The most important decision you'll be making in Stud occurs on Third Street when you have your first three cards. Let's look closely at exactly what cards you play and how you play them.
We're assuming a typical low limit table with a number of loose-passive players who call too much, raise little, and don't fold enough. For the sake of this example let's call it a $5/10 table with a $.50 ante and a $2 forced bet. This game is common at Foxwoods Resort Casino where I usually play live poker, and in Atlantic City. But it could just as easily be a $.50/$1.00, $1/$2, $2/$4, $3/$6 or $6/$12 game, in a brick and mortar casino or online. These are very common online at Party Poker, Paradise Poker, Planet Poker, Poker Stars and probably a dozen other sites.
(Other common games at the lower limits are the spread limit games of $1-3 and $1-5, played with and without antes. The spread limit games are similar to the low fixed limit game that I'm describing. But there are some subtle variations that I'll cover in later articles.)
Let's look at the most common powerful starting hand first - specifically Premium Pairs. By "Premium Pair" I mean a pair of tens or higher. These are excellent starting cards. You're happy when you get them. And you want to play them correctly. Beginning and otherwise inexperienced stud players often play them wrong, however, costing themselves a great deal of money.
Here's what you should do. Raise with these cards. There's a temptation for some to just call. They don't want to scare out the players with weaker hands. They figure if they have a pair of Aces, they don't want to win just the puny antes and bring-in. They want to win some significant money. So they play their Aces slowly, just calling, and hope that a bunch of other people - the ones with bad cards - call as well.
Don't do that! Don't call with your Premium Pairs. You are inviting trouble down the road. Raise. And if someone has raised in front of you, for the most part you will re-raise.
Your raise will accomplish one of two things - both of which are good for you. You will either drive out players who might otherwise improve and beat you (they would have called for just the bring-in but will fold for your raise). Or you will get those weaker hands to put more money in the pot - more money for you when you do win the hand. You want them to pay for the privilege of seeing more cards.
Similarly, if the pot is already raised, you should re-raise if you have what you believe to be a higher pair than the pair of the raiser. If, for example, a person with a Queen up raises the bring-in, making it $5 and you are next to act with a pair of Aces, you should go ahead and make it $10. Don't play around with a call - hoping everyone will stay in. Drive out those other hands. The Queen will be unlikely to fold for your additional play (unless he's a particularly cautious or good player). At this level, players tend to think, "in for a penny; in for a pound," calling you down since they put in the initial bet. Take advantage of this shortsighted mentality and raise it up.
If, on the other hand, your Premium Pair is lower than the pair of your raising opponent, you should fold. That's right. If you have a pair of Kings and your opponent raises with an Ace, I'm recommending that you fold. While it's true that your opponent may be bluffing and have nothing more than that Ace, when you're starting out you're going to assume that your opponents' actions mean what they say. This is the strategy for a beginning or otherwise inexperienced casino player! As you gain experience in "reading" other players - figuring out when they are bluffing - you'll be able to occasionally call or raise in these situations. But don't go down that road at first.
Let's keep it simple at first. If you figure your Premium Pair to be the best pair at the table, raise - and if it's been raised already, re-raise. If you figure your Premium Pair to be second best to another hand that raises in front of you, then fold to that player's raise. Wait for the opportunities when you figure yourself to be in the lead - and make those drawing against you pay.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 42 years, since learning the game literally at his grandfather's knee. He's been playing seriously (and winning) in casinos, poker rooms, living rooms and kitchens all over the world, for the past 12 years. He started playing seriously in 1993 at the poker room in Foxwoods Resort Casino and he's been winning just about ever since. He's won No Limit Hold‘Em and 7-Card Stud tournaments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Nevada.
He is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and articles in Card Player Magazine, Poker Player Magazine, Live Action Poker Magazine, Southwestern Poker Magazine, 5thStreet Magazine, and numerous online sites. He is under agreement for his next book, Winning Low Limit/No Limit Hold‘Em, due to be published by Kensington in early 2006.
He is by profession a union organizer and negotiator, representing broadcasters, health care workers and now teachers. He has two daughters, both of whom play poker.