Stud: Picking the right game

by Adam "STUDstood" Roberts

A couple of weeks ago, I began discussing the concept of proper game selection. I would like to pick up where we had left off.

Many factors go into determining which game might be the most profitable for you.
In a previous blog, I recommended becoming adept at as many different poker games as possible, to enable you to have more options with regards to what type of game and limits to play.

To continue on that topic, other issues will come into play as well.

Personally, I prefer playing in the same limit and game as much as possible, especially if it is my best game.

That way, I can accumulate enough hours playing with the same or similar players to know the idiosyncrasies of my opponents, and to give me an accurate feeling for my expected hourly earn. But, before playing the 2000+ hours I feel is needed to accurately determine what my earn will be in that specific game, I still will try to “handicap” games I am considering playing.

Even if you do not know any of the players in the game you are considering, within the first few hours of playing, you should have some type of idea who the weaker and stronger players are at the table, as well as how the game is being played, i.e., fast (lots of aggressive raising) or slow (more of a passive “check and call” atmosphere). Depending on your particular skills and mindset, you can make a decision on whether to continue playing, or to try to find another game.

Usually, if you play in a certain game/limit/location, you will know at least a couple of the players at the table. Right away, that may give you a read on the game, whether or not the game may be profitable for you. If you are friendly with some players in this game, you may even ask them whether the game is potentially profitable for you, as well as who the stronger and weaker players are.

I also recommend taking notes on players. In a live casino this may be difficult, but in front of your computer, nobody will know that you are doing this. You can make these individual ratings as succinct or elaborate as you feel is necessary. This process helps clarify your thinking on those players, and acts as a quick reference in the future. Whenever you sit down to play, have this list handy, and sort it (maybe alphabetically) to where each person is easily found.

Although I am not too familiar with online tracking systems, it is to my understanding that they are available to enable you to keep tabs on the opponents you have played with.

Using myself as an example, my best games are Stud, Stud Hi/Lo and Razz. I also have played in HORSE games when I felt it was potentially profitable for me. Even with the recent boom in flop games, I am still able to find great Stud games at limits that are appropriate to my bankroll, but big enough for me to make a living, whether online or live.

After playing thousands of hours both online and live, I feel that it is just as easy to get to know your opponents online, despite never physically seeing them, or in many cases, never actually ”knowing” their real identity. Some live casino players tell me that it is harder for them to “get a read” on their opponents when they play online. I do not find that to be the case. My reads on the types of hands they play, as well as what they will do while in a hand, seem to be just as accurate online despite me not being able to see them. Playing online should be treated the same way as if you’re playing live, when it comes to rating and reading your opponents.

I always play in my best games, whether it is online or live. But, there are many times when I do have to choose between Stud high, Stud Hi/Lo or Razz, as well as $10/$20 or $30/$60 limits for me to play in. I don’t always immediately choose the bigger game – sometimes the smaller game is more profitable. It may surprise you that a game that is 1/3 as big “on paper” can have the same or even a higher per hour earn, but in some cases it’s true. First off, many times better players will be playing in higher limit games. Because of that, in a $30/$60 limit game, your expected earn might be $30 per hour, which is good. But, your earn may be just as high in a $10/$20 limit game, because your opponents might not be as skillful at that lower limit. Plus, you are risking less of your bankroll playing $10/$20 versus $30/$60.

One added advantage of playing online is that you can see how big each average pot is when you are handicapping the games you are considering playing. This gives you a good read in itself. A good rule of thumb to follow while trying to find a good game is that an average pot size should be 5x above the maximum bet. This would translate into $300 for a $30/$60 limit game.

The ante structure does play a part in evaluating a game. A $10/$20 limit game has a $1 ante, which is a 20:1 ratio to the max bet in that game; whereas a $30/$60 table has a $5 ante, which is a 12:1 ratio. The lower ante structure in the $10/$20 limit game makes it harder for that game to reach an average pot size of 5x the big bet ($100). That said, many people prefer playing in a smaller ante structure game because they feel that it suits their style of play and comfort level. Other players prefer the higher ante.

You will generally find that the higher ante structure game is played “faster” because the pot is big enough before the cards are dealt to warrant more attempts at stealing antes, which can set off somewhat of a “steamroller” effect as to how the rest of the hand is played. Because of the mathematics of real, implied and pot odds, your play should change based on the ante structure.

To go a bit deeper, when the antes are larger, there are more hands that it may be correct for you to play because the money already in the pot (which include the antes) and the money that you feel will be put into the pot, will be greater. The larger the pot, the more it becomes correct to play “drawing hands” as opposed to when the antes are substantially smaller. (You should be careful not to take this too far; it’s not an excuse to play recklessly.)

Another thing to consider is that when the pots are bigger, the game will probably be “wilder”, which may give you bigger swings; you should be sure your bankroll can handle the swings. And just because the pots are bigger doesn’t necessarily mean that the players are worse. There are many ‘fast’ players who give the illusion that they are “live”, but in reality they are not.

Online, you also have the option of playing in concurrent multiple games. If you are adept at many types of games and playing styles, and you are good at accurately handicapping the value of games, own a big enough monitor, and are comfortable playing in multiple games without making any costly mistakes, there is no reason for you not to play in games of different limits and textures, or even in two completely different types of games (i.e. Hold’em and Stud) at the same time.

I will continue this important topic in my next few blogs.

In the meantime, you can find me in the $10/$20 and $30/$60 limit games in our Stud section, as well as in our weekly $215 buy-in tournaments. Please check the starting times of each of those events for your geographic area under Tourney > Special in the PokerStars lobby.

Feel free to contact me at See you at the tables!

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in Strategy