Hamlet: You’d fold a pair of Aces to open in 7-stud? What are you, the rock of all rocks? A pair of aces is a fine opening hand.
Rule of thumb for stud: Small pairs are usually junk, but it depends on the game. If you have an ‘overcard’ to the highest card being shown as your third card, then a small pair may be playable. But it also depends on your position and how agressive the game is.
In 7-stud, pay a lot of attention to what the other up cards are. That pair of Aces Hamlet has is usually a good starting hand, but it is worthless if you see two other aces up on the table, because you have no chance of making trips now. Even one more Ace showing on the table makes the hand marginal.
In seven-card stud, you can play a 3-straight or a 3-flush if your cards are high enough in value, and if the cards you need are still ‘live’ (i.e. not showing in front of anyone else).
For example, let’s say you have TJQ of clubs. Normally, this would be a pretty solid starting hand. But you look around the table, and there are four other clubs showing, two kings, a nine, and an Ace. This hand should go in the muck. Because the kings are showing, pairing one of your cards could give you an underpair to the kings. And you needed those kings to make a straight. And normally you’d have nine other flush cards to hit to make a running flush, but four of them are exposed leaving you only a five-out runner-runner draw for a flush, and about the same odds for making a straight. Not good.
Also, pay attention to what the other players are thinking in a stud game. You can catch a lot of bluffs in stud if you know something the other player doesn’t. A common way to catch a bluff is to keep track of another players ‘outs’. For instance, let’s say a guy has the 7, 9, and J of diamonds on the table. But you saw four other diamonds go by, and you have two in your hand that the other player doesn’t know about. Now let’s say that the player checks, and you bet. He calls. Another card falls. He checks, you bet, he calls. On the last card, another diamond falls and suddenly he comes out betting. Should you call with, say, a pair?
In this case, you probably should. Because the odds are pretty good that he was on a straight draw (probably a gutshot) and missed it. Why? Because if he had a four-flush on fourth street, he probably would have bet it when heads-up with you, hoping to get you to fold. Same with the turn. But on the river when the fourth diamond falls, he’d probably bet whether he had the fifth diamond or not. In addition, with all those other diamonds showing he’d be less likely to make a flush. So you’re making a percentage play - you are probably beat, but the evidence from how the hand was played out gives you enough reason to call.
This brings out another important stud principle - in a limit stud game, if you go all the way to the end with a hand, it’s usually correct to call just about any bet if you’ve got a hand that can beat a bluff (say, a small pair) unless you can’t beat the hand that’s already showing. The reason is because the number of betting rounds means that the pot will be quite large compared to the single bet you have to call. Folding the best hand on 7th street in stud is a serious error. Making a call with the worst hand is a much smaller one.
But you know, if you’re a complete poker neophyte, there’s just too much to learn to get across in a forum. I suggest you pick up a good book on poker (anything by Sklansky, Malmuth, Zee, Ciaffone). I also heartily second Ender’s suggestion of going over to www.twoplustwo.com - they have a poker forum there which is just full of people swapping advice, posting hands and asking, “How would you have played this?” etc. You’ll learn about poker faster by hanging out there than by any another means.
There are also a couple of pretty good computer poker games out there you can practice against. Look for “Turbo Texas Holdem”, “Turbo Seven Card Stud”, or “Turbo Omaha”. Those games play reasonably well, and they have an ‘advisor’ mode that you can bring up to give you playing hints based on the situation you’re in. For a new player to the game, they are valuable tools.
Beware of other poker playing programs other than the ones I mentioned. Most computer poker games suck really badly.
Another free learning experience is to sign up to play IRC poker. There’s even a good front end out there (do a google search for “Gpkr”, that will get you up and running with a decent interface, and many of the players on IRC are very good. It’s a great place to start.
I also recommend staying away from cheezy games and games with wild cards. Serious poker players stay away from them, because they reduce the amount of strategy required and make it difficult to learn the right way to play. When it’s your turn to deal, stick to the ‘casino’ games - Hold’em, Omaha, or Seven-card stud. There are lots of variants of these - the most popular are ‘split’ games in which the lowest possible hand gets half the pot and the highest gets the other half, and ‘lowball’ games where the lowest hand wins.
But if you take the time to learn the game, you won’t need any more variety than those three games. I have thousands of hours of professional poker playing time booked, and I’ve never played anything but those three games (pot limit and limit).
One last piece of advice - don’t play in the game if there’s more money at stake than you are comfortable with. If you don’t know the first thing about the game, you’re a fish. EVen if your friends are only average players, they’ll clean your clock. So don’t accept opportunities to get into real money games. Play penny poker until you understand what you are doing and have a decent feel for the strategy of the game.
If your friends are your average poker players who have never really studied the game, then even a modicum of study on your part should give you a pretty good advantage over them.