While Texas Hold’em remains the game of choice for most tournaments and poker rooms throughout the country, Seven Card Stud has a loyal following that stems from its popularity as a "play at home" poker game.
World-class champion Phil Hellmuth, whose poker strategy is contained in a new book to be released later this year, has a "fascination" with Seven Card Stud, that reached a new high when he won the prestigious Seven Card Stud tournament held in Vienna in 2000.
"The Poker EM is the second-largest and most prestigious poker event held in Europe," Hellmuth writes. "Only the Poker Million title is more coveted."
Hellmuth maintains that Seven Card Stud is a "game of memory, deception and skill," and in these excerpts from his upcoming book, offers his winning strategy for beginning and intermediate players.
As pointed out last week in Hellmuth’s suggestions on how to play winning Texas Hold’em, the starting hands are crucial. The same holds true for Seven Card Stud.
"Proper selection of starting hands is the single most important thing to learn in Seven Card Stud," Hellmuth states.
Unlike Texas Hold’em, which starts with two "pocket cards," starting hands in Seven Card Stud consist of two hole cards and a face-up "door" card.
Here are Phil Hellmuth’s most powerful, three-card starting hands:
1. Three of a kind: often called "rolled up trips," the value starts at the top with trip Aces, Kings, Queens and so forth.
2. High pairs: again, starting at the top with a pair of Aces, Kings, Queens, etc. Within this hierarchy, the concealed pair (face down) is stronger than a split pair (one card face down, one face up) because the "concealed pair is more deceptive."
3. High suited connectors: these are usually face cards, such as Ace, King, Queen, all in the same suit. Obviously, these are ranked high because of the possibility of catching a flush, straight flush, or even a high pair.
In addition to these premium starting hands, Hellmuth identifies strong and medium-strength starting hands:
4. Medium-rank pairs, such as 8-8 through 10-10, and medium suited connectors such as Ten, Jack, Queen, all in the same suit.
5. High-suited semi-connectors: These include combinations such as King, Jack, Ten, all in the same suit.
While Hellmuth believes these starting hands give the beginning player the best chance to master the game, he also points out that these "rules" can be adjusted as the situation warrants.
Among the reasons for adjusting the hierarchy of hands, Hellmuth writes, is what’s showing on the board. For instance, if the "board" cards reveal that there are few if not any Aces or high cards left in the deck, and you need one, then there’s no point in continuing.
Similarly, by watching the cards that have been played, you can gain an idea of what your opponents are holding. You will also be able to make a determination of how difficult it would be to complete, say, a straight or flush, based on the cards showing.
To build on the idea of what is the best possible starting hands, Hellmuth recommends "you need to jam with it (put in some raises) in order to give yourself the best chance to win the pot."
Obviously, Hellmuth believes in being aggressive. That can pay off as players drop out, making it easier to win the pot.
Key to betting is following the action with other players. If it appears that an opponent has a pair of Queens or Kings, and you’re holding a pair of Jacks, it would be foolish to continue with the hope of catching a third Jack or second pair. Remember, the same could happen with your opponent, who already has a higher hand!
"The idea is to put money into the pot when you’re a favorite, and fold when you are a clear underdog," Hellmuth writes. "You should act on your hand on the first round of betting," which provides a basic understanding of where your hand ranks with the other players’ hands, and how that rank or value can change, depending on which other hand is doing the raising or re-raising.
Being aggressive with drawing hands is also part of Hellmuth’s arsenal.
"When I have four cards to the flush, in the first four cards, I like to start jamming the pot in case my opponent has a hand too weak for him to call me down," Hellmuth states. "Make sure that you always play your flush draws very aggressively, because you’ll have to play them until the end anyway."
Converse to this tactic, Hellmuth likes to "trap" the overly aggressive Seven Card Stud player when he had a great starting hand. "When I had Ace-Ace in the pocket, I would just call the raises on the first round of betting and see what happened," Hellmuth states. "Sometimes, I wouldn’t even put a raise in until sixth street, but usually I would start to play my hand hard on fifth street."
The strategy works to perfection, Hellmuth states, when the Queen next to him would be so busy raising the Ten next to him that he would get blindsided by Hellmuth’s Aces!
While Hellmuth believes most hands should be evaluated relative to other players’ hands, he suggests folding when an opponent pairs his door card. That is, he pairs his first card showing.
"Often a player starts with a split pair, and when he pairs his door card, he’s made trips right away," Hellmuth writes. "If ... you have a pair whose rank is higher than his trips, you can win only if you hit your trips — but there are only two of your cards left in the deck!"
Obviously, your strategy would be different if you started out with trip Aces, or other high cards. Then you become aggressive again, betting with both hands.