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Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better: Starting Hands

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Jun 30, 2021


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Starting hand charts do not exist for Seven Card Stud Eight-or Better (Stud 8), or any other stud variant for that matter, as the strength and playability of most holdings are contingent upon the exposed cards and the action that has taken place before it is our time to act. Therefore, over the next couple of issues we will survey various hand types, assess their relative strength, and examine situations where they are mostly playable, as well as those that we would do well to avoid.

We are dealt three unpaired low cards approximately one out of every six hands, and these are natural hands to want to play in Stud 8. However, not all three lows are built alike; some of them are premium hands that are great in almost any situation and others may only be playable as an ante steal.

For the sake of discussion, we can break three low cards into the following subcategories, ranked by their relative strength:

Three wheel cards with an ace, such as A-2-4, are premium starting hands. Along the way we can pair the ace and/or pick up low cards that will either give us a draw to the wheel or another strong low hand.

The Zero-Gappers are 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6, 5-6-7, and 6-7-8. With these holdings we will often pick up straight potential to go along with our low draw.

Having three to a six along with an ace is a relatively strong hand, and a hand like AHeart Suit 2Heart Suit 6Spade Suit has a lot of value in either heads-up or multi-way pots.

One-Gappers are hands such as 2-3-5, 2-4-5, 3-5-6, 4-7-6, and 5-6-8, where one specific rank (up to four outs) is required to pick up an open-ended straight draw.

Three low cards to a seven or an eight accompanied by an ace are decent hands; however, it’s important to understand that they can become a one-way hand when a few aces are dead, and not a particularly strong one at that. These hands play relatively well in short-handed pots but quickly lose their value in multi-way affairs.

Two-Gappers include holdings such as 2-4-6, 3-5-7, and 4-6-8, and are much less valuable than the Zero-Gappers or One-Gappers since they can only hope to pick up a gut-shot straight draw on fourth street.

The “Razz” Lows comprise all other three-card lows not already mentioned and have neither an ace nor the ability to pick up a straight draw on the next card. It should go without saying that (2Heart Suit 6Heart Suit) 7Heart Suit is usually a very strong hand due to its two-way potential, however, the average Stud 8 player probably gets involved with a hand such as (2Club Suit 6Heart Suit) 7Heart Suit in many situations where they shouldn’t.

Over the next couple of articles, we will slot the various Stud 8 hand types into three different groupings: Almost Always Playable, Often Playable, or Sometimes Playable. While certain specific holdings within a group can easily be shifted up or down, categorizing them in this way will help frame and organize our discussion.

Almost Always Playable Holdings

While there are a few exceptions, these premium starting hands are almost always going to be playable from any position regardless of the exposed cards and the action you face.

Rolled Up Trips: Trip aces are the most powerful hand, however, many players consider three fives to be the best possible starting hand in Stud 8. Trip fives help block any straights that low draws are hoping to make and it’s also more likely that you will get action from higher pairs.

On third street, our goal should be simply to just get as much money in the pot that we can as these hands play equally well short-handed or multi-way. In a heads-up pot there’s a greater likelihood that we will scoop, however, multi-way we can often punish second-best high hands and earn half of a very large pot.

Two Aces: Having a low kicker is preferred as you also have a decent chance to make a low and regardless if your aces are split or buried, your opponents can’t be sure which way you are going. We should get aggressive on third street with these hands as we are often going to realize our equity and short-handed pots will produce more scoops.

A high kicker has less value as it’s rare that we will make a low and when our aces are buried it’s clear that we are going high. If there are already many players in the pot, we may not want to reraise on third street and wait to see what develops on the next couple of streets. Strategically, this may enable us to eliminate players on fourth street, and also keeps the pot smaller in the event that we may need to make a snug fold and relinquish our equity.

Three Suited Low Cards: We are obviously going to be happy whenever we are dealt a low three flush, however, there is quite a large difference in the value of (3Club Suit 4Club Suit)5Club Suit with mostly live cards versus (7Heart Suit 3Heart Suit) 8Heart Suit with many hearts out. If it’s going to be hard to make a flush, then (7Heart Suit 3Heart Suit) 8Heart Suit is mostly a one-way hand and will not play well in a multi-way pot contested by many low cards.

Three Wheel Cards with an Ace: These are very strong holdings that are essentially always going to be played. When someone has completed before us, it’s a close decision on whether we should just call and try to pull others into the pot or if it would be better to re-raise in an attempt to limit the field. In a high-ante game, we usually fare better taking the aggressive action as we can either get other players to fold out their equity or put them in a position to make a mistake when calling multiple bets with weaker hands.

Zero-Gappers (No Ace): Due to their straight and premium low potential 2-3-4, 3-4-5, and 4-5-6 are almost always worth playing, but 5-6-7 and 6-7-8 can become marginal holdings in multi-way pots contested by several low cards. However, 5-6-7 and 6-7-8 fare quite well in most head-up situations and it is often correct to get aggressive with these holdings on third street, especially in a high ante game where our opponent may be opening a wide range.

For example, (6Spade Suit 7Diamond Suit) 8Spade Suit has 50% equity against a pair of kings and will be helped on fourth street with a nine, ten, or any low card. The (6Spade Suit 7Diamond Suit) 8Spade Suit also has 50% equity against another strong starting hand of (5Heart Suit 2Club Suit) AClub Suit, and is really only an underdog against rolled up hands, pairs of aces, and three suited low cards.

While it can be dangerous to reraise an ace, we can expect to have approximately 55% equity against an opponent who may be completing close to or exactly 100% of the time. When we get re-raised by a pair of aces, it isn’t that bad as we have around 42-44% equity, and if we were successful in getting the bring-in to fold three low cards our overall situation has probably improved.

Three to a Six with an Ace: Even when a few aces are dead, these holdings are almost always playable especially if we hold a two suit; e.g. AHeart Suit 3Heart Suit 6Club Suit.

In addition to the hands discussed above, holdings such as 2-3-5 and 2-4-5 are probably also almost always playable as well. However, hands such as 4-6-7 and 5-7-8 that also belong to the One Gapper family are not quite as strong thus we will include them all in the next installment on Stud 8, focusing on the Often Playable hands. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary of MetLife but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. He is co-owner of Elite Fitness Club in Oceanport, NJ and is a certified personal trainer. With regards to poker he got his start way back in 2003 and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. If interested in learning more, playing mixed games online, or just saying hello he can be reached at