Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better Poker Strategy: Often Playable Hands

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In our last installment on Seven Card Stud Eight-Or-Better (Stud 8), we discussed the premium holdings that are almost always playable, regardless of the exposed cards and the third street action. In this issue, we will take a look at the next tier of holdings; those that are usually good enough to play around 75% of the time or more that we are dealt them.

One-Gappers (No Ace): These holdings include 2-3-5, 2-4-5, 3-4-6, 3-5-6, 4-5-7, 4-6-7, 5-6-8, and 5-7-8. With any of these one-gappers, it’s helpful if the key card you need to pick up an open-ended straight draw is live. However, three wheel cards or three to a six are very strong hands and are most often playable even when some of your prime straight outs are exposed.

It’s more important for the rougher 4-6-7 and 5-6-8 type holdings that your key card is nowhere to be seen, especially if it appears many other small cards will be contesting the pot. Since our potential lows are not that strong, we are more dependent on our high potential. In some fourth street scenarios, we may need to pick up a straight draw right away in order to realize our equity.

In heads-up pots, the 5-6-8 type hands perform surprisingly well in many different matchups and can look to get aggressive in some third street situations versus a possible steal. For example, while far from being a powerhouse the (8Spade Suit 6Heart Suit) 5Club Suit is actually a 53% favorite over (2Spade Suit 3Heart Suit) 4Club Suit and is only a slight 49% underdog to (ASpade Suit 3Heart Suit) 4Club Suit. The ability to make higher pairs than our opponent helps us and somewhat offsets the negative aspect of having an inferior low draw.

If a low card completes from a steal position and potentially has hands such as (10Club Suit 4Spade Suit) 4Club Suit and (ADiamond Suit JHeart Suit) 4Club Suit in their range, our reraise has a lot of value. We are an equity favorite against these hands and getting aggressive in these spots may also disincentivize our opponent from opening light in future hands which will give us more opportunities to steal later on.

Three To A Seven Or An Eight With An Ace: These hands are relatively strong especially when the ace is up, and should usually be played in an aggressive fashion as they prefer shorthanded action. Their value goes way down in multi-way pots, and if some aces are dead they are only slightly better than a Razz hand such as 2-6-7.

The average player probably gets too attached to these holdings and will frequently get caught in the middle between two better hands. For example, if a five completes and an ace raises, an (ADiamond Suit 4Spade Suit) 8Heart Suit just isn’t worth very much. At least one of the aces is dead, we don’t have a two-flush, and the eight is front and center for everyone to see.

Kings And Queens: High pairs are good starting hands in Stud 8, provided the exposed cards and action suggests we are a big favorite to have best high hand and the pot is also not likely to go off multi-way. Playing against many low cards can get rough as we can easily get jammed on a later street and be forced to fold out our equity.

High pairs should be folded against an ace that completes from a non-steal position. In addition, a pair of queens should be folded when a king completes since in Stud 8 that player most often has the big pair they are representing.

We should also make some tight open-folds in some situations when there is an ace up-card behind us. The ace will wake up with a pair or better, three low cards, or a three flush around 47% of the time (see the distribution below) and against this range we have approximately 43% equity.

If we are in early position, it’s probably best to fold whenever there is an ace and many other low cards left to act. While you may not end up against a pair of aces, you can still end up in a multi-way pot against a bunch of low cards which is not a good spot for high pairs.

It’s also important to realize that your cause is not helped when there are two aces left to act behind you. Individually they are less likely to hold aces; however, collectively the odds are more likely that you are up against a pair of aces from at least one of the players.

Old school advice will tell you to always fold a high pair whenever an ace is behind you, but that would probably be too tight. For example, if we are playing a high ante, six-handed game, it would be mistake to fold a pair of kings if there was only an ace and a low card bring-in left to act.

In a high 25% ante structure with six players dealt into the hand, even if we were planning on folding whenever we get re-raised, our complete only needs to get through 36% of the time to be profitable. Given the distribution listed above, we will either get through the ace around 53% of the time, or the ace will have to expand its defending range to include hands such as (2Spade Suit JHeart Suit) ASpade Suit.

Many opponents with an ace up will reraise many hands that don’t currently beat a pair of kings; therefore we should only fold on third street against someone who plays in a straight-forward fashion. We then have to get relatively sticky and often get to showdown unless our opponent’s board gets really scary.

Very aggressive players will occasionally take off with holdings such as the aforementioned (2Spade Suit JHeart Suit) ASpade Suit, pick up a draw or small pair along the way, and continue firing on all streets. In these spots, calling down is just a high variance situation that we mostly need to accept and that’s the price that must be paid in order to maximize overall profit in the long run. On third street, a pair of kings has around 57% equity against an ace up-card with two random cards underneath, which is too much initial equity to just throw away.

Just calling the bring-in to see what the ace does isn’t a particularly appealing strategy. We don’t get reliable information on the ace’s range when he completes against our limp and it also makes it easier for the bring-in to come in with his raggedy low holdings that may have probably folded to a complete and a reraise. While a hand such as (3Club Suit 7Heart Suit) 2Club Suit doesn’t pose an immediate danger to a pair of kings on the high side, it can easily end up taking half the pot or creating difficult situations later on in the hand where we need to fold out our equity.

Low Pair With An Ace: As long as your pair cards are live, these holdings often have a lot of value. Even if you end up getting sandwiched between a good low draw and a high pair (other than aces), the situation isn’t that bad.

Not only do we hold a slim equity advantage, we have certain playability advantages against the pair of kings because he doesn’t know the nature of our holding. When the king hits trips we can easily fold, but when we pair the six he will often continue on, thinking our most likely hand is a three low with a pair.

While we usually do not want to get involved in situations where we are probably second best in both directions, the ace kicker is impactful enough to make the difference. If the low hand bricks out, having the over card kicker allows us to continue on against the high pair and most often realize our equity.

Flush Draws (With Two Low Cards): In a multi-way pot, it’s always important that the flush outs are very live. When more than one player improves on fourth street, there is generally a bet and a raise and we can usually only profitably continue on when we have picked up a four flush.

In Stud High, we don’t mind volume pots with flush draws. However, in Stud 8 it’s often in our best interest to try and limit the field. With a high card up, we can represent a high pair and gain some quick folds when a low hand fails to improve. And when an opponent’s low hand does improve, we can still make some sneaky strong lows of our own when starting with a hand such as (2Spade Suit 4Spade Suit) QSpade Suit.

With a low card up, we should also get aggressive on third street and attempt to knock out raggedy lows that will try and steal half. High pairs will often continue against us, but with a live flush draw accompanied by two low cards we have good odds to improve one way or another.

In the next issue we will conclude our survey of Stud 8 holdings with the marginal and stealing hands, those that tend to only be playable when attempting to steal the antes or defending against a possible steal. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary of MetLife but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. He is co-owner of Elite Fitness Club in Oceanport, NJ and is a certified personal trainer. With regards to poker he got his start way back in 2003 and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. If interested in learning more, playing mixed games online, or just saying hello he can be reached at [email protected]




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