Playing Medium Pairs with Straight Flush Kickers in Seven Card Stud


In last month’s article we discussed the play of small pairs with big kickers. Another class of tricky hands to play in Seven Card Stud are medium pairs with straight flush kickers. Even though you may be starting with a higher pair you can’t always take these hands to the end without improvement as often as you can with the small pairs with big kickers. Improvement could mean as little as picking up an over card to your opponent’s probable pair or picking up a three flush/straight on 5th street. But without this improvement your equity situation is not as good and you will probably be subject to reverse implied odds. We will examine all of this in more depth later in the article, but let’s first discuss some general playable situations for these types of hands.

General Playing Guidelines ($20/$40 Stud game with $3 ante and a $5 forced bring-in bet)

When you are dealt a hand like (8♠9♠)8♣ you should immediately check all of the other cards on board to see if your hand is hurt or helped by what you see. What’s most important is that all of your eights are live. Having a live nine kicker also helps but it is not nearly as important it would be in the case if you were playing a small pair with a big kicker. In this case the primary strength of your kicker lies in the potential to make a potential flush or straight and not in pairing it. Thus you need to know how many spades are out on 3rd street as well as take notice of how many sevens and tens you see . If it’s a full table and you see one or less spade then your flush draw is very live. But most important here is how many eights and spades are out.

Playing live hands is critical in Stud. But that is relative and depends 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 and you are last to act with the (8♠9♠)8♣, you should raise the bring in even if most of the cards you need are dead. But when in early position and there are many high cards behind you then your hand needs to be almost completely live to consider playing. If some hands have folded and it’s up to you with one or two higher cards behind you probably need a pretty good reason to not complete 3rd street. This would be if an eight is dead along with many spades.

You should often play aggressively against a late position raiser. Suppose you are to the right of the deuce bring-in and a moderately aggressive player to your immediate right open-raises with a quenn up. One requires a good reason to not re-raise in this situation. Often your opponent will be raising light and forced to fold. If he just calls it is possible he holds a drawing hand or just has some big cards in the hole. Bets on both 4th and 5th street may be sufficient to take down the pot. If he calls on 5th with a board like (XX)Q♠27 it appears likely that he holds some pair that he probably intends to call down with all the way. It might not be a pair of queens but it is still can be larger than a pair of eights so you should tend to take the free card on 6th if offered.

Even though your check on 6th street implies weakness it is not expected that your opponent will often bet on 7th without holding two pair or better. He wouldn’t try and turn a single pair into a bluff here nor would he tend to go for appears to be thin value with a lone pair of queens. Your hand is either a smaller pair that will may only call on the river when you improve or it is a drawing hand that never materialized. Thus he is usually hoping for you to either check behind on the river or pick off a bluff from a missed draw. Given this logic you should tend to bet any two pair or better in the river. Occasionally you will “value-own” yourself but that should 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. Value bets are profitable if you have the best hand greater than 50% of the times you are called.

Chasing the larger pair (When you do not improve)

Let’s assume you are holding the (8♠9♠)8♣ and complete the bet to $20 in an attempt to pick up the antes. You are then re-raised by a tight uncreative player with the K♠ door card. Re-raising is a viable option for a few reasons, but against this tight player you decide to just call as you believe it is more likely than not that he does have kings.

Last month we examined this situation when we held (A♠4)4♣. We determined that we should typically go to 7th street unless your opponent pairs his door card or if his board gets otherwise scary. Should we tend to go all of the way with (8♠9♠)8♣?

4th street is an automatic call getting around 6.5 to 1 provided your opponent did not pair his door card. If you are lucky enough to make two pair on 4th you probably should not raise. It is preferable to see if he pairs his board on either 5th or 6th street first. Also you might lose a customer if you make a full house on 5th.

Let’s look at the equity situations on 5th and 6th streets when you have shown no improvement:

5th street when villain has not made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣4 5 – 31% equity
(3♠K)K♠2♥7 – 69% equity

5th street when villain has made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣45 – 11% equity
(2♠K)K♠27 – 89% equity
Last month we examined the mathematical probabilities of your opponent making a hidden two pair. Under a worst case scenario assuming that all of your opponent’s cards are live, the estimated probabilities were calculated as follows:

4th street = 7.5%
5th street = 15.8%
6th street = 25.0%

Thus on 5th street with no discernible improvement the estimated weighted average equity is [(84.2%)(31%)+(15.8%)(11%)] = 27.8%. (Last month’s article showed that you had around 31.6% equity you had an ace kicker. This demonstrates the value of an over card kicker.)

You are getting pot odds of 4.7 to1 which equates to a target equity of 17.5%. You are getting a current overlay but must also consider future betting. There are some reverse implied odds in that you are currently building an inferior two pair to the kings up your opponent is trying to make . You also have less implied odds than you had with an ace kicker. The ace provided three outs where you could possibly raise or check-raise for value.

Continuing on 5th here is a borderline decision. My default used to be to always fold if I did not improve but that may have been giving up too much. It appears as if you should certainly call against aggressive players especially if you have been going to war with them often on 3rd street. They may have re-raised on 3rd street with a hands like (2♠2♥)K♥ or (Q♣T♥)K♥.

Since it’s a close decision the liveness of cards should be considered. If some of his cards appear to be dead this decreases the odds that he has made a hidden two pair and your equity would be higher. Remember the hidden two pair assumption above assumes that all of your opponent’s cards are live. Of course you also take the liveness of your own cards into account.

Another thing to consider is that 5th street is often considered a major decision point for staying in the hand. Knowing this the villain may be planning to bet 5th but check 6th thus allowing you to realize your equity.

Moving onto 6th street:

6th street when villain has not made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣4 5 J – 24% equity
(3♠K)K♠276 – 76% equity

6th street when villain has made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣4 5 J – 4% equity
(2♠K)K♠276 – 96% equity

On 6th street it is estimated that your opponent paired his hidden hole card 25% of the time. Thus your estimated weighted average equity is [(75%)(24%)+(25%)(4%)] = 19%.

On 6th street we are getting 6.7 to 1 and require around 13% equity to proceed. We are getting less of an overlay on 6th street than we were on 5th. With each additional street the odds that your opponent has two pair increases and with it the reverse implied odds.
And since 5th street is a major decision point many opponents may check if they still don’t have anything on 6th which strengthens their range.

Most conventional advice states that once you call on 5th street that you are committed to going to 7th. Can we break from this and possibly fold on 6th after calling on 5th?

There appears to be some justification for doing just that as only the two remaining eights on 7th would be cards that you could raise for value. When you have a small pair with an over card kicker where you have five raising cards so you have less implied odds.

Chasing the larger pair (When you marginally improve)

5th street brings a 3 flush:

Villain has not made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣24♠ – 32% equity
(3♠K)K♠27 – 68% equity

Villain has made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣24♠ – 12% equity
(2♠K)K♠27 – 88% equity

The weighted average equity is [(84.2%)(32%)+(15.8%)(12%)] = 28.8%.

As you can see it helps your cause a little bit (estimated equity increases from 27.8% to 28.8%) but unless 6th street brings trips, a second pair, or another spade it your decision to go to the river is the same as the example above.

5th street brings a 3 flush/ 3 straight:

Villain has not made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣2T♠ – 36% equity
(3♠K)K♠27 – 64% equity

Villain has made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣2T♠ – 16% equity
(2♠K)K♠27 – 84% equity

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

This occurrence helps your 5th street equity tremendously and shows the power of combining a few backdoor outs.

When 5th street brings an over pair to the probable pair:

Villain has not made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣2A – 34% equity
(3♠K)K♠27 – 66% equity

Villain has made two pair
(8♠9♠)8♣2 A – 20% equity
(2♠K)K♠27 – 84% equity

The weighted average equity is [(84.2%)(34%)+(15.8%)(20%)] = 31.8%.

Gaining an over card kicker helps out a lot. As we’ve seen in last month’s article, we should now see 7th street. The ace improves our equity and gives us more outs in case he already has kings up or makes it on the river.


Medium pairs with straight flush kickers are another class of hands that can be difficult to play in Seven Card Stud. On 3rd street these hands should often be played aggressively in order to steal antes, limit the field, and defend against players who may be stealing. When it appears that you are up against a larger pair you will often be faced with borderline decisions on 5th and 6th street. Hopefully this article is a useful guide to playing these hands in a more profitable manner.