street, when neither of us improved I stayed roughly the same 3:1 favorite.
On Fifth Street when neither of us improved very slight and stayed at roughly a 3:1 favorite.
And then on Sixth Street, when we each caught our second pair, I became a 93:7 or just about 13:1 favorite.
Of course, on the River, I won – becoming a 100% favorite!
There are some subtle things – cheesy things frankly – that you can do when you're in a similar situation against an inexperienced or otherwise poor opponent to encourage their descent on this slide. I've found that it helps to keep them from thinking too much. I make my bets as quickly as possible – to encourage an automatic response from my opponent. For some of these guys, folding means losing some face. I want as little attention on me and as much attention on them. I've also found that by hurrying my money in the pot I convince some players that I'm bluffing – making them even more likely to call.
It's also helpful not to do certain things. I don't engage them in conversation – trying to talk them into calling. I've found that this gives them more time to think and a face-saving way of folding. They're often looking for some face-saving way to avoid having to continue down the slide – some handle they can grab on to to pull themselves out of the slide. Talking is one of them. I don't respond to them, typically, if they ask me questions. One of their favorites is "Just you and me, huh?" as if to imply that the pot is small so they might as well fold. (With somewhat experienced players it often makes sense to talk – but that's a matter for another column).
Sometimes, of course, they catch up. In fact, the times they catch up are going to be roughly what the percentages are above. They are the times, (as figured out over 500,000 hands by a great website - twodimes) that they win. But that's OK. You're looking at the long run. And in the long run, you want them continuing down the slide to the bottom – paying you off as they descend.