Before the Texas hold'em boom, seven-card stud was the most popular poker game across most of America, but in European online poker rooms it's often known as a very loose profitable game with lots of easy money. The game is played with antes and bring-ins, and each player receives two cards face down, and one face up, denoted as (xy) z. The player with the lowest face up card makes a forced bet called the bring in. In the same way as 5 card stud, if no player raises then the player making the bring in does not get a chance to raise.
Each player receives four more cards, the last of which is deal face down. After each of the four cards there is a betting round, where the highest hand showing acts first. After the fifth betting round all remaining players showdown their hands to see who takes the pot.
Position in stud changes through the hand due to the bringing in, and this makes a noticeable difference to the blinds used in hold'em.
You'll generally have a position on the player to your immediate right, and (slightly less so over the player to his immediate right). As on most betting rounds you are likely to be acting after them, giving you a chance to see what they do before you act. In five-card stud this makes very little difference, but as seven-card stud is more of a drawing game, this can be quite important.
It also means that hidden pairs, where your face down hole cards make a pair, are more valuable, since the best up-cards act first after 3rd street. Either you've improved to a monster hand, and act first, no bad thing, or the strength of your hand is hidden and you're not first to act, also good!
Seven-card stud is known to have plenty of fish around, and one of the main things that beginners make is playing too many hands. Since your hand is improving independently to everyone else's, it makes sense to start with the best hand more often.
In stud, there is extra information available to you that you do not get in Hold'em or Omaha - actually the ability to see other people's cards. This is important when selecting which starting hands to play, as well as through the rest of the game.
Take (9s10s) Js for example. This is a strong looking hand, with lots of possibilities for straights and flushes, and should be played in the right circumstances. However, if you are playing on a full eight seat table, and out of the seven opponents up-cards you can see two queens, an eight, and five spades, then the strength of your hand is vastly reduced, and you probably should not ' t play it.
Understanding this differenting hand strength according to opponent's cards is vital to winning at seven-card stud. Keeping the same example, imagine you decide to play the hand anyway, calling a small raise along with two other players. Now on 4th street, you are dealt the 2 of spades. One of your opponents is deal a spade. You now hold a four card flush, and looking just at your own hand, this looks strong. With nine more spades to hit a flush, and three chances to do so, this hand looks playable.
But consider now with the opponents up-cards, six of which were spades! You now only have three cards to hit to make your hand, vastly reducing your odds. Couple this with the fact that a flush may not be good enough to win the hand even if you do make it, and your hand now looks like a recipe for disaster.
The same is true for pairs in your starting hand. If you hold (QsKh) Kc, again this is a strong hand. But if you can see other players have between them both of your other kings and a queen, then the strength of your hand is vastly diminished by your inability to hit trips, and lowered chance of hitting two pair. Also if one of your opponents has an ace showing, and raise, they may have aces, meaning you're beaten already. Conversely, if none of your opponents are showing a card above a 9, then your pair of kings is much stronger.
Whilst you're considering your starting hand against your opponents up-cards, they're also comparing they're hands to yours. This is what makes hidden pairs much stronger than pairs where one of the cards is face-up. (KsKh) 3h looks weak to your opponents, and may play very well, especially if you catch another king. (As2h) Ac is ahead in terms of poker, but it also looks stronger to your opponents, giving you more chance of winning a small pot, but less chance of winning a large pot.
The third card in a pair hand is obviously important to the hand, and the higher it is, the better. (10h2h) 10 is not very playable, whereas (10hJh) 10s can be worth playing in the right situation. This is less true with aces, as your going to be ahead of any other two-pair hand if you do hit two pair, except for the illegally situation where someone else also holds AA. More important with a pair of aces is whether it is hidden or not - (AA) 10 plays a lot better than (AK) A in most situations.
Three card flushes and straights are often worth playing, particularly ace / king / queen high flushes and high straights, these are more likely to be drawing to a higher hand than your opponents, and can also hit high pairs, two pairs and trips. They should be played with caution although, paying close attention to opponent's up-cards.
So big pairs are good, particularly hidden ones, and three card flushes and straights can be strong, especially when combined. But this still leaves the strongest set of hands - Trips. In the same way as hidden pairs can conceal the strength of your hand, rolled-up trips, as they are called, are very strong and hard to spot for your opponents. Play these hands anyway you like, reraising, slow playing, or just betting out. (22) 2 is more likely to win a hand of seven-card stud than any other hand except for better trips.
In summary then, the best starting hands are;
1. Trips from (AA) A down to (22) 2
2. 3 card straight flushes from (AK) Q downwards
3. Hidden pairs, preferably with a high card
4. Big pairs, AA, KK, QQ, preferably with a high card
5. 3 card straights and flushes, the higher the better
6. Connected high cards, eg (JQ) A, (AK) 10
Drawing in seven card stud is common, and can be very profitable in the right situations. With a four card draw you have three opportunities to hit, compared to two in a flop based game. Combine this with knowledge of folded and dead (held by your opponent) cards, and with lots of live outs (ie your outs have not been seen in opponents hands) your draw can have a great chance of coming in.
You need to pay close attention to all the up-cards you see during the hand, and this gives a very clear representation of how important this observation is. One of the worst mistakes a beginner playing seven-card stud can make is to play hands, calling bets or raising, when most of the cards that could improve their hand are dead. Also check to see which of your opponents possible outs are folded as well - If your opponent is holding three spades face up, it's a lot less scary if you know half of the remaining spades have been folded.
There's a lot of important information for all to see, and it can make the difference between a winning and losing player. For this reason seven-card stud is one of the hardest games to multi-table, but the amount of action and profitability can make up for this easily.
Another key mistake players make is chasing hands too much. If your 3 card flush or straight does not improve to a four card on 4th street, then you should not be calling large bets with it, and if it does not improve to a four card by 5th street, you should not be calling anything with it. A similar rule can be applied to big pairs, if they have not improved by 5th street, then generally dump them.
Another useful tip for seven card stud is that without an up-card pair, your opponent can not have a full house or quads on 6th street, and just without three cards from a straight or flush, they can not hold those hands either. This makes 6th street the best place to value bet your hands - you can always tell whether your hand has a possibility of being beaten at this point. Also, without two cards from a straight flush showing (ie two fitted cards no more than three cards away from each other), the best hand your opponent can hold on 7th street is quads of their highest up-card.
As previously discussed, most players play seven card stud too loosely, playing poor starting hands with just a couple of high cards, or even less, and drawing to low straights and flushes for too much money. Some of these players are also very aggressive, and you can reraise them with your stronger hands to combat this. Against loose calling players, bet big with strong hands, and do not bluff or slow play as much.
Against tighter players it's always much easier to bluff, or semi-bluff with draws. Whilst focusing on folded players up-cards in terms of your draws, and opponent's up-cards when calling their bets, also consider how strong your hand looks to your opponents when considering a bluff. Four cards to a flush showing in your hand mean that it's very easy to bluff anyone not beating a flush for example.
So, overall, play very strong hands only, do not chase too far, and pay close attention to all the up-cards in the game. If all this sounds like too much effort, then a simpler game may be more your cup of tea, but you'll definitely be missing out on some great action and possibly some easy money on the seven card stud tables!