Stud: Hand strategy

stud-thumb.jpgby Adam "STUDSTOOD" Roberts

This past year, I have been blogging on many different topics and aspects of overall poker play, including bankroll requirements (both per session and for the long term), game selection (based on limit of game, type of game- especially with regards to your own ability), money management (also both per session and long term), table persona, table demeanor, game preparedness, getting staked, cash play vs. tournament play, etc.

I feel that those, as well as other topics, were necessary to discuss prior to delving into specific hand strategy. Based on the e-mails and phone calls I've received, you have seemed to appreciate this decision, and I have appreciated your feedback, questions, suggestions and comments.

But now it's time to get ready to move on to specific hand strategy.

Since my consulting responsibilities here at PokerStars include playing in the $10/$20 and $30/$60 limit games in Stud high, Stud Hi/Lo and Razz, as well as their corresponding weekly $215 buy-in tournaments, I will try to focus my strategy specifically on those limits, and the ante structures which coincide with them.

There are many different ways to be a successful poker player. I will just try to help you along by giving you my opinions, but I want to make clear that my thoughts and recommendations are not necessarily those of anyone else at PokerStars.

There are "many different ways to skin a cat" with regards to the strategy used to play a specific hand, based on instinct and the table environment/situation (i.e., how you are doing in the game, how you are doing vs. your opponent, knowing your opponent's tendencies, etc.), plus there are the "cut and dried" mathematics of the hand, which should be learned and consistently incorporated into other aspects of your hand strategy in order to achieve long term success.

The phrase "long term success" in itself is quite ambiguous, since there is no specific number of hands, hours, days or sessions to accurately define the phrase. In a previous blog, I suggested using 2000 hours playing in a specific type of game and limit, playing against the same players, for you to try and accurately assess how much your hourly earn (or loss) will be for that particular limit and game.

The hand situation strategy I will be suggesting to you will be even more ambiguous with regards to how long it will take for accurate results to be determined for any given hand.
For instance, in Stud high, I recommend not to play a split underpair with an unrelated kicker on Third Street, in a heads-up situation when your opponent raises (or re-raises you) with a higher door card. Let's say you disagree with my assessment of that particular strategy, and decide to go against it. You may win your first few hands or even many of the hands you play, going against my recommended strategy, and you may even profit. This may go on for a substantial (also a very ambiguous word when it comes to poker) period of time. You might even come to feel that my advice is completely wrong.

One of the toughest parts of playing poker successfully is evaluating the significance of short-term experiences. Even if I am "in the ballpark" with regards to using a minimum of 2000 hours as a guideline to determine your results in a particular limit and game, how many specific hand results will you need to use along the way for you to determine whether a certain hand strategy is correct? I cannot give you a specific answer to that. All I will attempt to do here is give you the accurate mathematics for a specific hand, as well as various other opinions of how, when and why to incorporate certain other variables into your strategy.

Many software packages will give you the mathematics to a given hand at every point or "street" in that hand. Poker Probe and other similar programs give useful information on specific situations. Although I would be a fool to dispute those findings (which are mathematically sound), it's only part of the picture. There are far too many other variables to a specific hand to be able to solely use the software findings for success.
Among the variables you will need to consider are real odds (what the math is in a given hand at that time or "street"), implied odds (what the odds will be for you as the hand progresses), and pot odds (what odds the pot is offering). Although it is not always possible to predict those odds, especially implied odds, you must be able to at least be "in the ballpark" more often than not to truly understand when and why to correctly employ your hand strategy. Predicting how your opponents will act is a key poker skill that is extremely hard to master.

The key is to start thinking about hands on a higher level. While the math of a hand may dictate a certain action, how will that action affect the remainder of the hand? How will my opponents react to that action? Are there ways to get them to act incorrectly, making the hand more profitable to me?

All Stud games (Stud high, Stud Hi/Lo and Razz) have one more round of betting than flop games. All forms of Stud are also primarily played at "Limit" stakes, as opposed to various other games which are also played at "No Limit" stakes. This means that it's much less likely for the action to be completed early in the hand. These "extra" betting rounds in Stud complicate accurately assessing your implied and pot odds, because there are more potential future actions to consider.

As I have also done in previous blogs, I gave different scenarios in cash game play as opposed to tournament play. Although "real odds" (hand versus hand percentages at a given moment) do not change in those two different venues, your assessment of implied odds might change based on your opponent's different styles of play in cash games vs. tournaments, and/or his/her chip stack and/or the stage in a tournament at the time of your hand. In tournament play, you should consider these aforementioned factors prior to making your specific hand decisions.

And again, not to be redundant, it is important for you to play with the proper and comfortable bankroll in a cash game setting to enable you to make the "correct" play without fear. I have seen players unable to "pull the trigger" because they were playing on "short money" or even get "all-in" in a hand which prevented them from making the correct play. I feel that this is very important to understand and consider when choosing the table limit which is right for you.

Beginning next blog, I will begin covering specific hand strategy in Stud high, Stud Hi/Lo and Razz. Each week, I will discuss a different hand scenario, switching among those games.

In addition to hoping that you continue emailing me with your ideas, questions, and suggestions, feel free to present me with your own hand scenario and if it's appropriate I will discuss it in a future blog.

Until next time, 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