Friday, January 20, 2006

Seven Card Stud Theories (Part One--Introduction and Five Betting Rounds)

Seven Card Stud (high only) is a very complicated game. So complicated, in fact, that many players will not attempt it.

Anyone who reads this journal regularly, and/or bothers to look up at the quote, knows that I hold Stud in the highest of regards.

Some things that have been said about Stud in the past are as follows:

"Any game where there's more decisions to make is a more skillful game. If someone can master stud, then they can master any poker game."--Chip Reese
"Seven Card Stud is the most skillful game to play correctly."--Page 28, Sklansky on Poker
"Seven Card Stud is clearly the most difficult game."--Page 29, Sklansky on

While one can make a case that Chip Reese said this because he is considered the best Stud player in the world (or perhaps tied with Ted Forrest, we can toss that one around forever), David Sklansky doesn't even like Stud! So there ya have it. Something to think about, at any rate.

The "definitive" text on Stud is Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players. This book is well over 300 pages and only scratches the surface. In contrast, Ray Zee wrote about two split games (Stud 8 and Omaha 8) and was able to cover both games extensively in the same amount of pages. In Ray's book, he urges the reader time and again to thoroughly memorize 7CSFAP. Yes, it is that good.

My "theories" on Stud have mostly to do with why it has died out over the past decade. There are so many reasons, and I have outlined many of them in previous posts, but I don't mind repeating them because some of the reasons that Stud has died out, are the very reasons that make it such a great game. No, I did not just contradict myself.

The theory of the five betting rounds is widely debated. Many proponents of four-round betting structures have, in the past, tried to make Stud a four-round betting game. Most of these players do not care much for Stud, but were forced to play it in mixed rotation games. They begged to take more of the skill out of Stud, while at the same time, proposing to help "keep it alive" by taking out a betting round. I am not sure that this would have saved Stud anyway, but it definitely would have cut the EV down to something more in line with limit Hold'em, while also lessening the Standard Deviation (Mason Malmuth says that the SD for 7CS is $1100-1980 per hour in a typical 50/100 game. Compare this to Hold'em, which has a SD of only $990-1430 per hour).

Stud was never made a four-round betting game. I can't say I'm sorry about that. Because Stud is a five-round betting game, the variance goes way up; while expert players benefit by making more money in the long run, the variance serves to keep the fish around longer. There are a myriad of other pluses and minuses. I won't go into them all, but I do want to talk about the five betting rounds that make Stud different from any other form of poker.

Having the five rounds makes Stud a slower game to play. No brainer there, even the most pro ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME advocate knows this. While time equals money (according to the house), the players will not notice a difference in dollars per hour, because Stud pots are usually bigger. Thus the expert player isn't giving up anything.

One of the fundamental reasons that players shun Stud and flock to Hold'em is this. In Hold'em, a player is dealt two closed cards (holecards). There is a betting round, and then the flop, which gives said player a complete poker hand immediately. No such thing in Stud. In Stud, a player is dealt two closed cards, and one open card. A betting round commences. Then he is dealt one more open card. Another betting round ensues. He still doesn't have a poker hand. Hence ALL Stud hands are essentially "drawing hands" all the way until fifth street. This tends to hurt a non-expert player more than it could ever hurt a non-expert Hold'em player. Add the fact that the non-expert has to pay more attention and memorize all doorcards as well as all turn cards on board in Stud, versus absolutely nothing in HE, and it's a recipe for disaster.

Veering into a different, but equally important concept...

It is common knowledge that the drawing hand is usually the favorite on the river. But in Stud this hurts a lot more than in HE. Why? Because in HE the drawing hand may not have much in implied odds. The expert player won't pay him off. In Stud, the opposite is true. He has a LOT of implied odds. Usually the pot is too big for the expert to ever lay his hand down on the river (this is assuming he CAN beat the drawing player's board, that is). Having gone through five rounds of betting, with the potential for multiple bets each round, and having THREE big betting rounds (Hold'em only has two big betting rounds), the expert simply cannot lay down a decent hand for one bet on the river. This adds a LOT of variance to the game. It also keeps the fish swimming for a longer time than they can survive in HE. So long, in fact, that many more "fish" (or "inexperienced players" if you are PC and like that term better, lol) believe they are good Stud players than the typical fish in Hold'em.

Continuing with this concept, lots of fish in Stud play drawing hands for multiple bets on third. Most of these aren't even quality drawing hands. They are drawing: a) very slim, b) drawing nearly dead or c) drawing to the second best drawing hand. They do this because they don't take the time to look at doorcards. They also don't think for even one second what the holecards of other players might be. That puts them in the position to draw to second best drawing hands (eg; drawing to a straight when another player is drawing to a flush) on many hands. Sometimes they get there, while the expert player, who is drawing live, hits brick after brick. This keeps the fish swimming a lot longer than in HE games.

This very same phenomenon is what makes the EV slightly higher for an expert Stud player. When the fish do stop schooling, and things fall into place, the expert is raking in the big bets like manna from heaven. Stud can be heartbreakingly barren, and frustrate the expert with long droughts, but when the variance does swing back, money flows into his bankroll at an amazing rate.

Seven Card Stud is so complicated on so many levels, that it is going to take multiple posts for me to keep anyone even reasonably interested in reading until the end. And if no one is reading this far? Well, all the better for me. Who needs expert Stud players anyway?!?

Felicia :)

Draft 3