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A ROADMAP FOR 7-STUD/8


by: Lou Krieger

Navigating successfully through the traps that can snare new 7-stud/8 players can be difficult. At times it almost seems to require a road map and compass. Trouble is, the game is so complex that constructing a clear path is anything but child’s play. Excellent players, however, are quite nimble in their ability to avoid becoming trapped in the miasma of betting and raising frequently encountered in this game.

Success demands more than a simple awareness of whether you are going high or low. Being cognizant of how many opponents are going in each direction is critical. Because it is a high-low split game, each pot is like playing two hands at once — or even three, if either you or one of your opponents has a hand that might scoop the entire pot.

In a recent 7-stud/8 game I had A6/78 on fourth street. It was a four card low, but not much of one. In fact, any other four card low would probably have been a big favorite. However I had only two opponents, and each had high cards on board. What’s more, there wasn’t an ace in sight. Neither one of them was going low; that was obvious. If I caught a deuce, trey, four or five, I’d have the only low, and If I paired my ace I might also back into the best high hand.

Since I had the only possible low, my ragged hand was as good as a 6432A. If I made a low hand I owned half the pot, along with an outside chance of making the best high hand too. I was freerolling, and while scooping the pot was certainly a long shot, the relationship between the size of the pot and the cost to draw to it was infinite. Against two opponents, every dollar I invested in would return $1.50 to me on the low side, and $3.00 if I scooped — and there was no risk at all. Even a pair aces could conceivably capture the high end. Aces up and a low would be a very powerful hand, and an eight high straight would be a monster.

An opportunity to freeroll doesn’t come up often, but it is a more frequent occurrence in
7-stud/8. On a freeroll with a chance to scoop, I had one thing in mind. Jam the pot. An extra $40 raise represented a minimum of $60 coming back to me. When you are free rolling like this, you’re gonna love it.

On the other hand, if there was only one high hand and a better low draw on board, I would have been in a very weak position. My eight-low would now be an underdog to win the low end of the pot, and a very big underdog to take the high side. In other words, if one of my opponents was going low, I would no longer be freerolling. In fact, my heaven-sent hand would have been unplayable.

With the only low hand, you might decide to raise on the come, or choose to wait until you make your hand before jamming the pot. That means low hands usually do their jamming on later streets. But if you have the only high hand against two opponents who are each going low you have to do your raising early. No matter how good their starting cards may be, your opponents cannot complete a low draw until fifth street. Anything you can do to reduce the number of opponents who are drawing low increases your chances to scoop, while reducing the chances that you will be scooped.

Here’s why. The more low draws against you, the more likely it is that one of them will make a hand that can swing high, and take your end of the pot. In the earlier example my A6/78 would probably fold if there was a bet from a better low draw and a high hand raised. But if I could see a free card, I might be lucky enough to catch a 9 or 5. Now I’d be drawing to a low and a straight. When you have a typical high hand like a pair of aces or two pair, you need to raise early and often to thin out the field.

Don’t follow this strategy blindly, however; there are some exceptions. If you have a high hand that is bigger than a swing hand — like a high flush or a full house — you can keep your low opponents in the hand until fifth or sixth street, then trap them for multiple bets. That’s easy in 7-stud/8. One of the low hands will usually bet. If you raise, most made low hands will call. While good players are capable of folding a second-best low unless they also have a high draw; average players generally have difficulty releasing a made low hand, even when it will cost them two bets. If they cold call two bets, the best low hand might reraise. This will enable you to raise again — trapping your opponents for a total of four bets. Since half of that money is yours, profits are limited only by how many opponents keep calling — even when drawing dead — and the number of raises you can garner before the pot is capped.

Although you will occasionally be deceived, by fifth street you should have a very clear idea of which direction your opponents are going. This enables you to adjust your play accordingly. You might see two bananas on an opponent’s fifth street board, only to learn that the flush he was chasing backed into a running low. But hands like that are rather uncommon.

Occasionally you’ll see a hand on fifth street with only one banana, and won’t be sure whether your opponent is chasing the high or low end. Even if you think he might have a two-way hand, mere suspicion should give you pause, while you consider whether to keep investing money in the pot, or fold and wait for a better opportunity.

An ace on board presents another problem altogether. It’s like having two cards: the highest and the lowest. If you have a pair of kings and are the only hand going high, an opponent’s ace can cripple you. If it pairs, you are an underdog to win the high side, and you have no chance at low. In fact, if your opponent had a hand like A6/53 and catches another ace, he should raise if you bet. He now has a pair of aces and a draw to a 6-5. He can make a terrific low hand, and if he pairs any of his cards he will win unless you catch the third king, or happen to have two buried aces — an extremely unlikely situation.

Holding a high hand when an ace hits an opponent’s board puts you in jeopardy. It does not mean you no longer have the best hand, but even if you’ve made kings-up you are still vulnerable and can’t take advantage of circumstances by jamming like you would if you knew you were the only high hand in play.

One of the more interesting features of 7-stud/8 is just how dramatically the landscape can change once fourth and fifth street have been dealt. You might have begun play going in one direction, only to find your self heading in another. You can also start with a potentially powerhouse hand that you wind up abandoning. In 7-stud/8, flexibility frequently separates experts from also-rans.

If you are a rigid absolutist, and lack an adaptive personality, be forewarned: This is a tough game, and when others can read your board and interpret your actions, it is very difficult to impose your will on an opponent if you lack the cards to back it up.

If you’re representing a low hand, all the raising and bluffing you can muster won’t cause your opponent to fold if he’s going high. He’ll simply call, expecting his half of the pot, only to be pleasantly surprised when he wins all of it. If you have the high hand and he’s holding a made low, you’re not likely to run him out of the pot either. He’ll simply call, unless he’s got a two way hand. Then he can raise with no risk, since he will either win half the pot — or all of it.

Flexibility and adaptive behavior are key personal characteristics required to become a winning player at this game. Keep one finger on the pulse of these attributes when you sit down to play 7-stud/8. Without them, you are running against the wind.

7 Card Stud Articles by Lou Krieger

This is where you can find all articles relating to 7 Card Stud.

Introduction to 7 Card Stud - Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7

An Ace and an Action Button - 7 Card Stud is often played with an Action Button learn more.

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