Stud Poker Strategy - Where Will the Money Come From?
When I was younger and on a very limited budget I used to have to think about how I would pay for things I wanted. When I wanted to buy something the question "Where will the money come from?" had to be answered first. As I got older and my income increased, I had to ask the question less frequently.
However, I've found myself asking myself the question much more lately, as I've been playing a lot of Stud8 — seven card stud high-low split. I have to ask myself this question not to decide whether I can afford the game but rather whether and how to bet during the playing of the hand. This is a marked departure of how I think about playing the conventional stud game — with only one winner.
Though the deal of the cards and the rank of the hands is exactly the same in stud8 as it is in regular seven card stud, the strategy is entirely different. One key difference is that in Stud8, a good player must constantly ask himself that very question, "where will the money come from?' Let me explain.
In stud the basic and simple underlying general strategy is to bet when you're ahead and try to chase cheaply when you're behind. You frequently have to ask whether it's worth chasing and whether you're actually in the lead. Answering those questions correctly and using trickery to get your opponent to answer that question incorrectly are major parts of playing winning stud.
Those concerns are not the principal ones in stud8 however. Since stud8 is often a game with a split pot, being ahead of an opponent for high or low is not nearly as important as sizing up your chances of scooping the pot. Also, in stud8, unlike in stud, there are many more situations when you are against more than one opponent. Counter-intuitively, it is often wrong to lead when you are ahead of both of those players for one half of the pot. This is something that beginning or otherwise poor stud8 players don't understand.
Let's say, for example, that you have 3h. A 2d to your right brings it in. A mix of high and low cards remains. Some stud8 players automatically raise because they have three low cards and have read that this is an excellent starting hand in stud8. It is an excellent starting hand to be sure. If you had a similarly strong hand in regular stud, you'd almost surely raise with it. You are probably in the lead with your 6 low. You even have some chance of scooping the pot with your one-gapped 3-straight.
Even so, the best move is usually to call, not raise. There are two reasons for this. One is that you do not have a made hand. Though you have a good starting hand, unlike in stud, you still need two cards to make a low. Should you hit a high card on Fourth Street, you often will have to fold to a bet. So discretion often makes sense on Third Street with three to a low. You can call a raise — and even a re-raise, but you don't yet have a raising hand.
The second reason to call on Third Street is that you need to think about where your money will come from. It will come, potentially, from one of three sources. It will come from players who make a worse low when you make a low. It will come from high hands that remain in the pot and lose to another high hand with whom you split the pot when you make a low. And it will come from all other players when you make a winning high and a winning low hand.
You do not want to drive out second best low draws. You want them to stay in — because you will make money from them. So anyone with a 7 or 8 low draw you want to call the initial bet. Similarly, you don't yet want to drive out players who are drawing with pairs or high cards. You want them to make their draws.
Unlike in stud, you generally don't want to discourage people who are drawing. Though it's true that some draws may come in that will beat your high hand when you make it (let's say you draw two low pair or a low straight), at this stage you are much more interested in keeping drawing players in — since most of the time you'll make your money from the worse lows that will be made when you make a low and the losing hands that stay in with the second best high hands.
The question of "where will my money come from" comes into even better focus on later streets as your hand gains definition.
Here's a situation I faced recently. I had a made low on Fifth Street with 3c6c7s. I had two opponents. The first had QsJhJd. The other had 8s2c7d. I acted after the player with the pair of Jacks. He bet. It was very tempting to raise. It seemed that I had pretty much a lock on low. In a stud hi only game, with a comparable high hand against two opponents, I'd surely raise to make the drawing hands pay.
But this was stud8. I needed to ask myself where the money was going to come from.
Chances are it was going to come from having a third player in the hand. My raise would make it less likely that there would be a third player. If I raised and knocked out either of the other players I'd probably be costing myself a lot of money — having to settle for only half of the current pot. Sure, there was a chance that I'd hit some magic double gut shot to make a high that beat the first player's likely two pair. But it was far more likely that I'd just split the pot with him. (The situation would have been entirely different if I had a strong flush draw for example. In that situation, where I had a good possibility of winning both ways, it may well have made sense to raise.)
On the other hand, if the third player was playing a very bad low, I'd want to just call to suck him in — since it was highly unlikely that he could catch up to me. Similarly, if he had some high hand, I didn't want to discourage him from chasing with it — since I wanted to make half of the money he'd put in the pot on the remaining streets of play.
As it turned out, I called and the third player called with a pair of 8s and a draw to a 7-8 low. My call might have convinced him that I paired up. I caught bad on Sixth and called a bet from the Jacks. The third player called as well. And the Jacks checked and I bet the River with my low hand and got called by both of the other players. Sure enough, I split the pot with Queens up, who beat a lower two pair hand to take half the pot.
These situations come up all the time in stud8. I may report in the future on other hands where this concept came into play. For now though, the bottom line is that you have to think a little harder in some ways to figure out what your betting action should be. Just betting in the lead and chasing with a draw isn't going to get you the money in stud8.
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