7 Reasons Why You Should Give Seven Card Stud a Second Look
In one of the most famous poker scenes ever filmed, Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott shows off his uncanny memory and knack for deduction in the cult classic Rounders.
But as you’ll see when you watch the memorable “Judge’s Game” clip Mike McD doesn’t tackle a Texas holdem hand. Instead, he puts together the puzzle pieces of a seven card stud game perfectly to impress his favorite law school professor.
The scene is much more enjoyable onscreen, but just in case you’re caught at work and can’t turn the volume up, get a load of Mike McD’s razor-sharp reading ability. After he advises his professor to raise instead of call, Mike goes for another big bet, before telling the assembled players that he knows exactly what each of them holds:
“[Mike]: It’s plenty wise. We know what we’re holding, and we know what you’re holding.
[Judge]: [Chuckles] The fuck you know what we all got.
[Mike]: Summer clerkship in your office says I know what you’re holding.
[Judge]: I don’t bet with jobs like that. Let’s just say I’ll put you at the top of the list if you’re right.
[Mike]: Okay. [Clears Throat] Well, you were looking for that third three, but you forgot that Professor Green folded it on Fourth Street, and now you’re representing that you have it.
The D.A. made his two pair, but he knows they’re no good.
Judge Kaplan was trying to squeeze out a diamond flush, but he came up short, and Mr. Eisen is futilely hoping that his queens are gonna stand up.
So, like I said, the Dean’s bet is $20.
[Judge:] Well kiss my ass!”
For poker players of a certain vintage, this scene conjures up warm memories of seven card stud games played deep into the night. Back in the day, long before the World Series of Poker (WSOP) on ESPN sparked the “Poker Boom” on the back of No Limit Texas holdem, card sharps from coast to coast specialized in stud.
But if you cut your card playing teeth in the 21st century, chances are good the aforementioned scene reads something like Sanskrit.
Unfortunately for fans of the seven-card game, stud and its related variants has slowly shifted to the fringes of the poker ecosystem.
It’s by far the least prevalent game spread by online poker rooms like PokerStars and PartyPoker, thanks in large part to the meteoric rise of Texas holdem during the boom days. And even as players today have begun exploring non-holdem variants, the four-card offshoot known as Pot Limit Omaha (link to Four Reasons to Learn Pot Limit Omaha page here) has become the de facto second fiddle.
Nowadays, the seven card stud cash games that used to make up kitchen table poker nights and high-stakes affairs in Sin City are largely relegated to Los Angeles and Atlantic City. You can still scrounge up a pure seven card stud game in Downtown Las Vegas here and there, but the game is most often found as one component of a multi-variant “mixed game” like H.O.R.S.E. (the “S” stands for seven card stud).
And of course, if you hit a major poker tournament series like the annual WSOP in Las Vegas, you’ll find a nice selection of seven card stud events spanning the buy-in spectrum.
Sufficed to say, the “gentleman’s game” of seven card stud is still alive and kicking, even if its glory days are in the rear-view mirror.
With that in mind, strap in for seven reasons why poker players of all stripes should give seven card stud a second look:
1 – To Improve Your Overall Hand Reading Ability
The broadcasters and bloggers who bring poker fans regular coverage of Texas holdem love to talk about hand reading ability.
The idea of maintaining an inscrutable “poker face” has its place in the two-card game, as everybody conceals their starting hand and shares a five-card community board. But when you play seven card stud, the focus shifts to reading the exposed portions of your opponent’s hand.
Players start out by contributing an ante on every hand, rather than the small / big blind system used in Texas holdem. From there, they receive two cards dealt face down alongside a single card dealt face up. After each round of betting – known as fourth, fifth, sixth street – you’ll get another card delivered face up for all to see. Finally, on seventh street, your final card is dealt face down, creating a “three down, four up” dynamic by the final betting round.
Making things even more complex, you’ll be forming your best possible five-card hand – using the traditional poker hierarchy of high card, one pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, flush, full house, straight flush, and royal flush – out of those seven available cards.
Thus, players who excel at seven card stud have a natural sense of what an opponent’s three down cards might be based on the four cards they can see.
Ashley Adams – a veteran of the seven card stud cash game arena for over 50 years and author of “Winning 7-card stud” (2003) – encapsulated the role of hand reading in a recent article for PokerNews:
“In hold’em, hand reading relies on considering your opponent’s betting, his image, and the board.
There is no need to remember folded cards, nor to consider them when reading your opponent. Similarly, there is no need to consider the individual exposed cards of your opponent, as you share the same board.
That’s not the case in seven-card stud. The extra layers of information contained in the folded cards and in your opponent’s individual (and developing) board make hand reading much more complicated in stud than in hold’em.”
Notice that Adams mentioned folded cards along with exposed cards held by active opponents.
One of the most essential skills a possessed by proficient seven card stud players is a combination of observation and recall. As the dealer doles out individual starting hands, your job is to scan the table immediately and mentally record each player’s lone up card.
You’ll have to hurry though because when those up cards don’t combine with the two hole cards to create a playable hand, they’ll be flung into the muck in a hurry.
Playing at a standard seven-handed table – with each player getting seven cards in stud, and the deck containing 52 cards, the maximum amount of players per table is seven (7 x 7 = 49) – you’ll have immediate access to nine cards in total. Between the seven up cards dealt to each player (including yourself), plus your own two hole cards, this means you can identify 17 percent of the deck’s contents before any bets are placed.
The best seven card stud players perform this memorization almost preternaturally, calmly scanning the table as the dealer delivers cards and mentally tallying what they see. From there, when the time comes to play some actual poker, knowing how and where nearly 20 percent of the deck has been distributed makes reading an opponent’s hand that much easier.
As an example, consider a hand in which two different opponents take a deuce as their up card, before folding them away. Now, you play through the streets against an opponent showing a pair of aces up along with a deuce. When they bet into you, trying to represent two pair with aces up, your ability to read the hand and remember those folded deuces makes calling that much easier – assuming you can beat one pair of aces, of course.
By learning to play seven card stud, your poker mindset definitely evolves by incorporating a new method of reading hands. And going forward, those reading skills can be coopted to make you a much more formidable foe at the Texas holdem tables.
2 – To Improve Your Poker Memory Bank
On the same note, seven card stud is all about memorization due to the lack of shared community cards.
Because each player’s hand is their own to play, you’ll be constantly sorting through what they show as up cards during a hand – even hands you’re not involved in yourself. You may not always see their completed seven-card hand, but by paying close and careful attention to what they play to seventh street, or fold on sixth street against an aggressive bettor, you can begin to pigeonhole your opponents’ into potential ranges.
In another article on the importance of memory in seven card stud, the 50-year vet Adams discussed how knowing which cards are out give good players a better idea of which cards could come next:
“By knowing the cards that have been folded, the astute and thoughtful player will be better able to know the likelihood of the as-of-yet unseen cards that remain to be dealt.
Secondly, by combining the cards the player has seen with a knowledge of the cards that have been folded, along with the betting of the other players, that player will better be able to assess the cards that are held by his opponents.”
It all sounds simple enough in theory, but when you sit down for your first seven card stud session, trying to put all this into practice can be quite difficult.
Don’t worry about that though, just try your best to give memorization the old college try. Unless you’re some sort of savant, this process should take a fair amount of time to master.
With that said, once you are capable of total recall in seven card stud, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how an improved memory helps you succeed at the other games. Suddenly, keeping track of an opponent’s three-bet range and the bluffs they show down – it’s only two cards, after all – in a heated Texas holdem game will become a breeze.
3- Stud Forms the Foundation for Several Poker Variants
For poker folks who aspire to play a well-rounded game, or simply expand their opportunities come WSOP season, learning stud games is a prerequisite for the job.
That’s because stud isn’t just limited to the traditional variant as described in the introduction.
Nope, you’ll find two other widely played stud formats included in the “mixed games” that so many high-stakes players crave – seven card stud Hi / Lo Split Eight or Better and Razz.
is a split pot game in which the player who shows down the best high hand takes half the pot, and the other half is awarded to qualifying low hands. In this case, the “Eight or Better” means you’ll be looking to form non-connected (no pairs or straights) strings of five cards which all rank eight or lower. Think hands like 2-3-4-6-8 and A-3-5-6-7 to get the drift.
As for Razz, , playing out identically in terms of gameplay, but with the objective being to form the lowest hand at showdown. Razz hands aren’t bound by the “Eight or Better” provision though, so if you can make Queen-high against an opponent’s King-high, you’re in the clear to take the whole pot down.
When you hear about high-stakes players – or even courageous low-stakes players looking for a little variety – playing a mix known as H.O.R.S.E., they’ll be competing with all three stud variants in the mix:
Games Included in the H.O.R.S.E. Mix
- Texas holdem
- Omaha Hi / Lo Split Eight or Better
- seven card stud
- seven card stud Hi / Lo Split Eight or Better
That means a whopping 60 percent of the games played in H.O.R.S.E. – a hugely popular mix which used to crown the $50,000 buy-in WSOP Poker Player’s Championship title – involve one stud variant or another.
These days, that prestigious WSOP Poker Player’s Championship gold bracelet is decided through a wider Eight Game Mix, as described below:
Games Included in the Eight Game Mix
- Limit 2-7 Triple Draw
- Limit holdem
- Omaha Hi / Lo Split Eight or Better
- seven card stud
- seven card stud Hi / Lo Split Eight or Better
- No Limit holdem
- Pot Limit Omaha
Once again, in order to excel at the Eight Game Mix concept, you’ll be required to play stud games 37.5 percent of the time.
All things considered, any poker player hoping to break out of the Texas holdem box must commit to at least a cursory knowledge of the stud game family tree.
4 – The Game Holds a Special Place in Poker History
As mentioned in the introduction, long before whiz kids were building their bankrolls online, legends like Doyle Brunson considered stud variants to be their game of choice.
Check out the list below to see how “Texas Dolly” managed to accumulate an astounding 10 gold bracelet wins at the WSOP:
Doyle Brunson’s WSOP Bracelet Count
|1976||$5,000 Deuce to seven Draw||$80,250|
|1976||$10,000 No Limit holdem World Championship||$230,000|
|1977||$1,000 seven-card stud Split||$62,500|
|1977||$10,000 No Limit holdem World Championship||$340,000|
|1978||$5,000 seven-card stud||$68,000|
|1979||$600 Mixed Doubles (with Starla Brodie)||$4,500|
|1991||$2,500 No Limit holdem||$208,000|
|1998||$1,500 seven-card Razz||$93,000|
|2005||$5,000 No Limit Shorthanded Texas holdem||$367,800|
As you can see, five of the G.O.A.T.’s total 10 gold bracelets involved a stud variant in one fashion or another.
The ratio is even higher for Phil Ivey, who counts seven of his 10 bracelets coming from stud-adjacent events.
And that makes sense too, given Ivey’s long association with seven card stud.
Long before poker fans worldwide knew Ivey as the silent assassin dominating every televised Texas holdem final table, he learned to play cards in low-stakes stud games at the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.
You can learn more about Ivey’s emergence from stud grinder to one of the all-time greats in this rousing profile from The Ringer. But for a little taste, check out the excerpt below to see just how important seven card stud was to Ivey’s development in the early days:
“Eventually, Ivey left Atlantic City for the West Coast, where he sought higher-stakes stud games at the Commerce Casino near Los Angeles.
It was there that Ivey first caught the eye of Barry Greenstein, a high-stakes professional who at that time earned much of his income from playing in an exclusive stud game at the home of the publisher of Hustler Magazine, Larry Flynt.
Greenstein was on the lookout for new players to shepherd through the ranks. That was part of the poker ecosystem.
When Greenstein found Ivey playing $100-$200 stud, he wasn’t just looking for a stakehorse from whom he could take a percentage. He was looking for a protégé who could double as a stalking horse.”
The profile goes on to describe Ivey’s first flirtations with high-stakes poker, describing a virtual all-in moment as Ivey used Greenstein’s backing to play in Larry Flynt’s famous home game.
As the story goes, Ivey dwindled down to his last $150,000, before telling Greenstein he was done with shot-taking if he couldn’t spin it back up:
“When Ivey was down to his last $150,000, he figured he was in over his head. He told Barry, ‘If I lose again today, I’m not gonna play big anymore.’
He went into that session and lost almost everything. Larry Flynt announced that the next hand would be the last of the night. Ivey was dealt three 6s.”
Ivey and Flynt, the well-heeled publisher of Hustler Magazine, proceeded to play a game of chicken, betting and raising even though both lacked confidence in their hands. In the end, Flynt put Ivey all-in for the latter’s last $8,000, and even though he failed to improve his rolled up 6s into a full house, Ivey decided to call despite Flynt’s four-flushed board.
And the rest, as they say, is history:
“If he had lost that pot if Larry had made the flush on the river, poker as you know, it would have been delayed.”
If for nothing else, taking up stud games is a perfect way to pay homage to legendary card sharps like Brunson, Ivey, and Greenstein.
5 – L.A. Locals Still Consider Stud the Standard
Depending on your geographic situation, seven card stud might just be the only game in town.
The biggest card rooms on the West Coast – holy sites like the Bicycle Club and Commerce Casino – run a wide variety of stud cash games and tournaments around the clock.
And even if you don’t live in La La Land, tournament grinders who participate in the World Poker Tour’s famed three-stop “California Swing” should brush up on their stud to take full advantage of the city’s lucrative cash games.
6 – You Can Play Cards with Your Father or Grandfather
Stud was the staple game for earlier generations of card sharks, so why not learn the ropes before setting up a family home game with your predecessors?
7 – Just to Try Something New
Texas holdem will always hold a special place in the poker community’s collective heart, but even the game’s biggest fans have to admit that things can get boring from time to time.
If you’re not feeling inspired at the holdem tables any longer, switching things up with a few challenging stud sessions can be a great change of pace.
If you immediately think of Texas holdem when somebody mentions the word “poker,” nobody will blame you. The boom days made two-card poker the preferred variant, but it all started with seven card stud. If you haven’t tried this unique variant before, you owe it to yourself to give the game a shot.