One of the toughest skills to master in Seven Card Stud, which all the best players have done, is devise a range of an opponent in stud and using that range against them. If you break down all the different poker variants and try and summarize a strategy that will work in any game, it would be exploitive play. Stud is no different; however there is a significant advantage in stud over other games. The one thing that separates stud from the other games is the amount of known information.
For a professional, having more information at hand gives a big advantage over the weaker player, as a weaker player likely won’t be correctly gathering all the information available to them. In flop or draw games, the information is limited and more must be assumed. But, because there is much more information available in stud, hand ranges are much more easily defined and exploitive play becomes very attractive to a player that can take advantage of this. In order to devise a range of an opponent there are a number of factors that need to be considered. Once this range is known, it is then important to know how to play against it. The first step in devising a hand range is remembering the dead cards.
If you’re serious about improving, tracking dead cards is imperative in becoming a good stud player. The more cards remembered, the more defined a hand range can be attributed to a player. This is what allows a good player to make great folds when others won’t and vice versa. This is the main source of extra information in stud, and should be treated as an important tool in exploiting others. Tracking dead cards takes time, isn’t as easy as it sounds, and requires a lot of practice. (I still practice every session, and have been playing the game for five years.)
A great exercise to help remember dead cards away from the table is; while walking around outside, look at a series of five cars. Look at the color and order of these cars, and then try and remember five minutes later what the colors were in order. If this is done easily, keep adding cars until there is trouble remembering. Eventually it will be easier and easier to remember other things in recollected memory including tracking dead cards. This is just one example; there are plenty of different methods in improving memory recollection. Find something that works, and continue to improve this skill. After having a very good grasp on remembering the dead cards, the next thing is picking up betting tendencies of a player and assessing a range.
When assessing a hand range for a player, think of these different tendencies, and which applies best. The first is a player who plays only tight hands for a raise (strong 3 flushes, pairs, Broadway cards) This player is the easiest to define a hand range to, as their imagination is often limited by the cards they play. The way to exploit these players comes in making thin value raises and making good folds early on.
When choosing to play a hand against these players, know what cards are live for them to make a possible two pair or to complete a draw. Tread lightly unless their cards showing are dead, in which case don’t be afraid to raise them light with some weaker two pairs or even one pair if there is a read they can fold one pair by the river. Understanding when a hand is live is more incentive to make plays against tighter players. If the play doesn’t work, there is a greater potential to improve at least. If villain’s cards are dead for two pair and our weak pair has very live two pair outs, making plays on 5th or 6th street might not be a bad idea as you can represent strength if your board is dry (the board being dry is important in that villain will be more likely to call down loose if they think there is a chance hero is semi-bluffing) and fold out better pairs against a tight player. This is also good against tighter players as it takes them out of their comfort zone. Generally tight players feel comfortable playing tight, not making loose calls. When a looser player forces a tight player out of their comfort zone, they begin to dominate not only with cards, but psychologically as well.
The second player is one who plays tight but is capable of loosening up in later positions. This player obviously is best exploited when they raise in later positions, and will often fold 3rd, or by 5th street if played back at. In exploiting these players, have a wide 3rd street two betting range, and don’t be afraid of firing multiple streets depending on what live or dead cards fall. Again, choose live hands to do this with, if villain happens to wake up with a hand, live equity doesn’t hurt.
The third type of player is one who has a wider range from any position and has the capacity to steal in early position. Go to war with them if holding decent strength. (Medium pairs with connected kickers, 3 flushes with one over, big 3 straights with a two suit) These are players that will often barrel their steals to the river if they seem to catch well for their board. Make some hero calls against these types of players. Just know that your outs are live and that their board isn’t. These types of players may also be aware of board development and play accordingly. If hero’s board develops into 52T rainbow, it is likely this type of villain will barrel light, to which case hero can bluff catch, or semi-bluff to represent more strength than villain. Board development is just as important as dead cards and initial read.
How is villain playing given the cards they have caught? The answer to this question should cement or completely change the original 3rd street assessment. If hero calls with a 5 and catch a 6 and villain starts with an A and catches a 3 and still bets, their range should now be revised regardless of what the 3rd street assessment was. This bet brings a new range and leans towards strength. Pairs of Aces, three flushes with a 3 and pairs 99-KK are now much more likely. The strong range assessment is due to the read that most players will not continue to fire when an opponent’s board develops scary, unless they have strength. The times when hero bricks off are the times they will continue to fire 100% of their range. In these instances, the initial 3rd street assessment is important to remember as well as the dead cards in making light calls or semi-bluffs.
For example, if villain starts with an A and hero starts with an 8 and catches a 2, Villain is likely betting here 100% on 4th street. Raise at any point in the hand if it means taking down the pot, or setting up an earlier play to build fold equity by the river. If villain bets too much on 4th street, start raising 4th street wide, and then bet 5th street. Villain will often be forced to fold a big part of their wide range unless they pick up a pair. This exploits villain’s tendency to play too loose on 3rd street and barrel light given board development.
Assessing a range before hand is crucial to exploiting players later in the hand. When contemplating making a move, make sure that cards are live, reads are logical, and you are willing to make a move in the hand if weakness is noticed. The best way to become better at stud is to get in experience, playing in tough situations, and using all the information to an advantage in a hand. Exploiting other players by using known information is a big part of stud, and will be the edge in beating more advanced and tougher opponents.