Stud Eight or Better refers to the classic poker game of 7 Card Stud in it’s popular Hi-Lo form. With an intense following, novice 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo players should learn and adapt to a solid Stud Eight or Better strategy in order to maximize profits and decrease losses at the table.
In this Stud Eight or Better beginner strategy, we will cover a few of the most basic, yet essential tactics to accomplish this goal. As you become accustomed to these strategies, we then recommend further next levels (see bottom).
Stud Eight or Better beginner strategy
But first, it is important to take your game one step at a time. Otherwise, incorporating too many strategies at once could become overwhelming and unproductive. The basic 7 Card Stud strategies you’ll need to apply first are listed and detailed below. They include the importance of starting hand selection, over-valuing the low hand and under-valuing the door card.
Starting Hand Selection
In the “7 Card Stud Eight or Better Rules & Starting Hands” guide we detailed the making of a good starting hand in 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo. It is extremely important to know what hands are worth betting on, and which ones should be folded immediately.
Too many players will take just about any hand onto 4th Street, when the smart thing to do is fold and conserve your chips for a better opportunity. The fact is, when there are several or more people gathered around the table, someone is likely to hit a good hand. If your first 3 cards don’t supply enough evidence that that person is going to be you, bow out early. Otherwise you’ll find yourself siphoning chips into one pot after another without any chips coming back to you.
Over-Valuing the Low Hand
Stud Eight or Better is a split pot game, meaning the player with the highest hand gets half of the pot, and the player with the lowest gets the other half. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as all that. In order to win the low hand, you must qualify with “8 or better”, meaning no card higher than 8, and no pairs or better. As we should already know, Aces are low and Straights/Flushes are not considered combos. Still, this means your hand must be somewhere between A-2-3-4-5 and 4-5-6-7-8.
When a player is dealt something like 2-3-9, A-6-T or 2-4-J, they may feel inclined to play it out simply because they have two low cards to begin with. The problem here is that the odds are totally against you. You’ll be getting 4 more cards, and 3 of them MUST be 8 or below, without pairing your other low cards. Even a hand like 2-3-4 has less than a 50/50 chance of becoming a qualifying low hand. You have a 50% chance of getting two more low cards, but the chance of them pairing decreases the odds to below 50%.
Simply put, if you bet on a low hand alone, and you don’t make your draws, you are left with absolutely nothing worth playing at the showdown. A proper starting hand must have some kind of High Hand attributes to be worth playing.
Under-Valuing the Door Card
A player’s Door Card can make or break their hand from the start. The Door Card is received on the initial deal, where each player receives 3 cards. The first 2 are face down hole cards, but the third is face-up, the Door Card. When you get an excellent door card – the best being an Ace – you have a chance to immediately take down the pot.
What you want to look for is every other player having a junk door card, like 10 or below. Making a strong move at this point will often result in everyone else dropping out of the pot. Why invest in something when another player is already likely to win. Maybe you only gain the Ante and Bring-In bets, but if your hole cards were junk anyway, it’s well worth it.
The Door Card is also handy in such cases where the Door Card itself sucks, but your hole cards are great. If you’re holding pocket Aces with a 6 for a Door Card, everyone will assume you to be weak. Slow play the hand by placing minimal bets and calling bets from others. Try to draw chips from as many players as possible. Other scenarios would be a hand like 2-3-6, with the 6 showing and all cards suited. This presents a Straight Draw, and Flush Draw and a good building Low Hand, yet all your opponents see is a lowly 6.
Stud Eight or Better Intermediate Strategy
In this second part of the Stud Eight or Better strategy guide, we will discuss intermediate level strategies for 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo, including the essentially ability to remain calm and emotionless at the table, knowing how and when to increase the stakes, and the ability to read the rest of the cards on the table, not just your own hand.
Show No Emotion
Every poker player has heard the term “poker face”. It is not just a suggestion, but a downright crucial aspect to the consistent success of a poker player. However, you don’t just need to be able to mask those emotions outwardly, you need to be able to suppress them inwardly, as well. Becoming emotional, whether it shows or not, is the fastest way to make a bad decision.
A player must have the patience to wait out the frequently long bouts of bad starting hands, and the discipline to stay focused on the good ones. If you lose your cool, you will start betting on junk hands that you would otherwise have folded, and calling bets when you already know you are going to get beaten.
Stay calm, cool and collected on at the table no matter what happens, and you’ll bankroll will be collecting its own rewards in the end.
Increasing the Stakes
There are two common mistakes made when increasing the stakes in a poker game like 7 Card Stud. The first is when a player makes a profit at one stake level, and immediately decides he is ready to jump to higher stakes. 99% of the time the player loses everything they had just gained, and then some. As the stakes grow, so does the stiffness of the competition. You must be winning consistently at one stakes level before jumping to the next, and even then, you only move up one level. Do not jump from $0.50/$1 to $10/$20!
The second common mistake here is when a player attempts to chase losses by playing for bigger stakes. For one thing, you already lost at the lower level where the player’s were less skilled. What makes you think you can beat the tougher guys? A good poker player never chases losses. If you’re managing your bankroll properly, your losses fell from a bankroll that was reserved solely for poker play – not the bill money! If you needed that cash for something else, you shouldn’t have been gambling with it to begin with.
Reading the Board
Too many players focus so much on their own hand that they neglect to use their opponents up-cards to their advantage. Some may look at the other cards just to see how strong their opponents hands may be, but then they don’t consider how those cards could impact their own cards to come. The fact is, one is as equally important as the other.
First, yes, you want to see how strong your opponents hands could be compared to your own. If you have a Set of Kings, and your opponent is showing 2h-7c-9d-As, the only way he can beat you is if he manages a Full House or Set of Aces. So, look around the rest of the table and count the Aces. If there are two more showing (remember your own hand here, too), he can’t have a Set of Aces. The Full House is doubtful enough, too. And there’s very little chance of a Straight and absolutely no way he can have a Flush. In general, a players betting confidence will relay whether he has the best possible hand, second best possible hand, or just a marginal hand.
Second, you want to find out just what your chances are of improving your own hand. Like any other poker game, start by counting your Outs. If you have 4 cards of the same suit, there are 9 more of that suit that can help you. If you have an open-ended straight, there are 8 cards that can help you. An inside straight has 4 cards that can help you. Holding Two Pair means there are 4 more cards that can give you the Full House. You get the point… first, count all of your Outs, then look over the board and subtract all Outs that were already dealt face up to other players. The more Outs you have, the more likely you are to hit your draw for the win.
7 Card Stud Eight or Better Advanced Strategy
Our beginner section covered the basic “values” – the value of good starting hand value, under-valuing the door card value and over-valuing the low hand. Our intermediate strategy went further into table concepts – using the up cards on the table to your advantage, how to act (and not react) at the table, plus choosing the right stakes and knowing when to increase them.
Now we’ll teach you how to find a player’s weaknesses and use them against him, how to conceal your own weaknesses, and everyone’s favourite – bluffing.
Playing the Player
7 Card Stud Hi-Lo is not just a game of cards versus cards where the highest hand always takes the pot. If it were, lady luck would be the only prevailing factor and the term “poker face” wouldn’t even exist. Poker is a game of psychology, pitting the mental strengths of one player against the other.
In order to defeat your opponent, you must get inside his head. You don’t need a medical license to read a player, you just need to be observant and have a good memory. Watch for patterns in betting and behaviour. Most reactions occur on a situational basis. For instance, a player who slow plays a monster hand will always slow play a monster. He may offer up a bet on every marginal hand, but check every great hand in hopes of pulling off the check/raise. One who bluffs in late position will usually do it repeatedly until called. Once you can identify these patterns, you can predict your opponent’s holdings and force him into an unfavourable situation.
Other behaviour to watch for would be a player who double checks his hole cards at a live table. This usually means he’s checking for the Flush Draw, or is trying to appear doubtful and weak when he’s not. If a player’s hands go anywhere near his or her face (scratch chin, fingers through hair, wipe eyes, adjust glasses, etc), this can be a sign of something. It’s a nervous reaction that means they’re either bluffing or have a great hand. The first time they do it, watch to see whether they had a strong or weak hand. Were they bluffing, or semi-bluffing, or did they honestly think they had the hand won? Maybe they did go on to win the hand.
If you can use a player’s behavioural and betting patterns, you’ll be right up there with the pros in terms of player recognition and predictability. Practice by targeting a single player and once you’ve got them down, move on to the next. Patterns become very easy to identify as you get accustomed to it, as most players fit into one category or another and, with some experiencing reading players, are easily recognized within a few hands.
Don’t Get Played
We just spent a great deal of effort teaching you exactly how to use a player’s weaknesses against them. Now we’re going to reverse this theory. Consider for a moment; if you’re putting this much mental capacity towards reading your opponents, you can bet your last poker chip that your opponents are doing the exact same thing to you.
Do not let yourself become predictable. All general poker strategies tell you to pick the type of player you want to be, use a corresponding poker strategy, and stick to it. At low stakes games where your competition isn’t very experienced, this might work. But as you climb the stakes ladder to stiffer opposition, that stream-line strategy won’t work anymore. You must mix things up, changing your situational betting style every few hands. Go from passive to aggressive, tight to loose, rock to maniac. Never fall into a pattern and you’ll drive your opponents insane trying to figure you out.
Bluffing / Semi-Bluffing
Everyone loves to bluff in a poker game. Unfortunately, 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo is one of the hardest games to pull off a proper bluff. Since there are two hands and a potential split pot, the chance of players staying active in the hand are about twice that of single-winner games like Texas Hold-em. For this reason, straight-out bluffing is rarely recommended. Instead, we recommend the Semi-Bluff.
A semi-bluff is just like a normal bluff, placing a substantial bet to scare your competitors away from the pot, except that you actually have a decent hand at the time. It may not be the best hand at the table, but it has enough outs to be workable. There are two great advantages to semi-bluffing, compared to straight bluffing. First off, if you get called, you have something to fall back on. And secondly, if you get called, you won’t be labelled a bluffer.
The only time to straight-out bluff is when you have created a threatening, aggressive table presence. If your opponents fear you, and you are not known to bluff, you’ll have a much better chance of everyone folding the pot to you. It helps to have a great Door Card, especially an Ace, and helps even more if your opponents all have bad Door Cards, like 8s, 9s and 10s.