The Decline of 7-Card Stud in London
By David Young
I am writing about the decline of the 7-Card Stud game in London. I would prefer to be writing its obituary. I come not to praise it but to bury it. For many years 7-Card Stud was the backbone of the poker scene in London. Every weekday afternoon and most Saturdays, the same players gathered for their daily game as soon as the casino opened at 2pm. There were two tables: one had a £1 running ante, the other had a 50p ante. The games continued until 4am when the casino closed.
I sometimes played in the game and I don't think that I did badly at it. To be truthful, I did enjoy it on a few occasions, but it was tearfully slow compared to the hold'em that I love and I could never understand how people played it in preference. The game contained the seeds of its own destruction and the impressive thing is that it lasted as long as it did. The truly amazing part is that the people who professed to love the game did so much to kill it. When a new game appeared on the scene (the Hold'em/Omaha 'Round of each'), players flocked to it in preference and 7-Card Stud was dealt a mortal blow. In the last few months, the £1 ante game has died and the 50p game is rarely played. When it is played, it starts late in the evenings and lasts only for a few hours.
Why did it suffer? There are several reasons:
Professionals who educate
Many of the stronger players discussed their good play with other strong players. They would explain how they were able to fold some hands that others would not. They asked hypothetical questions to each other about how the hands could have been played better and gave honest answers! All this took place in front of the poorer players, who gradually learned how to improve. The number of bad players declined.
Professionals who insulted the weaker players
In other cases, the weak players did not stay around long enough to improve. The regulars sometimes insulted them. I recall a particular instance in which an American arrived for the first ever time. He explained that he was glad to finally discover a 7-Card Stud game in London. Fifteen minutes later he left and has never returned. Why? At the table, there was a 'subsistence professional'; who took offence at the fact that the American had not laid out his board cards in the order in which they were received. In London, it is a rule that a player's cards should indicate their order of arrival. The 'pro' suggested that the American was cheating! The accusation was utterly ridiculous, as well as insulting. I tried to make the 'pro' apologise, but failed. We lost a keen player.
The small game generated more arguments than all the other tables in the room combined. I don't know why this was. It could be the mechanics of the dealing of the game that were to blame, and it could be that there were a lot of players who had played for decades and were used to having things done their own way.
Slow pace of play
There were many bad habits that slowed down the pace of play. A notable problem was that many players had understandings that they would pay the ante of a friend, if they had won the previous pot. It was referred to as 'being on the team'. The result was that some players would refuse to ante, instead demanding 'Who won the last pot?', until their friend chipped in. I never participated in this 'team' nonsense, as I thought that it looked terrible to visiting players, even though I knew that it was essentially harmless.
The small game was self-dealt, which places responsibility on players to maintain the pace of the game. There were some people who dealt while making calls on mobile phones. Others made you wait while they ordered a coffee before they would cut the cards.
A stupid practice
The most stupid practice was the occasional suggestion that the winner of the last pot put in the antes for everyone for the next hand. People soon realised that there was little point in betting anything on the later rounds. I saw four-way pots that were checked to the end, whereupon the players would announce: 'Aces-up!', 'Trips!', 'Straight!'
I witnessed the ultimate demonstration of the power of the above practices to ruin a game on a Saturday afternoon. A player who had recently had a heart attack came into the card room for the first time in several weeks, on release from hospital. His skin was grey. His first words on arrival were: 'My doctor has told me to avoid excitement. I am safe here.' He was dealt in on the next hand.
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