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How To Play Stud Poker

Stud poker games have been popular since the eighteenth century, and modern versions such as five-card stud have been around for well over a century. Stud poker is characterized by each player being dealt both face-up and face-down cards. As any given hand progresses, their hands develop as they receive more cards. While five-card stud was a mainstay in the twentieth century, these last few decades have seen a huge surge in interest in seven-card stud. This game is extremely popular in home games, but it is also a go-to game for casinos and card rooms. As one of the simpler poker games, stud is perfectly suited for introducing new players to poker.

Rules For Playing Stud Poker

Stud poker games have been popular since the eighteenth century, and modern versions such as five-card stud have been around for well over a century. Stud poker is characterized by each player being dealt both face-up and face-down cards. As any given hand progresses, their hands develop as they receive more cards. While five-card stud was a mainstay in the twentieth century, these last few decades have seen a huge surge in interest in seven-card stud. This game is extremely popular in home games, but it is also a go-to game for casinos and card rooms. As one of the simpler poker games, stud is perfectly suited for introducing new players to poker.

Stud Poker Rules

For this explanation we will be using a seven-card $2/$4 fixed-limit game. Unlike most poker games, stud poker is a non-positional game. This means that there is not a dealer button, and player order can change from round to round based on each player's face-up cards. Before any cards are dealt, stud poker usually requires each of the 2-6 players to pay a small fee known as an ante. These antes force players to contribute to the pot before they can see their first cards, and act as a tax on tight players who fold early and often.

Once all of the antes are posted the dealer may proceed to deal two face-down hole cards, and one face up card to each player, starting to the dealer's left. Each player is free to look at their own hole cards and the other players' face-up cards in order to make educated bets. Once all players have their first three cards, the first round of betting can begin. To start things off, the player with the lowest valued face-up card must make a small bet called the 'bring in'. In our $2/$4 game, this 'bring in' would be $1. A 'bring in' acts as a small blind and is only used in the first round of betting. If two or more players are tied for the lowest card then you decide by suit rank. Spades (spades) are the highest suit, followed by hearts (hearts), then diamonds (diamonds), and clubs (clubs) are the lowest.

After the 'bring in' has been posted, the player to the left of the 'bring in' makes the first bet. This first bet can either call the 'bring in' ($1) or complete the 'bring in' by raising it to the low limit ($2). Once the first player makes a decision, play continues around the table to the left. If the first bet simply calls the 'bring in', then any remaining players can complete it. Once the bring in has been completed, players can choose to call or raise by the limit ($2 increments). Since this is a fixed limit game, there are a maximum of three raises per round and, as always, players can fold at will. If there is ever only one player remaining in the game, they are declared the winner and they take the pot. From here on out, one betting round takes place after each card is dealt.

Upon the completion of the first betting round, players are dealt a fourth, face-up card. This card is often referred to as 'fourth street' or 'the turn'. This next round of betting, along with all future rounds, starts with the player with the highest valued face-up card and progresses clockwise around the table. Also, this is the final round of betting that utilizes the low limit ($2). For all future rounds, the high limit ($4) is used instead.

The fifth card and sixth card are dealt following this same pattern with a round of betting after each. The seventh card is dealt face-down as an addition to the players' hole cards, and triggers the fifth and final round of betting. When the final bets have been completed, all remaining players show their cards, and the player who can assemble the best five-card hand wins the entire pot. If two or more players show the same hand, then the pot is split among them. Seven-card stud uses standard poker hand rankings, but if you need a refresher, check out the hand rankings below.

Hand Rankings in Stud Poker

Here are all of the stud poker hands, ranked from best to worst.

The Royal Flush - An ace-high straight within a single suit.
Example: Adiamonds Kdiamonds Qdiamonds Jdiamonds Tdiamonds
Straight Flush - A straight within a single suit.
Example: 8clubs 7clubs 6clubs 5clubs 4clubs
Four of a Kind - Four equally ranked cards.
Example: Tspades Thearts Tclubs Tdiamonds 6spades
Full House - A hand with three of a kind and a pair.
Example: 4hearts 4spades 9spades 9hearts 9clubs
Flush - Five cards within the same suit.
Example: 5clubs 6clubs Tclubs Jspades Qclubs
Straight - Five sequential cards.
Example: 8diamonds 7spades 6clubs 5spades 4spades
Three of a Kind - Three equally ranked cards.
Example: 8hearts 8clubs 8diamonds Kdiamonds 2clubs
Two Pair - Two equal cards of one rank, with two equal cards of a different rank.
Example: 7hearts 7spades Kclubs Kspades Ahearts
Pair - Two equally valued cards.
Example: 3diamonds 3clubs 5clubs 9diamonds Jclubs
High Card -  When you do not have any of the above hands, your hand is designated by its most valuable card.
Example: 2diamonds 9spades 6spades 3hearts 4spades In this case you would have 'Nine High'.

Limit Variations

As we went through the rules in the sections above, we assumed that we were playing with fixed limits. While this is the most common way to play, and the best starting point for new stud players, there are two other popular options.

- No Limit Stud Poker

Although less common, no limit seven card stud does exist. In a no limit game, players can bet any amount greater than the ‘bring in’: there is no maximum bet. This allows players to go all-in, and requires very tight and aggressive play. Unless you are completely comfortable with stud poker, you should stay away from the no limit games until you become more experienced.

- Pot Limit Stud Poker

If you are tired of the fixed-limit grind, but you don’t feel like jumping into the volatile world of no limit stud, pot limits might be just right for you. In a pot limit stud game, the maximum bet size is determined by the size of the pot. To calculate the pot you need to add all previous bets, along with the bet that you would need to post to call. In a pot limit game, the limits can grow exponentially as the game continues, and with aggressive players it can be nearly as chaotic as no limit poker.

Wild Card Variations

One of the easiest ways to add some variety to your stud game is to make one or more cards wild. A wild card is a card that a player can use as if it were any card in the deck. There are many ways to do this but the three most common ways to designate the wild card are:

  • Low Card’s Wild – Each player’s lowest card is treated as a wild card.
  • Joker’s Wild – A joker card is inserted in the deck and treated as a wild card.
  • Specific Rank – Any specific card can be called wild. Example: “Deuces Wild”

In many home game variations, the dealer can designate any card wild before starting the hand. There are also some more obscure ways of designating the wild card such as ‘follow the queen’. In follow the queen, players must watch for any face-up queens. The card that is dealt immediately after the queen becomes the wild card. In ‘follow the queen’, the wild card can be reset if another queen is dealt.

Stud Poker Variations

Stud poker can be played in a wide variety of ways. All over the world, avid stud players have come up with some exciting variations to shake up your experience. These variations include high-low split pots, low games like Razz, and more obscure variations such as Chicago (a high-low game where the highest spade hole card splits the high pot). Looking for a totally different play experience? Try playing the classic stud game "baseball".

Baseball

Baseball takes your traditional seven-card stud game to a whole new level. While fun and a bit quirky, baseball might take some time to get used to. Here are the changes, all of which relate to the actual game of baseball.

  • 3’s are wild. (3 strikes)
  • 9’s are wild. (9 innings)
  • If you are dealt a 4, you get an additional card. (4 balls)

Because player can easily hold eight or nine cards, and because there are too wild cards, you are likely to see some pretty high hands while playing baseball stud. One final change that may be used involves forced bets. Following this new rule, players have to make a bet, equal to the ante, if they are dealt a 3, a 4, or a 9. These forced bets are designed to act as compensation for receiving these three valuable cards.