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Talking HORSE with Lou Krieger, Vol. 12: Stud, the Old School Game

Poker Strategy

Seven-card stud is old school. In fact, it’s about as old school as it gets, unless you consider five-card stud and draw poker. And they’re really old school — so old that almost no one plays them any more.

But seven-card stud is old school too, and has been around since the Civil War. With three down cards and four exposed cards in each player’s hand, seven-card stud combines some of the surprises found in draw poker with a good deal of information that can be gleaned from four open cards.

Because the game has five betting rounds — there are only four in hold’em and Omaha — some hands result in very large pots. One big difference between stud and flop games is the amount of attention to detail required to play it well. In hold’em and Omaha, all the exposed cards are there for everyone to see, and they remain exposed on the board for the entire game. But in stud games, folded hands are turned face-down and sent to the muck, and cards that were exposed when the hand was live are no longer visible. If you want to play this game to the best of your ability, you’ll have to remember the folded cards as well as those that are still visible.

If you’re tired, forgetful, or thinking about other things, you can play hold’em on autopilot, but you put yourself at a big disadvantage whenever you try that in a seven-card stud game.

If you haven’t played much seven-card stud, it’s important to remember that almost every hand is possible. For example, a player can have four of a kind even if his board is not paired. That’s because three cards are face-down, unseen and unknown. But in hold’em or Omaha, a full house or four of a kind is impossible unless the board is paired, and a flush is impossible unless three cards of the same suit are among the five community cards in the center of the table.

Because the possibilities are nearly endless, seven-card stud is a jigsaw puzzle of sorts, and the pieces can be found in the exposed and folded cards along with betting patterns that help the astute player narrow down and discern the possible hands his or her opponent may be holding.

We’ll get into the specific hands you ought to consider playing during the seven-card stud orbit of a HORSE game, but we’ll do that next time. More than any other form of poker, seven-card stud takes much more than technical poker skills to be a winning player. It requires determination and the ability to focus and concentrate whenever you’re involved in a hand.

It also requires these six attributes:

Observe: You will have a hard time beating this game unless you play close attention to exposed cards. If you are unaware of folded cards that are no longer exposed, you run the risk of drawing to hands you can’t complete.

Play Live Hands: This is very closely related to the need to be observant. Some hands are much more of a long-shot than they might appear, and the key to determining when otherwise good-looking starting hands are not worth playing is a function of knowing which cards are live, which are dead, and how that all impacts your hand’s chances for improvement.

Patience: While you can’t play too many hands and expect to win in any form of poker, it’s especially true in seven-card stud. This form of poker requires the patience of a fisherman or a saint, and is a waiting game. That’s probably one reason stud is not as popular as it used to be. It is not a fast-action game like hold’em is, and like Omaha appears to be. Playing too many hands in seven-card stud is a one-way ticket to poker oblivion. If you play stud correctly, you can expect to be bored much of the time — but you can also expect to have a sizeable stack of chips to compensate for your ennui.

Study: Since you won’t play most of the starting hands you’re dealt, use this time to study your opponents. Learn their mannerisms and the kind of hands they play. Look for weaknesses you can exploit when you do have a playable hand.

Be Aggressive: Bet or reraise when you think you have the best hand. But if your opponent is overly aggressive, you can let him do the betting by check-raising with your best hands. When you play a pot and have the best of it, keep firing and build one of those big seven-card stud pots you hear about.

Be Selective: Remember the F-word, and I’m not referring to any expletives. In poker, the F-word is fold. When your hand goes south, just toss it away and save your bullets for a different war.

Next time we’ll provide you with some specific starting hands you can play with confidence during the seven-card stud orbit of your HORSE game.

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Lou Krieger is the editor of Poker Player Newspaper. He’s the author of more than 400 articles on poker strategy and 11 books on poker. He can also be heard on the internet radio show, “Keep Flopping Aces” which airs Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. Pacific) on

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