[Starting Hands] [Playing Fourth Street] [Playing Fifth Street]
[Playing Sixth to the River] [Notes for Tight and Short Tables]
Having a great starting hand will increase your win percentage. Most of the time at low limit tables, bets will be called all the way to the river prompting a show-down. Showing down winning hands consistently will establish you as a respected player at the table and eventually win some decent pots without even having to show-down as often, allowing room for bluffing later on. Once you are established, players will most likely not call your bets beyond sixth street without a competitive hand. For the most part, at low stakes tables, stud players are honest players and will not raise in later rounds with just a single pair unless they have kings or better, and will generally not fold once they have hit two pair with no flushes or straights showing on the board.
At low stakes tables (mostly micro-limit) you are mostly playing to break even or stay lightly ahead with your chips. For winning large pots, you will need to use advanced betting strategy. However the starting hand strengths and general bet strategy will still apply.
Starting hands should consist of a combination of cards which allow several types of outs to catch the best hand. The first rule of thumb when playing tight at a low stakes table is:
The lowest card in your starting hand should be higher than any other card showing around the table. Playing stud-hi means playing high. If all three of your cards are higher than all of the cards showing around the table when you catch your cards, most likely they will be the highest pair or two pair on the board to start. This is not to say that someone isn't hiding a nice pocket pair. They very well may be, however if you are playing cards higher than the highest cards showing, your odds of winning increase if you do catch your cards. In the example above, the 8h is the lowest card. It is also the highest up-showing card at this particular table.
Consequently, this hand is still a questionable hand to play, however there are outs to a possible late (back-door) flush, a straight, and high pairs depending on if your cards are still live, and someone isn't holding a pocket pair that is higher than 8.
Other great starting hands (not listed in any particular order), are:
Three cards in your starting hand that are all of the same suit are worth a call if the circumstances allow, by this general rule of thumb; There should be no more than two other cards of your suit around a full table, not including your card. If you see more than two same-suited cards, the odds of hitting your flush is decreased. At a short-handed table the odds become more difficult to gauge. The more door cards you are able to see, the better you are able to hit the calculation on turning your flush. You have a 74% chance of hitting the card you need on each turn to make a flush with a multi-way pot. Heads-up your odds are lower because there are only 2 cards going back-and-forth. The more outs you have on this hand to double-pair or trip, the better the hand is to play.
Suited connectors/ Three Card Straights:
Suited connectors in three card straights leave opportunity for an open-ended straight draw. Having at least two of your connectors suited leaves another out for a back-door flush in case your straight does not come through. Of course, the higher the cards, the better your outs in case your straight doesn't make it. Playing with higher connectors means that in case you pair, your pairs will be high. Remember that your outs need to be live to play any hand, and you'll want to be attentive of anyone playing for a better hand such as a flush.
Medium to high pocket pairs or split pairs, live high kickers.
The more suited you are, and the more live your cards are, the better your chances are for catching better hands.
Rolled-up trips of any kind:
Be careful in later rounds if you have not filled up to a full house and there are flush and straight draws on the board. If your set is a low set, such as 222, be especially careful that someone may have caught a set higher than yours that hits in later rounds if you have not filled up. Definitely be aware that if you are playing 222, straight-draws and flush-draws will be especially scary if you don't fill up. Having higher cards turned over on the board will hopefully scare the draws off of the table. It is not as easy to do with lower cards turning on your hand when the pot is multi-way.
My rule for door card aces:
When beginning to establish myself at a table, (and certainly a disputable strategy), is; do not play a door card ace unless you can raise with it. If other players are seeing you fold your ace, later on when you do raise your ace with nothing in your hand you will most likely take the pot without seeing the river or showing down. It allows room for bluffing. Playing raise-or-fold with your door-card ace will save frustration and stress in later rounds.
This is a rainbowed starting hand, meaning that odds for this hand to make a flush begins dead. There are also no odds on this hand to make a straight. If there are other aces facing up at the table, the ace is most likely dead or already paired in someone else's hand. Raising the ace here would be detrimental and most likely seen as a blatant bluff. If there are no other aces facing up at the table you can take your chances with raising, hoping that someone doesn't have a nice flush-draw, straight-draw, or pocket pair combo in their hand. It may be worth a cheap call if you hope to turn other aces or nines, but really, early at the table, I personally wouldn't bother with this hand because it lacks many outs for improvement, unless of course, the three of your cards are higher than any of the other up-cards showing at the table.
Aces to raise with are hidden pocket pairs with the ace as your door card, pocket and split aces, three-card flushes, and three-card outside straights.
Medium Stakes Tables and Tables That Are Playing Pretty Loosely:
It may be necessary to loosen up on your combo strategies so that when you ante and bring-in the cost of waiting on a super hand doesn't eat you alive. Not to mention that players will know what you're playing if you fold your starting hands about 50-70% of the time. You will be able to determine how loose you can go depending on how many people on average bet to the river, and what kinds of cards they are showing. If they are consistently showing low, medium paired, and double-paired hands, playing with rainbowed high-card combos to start wouldn't be unusual. In some cases a hand like this would even be okay, however watch what happens against an opponent in this hand where this hand should have folded.
This hand shows a pair of 2's with a suited ace kicker to start. The fourth street card opens up a back-door flush draw which didn't catch. The fifth street card didn't make the hand any better because it didn't trip the 2's and it didn't suit the flush-draw. This player called or bet on a pair of two's with a very bad chance at a flush draw on late streets. I most likely would have folded this hand on either fourth or fifth street depending on how multi-way the pot was and how many over-cards were showing in other player's hands. Luckily the player caught a pair of 7's to couple with his pair of 2's. The river card was no help either. Depending on what the opponents were betting and calling on, if there are over-cards to a low pair, folding earlier would have been a very good idea. An opponent may be playing a single early pair of kings hoping to catch their second pair. If the King's didn't double-pair, it kept this player in good shape. However the odds on this to be a winning hand in a multi-way pot are pretty slim. Short-handed this is a questionably playable hand.
If the 2's and 7's hand was up against a hand such as:
Calling to the river would be really gutsy. There are plenty of over-cards showing. Assuming that this player was making initial bets representing that the had a split pair of kings, hoping to catch a second pair, there is also a possible straight and a possible flush on this players board. Calling bets with low and medium pairs against a board showing over cards, a possible flush and a possible straight is, probably not in your best interest to play unless there are free cards drawn through checking back and forth.
A possible save for this hand would be:
The player with 2's and 7's who is in first position to bet, check-raises on sixth street to represent that he has hit three 7's. Because the 2's and 7's are in betting position, placing a bet that can just be called won't be of much help on figuring out if the King's has made good on a higher hand. It would have to be a check raise which could be a difficult pull.
If the player with kings believes his opponent has three sevens, he may call and make like he is drawing to a flush to beat it, he may fold because he doesn't want the expense if his hand really doesn't have outs for the flush or the straight, or he may raise the bet to represent that he has made either his flush or his straight already. If he thinks that the 7's are raising to represent that they have made two pair, he may re-raise to represent that the King's will have a higher pairs.
Either way, the 2's and 7's hand is in a dangerous and expensive position to call to the river with, having so many over-cards showing in his opponents hand. I stress that the hand should have been folded early, and folded in most cases except if you and your opponent are checking down to the river from fifth street. It would be nearly impossible to get the king hand to fold past fifth street. There is already too much invested in the pot.
Usually on fourth street there is not yet very much money in the pot and the bet minimum has not yet graduated to the high end of the table's betting max. To determine whether you are going to bet or call your hand to play the next deal of cards, here are some combo's on knowing when to stay in and when to fold.
You have a split pair of fives, rainbowed:
Your opponent shows:
You each stay in the hand to the next deal of cards. The fourth street deal shows:
On fourth street your hand is completely rainbowed with a pair of 5's and your opponent is in betting position. Not only is he in betting position, this fourth street hand is eligible for a double-bet. There is not enough money in the pot to make it worth continuing. In most cases, fold your hand. Fourth street in stud-hi is the only instance where a double-bet can be made. Some card rooms allow that once a double-bet has been made, a double-raise also becomes an option.
The player showing a fourth street pair could have trips, or two pair, and with one of the pairs already showing higher than your pair, it would be wise to fold before the bet minimums graduate and just let the player have the small pot. In this case you are chasing a 5, 9, or Jack. Even if the cards are still live, it is in your best interest to fold if your draw is not a top pair such as A, K, Q, or a hand that will beat 3-of-a-kind.
Now, when you're the one with the fourth street pair, it usually happens that someone will call any bet you make. This is usually the sign of an inexperienced player, a loose player, or someone who has a very strong higher draw against three of a kind with their cards still live. There are circumstances when you should consider calling a fourth street pair; For example:
A fourth street flush draw, straight draw, paired aces with suited high cards with a back-door flush possibility, and two pair on fourth street with over-cards are acceptable to play against a fourth street pair. Keep in mind that folding with whatever hand you have is the best thing to do while the pot is small, and eliminates having to worry about whether the player is playing three-of-a-kind with the possibility of filling up with a full house.
In the case of a bet or double-bet by a fourth street pair, if you have any of the hands listed above a wise move would be to raise their bet. If they re-raise, and you plan on continuing to play, you might as well just re-raise them to the cap. Most likely if they re-raise your raise they have either two-pair on fourth street, or have trips. Most likely you will need for your hand to turn into a full house to continue betting to the river.
A trap strategy often used by players with a fourth street pair playing against someone with over-cards such as:
may check to the next person to make a play that they are afraid of the higher cards when they actually do have three-of a-kind. This way, they can keep other players in the pot betting or calling on the expensive streets hoping to fill up. Slow-playing three-of-a-kind and rolled-up trips can be a good play if it is obvious the opponents are playing high pairs. It can also be dangerous, if in the later streets, the opponents' cards are showing flush and straight possibilities and the three of a kind hasn't filled up yet or the cards they need to fill up become dead.
The person with the pair of 8's could also be checking because really they only have a pair of 8's and are worried that the over-cards of their opponent have already paired. If you are not the person with the fourth street pair, there's a good chance you won't know until you show-down after the river. That is why it is best to just fold while the pot doesn't have a huge investment in it or you know that the card that would give them three-of-a kind on fourth street is already dead. For example, their hand:
vs. your hand:
Since you have 8c in your hand and they are showing a pair of 8's the odds are that they do not have three-of-a-kind. If you saw an 8 get folded by a player at the end of the starting hand deal, once again, the odds are that they are not playing three-of-a-kind. If their 8's are dead, continuing play with your pair of Jacks with a king kicker while jacks and kings are still live you have good odds at winning this pot if you catch your cards. However, with a hand like yours which is rainbowed with one dead card being the 8, you are relying strictly on the jack and the king to hit your hand in the next two streets. The minimum bet beginning with the next street will graduate, and really you have to ask yourself if it is worth folding the small pot to the 8's with live cards, or staying in the hand hoping that they do not already have 2 pair, a back-door flush-draw or a back-door straight draw of some sort.
Once again it is best to just fold the small pot to a fourth street pair so that you are not chasing your cards to make a hand the rest of the way. In the interest of trying to take down the pot, if the person bets out and the hand is heads-up or three-way, I would suggest raising to test their hand strength.
At a tight table, by fifth street you should have a made hand, a hand with definite top-hand draws or a hand with multiple back-door outs. A 'made' hand would be a fifth street flush, fifth street straight, three-of-a-kind, or two high pair with live cards available to make a set or better. A hand with definite bettering draws are hands that still have live cards to complete a flush, a straight (preferably open-ended), or completing a set to make a full house.
Once your hand is made on fifth street, if you are in first betting position, bet. If you are not in first betting position and there are no over-cards playing against you, raise. For example, your hand:
"Aces-up" (paired aces plus another pair) on fifth street with a back-door flush possibility (if your flush is still live) is an excellent hand. If your paired cards are still live you also have the possibility of a back-door full house. If you know on fifth street that a player is betting two pair, raise. If you are in betting position, bet. If you see this on the table (heaven forbid!):
Now what? You are in betting position because your Ace is the high card between the hands. Go back to the very beginning of the starting hand deal, where you viewed all of the up-cards at the table. Were there a lot of diamonds around the table? Look at the table currently. Are there a lot of diamonds around the entire table currently? If not, there is a good possibility that the player has a made hand that is better than yours. Especially if the player called your fifth street bet when your A and T are over-cards to their 4 and 6.
They may not have their hand made just yet. They may still be on a one-card draw to a flush, and they also may have an inside straight draw working in their favor, too. You are now stuck in this hand. Because of the outs that you have in your hand, being a back-door ace-high flush and a back-door full house. Being in first position do you check or bet?
If you bet you may be raised. If you check, the person may bet. Your hand may look just as scary to the other player because, if they know that their hand is not made yet, they could be betting into what looks like an inside straight possibility at their end. An experienced player will raise their fifth street flush whether they have it or not, knocking out other players who do not yet have made hands or draws to a hand that will beat a flush.
If the cards you need to make a better hand are still live you need so see the sixth street card as cheaply as possible. Multi-way with other straights or flushes on the board it is recommended that you fold your hand. If you decide to stay in, check to the flush. The flush will either check or bet. If they need that one last diamond to make their flush, against what looks like a hidden straight, they will also need to see the next card as cheaply as possible. When you check to the flush and he bets, call to see the next card. If the flush checks back they are drawing to a free card. Both of you will need your next card to determine the sixth street and river bet. The hands now look like this:
You caught a card that seriously helps your back-door flush. Your opponent catches a card that you needed to make a full house and your opponent just turned a card that gives him what could be a definite flush, a straight, or a straight flush. The A of diamonds is nowhere to be found and you need an ace. The opponent's hand is the better showing hand, however you are still in first betting position with your ace high on the board between the two hands.
Any club or ace will help your hand and that's about it. Even if you get your flush you are risking that the ace and the kicker for your flush will be higher than theirs. Your opponent probably doesn't need any cards at this point. If they do, they probably won't let you know it. It is recommended that you fold your hand. Your cards are most likely dead. You have a 26% chance of making a flush, possibly not having the highest kicker. The opponent is also showing the possibility of some kind of straight and a straight flush. With odds stacked against your hand, I stress that you should fold.
If you feel brave and do not fold at this point or if you sense weakness or a bluff out of the opponent on his hand, check to the flush again and call his bet. Do not bet so that you can be raised if your hand is not the sure winner. You need your card for cheap. Check and call to get your draw card because the hand you have showing is not strong enough to bet and call a raise. If you check to the opponent, and for some strange reason they check back their hand to see a cheap river card as well, pay close attention to that for the river bet.
A made flush will raise any bet made to it on the river. Unless you have made your full house or your flush do not bet. If you have made your full house bet.
If you hit your flush, bet. He will raise. Because you do not know if your kicker is good flush vs. flush, do not re-raise. Simply call the raise.
If you do not hit your flush or your full house, check and call his bet to see the show-down for cheap. If your river card is not a diamond or a card that your opponent could possibly need to make his straight, there is an extremely high possibility that if he didn't have a card that he needed before, he has it now. Since you decided not to fold and you're in it to the bitter end, check and call the bet. Do not bet to be re-raised. Best hand takes the pot. Odds are that the opponent will win this hand. With the outs that you had, you should have folded. Even if you end up winning, the odds were against you and you really should have folded at either fifth or sixth street. Remember that his hand was probably a better made hand than yours on fifth street since the player was calling against your over-cards with a possible straight showing.
Sixth street can be tricky in a multi-way hand. Heads-up it isn't so bad as long as you know that you and your opponent are racing for the highest two pair and flush and straight possibilities for your opponent appear to be low. Here's an example of a good time to fold on sixth street in a multi-way pot. Your sixth street hand shows:
The player with the kings probably opened with a strong pocket pair or a three flush, caught a king, and continued on because hearts are still live at the table creating an out for a back-door heart flush catching another heart, and then another king. Against your cards the player with the kings has already probably beaten your two pair and may have a flush draw or even three kings. Your only out is to catch a Q, 9 or 4. You see a 9 in another person's hand. Your nines are dead leaving you with only two outs; a Q or a 4. You are most likely already beaten when you see the kings pair. Against this hand alone you should now fold.
What is player three doing? They probably opened with a strong pocket pair with their 5 calling your Q and the other person's 7. If it's not a pocket pair their opener was probably a three card flush, and on fourth street they have made a four card flush with plenty of outs since there is only one diamond showing between these hands on fourth street. On fifth street they have paired their fives. Since they are still calling bets against over-cards and your pair of 4's with your Q, it now makes 3 of a kind a possibility for their hand as well. The pair of fives has now turned another diamond with no other new diamonds showing on the table.
Unless there is checking going all around the table to see the river card, fold your hand. You have few outs, over-cards in one hand are showing kings, with a back-door flush possibility, and another hand showing a possible flush and a possible three of a kind or full house. Your late pair of fours is hardly scary since you opened with a queen.
Now an example of a hand to stay in with. Your sixth street hand shows:
Firstly, you would raise the bring-in bet with your ace because of your high pocket pair as long as there are no K's, Q's, and no other A's behind you that might call. If another ace on the table was able to raise before you or called after you, be wary and just call or fold. Keep in mind that if they are playing split aces and you also have an ace, then aces are most likely dead and possibly neither one of you will catch another one in a multi-way hand. Assuming in this hand that you raise the bring-in bet in good position and over-cards to your jacks end up folding, such as any Q or K or A, the table will normally assume that you are raising with split aces, or a pocket pair.
Your only callers will normally be other pocket pairs, three-card flushes, and open-ended straight combinations. Anyone who is rolled-up with trips will re-raise your raise. If this happens either call or fold depending on their show-down history. Re-raise depending on how live your cards are, especially if their door card is lower than your lowest card, and if over-cards to your J's are dead. They could also be re-raising you because they also have a high pocket pair or are testing to see that you are not bluffing with split aces or at least have a very good starting hand. This will let them know that you are serious and there are no free cards for anyone who wants to stay in (no checking will be coming from you).
Any time that you have raised with an ace and remain in first betting position without a flush or straight-draw showing on the board, bet the hand. If you are out of first position under the same circumstances where over-cards to your J's are dead, and cards are turning lower than your J's for other players and the players check to you, bet. If they bet against your ace with a lower card, call.
In this hand, the fourth street card that was dealt out to the players reveals that the jack you needed to make a set is now considered dead. There are no flush or straight draws showing at the table still. Represent that your hand is still strong in first position with the ace by betting.
On fifth street you take a player's T, and a player takes your 6. You need to double up, and someone already may be doubled up, however since you are still showing over-cards to their hand and there are no flush draws or straight draws still showing, you may continue to bet. If you show weakness on fifth street by checking instead of betting to see who has made their second pair, you have just let the table know that you are in trouble. It is recommended that if you started out with a raise and continued to bet in first position up to this point, continue to bet unless there is a flush-draw, straight-draw, or over-card pairs on the board.
Your jacks are still good as long as the circumstances remain a non-threat to your hand. Not having double-paired just yet is not exactly a threat since the other cards are lower and you have outs to catch another pair.
On sixth street everyone including you, seems to catch a no-help card. The cards they've turned are still lower than your jacks and still no visible threat of a straight or a flush. By now, most likely the players have caught their second pair if they have called your bets all this way. You are still in first position. Bet. A person who has hit their second pair may raise, letting you know that they've hit their second pair. They may also be raising to test you, or they have just hit three-of-a-kind. Call the raise to see your river card. It can be mysterious that lower cards are calling all this way against an ace, and anyone with a hand betting into another hand showing over-cards either really has hit three-of-a-kind, two pair that they think is really good, or it is a desperation play to raise you out hoping that you really don't have two pair, one of the pairs being aces.
Your river card is an ace and your two pair is A's and J's. Your "aces-up" (a pair of aces coupled with another pair of any kind) beats any other player that is playing two-pair. In this hand you are in first position with no visible threats of better hands. Bet.
If you are out of first position and another player bets on the river with no visible threat to your hand and you have a pretty good feel that they are playing two pair, then raise. At best they will call and you will get the additional money they called with at the end. At worst you lose the hand to someone who rivered three-of-a-kind or had a very well hidden (and rivered) full house. Either way, if there is no visible threat to your hand, raising on the river with aces-up against other players that you think are playing pairs is usually worth one extra bet.
Tight tables and short handed tables offer the experience of expanding starting hand combinations beyond the 'premiums' listed above. What ends up happening at these types of tables often is that the ante will slowly whittle away your chip stack, and when it's finally time to come into a hand, the pot it is quite small because there are few players that will call to the river, leaving tiny profit for your time.
At a short handed micro-limit table (5 players); 10˘ ante, 25˘ bring-in, 50˘/$1.00 bet:
Say you fold down ten hands waiting for a premium starting hand. Three of the hands you bring in, and fold down. The cost of sitting at the table for these 10 hands is: $1.75.
You go into a hand finally catching a premium one on dealt hand #11 in a 3 way pot. There was no completion of the bring in bet and no raises. Only bets and calls. 1 player folds down on fourth street. The other folds at sixth. The pot has $4.75 in it which you take. ($1.00 of it was the uncalled fifth street bet you placed). The amount that you invested into the pot was $2.35. Your profit is: $2.40. Before the hand, it has cost you $1.75 to sit at the table. Your overall profit in 11 hands is 65˘.
If you were to fold down the next 6 hands with at least one bring in, your profit at the table is now in the negative. Adjust your opening starting hands to include inside and outside straight combinations and suited combinations. As much as possible use these combinations only when your outs to improving the hand are live.
Other starting hand combinations:
Inside-outside straight draw combinations:
There are an array of cards you can catch to turn this into a straight. Opening with a low door card and catching any of your cards such as an A, 2, 3, 4, 7, or 9 showing across the streets are scare cards to your opponents allowing for bluff betting even if you do not catch your straight. Low trips are also common at short-handed tables. As long as there is no threat of a higher straight or flush showing, opening with an inside-outside straight draw will work well at one of these tables. As always, the more suited you are, the more outs you create to improvement. At the sign of two 'brick cards' for this hand such as Q and J on fourth and fifth street, you will probably want to drop this hand. At short-handed tables pairs such as Aces and Kings will be less likely to fold down.
Suited low-pair combinations (closely connected):
Ideally you do not want to be playing hands like this with plenty of overcards betting and calling around the table. If all cards playing appear to be low this may be the time to go in with a hand that has a suited kicker with a low pair (closely connected). If you see at any time a pair on the board that you cannot outkick with your highest pair, it is probably best to drop the hand. For example, if your hand paired 4's and 7's and another hand is showing a pair of 9's, your hand will obviously not beat the other if they have also caught a second pair. More times than not playing with this type of hand without any type of scare cards showing up such as a flush draw, straight draw or paint cards will end up having you fold this hand down on sixth.
Keep in mind however, that tripping over another 4 or 7 is possible, as well as you have outs to an inside-outside straight combination (for the most part, any A,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 or 9) improves your hand if you catch them on fourth through sixth appearing as scare cards. (Considering that your opponents are putting you on a straight draw and they are not playing for a flush, for example) You also have a back-door flush draw. There is a lot to work with using this combination if the cards fall correctly into your hand. Very low pairs betting against over-cards usually means something scary, such as a full house, trips or a straight, and the players will take notice of this and usually be wary unless they have a power-hand themselves. The thing to fear is a pair of hidden aces or anyone that has turned an ace on their board. They are probably fearing the same from you as well having opened with a low door card.
On short-handed tables, do not be afraid to bet small pairs, however if it is possible to catch a free card on fifth street, by all means do so to get a better idea of what type of hands are out there to determine if you want to continue betting the more expensive streets. This is where the other players at tight tables also make their determinations on whether or not to stay in a hand. Fifth street and beyond is used to maximize profitability after a better feel for the types of hands being played can be more easily determinable.