This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
We haven’t talked specifically about seven-card stud in a long time. While reading old Card Player magazines in quest of material for my series of quizzes, I found a column I’d written about seven-card stud that seems valuable enough to re-examine.
Today, instead of incorporating the concepts into a quiz, I’m going to add new comments inside the text of that June 2, 1989, column. Here it is …
Taking Seven-Card Stud Logic to the Bank
You’re right. Slightly-better-than-average seven-card stud players do overrate the danger when opponents pair their doorcards. It’s important to respect a paired doorcard. It often means that you’re against three of a kind, but usually it doesn’t.
Yesterday, I saw an aspiring professional make a really ridiculous laydown. It happened like this …
It’s a sevenhanded $75-$150 game with a total of $105 in antes seeding the pot. The low card, a 5, is forced to bring it in for a token $25 bet. In seven-card stud, in case you don’t know, the third card (the first exposed card) is called the doorcard. Three players call, showing a 7, queen, and king as their doorcards. I don’t know what the 7 or the queen have in the hole, but I’m sitting next to the guy with the king (I’m out of the pot), and he shows me another king and a deuce. You’ll have to ask him why he chose not to raise with that pair of kings.
New comments for 2001: Actually, just calling with the pair of kings can be justified as an alternative play. It adds deception to your play and can sometimes result in extra profit. But, generally, raising with two kings, with a king exposed, against all lower cards is the more profitable choice. So, you should usually raise. For 20 years, my best seven-card stud advice has been that when you’re in doubt, you’ll usually make more money by doing what looks more natural to your opponents. Raising with a king as the high card doesn’t make opponents especially fearful if you’re an aggressive player. They expect you to raise, sometimes with kings but often with many lesser hands. That’s because you have "leverage," and it’s hard for them to reraise with confidence. In this case, the player with the kings was sacrificing a great deal of potential profit by not raising and extracting potentially triple the wager from players who had already called.
Get ready, because here comes the fourth card. The 7 catches a queen, the queen catches a 5, the king catches a deuce (making two pair), and the 5 (the original forced bring-in bet) pairs his doorcard. Now the pair of fives bets $75 (even though he had the option of betting $150 under a casino rule that allows a double-limit fourth-street bet if there’s an exposed pair). Two hands pass. Now it’s up to the K-2. As we know, he also has K-2 in the hole. What does this kings up do? He passes — proudly.
The "lies" are not usually stated. Instead, they typically are comprised of what your opponents try to imply through body language and tone of voice. We can’t get into the hundreds of tells today, but it comes down to this …
Now, if you ask me, it’s the fact that he passed proudly that made his laydown absurd. If you’re going to pass, do it because you have a solid tell on your opponent, or do it reluctantly.
New comments for 2001: There are two reasons why you want to pass reluctantly and not proudly:
1. Unless you have a powerful tell or know this player’s habits monumentally well, you are misreading poker probabilities if you think there’s an overwhelming chance that you’re beat. Most conservative, serious stud players live in fear of three of a kind whenever a doorcard pairs. Much of this fear may be based on early seven-card stud teaching, wherein a fold against a paired doorcard was often automatic. In real games, though, trips isn’t as likely as you might suspect. Statistically, it becomes less likely that a player started with a pair in the first place when he pairs his doorcard. In the case we’re discussing, the pair was less likely, because the bring-in card — a 5 — got to see a fourth card for free. Up until then, there’s no reason to believe he has anything special.
2. Passing proudly is very destructive to your bankroll. You will make less money overall if your opponents think they can maneuver you into folding. I always try to maintain a friendly, fun, but intimidating image that makes opponents reluctant to take shots at me. The more predictable I can make my opponents, the more I can impose my strategy on them and keep them under control. Predictable opponents give me a frame of reference for choosing strategy. When I know "where my opponents are," my options are clearer and more profitable. So, when I fold, I seldom fold confidently or arrogantly. Proud laydowns inspire your opponents to come out swinging in the future. They’re even worse if your opponent knows that you have a strong hand and you fold. That’s really inviting trouble. And if you have spotted a tell, you never want to make your laydown seem confident. If you do, your opponent is more likely to be aware that he had a tell and correct it in the future. If you make your folds seem reluctant, you’ll be rewarded.
Remember, the player didn’t come into the pot voluntarily. He was forced in. Therefore, his cards should be considered completely random, and you must make no inferences about them whatsoever.
When he paired his doorcard, it might have meant three of a kind (a.k.a. trips). But it was much less likely to mean trips than if he’d entered the pot voluntarily. His bet could now mean trips, two pair, one pair with quality cards in the hole, or simple opportunism — hoping that a $75 bet would snare a $205 pot effortlessly.
Seven-Card Stud Odds
Suppose the opponent had either trips or two pair. How often, then, would he have trips? Well, if you don’t take into consideration other exposed cards, a player who pairs his doorcard will have trips four times for every three times he has two pair.
New comments for 2001: If you’re mathematically inclined and are having trouble visualizing this, just remember that you already know about two cards. The other two are unknown, except that we have stipulated that they must make either two pair or three of a kind (not four of a kind). How many combinations could make three of a kind? Well, there are two remaining fives that can be matched with 48 non-fives. That’s 2 x 48 = 96 combinations that provide three of a kind. There are six combinations for each individual pair other than fives. That’s because the KC could be paired with the KD, KH, or KS. Diamonds with hearts or spades. Hearts with spades. That’s six. There are 12 ranks that are not fives. That’s 6 x12 = 72 combinations that provide two pair. Since 72 is exactly three-quarters of 96 (divide each by 24, if you don’t believe me), the ratio of trips to two pair is 4-3.
OK, the opponent is more likely to have trips than two pair, but the kings up should still call (or maybe raise!) because there’s a strong chance the bettor has only the one exposed pair. In this particular case, there was a 5 in another hand, so the chances that the bettor had trips, and not two pair, were only about half what they normally would be.
Here’s another very important mathematical fact of seven-card stud: It’s about 3-to-2 that an opponent has two pair and NOT trips if he pairs his doorcard and you can account for one other card of that rank.
New comments for 2001: The exact probabilities are influenced by what cards the opponent might actually have started with, indications you get from other players in the game — both through tells and logical deductions — and more. In general, you should not assume that your seven-card stud opponent started with a rational hand. If you do make that assumption routinely, you will be imagining the odds to be much different than they actually are. Most real-life opponents typically play totally bizarre hands from time to time, and if you don’t take this into consideration, you will overrate your opponent’s chances of holding a quality hand. In fact, that’s exactly what many otherwise skillful stud players do, and it isn’t just serious-minded stud players, either. It’s a costly weakness of many conservative players in all forms of poker.
Incidentally, players sometimes ask what the odds are against a player who pairs a doorcard on fourth street having four of a kind. If you take no other exposed cards into consideration, it’s 1,224-to-1 against. But, in actual play, the odds are not that great. You always know about at least four cards — your own. If any one of them matches his pair rank, it’s obviously impossible for him to have four of a kind. Otherwise, these four known cards make it 1,034-to-1 against his having four of a kind. If you can account for six cards, it’s 945-to-1 against; eight cards, it’s 860-to-1; 10 cards, it’s 789-to-1.
Keep this in mind: If a sophisticated opponent calls a raise with a small doorcard against several opponents, then pairs that doorcard, you should NOT be especially fearful of trips. That player is more likely to have paired while trying for a straight or flush.
New comments for 2001: That’s because sophisticated players are less likely to risk their money by calling bets from higher-ranked cards when they hold small pairs against several active foes.
In fact, one of the most profitable strategies — if you have any pair higher than the one showing — is to raise. There’s a good chance that you have the best hand. Sometimes the opponent will pass immediately. If not, keep betting as long as the opponent keeps checking. I’ve been up too long. Need sleep. Good night.
I even go to the trouble of hesitating when I’m 100 percent certain that I’ve spotted a tell. I then pretend to act indecisively. That way, my opponent is much less likely to realize that he’s broadcast a tell, and I’m much more likely to profit from it many more times.
So, yes, tells are all around you. They’re worth mastering, because they — along with related psychology — can account for most of the additional profit you make in poker once you’ve mastered the fundamentals. But remember the three "tell failures" we’ve discussed today. Otherwise, you might be better off believing that tells, like fairies, really don’t exist.