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Seven Card Stud: Playing Medium Pairs With Suited, Connected Kickers

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Apr 03, 2024

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Medium pairs can be difficult holdings to play in Stud High. When accompanied with a bad kicker, e.g.(4Heart Suit 9Club Suit) 9Diamond Suit, the hand is somewhat marginal. If there are not too many high cards behind us we can test the waters with an open, but a reraise puts us in a bad spot. In many cases we should fold, but won’t feel great about it, especially against an aggressive opponent.

If instead we hold a kicker higher than the most likely higher pair we can usually chase to the river and see who wins. Somewhere in the middle are those holdings accompanied with straight-flush possibilities. With them we can assume more risk on third street as we can more often continue profitably in the face of aggression, however, may not be able to go the entire way. Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios assuming we are playing against relatively skilled and aggressive competition in a medium- or high-ante structure.

General Third Street Playing Guidelines

When dealt a hand like (8Spade Suit 9Spade Suit) 8Club Suit we should immediately check all of the other cards exposed on board and ascertain if our hand is hurt or helped by what we see. What’s most important here is that all of your eights are live. Having all of the nines available is also helpful, but it is not nearly as critical as it would be if you were playing a small pair with a big kicker.

The primary value of your side-card is more focused upon its ability to make a flush or straight, therefore we also need to examine how many spades, sevens, and tens are out on third street.

Playing live hands is critical in Stud, but that is always a relative consideration depending on the circumstances you face. The key question you should always ask yourself is, “Am I live enough for this particular situation?”

For example, if it’s folded to you in late position with only the bring-in left to act the (8Spade Suit 9Spade Suit) 8Club Suit is an automatic complete even if your hand is mostly dead. Conversely, if you are in early position with many higher cards lurking behind you your hand needs to be very live in order to open. Most cases fall somewhere in the middle, and in those situations we should tend to open unless we have a good reason not to.

In higher-ante games we need to slow our opponents down, and often play aggressively against late position openers who may not have very much. For example, if we suspect that an aggressive player with a queen showing might be trying to grab the antes we should reraise unless eights and spades are somewhat dead.

Assuming the queen calls our third street raise, we often need to keep betting on fourth and fifth street playing our holding as the best hand until our opponent possibly indicates otherwise. If our opposition calls on fifth street with a board reading (X X) QSpade Suit 2Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit it appears likely that he holds a good pair that he intends to take to showdown. It might not be a pair of queens, but it still can be larger than a pair of eights, thus we aren’t losing much by taking the free card on sixth if available.

Even though your check on sixth street implies some weakness, it’s not expected that your opponent will often bet on seventh without holding two pair or better. He wouldn’t usually try and turn a single small pair into a bluff, nor would he tend to go for relatively thin value with a lone pair of queens.

When checking sixth street your range is heavily weighted toward mediocre pairs that may only call when improving or a drawing hand that never materialized. Thus, he will often check his single pairs hoping for either a check behind from an inferior made holding or to pick off a bluff from a missed draw.

Following this logic, you have an easy bet with any two pair if checked to on seventh street. Once in a blue moon you may “value-own” yourself but that should sometimes happen when you are playing well. If you never bet a worse hand for value, then it is highly likely that you are not value betting enough.

Let’s assume that we are again holding the (8Spade Suit 9Spade Suit) 8Club Suit and complete the bet in an attempt to pick up the antes, and we get reraised by a solid player with a KSpade Suit door card. A pair of kings is the obvious holding to fear, but it could also be wired pairs (that might not be better than eights), drawing hands, or maybe even just three high cards. However, given that we hold two spades we can slightly discount spade flush draws.

Even if we feel strongly that we are currently behind, we still need to call the raise and generally go to fifth street where we would then re-evaluate the situation. When picking up a four flush, open-ended straight draw, or even just an ace we often have an easy decision to continue the pursuit all the way to the river.

However, if we collect a couple of complete blanks and don’t even have a three-flush or backdoor straight draw to fall back upon, it’s usually best to just send our hand into the muck. Unless our opponent has been getting completely out of line, we should make the prudent fold before heading into the big bet streets. Sometimes we will occasionally fold the best hand, but one has to do that occasionally, otherwise you would be paying off way too much.

We must continue on fifth street, however, when picking up a few backdoor draws even if we are quite certain that we are up against a pair of kings. For example, assume we got reraised by a definite pair of kings and two possible equity situations depending on whether or not he paired his kicker are shown below:

Villain has not made two pair (84.2% probability)
(8Spade Suit 9Spade Suit) 8Club Suit 2Diamond Suit 10Spade Suit – 36% equity
(3Spade Suit KHeart Suit) KSpade Suit 2Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit – 64% equity

Villain has made two pair (15.8% probability)
(8Spade Suit 9Spade Suit) 8Club Suit 2Diamond Suit 10Spade Suit – 16% equity
(2Spade Suit KHeart Suit) KSpade Suit 2Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit – 84% equity

The weighted average equity is [(84.2%)(36%)+(15.8%)(16%)] = 32.8%.

While we are an underdog, we cannot fold due to current and implied odds with almost 33% equity against one of the strongest holdings in his range. While we assumed that he had kings, it’s certainly possible that he has other holdings that we are currently beating. The 10Spade Suit was quite a good card to catch, and demonstrates the impact of combining multiple backdoor outs.

Medium pairs with straight-flush kickers can be tricky hands to play in Stud with most of the difficult decisions usually occurring on fifth street. When we don’t pick up additional possibilities, we might have to fold, and it’s inevitable that we will sometimes be folding the best hand. In order to be successful in poker that will occasionally happen, however, it would also be a mistake to fold when picking up straight or flush potential, even if they are backdoor draws. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. The certified personal trainer owned a gym in New Jersey, but has since moved to Las Vegas. He started playing the game back in 2003, and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. Learn more or just say hello with an email to haneyk612@gmail.com.