Stud Eight-Or-Better Poker Strategy: Adjusting To Exposed Cards

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Recognizing the cards that are out and assessing how they impact the value of our holding is a fundamental skill in seven card stud eight-or-better (stud 8), as it is in any stud variant. As the cards are dealt, we should take immediate notice of everyone’s up cards, assess how they relate to our hand, and determine whether or not we have a playable situation.

Assessing Playable Situations

When you are dealt (4Heart Suit 6Spade Suit) 7Heart Suit the value of your holding, and ultimately your decision to play will often hinge on how many fives are out and to a slightly lesser extent, other useful cards such as the aces, deuces, threes, eights, and the remaining hearts.

If the cards you need are mostly live, you can usually play, especially if no one has yet entered the pot or if there is just a single complete ahead of you. In contrast, if there are many low cards out including at least one five we should be folding if the action before us is heavy. For example, if a 5Spade Suit completes the bet and an AHeart Suit re-raises, it would be a mistake to fade this action and enter the pot. We are a long way from making a straight or a flush and the (4Heart Suit 6Spade Suit) 7Heart Suit is the beginning of a rough “payoff” low.

In stud 8, what we are really keeping an eye out for are the aces, because as both the highest and lowest card they hold immense power. An ace is also very difficult to play against because we can never be sure which way a player is going until later on in the hand when it may be too late. Just the presence of an ace left to act behind you can turn an otherwise playable holding into a fold.

For example, if you hold (KHeart Suit JClub Suit) KSpade Suit your hand is stronger if there are no kings or jacks in sight, but what is most crucial to the value of your holding is whether or not there are any aces on board. An ace can present problems as it can play its entire playable range strongly and will have at least a pair, a three flush, or three to a low around 47% of the time:

Trip Aces 0.2%
Pair Aces 11.3%
Other Pair 5.7%
Three Flush 5.2%
Three Low (Not Three Flush) 24.8%

Against this range, a pair of kings only has around 43% equity and is at a distinct playing disadvantage. While our opponent may have slightly the worst of it when he holds something other than aces, it is not by a great amount, and he will enjoy a greater playing edge over the totality of his entire range if we tend to get too sticky with a pair of kings.

If we are in early position with (KHeart Suit JClub Suit) KSpade Suit and behind us left to act are a five, a seven, a jack, an ace, and a deuce, our best play may be to simply open fold, especially if we are playing in a low- or medium-ante structure. While a pair of kings is a relatively strong stud 8 holding, it does not perform tremendously in a multi-way pot with many low cards even when you are not initially up against a pair of aces.

Our situation is not better if there are two aces left to act behind us. With two aces out, each of them individually 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. It would be different if instead of having so many low cards out along with the ace the board is littered with nines, tens, jacks, and queens. In this scenario, it would be more correct to complete the kings as the chances of getting involved in a multi-way pot with low hands has gone way down.

When the situation is close, we should consider the ante structure, our opposition, and our kicker. When the player with the ace up plays in a very straight-forward fashion and only re-raises with aces (or other premium holding), we can play, however, opponents such as this are somewhat rare.

The calculus also changes when your kicker in the hole is an ace. With the ace blocker, the probability your opponent holds a pair of aces is significantly reduced, and instead of 43% equity we now have 46% when the ace contests the pot with the range indicated above. With this added knowledge, it can be worth the risk especially if a super aggressive opponent will often take off and try to represent aces the entire way.

Remembering The Exposed Cards

In order to be successful in stud 8 is it a requirement to memorize all of the exposed cards? Some successful players may disagree, but I believe the answer is no.

As we discussed above, initially taking stock of the exposed cards on third street and using that information to ascertain the value of our starting hand is most crucial. In stud 8, the aces are key cards that we should track, as are the fives because any low straight requires one. Otherwise, it’s only really necessary to make general observations such as three or more of a rank exposed or possibly having a board cluttered with one particular suit.

Keep in mind that in order for memorizing cards to have value, this extra effort must ultimately alter the play of our hand. After our initial decision to play on third street, we usually get quite good odds to continue on in the hand (and so is our opponent) thus an exact inventory of the exposed cards won’t change our play often enough to be worth it.

For example, knowing that our opponent is less likely to make two pair on the river has zero value if the correct play would be the same regardless. It’s somewhat rare that our hand can turn into a lock because all cards of a particular rank are dead but even when that is the case that information can be gleaned through general observation.

We are not machines. Memorizing or writing down cards comes at the cost of increasing general fatigue, and possibly takes time away that could be better spent focusing completely on strategic considerations. Stud variants are more tiring than flop or draw games, especially when playing live as you must ante every hand and constantly look around the table at all of the exposed cards, and we should not unduly add to the burden.

If stud is your regular game and you go over to a hold’em table it feels as if you are on vacation as there are no antes to post and no exposed cards to process and take in. If I felt it was absolutely necessary to memorize all of the cards in order to achieve a good win rate I probably wouldn’t play much stud. It’s also worth mentioning that the notion that one has to memorize cards may actually deter new players from taking up any of the stud variants and/or mixed games which would be completely antithetical to our goal of growing the games.

Are exposed cards important to profitable stud 8 play? Absolutely, they are. Do we need to have precise accounting of all exposed cards? I’m not convinced, especially if we are talking about the ranks nine and higher. That said, the initial exposed cards and your relative position play a paramount role in the most important decision you will make in stud 8, whether or not you play your holding on third street. ♠

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




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