Old stud advice, plus a game definition

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

In paging through some old 1985 issues of Poker Player newspaper (which is no longer published), I came across two of my columns that I’d like to pass along. The first deals with seven-card stud, and although I would have presented this material a little differently today, it is still worth reading. It was originally titled “Today’s Word is ‘SEVEN STUD”

Here’s a seven stud secret. If you’re smart, you won’t share it with anyone.

First, let’s talk about position, which is a powerful part of poker. Players act in turn, right? The ones who take their turns late have big advantages over the ones who take their turns early. Players who act late have good position; players who act early have poor position.

What’s so special about good position? For one thing, you’re not as vulnerable to attack from those who act behind you. For another, you can see who’s already involved in the pot and decide, on that basis, whether to raise, call or pass. One additional benefit in draw poker is that players in earlier positions will draw before you do. Sometimes this can give you important information on how many cards to take.

Positional advantage is so important, that players who aren’t aware of it can’t possibly win in games such as hold ’em and draw lowball. Why those games? Because they’re strongly positional. If you’re in the dealer position, for instance, you’ll be acting last on every betting round. When a lot of players remain to act behind you, it’s time to be very selective about which hands you play. When few players remain, you can be more daring.

Is seven-card stud a positional game?
Seven stud isn’t considered to be a strongly positional game. That’s because the order of betting is determined arbitrarily by the exposed cards. On the first round, either the low card or the high card (depending on the rules of that specific game) acts first and then the action continues clockwise. On subsequent betting rounds, the highest exposed hand acts first. This means, the order of action is not guaranteed and it’s likely the starting point will change. This is especially true when the low card “brings it in” on the first betting round.

Another thing. In hold ’em and draw poker, it’s important to have loose players seated on your right, so they’ll fearlessly enter the pot with inferior hands. Then when you raise, you’ll trap them for two bets. If they sit to your left, your raise will keep them from even playing these same inferior hands. Well, this concept is true for seven stud, too.

Here’s the secret.
Yep, position is important in seven stud. But that’s not the secret. The secret is: In the course of a seven stud hand, you should consider what position you are likely to be in on the next betting round. That’s not as difficult as it seems. If you have a big pair on the board, it’s often safe to assume you’ll be acting first, even after seeing the next exposed card.

That part’s easy. But suppose there are five players in a pot and the player to your right has the biggest exposed pair. Figure you’re going to act second on subsequent betting rounds, so your position is weak. When the player to your right has the only pair but it’s small, there’s a much greater chance that your position will improve on subsequent betting rounds.

Is this information worth much? Yes! When I’m trying for a straight or flush that seems marginal under the circumstances, I’m much more likely to continue to play if my position might improve than if my position is almost certain to remain early.

A column that proves Mike Caro can do historical research.
This was written when the game of pai gow was first introduced to California casinos. It’s not poker, but it sure siphoned off a lot of poker profits. How? Many of the everyday losing poker players decided they would prefer to play a fast-paced, simpler-to-analyze game such as pai gow. In great numbers, they abandoned poker – which, except for Pan, was the only major gamble then allowed in California cardrooms – in favor of pai gow. Pai gow is played with dominos.

I figured that if dedicated poker players were destined to lose customers to pai gow, we ought to at least know a little of its history. So, I investigated. This is what I discovered.

Today’s word is “Gow”
In the past two days, 243 people have asked me to explain pal gow. Okay, first a little background …

I get around. I was there the night the Huntington Park Casino went to the City Council to have pal gow declared legal. It was the same night that I testified that hold ’em poker isn’t the same as stud poker and should therefore be allowed under the California statutes

We won the right to spread hold ’em and pai gow. But 10 days later, hold ’em was shut down by the state and its legality is now [in 1985] a question for the courts.

But pai gow is being played throughout the Los Angeles area First played at the HPC it is now found in Gardena and this week started at the California Bell Club and the Bicycle Club. So, since I write books on general gambling, it’s kind of natural that poker players walk up to me and ask how to play pai gow.

“I don’t know yet,’ I confide. “But I’m programming a computer to analyze it right now. I’ll publish some findings soon”

Caro’s concise history of pai gow.
Meanwhile, a short history of pai gow may prove fascinating. I’m not certain of all the following facts, but I did some minimal research.

First, it’s interesting to note that the game originated in France, not China, as many Americans believe. The words pai and gow come from archaic French meaning “spotted brick.” This makes sense, because the game is played with dominoes.

Originally, up until 1641, there were no spots, and all dominoes were identically blank. Historians believe that back then the game (simply called “gow” or “brick”} was very boring and would have died out eventually. But some genius whose name has been forever lost had the brainstorm of adding spots, creating what we know today as pal gow.

The game was mostly played by prostitutes, but quickly spread to the military where French soldiers began to gamble heavily whenever on leave in Finland (circa 1700).

Originally, the object of pai gow was to get as many spots as possible. Period. When the Chinese came to Finland to build the railroads in 1703, they began to formalize a new set of rules. You’d get four dominoes (which began to be called cards by mistake) and you were allowed to arrange them in two sets of two bricks — each set constituting a hand.

Ranking the hands.
Since the most spots you could get were a pair of double sixes (24 total spots), and since a visiting Chinese dignitary named Gee Joon (who dealt exclusively in United States savings bonds) held 4-2 and 2-1 pairs of dominoes against a pauper’s 6-6 and 6-6, it was decreed right then and there that a new rule was needed. Thereafter 4-2 and 2-1 became the best possible hand in pai gow and, to this day, it is called gee joon. The name of the pauper, who subsequently committed suicide, is not known.

Today, pal gow is the national game of France, with an estimated 780 million Frenchmen playing it every day. Oddly, modern pal gow is no longer popular among prostitutes.

There — I’ve told you everything I know about pai gow. Please, no more questions for a while. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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