Stud: Analysis, by Adam Roberts

stud-thumb.jpgAs promised, in this, and upcoming blogs, I am going to delve into the analysis of specific hands.

Today's blog will cover a "classic" Stud hand, specifically when to play the split underpair, with an unrelated kicker, against a raising or re-raising higher door card on 3rd street. Whenever I analyze these types of hands, I am assuming that your cards (your pair and your kicker) are completely "live," i.e., where no others of those ranks can be seen at that point in the hand.

When I refer to an "unrelated kicker", I mean that this card is unlikely to help the hand other than when it pairs up. A "related kicker" might be the same suit as one of the cards in your pair (slightly increasing your chance of making a flush) or be within range to make a straight. A hand like (7♠ 8♠) 8♥ has more ways to win than a hand like (2♣ 8♠) 8♥.

For example:

You have (4♥ 9♠) 9♣ vs. (?? ??) Qc, where you believe it's likely (but not definite) that your opponent has split Queens.

How do you decide whether it's a good idea to play this hand? Before going any further, I must point out some potential scenarios that might affect the way you should play the hand:

  • Is this a ring game?
  • Is the table shorthanded?
  • What type of player is doing the raising or re-raising with the higher door card? i.e., is he capable of raising or re-raising early with just three high cards, three suited cards, or an underpair with the Queen door card?
  • What position on the table is this player sitting in?
  • How is the player doing in the game at that point?
  • How are you doing in the game at that point?
  • Is this a cash game or a tournament?
  • If it is a tournament, what is your chip position in relation to the point in the event this hand comes up?
  • On that note, what is your opponent's chip position?
  • These sorts of questions should always be considered when trying to make the best poker decision.

    Personally, if the situation is "normal", i.e. a good player raises or re-raises me on 3rd street in early position in a cash ring game, and if no one else has already entered the pot, I am going to fold my split underpair with an unrelated kicker. The math of Stud makes me an underdog in this situation, and it's a bad gamble. If I make two pair and lose to two bigger pair, it can be very costly indeed.

    I don't care if my read on this player is wrong - I just don't let it bother me. If he has actually made this play with a hand other than one that mathematically has me beat, i.e., the three flush, the three high cards, or the buried under pair, I tip my hat to him.
    A simulation of 100,000 hands using Mike Caro's Poker Probe software shows that if in fact your opponent is holding the overpair, your "real odds" make you a 36% underdog, with a QPR rating of 60 vs. 167. (QPR is a hand power rating that is shown in Poker Probe.) Those are tough odds to overcome.

    Of course, there are things that can happen in the hand which may enable you to win it, i.e. board misrepresentation (you could catch an overcard, bet to represent that pair, and win if your opponent believes you), but, if everything is factored in, your odds in this particular hand aren't good.

    Now, in reality, there is more to this decision than just the odds. Let's factor in the money that is already in the pot.

    Let's assume that this is a $10/$20 fixed limit cash game. We will first analyze this with a $1 ante, which is a 20:1 structure used in most games at PokerStars.

    Assuming this is a full ring game, where there are eight players in the game, you will have $8 of antes in the pot to begin the hand. The bring-in is another $3. That makes it an $11 pot when the action gets to you. If you complete to $10 with your hand, get re-raised to $20 by the hand with the higher door card, and everyone then folds, there will be an additional $30 in the pot from that betting, which will make it a total of $41, and you need to call the additional $10 raise. Although this may seem like a bargain, you must also factor in the additional money you may have to put into this pot on subsequent streets during the hand, assuming it goes to the river. Your poor odds to start, potential pot odds and implied odds will offset this so-called bargain. It's not just a single $10 call you're making, but potential bets on four more betting rounds, three of which are at double the stakes. You not only have to climb uphill, you have to pay an expensive toll along the way. And if you're lucky and pair your door card right away, it's unlikely you will get paid off the rest of the way.

    It would be even worse for you if the higher door card raises and you flat call, with no one else in the pot, because in this scenario you have no earlier bets already invested and your pot odds are even smaller. You would be calling $10 into a $31 pot, not even a $41 pot.

    I would not even advise you to play this type of hand in a scenario where the ante would be $2 (like it is in some casino games), which would make the pot already $19 when the action is to you.

    Let's take a look at that scenario....

    Assume you are playing $10/$20 with a $2 ante, and the same bring-in of $3. You won't generally see this structure at this limit, but, as game limits rise, you will see a bigger ante structure.

    In this scenario, in a ring game, you will then have $19 in the pot before your first raise on 3rd street. Having more money in the pot from the start may change your opponents' style of play, especially with regards to their raising and calling hands on 3rd street.
    The higher ante does make my recommended strategy a bit more "borderline" because of the extra money already in the pot, and there is higher potential for players to use that extra money as a reason to make plays with lesser hands that they may not normally make with a smaller ante structure. Even with that in mind, I prefer "living to fight another day" and fold the big underdog hand in this situation. Even with $8 more in the pot, the bigger potential win does not overcome the bad odds you're facing. That's less than one additional "small bet" relative to five streets of betting (and raising).

    Now, let's consider when a third player has also called the raise or re-raise. You will then have the proper equity to call the raise. I recommend that with both the lower and higher ante structure. The most important factor in this decision is the higher pot odds for the call, and better implied odds you will be getting with the additional player(s) entering the pot. In a three-way pot, there is the possibility of getting paid in two places if you make the best hand, giving the hand a much larger up side.

    Although it is hard to analyze on 3rd street what the pot and implied odds will end up being, there are enough possible hands that will be played to the end with the third player in the pot, thus increasing your potential payoff. There are too many of those potential hands to discuss here, but this concept will hold true enough times to make your 3rd street call worthwhile in this scenario.

    Other hands I would call no matter what in this scenario are the following:

  • Split 9s with a buried card higher than the raiser's door card. Your real odds make you a 42% underdog, and a QPR rating of 87 vs. 115. But your potential hidden strength makes this situation profitable, as you may be able to get a check raise (an extra bet) in if you catch the hidden card on board during the hand. The hidden strength increases your potential payoff on your hand, and since it's "hidden" many players will not fold two pair against your bigger two pair.
  • Split 9s with a suited connector (i.e., 8 or 10 suited to one of your 9s) - you are a real odds 40% underdog, with a QPR rating of 71 vs. 141, but the suited straight card represents enough additional hidden potential to continue.
  • Of course, any buried overpair, which would make you the odds-on favorite against split Queens, as well as giving you potential to get an extra bet or check raise in at some point during the hand.
  • A flush draw - even with unconnected undercards.
  • A flush draw with one or (especially) two overcards. With two overcards, i.e., (A♠ K♠) 9♠, vs. (5♥ Q♦) Q♣, although you are a 45-55% underdog in real odds, your QPR is actually 134/75 in your favor.
  • Any straight flush draw made up of undercards, i.e., 678, although you still are a 43-57% real odds underdog, your QPR is 118/85.
  • A straight draw, meaning unsuited connecting on both sides, i.e., 678.
  • Any buried underpair. Although your actual odds do not change if your pair is buried or split, you do have the potential for board misrepresentation, as well as getting in extra bets if you catch a third of your hidden pair at some point during the hand. So the potential payoff if you hit your trips is higher.

    I will be presenting similar hand scenarios in Stud high, Stud Hi/Lo, and Razz in my upcoming 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 weekend $215 buy-in tournaments for Stud games. Please check the starting times of each of those events under Tourney > Special in the PokerStars lobby.

    Feel free to contact me with any questions, suggestions or thoughts at

    See you at the tables!


    Brad Willis
    @BradWillis in Strategy