How well you play your first three cards in seven-card stud poker is
one of the keys to success in that game. It’s no mystery. Successful
play demands an awareness of whether the cards that will improve your
hand are still alive. You also need to anticipate what players acting
after you might do, based on their door cards.
These same considerations hold true for 7-stud/8. But that’s
where the road forks. In seven-card stud the next major decision point
is fifth street — buy a card there and you’ve bought a through-ticket
to the river. Seven-card stud pundits do not usually offer much salient
advice about play on fourth street. It’s almost as though you’re
expected to play it on autopilot.
That fourth card is critical when you’re playing seven-card stud
eight-or-better high-low split. Misunderstanding its importance is a
strategic blunder of major proportions. If you play properly, most of
the time you will be playing low cards. You're hoping to make a low
hand that can become a high hand too. You will generally avoid starting
hands that contain pairs, except for hands like A-A/2. Most of the time
you will play low draws.
This is so important I’ll emphasize it again. If you play 7-stud/8
correctly, most of the time you’ll be starting with three low
cards — and it is these three low cards that make fourth street
so very critical. If you start with three low cards, you’ll still
need to catch two cards lower than a nine ¾ that do not pair
your hand ¾ out of the next four cards dealt to you, in order
to make a low hand. That’s a fair chance. In order to succeed,
half of your next four cards must be small.
Suppose you catch a high card on fourth street, or a card that pairs
you. If you’re not the only one going low, even a card like an
eight can spell trouble. To have a chance at half the pot, two-thirds
of your remaining cards must not pair you, and make yours the best low
hand. It’s not easy. Catch a brick on fourth street and you’ll
usually find four dragons raising their fire-breathing heads.
First, you have substantially reduced your chances of making a low
hand. Catch a brick and two of the next three cards must be low for
you to even have a chance at half the pot. Moreover, you can’t
possibly make your hand until sixth street. Even when you do make it,
you’ll have one less round of betting to jam the pot if you are
lucky enough to find yourself competing against two or more opponents
who are slugging it out for the high side.
Second, if you catch a high card and someone else going low catches
a small one, he is now far ahead in the race. He needs just one low
card out of the final three he will be dealt to complete his hand. You,
on the other hand, need to catch two low cards out of the next three
to even compete in the race ¾ and there’s no guarantee
yours will be the best low hand. If your opponent makes his low first,
you can expect a raise anytime there is a bet. A skillful opponent will
make it expensive for you to stick around and attempt to draw out on
Third, you might catch a low card that pairs one of your hole cards.
Yes, it’s true: You do have a start at a high hand, but it’s
a marginal one. There is one saving grace, however. An opponent who
is also going low will not know you paired. If he catches a brick he’ll
probably fold if you bet or raise prior to his turn to act. Even if
you can eliminate him, however, you’ll still need to either make
a low hand to escape with half the pot, or contend with other opponents
who are going high.
Suppose you started with a terrific low hand, like 5-4/3 and catch
an 8 on fourth street. This is not nearly as bad as catching a banana,
since you have a four-card low, but how will you feel about your hand
if you look over and see that one of your opponents is showing a 6-5
and another a 4-3? The only way you have the best low hand on fourth
street is if both your opponents have at least one banana in the pocket.
Then they have to catch two cards lower than an 8 to beat you, while
you only need one to guarantee yourself a low hand.
Catching an eight on fourth street can sometimes be a blessing. This
is true whenever you are the only one going low and you are up against
two or more opponents who are obviously going high. If you have the
only low hand, how good it is no longer matters. It only matters that
you make it. In fact, the worst possible low ¾ an eight-high
straight ¾ would be comforting indeed if you were lucky enough
to make it on fifth street, and could punish the high hands with no
An eight is not necessarily a bad card. But it can be a disaster if
you are chasing with the second best low and yours is a hand that can
only split the pot. When that happens, you have been snagged by the
trap ¾ and can expect to be jammed by both the high and low sides.
Occasionally a hand appearing to be a better low might really be two
small hidden pairs and your eight low will win half the pot, but that
is the exception, not the rule.
Hidden hands are terrific in 7/stud/8 specifically because they’re
rather rare birds. When you think someone is going low, they usually
are. Most of the time that you draw for half the pot with a hand that
appears to be taking the worst of it, you will lose money for your efforts.
It’s that simple, that sad, and that true.
If you’ve started out with three perfect cards, remember this:
Regardless of how good they looked on third street, you might have to
release your hand if fourth street is fickle and tosses a banana in
In seven-card stud, you can often defer your go/no-go decision until
fifth street. In 7-stud/8, however, you need to make very careful decisions
on fourth street ¾ and if you have to pack it in, don’t
hesitate for a moment, and don’t give into the temptation to throw
good money after bad. At the end of the day it just won’t pay
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