Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hold 'em Plays Like a Circle, Stud Like a Straight Line

How to Win the Banana?The Ante Up! Intercontinental Poker Series II continues tonight with Event No. 2, Stud. The tournament starts at 9 p.m. Eastern over on Full Tilt, with a $5.00+0.50 buy-in. Like most of us, Stud ain’t my primary poker pastime -- I rarely play it, and couldn’t honestly rate it among my top three games. So I’ve been honing up a little here in the effort to keep from embarrassing myself too much tonight. Been skimming through a few chapters of Roy West’s 7-Card Stud: 42 Lessons How to Win at Medium & Lower Limits, the book from which I first learned the game. I’ve also finally read Chip Reese’s chapter on Stud in the original Super System.

Reese’s Stud chapter is written in that same chaotic style of the rest of Super System, with its several directives loosely-organized and dotted with seemingly random instances of italicized, emboldened, and capitalized text. As Al Alvarez says in The Biggest Game in Town, “the prose will not win any prizes.” But as Alvarez also says (of the book as a whole), “as a postgraduate guide to the intracacies of high-level, high-stakes poker the work has no equal.” I particularly like -- and by “like” mean “think I might understand” -- some of Reese’s advice about playing draws, as well as his suggestions for getting the most value on later streets. His instructions for playing fifth, sixth, and seventh streets seem to reinforce a lot of what you find in Sklansky’s The Theory of Poker, actually, particularly the chapters on check-raising, bluffing, and heads-up play.

Have occasionally jumped into some $0.50/$1.00 ring stud games this week to try to put some of these ideas into practice. Prefer doing so over on Stars, where the ante is just a nickel, as opposed to Full Tilt where the ante is a dime for the same limit. Reese’s advice has been working for me, although I’ve blundered enough hands to be just about back to quits for the modest number of hands I’ve played (about a buck down after 200 hands).

I keep thinking of this line I threw out at the beginning of a post last summer, where I said “Hold ’em plays like a circle, Stud like a straight line.” Sounds smart, huh? Of course, I don’t elaborate there, probably because I didn’t know what I meant and thus couldn’t try to explain. The idea keeps coming back to me, though. I think what I’m really doing there is trying to make some sort of observation about the difference between “flop games” like hold ’em and Omaha that use community cards, and “stud games” like Seven-Card Stud and Razz that do not. (“Draw games” ain’t part of this here discussion.)

Flop games play like a circleWhen I say flop games “play like a circle,” I’m not referring to the betting (which always goes in a circle, no matter what the game). I’m referring to the way one builds a hand by going back and forth between one’s hole cards and the community cards. If you play a hand to the end, you make this trip several times, butting heads with your opponent(s) every time you do as each player mentally ventures out onto the felt and back again. Unless you’re a hopeless palooka stuck at “level one” who doesn’t ever consider your opponents’ possible hands, you can’t help but be aware of what your opponent might have since you’re sharing cards with him or her.

Stud games play in a straight lineMeanwhile, stud games play “like a straight line” because you build your hand independently, as do each of your opponents. And the cards are delivered one after another with no redraws, so you each march along parallel to one another down to the river. The trick, I think (and Reese has actually helped me see this idea a little more clearly) is to develop your “peripheral vision” here and consider closely where your opponent is heading at each stage of your respective journeys. Easier said than done. I’m positive when I first started playing Stud I was so focused on completing my own draw or picking up that elusive two pair or trips that I barely noticed what was going on to my left or right.

This here distinction might be the sort of thing that only really occurs to a novice Stud player. I do believe those with a high comfort level playing all varieties of poker -- like those who play in the Big Game -- see through such superficial differences to engage directly with higher-level nuances of poker strategy. But I think it does represent something those of us who primarily play flop games -- where you are all but forced to look at (part of) your opponents’ hands -- have to work through. In stud games, you gotta make yourself look around and try to recognize what others are doing (and how it relates to what you’re doing) as you try to build your own hand.

Good luck to everyone tonight.

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