Is “Stud” the stud of all poker games?

August 10, 2008

    Since beginning this weekly column/blog, I’ve pitted poker up against a few formidable foes in my VS. series…with poker coming out of round 3 with a respectable 2-1 record. (Sorry, diehards, I still think hearts has it beat).
    But that really comes as no surprise. I mean, everyone who plays poker knows it’s a much more involved game that demands critical thinking at every turn…that is if you want to win. 
    I wonder, though, how poker stands up against – poker!
    The thought crossed my mind this week when I caught another Hold ‘Em tournament on ESPN (seems like the World Series of Poker is every month these days).  Of course, it was Hold ‘Em. 
    Now, I might stand in a lonely corner by myself on this one, but I grew up learning 7-card stud (and 5-card draw), and it was the only poker games I knew about.  We only played seven-card stud in certain poker games.  Texas Hold ‘Em was just one of those “other” poker games we might try to throw into the rotation in quick passing just to switch things up…but it was never a “regular.”
    So since it was on my mind, I got to wondering, which game is really better when you break it down.  Or more to the point, when I break it down.
    Just straight head to head, no “buy a card” options, no aces, deuces, one-eyed faces wild, no passing cards to your left, no “1-2-3-drop” rule, no “match the pot or fold” cards, no “undercutting”, no nothing.  Just the two games, naked.
    Let’s get to it.
    Seven-card stud: 
    Positives: Your cards are your cards – if you catch a lucky run, you don’t have to share 5/7 of it with the rest of the community.  Also, more hidden cards/better hidden potential.  And this goes along with all your cards being your own, as well.  I find it easier to hide a monster hand under my hidden cards in 7-card stud than I do in Texas Hold ‘Em.  I can’t tell you how many times I beat down arrogant businessmen on cruise-ship casinos who thought they were gonna show some “punk kid” how it was done.  A few hesitations on returning bets, one big check raise – and those two innocent hearts showing pair with three happy ones underneath to form a $75-funded flush. 
    Negatives: More opportunity to get sucked in on a draw hand (again, this is only my opinion) – and this especially holds true if you’ve paired a down-card with something up before fifth-street.  Can be harder to get others to stay in if your open hand builds up strong (the other side of the double-edged sword of having no community cards).  Depending on how you look at it, having to ante can be viewed as a negative, although in many casinos they start the betting with the lowest up-card, and the others have the option of staying in or dropping without having to throw in. 
    Texas Hold ‘Em:
    Positives:  The game of champions, the history, the aura, the big names, the tournaments, the millions, the bracelets, the legends, the mystery – all that is Texas Hold ‘Em.  Oh, we’re talking about the actual game?  I see.  In that case, the sheer mental test of wills it presents is unmatched.  With community cards you know so much more about your opponents hand…and yet so much less.  No limit betting (as a standard) rules.  You can’t bluff effectively when the max bet is set.  It just doesn’t work.
    Negatives:  Not for the weak of heart.  And this will come as blasphemy, but at one point or another, luck can send someone completely out of the game.  It’s a lot harder to accomplish that in 7-card stud.  I take that as a negative.
    The verdict?  Much like that baseball All-Star game a few years back that pissed everybody off, I’m afraid I’m going to have to Bud Selig this thing and call it a tie.  The bottom line for me points to two games from a similar mold that take the game play into completely different directions, but I can’t conclusively say one is better or worse than the other one. 
 Although I’m sure you all have your favorites and opinions, nobody can deny (I think) that these are both great poker games, and deserve to be in every Saturday night game rotation.