by Russell Fox
Before tax season hit, I had some fun playing a local casino’s $100 HORSE tournament. HORSE is five limit poker games: hold’em, Omaha/8, razz, 7-card stud, and 7-stud/8. I enjoy playing different forms of poker besides no-limit hold’em, and I especially enjoy stud. It’s a game where you have lots of information, and how you use information helps determine whether or not you become a winning player.
On the money bubble, I was dealt split kings—one king was buried and the second was my door, or exposed, card—along with a jack. We were fivehanded at the time. The 6c had the bring-in. I completed, by raising to the lower betting limit, and only the 6c called. The door cards that folded were the 6h, Qs, and 8d.
On fourth street, my opponent received the 6d that gave him a pair of sixes while I received the Jc, giving me two pairs, and I also had two clubs and two spades. My opponent made the maximum bet because when there’s an exposed pair on fourth street in seven card stud, you can bet at either the lower or higher betting limits, and I considered the range of hands he might hold.
My opponent was a tight but good player, and for him to call the bring-in raise, he held something. The weakest hand he might hold would be a three-flush, say A6x. He could also have split sixes, but that was less likely since a six was one of the dead cards. He could also have a buried pair. Given my holding and a folded queen, his most likely buried high pair was aces, although he could, of course, hold any buried pair. Two pairs is a strong hand in stud, especially when the game is five-handed.
I had not shown a bluff in stud, so his view of my play should also be tight and aggressive. I raised, but then should have considered when he re-raised. I should have folded. He announced strength when he bet, and he wasn’t worried about the strength I showed when I re-raised. Unless he was bluffing, he likely held tens and sixes or better, or trip sixes. Given that two of the jacks, two of the kings, and one of the queens were dead (from his hand), the fold is clear.
Unfortunately, I got stubborn and considered only my hand. Kings up is an excellent stud hand unimproved ... but it pales to aces up (he had buried aces). All of my chips went in on this hand; I was deservedly the bubble boy.
Hand strength in all forms of poker is relative. Against a random hand I figured to hold the winner. But we don’t play poker against random hands—we play against the hands our opponents actually hold. I was not playing against a weak player who might overvalue two small pairs. He should and would recognize my re-raise as likely showing extra strength. His re-raise told me the information that I should have used. My mother put it well: “Should have, could have, would have.”
Getting out of your comfort zone and experimenting with new games is an excellent way to improve your poker. All forms of poker reward controlled aggression. I just have to learn to remember that the adverb controlled modifies aggression.
Russell Fox is the co-author of “Mastering No-Limit Hold’em,” “Why You Lose at Poker,” and “Winning Strategies for No-Limit Hold’em.” He’s a federally licensed tax preparer specializing in gambling, with a blog at taxabletalk.com. E-mail Russ at firstname.lastname@example.org