Poker Essays, Volume III
Author Mason Malmuth
Excerpt from the Book Poker Essays Volume III: The Two Types of Stud
Generally, when you go to a cardroom you have three types of poker to choose from. They are Texas hold 'em, which we just refer to as hold 'em, seven-card stud, and finally, seven-card stud. All three forms are played limit. That is no-limit and pot-limit games are generally not available.
Now wait a minute. I know what you're going to say. You have just noticed that seven-card stud is listed twice. Well, that's not a mistake. It turns out that there are two types of seven-card stud. They are the kind where the initial ante is small compared to the bets, and the kind where the initial ante is (relatively) large in relation to the betting. How these types differ will be the focus of this essay.
Almost all of the first type is played at the smaller limits. This includes the small spread limit games such as $1-$5 which are usually played without an ante, but with a small bring-in, up to $10-$20 where the ante is usually $1 and the bring-in is $2. Most of us refer to this game as "little stud." It features small pots and very tight play by those who beat it.
But things change at the $15-$30 level. The ante is now $2 and the bring-in is $5. This calls for a completely different game. We refer to games at $15-$30 and above as "real stud."
Now before we continue, I'm aware that some players out there who play the small limit stud games aren't very happy with my use of the term "little stud." They say that they enjoy the game, that they win at it, and that it requires a fair amount of skill.
No one should argue with any of this. But it is usually a game of small pots, is not as skillful as the middle and high limits, and does not require the "courage" necessary to be a consistent winner. Thus, I believe that the terms little stud and real stud are appropriate. However, let me state that if your game is little stud and you do well at it, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
So what's the difference between little and real stud? Why is real stud more skillful? And, where does this idea of courage come in? Furthermore, since the only difference between some forms of little stud when compared to real stud is essentially the ante, how can this one change make that much of a difference? And finally, if real stud requires more skill than little stud, are they even the same skills? That is, are the skills that make a winning player at little stud the same skills that will allow someone to win at real stud? Let's take a look.
First, little and real stud differ in the general thrust of correct strategy. Little stud is essentially a trapping game, while big stud is usually a game of knocking people out. Of course there are some exceptions, but in little stud, since you start off with very little money in the pot, it's not necessary to steal the antes as often, and you are frequently trying to entice the weaker players into the pot. For example, suppose your starting hand is a pair of kings with a king up. In little stud you should frequently limp in for the bring-in or make less than a maximum bet in a small spread limit game. The idea is to trap a weak player, and then hope that by fourth street he has enough of a hand to stay with you. Of course you may get beat, but being able to take a big pair up against a smaller pair is a big advantage in this game.
In real stud, a pair of kings is almost always a raising or reraising hand. Yes, I know that there are some exceptions, and there may be times where you would like to trap someone by just limping. But you also need to steal the antes fairly often (unless the game is very loose and you know that you are very likely to be called). Many times when you have a king up and raise, you won't necessarily have a pair of kings. You might have a pair in the hole, a three flush, three big cards, or worse. Thus, you will need to balance many of the marginal raises with some legitimate raises, thus, making a pair of kings with a king up almost always a raising hand.
This only partly addresses the issue. Not only is third street played much differently, but the upcards become much more important in real stud. As we show in our books, the upcards on board have the ability to change the value of a hand and can dramatically change the way that a hand should be played. But this is much more true for real stud than it is for little stud. This is because the size of the pot (relative to the size of the bet) is generally much larger at real stud. That is what appears to be a small change in the value of a hand can be very significant in real stud, but not in little stud.
Here's an example. At little stud if you believe that you are against a likely big pair, and on fifth street all you have is a small pair and a three flush, you should fold (unless the pot is quite large). It's as simple as that. In real stud, if your cards are live, and this includes your flush cards, as well as your trip cards and possible (two) pair cards, it may very well be right to continue. In addition, if your opponents upcards are not very live, it is frequently correct to continue chasing to the river. As you can see, there is a great deal of skill in real stud, and in my opinion the best poker players in the world are the great stud players.
So where does courage come in? Well as we just saw, you usually shouldn't chase very much in little stud. If you are fairly sure you don't have the best hand and your hand has little potential, you should usually get out. You just won't win enough to make it worth the expense.
But this isn't always the case in real stud. There may be enough money in the pot to keep playing. Furthermore, your overall expectation may be higher if you can get a third person to fold. This means that it is frequently right to raise what you think is best hand with the second best hand to get the third best hand to fold. It may also be right to raise with the third best hand to get the second best hand to fold. It takes a lot of courage to make these plays since they will usually seem to fail. That is the other player still comes or you succeed in getting him out, but you still lose the pot, and you have put in an extra bet.
As we can see, I have only touched the surface. The change in the (relative) size of the ante does make a big difference. Going from little to real stud requires an adjustment from a passive, tight game, where you are taking few chances, to an aggressive, moderately loose one where you are frequently willing to put a lot of chips in the pot.
But real stud requires much more. This includes great hand reading skills which take into account the upcards and the ability to parlay this skill into winning plays. This can include a timely bluff as well as an appropriate raise to either knock someone out or get more money in the pot. And it includes the ability to make some calls with very weak hands knowing that you will lose the majority of the time.
It should be obvious that the skills required to be successful are different between the two games. I don't believe that you can put an excellent little stud player into a large real stud game and expect him to be a favorite. Not only will he have trouble adjusting to playing at the higher limit, he won't have the proper skills to be successful.
Finally, I play both real stud and hold 'em. In may ways I think that real stud is the best game that a cardroom offers and highly recommend it. But I also recognize that little stud is a great game as well. If you are good at it, you might want to think about learning some additional skills and moving up to the middle and high limits. For most of you who are successful at little stud, working on these skills and moving up should be worth the effort.