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Tips From the Full Tilt Pros

Playing Fifth Street in Seven-Card Stud by Keith Sexton

While most players these days specialize in No-Limit Hold’em, I know there are many people out there who grew up learning Seven-Card Stud. With the resurgence of HORSE and other mixed games, now is a great time to branch out and revisit some of the basics to help make you a better all-around player.

For me, Fifth Street is the big decision point in this game because that’s when you have to put in your first big bet. And one of the toughest situations you can face on Fifth Street is what to do with small to medium pocket pairs. If your opponent is betting into you with one or two over-cards to your pair and representing an over-pair, when should you continue?

In the situation that you both catch average-looking boards, you need to know your opponent. Are you up against someone who’s aggressive enough to keep betting with just one pair? I know that an opponent like Phil Ivey has the heart to bet all the way to the river with a pair so I would be less likely to call him down with something small like a pair of fives. If I was up against a more timid opponent, however, I would call a bet on Fifth Street because I know if all he has is one pair and he fails to improve, he’ll slow down. I might have to call another bet on Sixth Street, but he won't bet one pair on the river, and I can check behind him to save a bet.

Another good player once described this concept as the Ben Franklin principle. It goes hand in hand with the idea of pros increasing their equity by showing aggression in the appropriate spots. A bet saved is a bet earned and just like extra bets chopped out by shrewd and speedy play, they add up handsomely at the end of the year. In other words, you can enhance your bottom line in marginal situations by avoiding the Phil Iveys and chasing the timid guys.

Even more important than knowing your opponent, however, is knowing how “live” your cards may be as your hand plays out. I often think too many players give up on their hands prematurely when there’s sufficient money in the pot to continue on. For example, let’s say your opponent raises from middle position while showing a 10 as his up-card. You’re showing a 7 and you have a pair of 3s in the hole. There are no other 3s out, so you call and everyone else folds.

On Fourth Street, your opponent catches a non-suited 8 and you catch a Queen; you check and he bets out again, representing a pair of 10s. You call. On Fifth Street he catches a 5, so his board is fairly average – T-8-5 rainbow, and you catch an Ace giving you (3-3)-7-A-Q. You check again while showing the best hand and he bets out again. At this point, you have to put your opponent squarely on a pair of 10s since he isn’t likely to bluff into such a scary board.

Even though you think you’re behind at this point, I think it’s OK to call a big bet on Fifth Street so long as you believe your over-cards are still live. Even if your opponent pairs his 8s on Sixth Street, and you miss your Ace, Queen or 3, you can still justify staying in the hand if you catch another over-card like a King because of the equity in the pot.

While you can’t currently beat his possible two pair (8s and 10s), your three over-cards and pair in the hole give you a total of 11 possible outs (two 3s, three Queens, three Aces and three Kings), and the right odds to call one more bet. Players who would give up their hands at the sight of the open 8s are making a mistake.

Fifth Street decisions can be very tough, especially when you’re not sure of where you stand in the hand. By keeping a close eye on your opponents and on your outs, you’ll be able to calculate when you should make the big calls and when you should fold.

Keith Sexton

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