Mixed games: How to master seven card stud – rules and starting hands

The mixed game revolution continues with a crash course in seven card stud

Seven card stud used to be the most popular poker variant until hold’em blew it away, but it’s still hugely profitable if you know what you’re doing.

It’s most commonly played as a limit game, with up to eight players. It’s played with an ante, and once everyone has anted each player is dealt three cards: two face-down ‘hole’ cards and one face up ‘door’ card. The player with the lowest door card must now make a compulsory bet known as the ‘bring-in’, but the player making it can also choose to make a full bet if they wish ($5 in a $5/$10 game, for example).

If two players have the same rank of door card, then the player with the lowest suit brings in (suits are ranked in alphabetical order, from clubs to diamonds to hearts, with spades the highest). The action now proceeds clockwise around the table. Unlike a blind in hold’em, the bring-in is not considered to be ‘live’, so when the action returns to the bring-in they cannot choose to raise unless somebody has already done so.

After the first player has brought in, the next player to act may choose to fold, call or ‘complete’ the bet to the size of the small bet. Further betting proceeds as per any other limit game, with bets and raises in increments of the lower limit.

After the first betting round is complete, each player receives another card face up, called ‘fourth street’, followed by another betting round. Now, the player with the best poker hand showing acts first. Fifth and sixth streets are also dealt face-up, with a betting round after each at the larger betting limit. Lastly, the river card is dealt to each player face down. There is a final betting round, followed by a showdown.

Starting hands

You obviously need to make adjustments when selecting starting hands in stud. The value of your cards is affected not only by the face-up card you have showing, but also your opponents’ face-up cards.

Your hand may be made much stronger or weaker depending on whether the cards that are showing are ones that you need to complete pairs, flushes or straights, and whether they are higher or lower than the ones you hold.

Three of a kind is a monster in seven card stud
The only problem is how to get as much money into the pot as possible. If you have (2-2)-2 you may want to play cautiously on the early streets to avoid giving your hand away.

High pairs are extremely strong and if you pair your kicker you will likely have the best two-pair hand in play
What constitutes a high pair varies according to the other up cards showing.

A high pair is extremely strong both on its own or when it makes two pair
However, because each player gets dealt their own face-up cards in stud, a low pair with a high kicker is also fairly strong as it can still improve to a winning two pair which will beat a middle pair with a middle kicker.

Three to a flush is very playabale
Although you should always note the number of your flush cards already out. If this is none or one your hand is very live. With two out it becomes marginal and with three or more it becomes unplayable unless it also has high-card or straight potential.

Three to a straight is an overplayed hand and should be approached with caution
Unless you have overcards to the other players’ face-up cards and your pair and straight outs are very live.

If you’ve just got high cards and raise, players will assume you have a big pair. Generally you should do this in late position or when you have the highest up card and overcards to your opponents’ up cards. If a small card raises in late position you should re-raise them to apply pressure and disguise your hand. You can also raise loosely when you are in late position with the highest card remaining and almost any two other cards if you have tight players behind you.

Learn from the best

Barry Greenstein is a master of all the poker variants. We ask him about seven card stud

Phil Ivey has said that stud is the game ‘with the most luck and the most skill.’ Do you agree?

That’s a good assessment – there is more skill in stud than in other games because of the added information you get from the up cards, but more luck because hands like a big pair against a smaller one are never a big favourite because each player gets dealt separate cards. Also it’s harder to play stud on autopilot than, say, hold’em.

What general advice have you got?

Don’t draw to a flush with more than two of your suit dead, and only play three to a straight if it’s live and you have overcards.

How do you handle playing pairs on third street when a higher up card has raised or re-raised you?

A lot of this depends on the player you’re up against, how aggressive they are and how well they play on the later streets. It’s very advantageous to have an overcard to their suspected pair though. If you’re first in, raise with a pair if there are two or fewer up cards higher than yours behind you.

How do you play against a scary board and when might you give up or call down in such situations?

Because this is limit poker you will have to call opponents down a lot of the time when the pot is large. I need very good info that I am beat or cannot draw out to fold late in a hand.

If your opponent looks like he might have a flush try to remember how many of his suit were out at the start of the hand. What advice do you have on trying to steal/defend the bring-in?

This depends on the player and their position so I don’t like to give out specific advice, though stealing with an Ace up or the highest up card in late position is customary as is defending with two cards higher than the raiser’s up card.


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