How to Play Stud Poker | Stud Poker Rules
The most popular poker game worldwide until Texas Hold ’em took over; Stud was the game that avid poker players played in almost every casino that hosted poker during the 70s and 80s. Despite not having the same level of action compared to the fast-paced, big bet nature of Texas Hold ’em, Stud was the favored game amongst amateurs and professionals for many years.
While you’ll struggle to see a casino run a Stud game nowadays, plenty of people play it online, and it is a staple in any mixed game. However, those under 40 may not have come across the game before, so we’re here to give you a full breakdown of how the game works so that you can feel comfortable showing up to your next mixed game.
Stud Poker Rules Overview
If you roughly remember how to play, but need are a bit fuzzy on some rules, here’s a quick rundown of the rules of Stud poker. We’re going to be focusing on Stud High as that’s the most common variant that people play; we’ll dive into some of the other variants further down the page. Don’t worry if you’re a complete Stud newbie; we’ll give you a much more detailed explanation later on in the article.
Before the cards are dealt, each player antes roughly the equivalent of ¼ the small bet (the exact amount will vary depending on the stakes you play). The dealer then deals the cards one at a time, starting with the player to the dealer’s immediate left. The first two cards a player receives are face down, and the third card each player receives is dealt face up. This is called the “door” card.
The player with the lowest up-card must act first, and they have two choices. They can “bring in,” which is to bet the smallest amount possible (often equivalent to the ante), or they can “complete,” which is to bet the amount of the small bet. This player must choose one of the two options; they cannot surrender their hand at this stage. Once the first player has made their decision, the betting action moves clockwise around the table, starting with the player to the left of the bring-in.
Once the betting round is completed, another card is dealt face up to each player remaining in the hand. The player with the highest showing hand must act first on all subsequent streets. There is another betting round, and any remaining players get dealt a fifth card face-up. On this street, the betting limits increase from small to big bets. Another round of betting takes place, and the remaining players are dealt a sixth card face up. After the sixth card, there is another round of betting, and any remaining players are dealt a seventh card face down. There is a final round of betting, and any remaining players must showdown their hand.
The best five-card poker hand wins the pot when the players turn their whole hand face-up. In the event of a tie, the pot is split evenly between all players holding the equivalent hand.
For those of you who have never played a hand of Stud before, that must have sounded not very clear! However, never fear; we’re here to give you a much deeper explanation of how to play Stud poker.
Unique Stud Rules
Stud is a game that plays very differently from the most common form of poker, Texas Hold’em, and there are rules unique to Stud that you need to be aware of before you start playing. Let’s take a closer look at the rules that are unique to Stud poker.
Upcards and Downcards
In Stud, you are dealt five or seven cards during the course of the hand, depending on the variant you’re playing. Some of these cards are dealt face up for the whole table to see. These are called up-cards. In 7-card Stud, the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cards are all up-cards, and in 5-card Stud, the second, third, and fourth cards are up-cards. Other players cannot use these cards to make their own hand, but they do provide information about the cards left in the deck.
Antes and Bring-In
There are no blinds in Stud poker. Instead, every player antes a small amount at the beginning of the hand, and the player who is showing the lowest up-card at the start of the hand must post the bring-in. The bring-in is a bet that’s larger than the ante but smaller than the small bet. Players can choose to make a small bet rather than the bring-in bet if they wish.
Order of Play
In Hold’em, the order of play is dictated by the button. However, in Stud, there is no button, so another method is used to determine who acts first. During the first round of betting, the player with the lowest up-card must act first, and in all subsequent betting rounds, the player with the best showing hand must act first. If two players show the same up-card, the tie is broken by suit order, with spades being the highest value, then hearts, then diamonds, then clubs. Play then begins with the player to the direct left of the bring-in.
Double Bet on 4th
In Limit Stud games, if a player is showing a pair on 4th street, they have the option to bet double the limit if they’d like. For example, if the small bet is $2 and the big bet is $4, a player showing a pair on 4th street can bet $4 if they so choose. This only applies to pairs on 4th street.
As Stud requires seven cards for each player by the end of the hand, there is the possibility of the deck running out of cards. In the event that this happens, the dealer will shuffle the last card in the deck with the previously used burn cards to create a new deck which they use to deal the remaining cards.
The betting limits are the first thing we need to discuss when it comes to Stud poker. The only betting limits that are used in Stud are fixed limits. Some home games may allow Pot Limit or No Limit Stud, but those are in the minority.
When you play Stud, there are four betting amounts – the ante, the bring-in, the small bet, and the big bet. The small bet is half the size of the big bet, and the bring-in is usually a quarter of the size of the small bet. The ante can sometimes be the equivalent of the bring-in, though it is smaller in some games (notably higher stakes games). This is why the most common stakes you’ll see for Stud are $4/$8, as that allows for a $1 bring-in/ante.
At the start of the game, each player that wants to be dealt in is required to post an ante. The player with the lowest up-card is then required to make a bet, either the bring-in or if their hand is strong enough, a small bet.
The betting limits in Stud are fixed, meaning you can only bet or raise the amount dictated for that street. The small bets are used for 3rd and 4th street, and on 5th street, the limits are doubled, meaning players must use big bets when betting or raising for the remaining betting rounds.
There are many different variants of Stud poker, as it was most popular during a time when casinos weren’t as homogenized in their rules as they are today. The variants we’re going to cover are all that have been played in casinos and can still be played to this day. However, be aware that plenty of other variants, each with their own rule set, have been played in home games.
In Stud High, the aim of the game is to try and make the best five-card poker hand, similar to Texas Hold ’em. You can use any of the seven cards you’re dealt to make the best hand, but you must use exactly five cards.
Stud Eight or Better
Stud Eight or Better is a split pot game, where the pot is divided into two halves – one being awarded to the winner of the high and one being awarded to the winner of the low hand. The winner of the high hand is determined using regular Stud High rules – the player with the best five-card poker hand wins.
However, the low-hand winner is the player with the lowest five unpaired cards below an eight – hence the name “Eight or Better.” Aces count as both high and low in Stud Eight or Better. For example, a player with a Stud board of Ac7d6s2c8sJdJc has a pair of jacks for the high hand and a low of 8762A. However, if the player had AcAd6s2c8sJdJc, they would have two pair (jacks and aces) for the high hand, but they do not have five unpaired cards below an eight, so they don’t have a low hand. If a player does not have a hand eligible for the low, then they can only win the high half of the pot.
If none of the players at showdown have a hand that’s eligible for the low, the full pot is awarded to the winner of the high hand.
Stud Hi-Lo is very similar to Stud Eight or Better, but with one rule change – there are no criteria a player must meet to be eligible for the low hand. This means that the player with the lowest five unpaired cards can win the low half of the pot, even if it is worse than an eight.
For example, let’s look at two hands in Stud Hi-Lo to see who wins each pot.
- Player A has 2c2s5d5c7s9dJc
- Player B has AcAsAd8d9cQcKd
For the high hand, Player A has two pair (deuces and fives), whereas Player B has three aces, so Player B wins the high hand.
For the low hand, Player A has a J9752 low, whereas Player B has a KQ98A low, so Player A wins the low half.
Razz is considered to be the “low” version of Stud. Therefore, you’re trying to make this game’s lowest possible unpaired hand. Aces are considered low, and straights and flushes do not count against you. This means that the best possible hand in Razz is 5432A.
In Razz, the player with the highest up-card must be the bring-in rather than the lowest.
5 Card Stud
5 Card Stud is a game that is very rarely played anymore, mainly because of how boring it is! However, film buffs amongst you may know that this is the game that is played in the classic Steve McQueen movie, the Cincinnati Kid. In 5 Card Stud, each player is dealt one card face down and one face up to start. After that, the remaining cards are all dealt face up. This game is only played as a high-hand game, so the winner of the hand is the player with the best five-card poker hand.
Start of Game
Stud poker is considered an “ante” game, meaning that each player must put a small amount of money into the pot before the game begins. This generates action and gives the players something to fight for. As there is no dealer button to denote where to deal the cards, the dealer always starts the deal with the player to their immediate left.
The cards are dealt one at a time and are dealt clockwise around the table. The first two cards are dealt face down (called the “hole cards”), and the third card is dealt face up (called the “up-card”).
You can play stud poker with a maximum of eight players. The math wizards among you may realize that the math doesn’t work out there (8 x 7 = 56; plus four burn cards makes 60), but a special rule is in place to allow the games to run eight-handed. Usually, it wouldn’t be an issue, as most players will fold before 7th street, but in the event of all eight players remaining in the hand until 7th street, the last card is dealt face up in the middle of the table as a seventh communal card that all players can use to make their hand. Of course, unless you’re in an amazingly soft Stud game, you’re not going to see this rule in action.
There are five betting rounds to Stud Poker, the most among the games played in a casino. The first betting round works slightly differently from the rest, as with most forms of poker. There is a betting round after the first three cards are dealt, then another betting round after each subsequent card is dealt. This continues until each player has been dealt a total of seven cards.
Bring In/3rd Street
The player with the lowest up-card is required to make the first bet. If two or more players are showing the same up-card, the tie is broken by suit order, with the highest suit being spades, then hearts, then diamonds, then clubs. This player has two options, they can bet the smallest amount possible (a ‘bring in”), or they can wager a full small bet. Almost all players elect just to bet the bring-in amount, as their hand is often weak due to their low upcard.
The play then moves clockwise around the table, with the player to the left of the bring-in next to act. This player has three options:
- Fold – The player does not put any additional money into the pot, but they surrender their hand.
- Complete – The player matches the amount of the small bet.
- Raise– The player increases the bet to double the small bet amount.
Raises in limit games are often capped at four bets per street, though this is at the discretion of the casino.
If the player first to act decides to “bring in” and another player has “completed,” the action will go back to the initial player before the betting round is over. That player then has the option to “complete” and match the size of the small bet, which ends the betting round.
The betting round is considered complete when there is either only one player remaining in the hand or if all remaining players have matched the last bet in the hand. Let’s look at some an example. Note – the brackets will denote the player’s up-card.
This hand is from a $4/$8 Stud High game.
➢ Player 1 (3c) – Bring in $2
➢ Player 2 (Ts) – Fold
➢ Player 3 (6s) – Fold
➢ Player 4 (Kd) – Complete $4
➢ Player 5 (Ac) – Raise $8
➢ Player 6 (7d) – Fold
➢ Player 1 (3c) – Fold
➢ Player 4 (Kd) – Call $4
In this example, the betting round finished because all remaining players had matched the last bet. So, after the bring-in by Player 1, Player 4 completed showing a Kd, Player 5 raised showing the Ac, Player 1 folded, and Player 4 called, matching the last bet of the round. In Stud games, there aren’t many hands that finish in the first betting round – compared to a game like No-Limit Hold ’em. This is because the fixed limits make calling a more attractive option.
Make sure to pay attention to the up cards on this street, as once they’re folded, you won’t be able to see them again. Also, knowing which cards have been folded is essential information when working out whether or not to draw to your flush or whether or not your opponent has the hand they’re representing.
After the betting round on 3rd street is complete, the dealer will burn the top card of the deck before dealing each remaining player one additional card face up. This is the protocol for each card until 7th street. After the fourth card has been dealt to each remaining player, the next betting round (often called 4th street) begins. Each subsequent betting round from here on in starts with the player who has the best up cards showing. The “best” is determined by poker hand strength, with a pair being stronger than no pair, ace high being stronger than king high, etc.
The player with the best up cards can decide to bet, or they can check. If they bet, they must use the small bet sizing as that is the betting limit for 4th street. However, if a player is showing a pair, they have the option of doubling their bet to the size of the big bet if they so wish. If the player decides to check, the player does not put any chips in the middle, and the betting action moves to the player on their left.
The action moves clockwise around the table, with all remaining players having the option to bet, check (if no betting action has been made), or raise (if a bet or raise has already been made). There are three criteria for each subsequent betting round to be considered complete:
- All remaining players have checked.
- Only one player is remaining in the hand.
- All remaining players have matched the last bet or raise in the hand.
Let’s look at an example of a hand being played on 4th street from a $5/$10 cash game. Again, the brackets will denote the up cards for each player.
➢ Player 1 (AcAd) – Bet $5
➢ Player 2 (KcKs) – Raise $10
➢ Player 3 (QdJc) – Fold
➢ Player 1 (AcAd) – Raise $15
➢ Player 2 (KcKs) – Raise $20
➢ Player 1 (AcAd) – Call $5
This betting round finished as the last bet or raise was matched by all remaining players. Player 3 folded after the initial raise, and Player 1 matched the fourth bet made by Player 2. Remember, most casinos will cap each street to four bets, which is why Player 1 wasn’t able to raise again and had to call to continue.
Once the fifth card has been dealt to all remaining players, the 5th street betting round starts. Again, the player with the best up cards is required to act first, so pay attention, as it may not be the same player as 4th street.
This is the first street where the “big bet” betting limits are introduced, so any bets and raises must be made using the big bet amount. Each player has the same options as on 4th street, and the betting round is considered complete when the three previous criteria are met.
The 6th street betting round begins after the sixth card has been dealt to the remaining players. Remember to check to see who has the best up cards as it may have changed from 5th street.
Each player has the same options as the previous streets, and the betting round is considered complete when any of the three previous criteria are met.
The final betting round occurs after the seventh card has been dealt. Whereas all previous cards have been dealt face-up, the seventh card is dealt face down. This means that the player who was first to act on 6th street will be the same person to act first on 7th street.
The mechanics of the street remain the same, with players having the same options available and the betting round ending in the same way. However, if more than one person remains in the hand at the end of this betting round, the players must “showdown” their cards to see who wins the pot.
If there are two or more people in the hand after the 7th street betting round has ended, a winner must be determined to see who takes the pot. To do this, all remaining players turn their hands face up, and the player with the best five-card poker hand wins. Players can choose any five cards from the seven they’ve been dealt, but they cannot use more than five.
In live poker, players are often reluctant to be the first to turn their hand face up at showdown. This is because they want to hide as much information as possible from their opponents, and revealing their hole cards gives their opponents an insight into how they play. Luckily, to make things smoother, there is a set order in which players must show their hands.
The player who makes the last aggressive action on 7th street is obligated to show their hand first when they get to showdown. If the other players in the hand can beat it, they can turn their hand over to claim the pot. If the other players can’t beat it, they can muck their hands without having to show their hole cards. Note that to claim the pot, a player must show all their cards, even the ones they’re not using, to make their five-card poker hand. If there is no aggressive action on 7th street, the player to the left of the dealer is usually the first player that is obligated to show their hand, though this varies from casino to casino.
There are ten different hand rankings in Stud poker, and we’ve listed them below in descending order from best to worst:
- Royal Flush– The cards T, J, Q, K, and A, all of the same suit. (AhKhQhJhTh)
- Straight Flush– Any five cards in order, all of the same suit (5c6c7c8c9c)
- 4 of a Kind– Four cards of the same rank (AcAdAhAsKc)
- Full House– Three cards of the same rank with two other cards of the same rank (QcQhQs9s9h)
- Flush – Any five cards of the same suit (QhTh7h5h2h)
- Straight– Five cards in order but of different suits (3c4s5h6h7c)
- Three of a kind– Three cards of the same rank (JhJcJs9c2c)
- Two Pair– Two sets of two different cards of the same rank (AcAsKcKh7s)
- One pair– Two cards of the same rank (JcJhAc9s6h)
- High card – No cards of the same rank (AcJh8s6c4h)
Some of you may have noticed that all of the examples use five cards, even if the hand itself doesn’t require five cards to be made. This is because if two or more players have a hand of the same ranking, the secondary cards are used to determine a winner. Let’s look at an example.
These are the hands of two players who get to showdown.
- Player A – AcAd9d8sJc4d9c
- Player B – 9h9sKd2hAsAh3c
In this example, both players have the same hand ranking (two pair), and both players have the same hand strength within that ranking (aces and nines). In cases like this, the fifth card is used to determine the winner, with the player having the highest card being the winner. You can see that Player A’s highest card is a jack, whereas Player B’s highest card is a king, meaning that Player B wins the hand.
If more than one player has the same hand ranking, the pot is split evenly between all players with the same hand. In the event of an odd-numbered pot, the pot should be split as evenly as possible, with the spare chip going to the player to the left of the dealer.
Live Stud Rules
While you probably won’t find too many live stud games in your casino, you may find it as part of a mixed game, or you may want to play it in your home game with your friends. If so, there are some rules of Stud poker that you should be aware of when playing live.
- If the dealer accidentally exposes your first or second hole card, this becomes your up-card, and your third card is dealt face down to replace the exposed card. If both of your hole cards are exposed, your hand is dead, and you receive your ante back.
- If you aren’t at the table when it’s your turn to act, your hand will be declared dead, and you will lose your ante and any forced bets you’ve made.
- If a player is all in for the ante and has the lowest up-card, the play moves to the player to the left of the all-in player. That player can decide to fold, make the forced bet, or make a full bet.
- If you pick up your up-cards when facing a bet, this is deemed to be a fold, and your hand will be declared dead. However, this does not apply at showdown, and you are free to pick up your cards if you wish.
- Any card that has been dealt off the table must be played and is treated as an exposed card.
- The dealer must announce the low card at the beginning of the game, the highest hand through each subsequent betting round, any pairs shown, and all bets or raises. They do not announce possible straights or flushes (looking at you, Cincinnati Kid!).
- If there are not enough cards in the deck for the remaining players, the dealer must deal until the last card in the deck. At this point, the last card is shuffled with the burn cards to create a new deck. The dealer must burn again unless there will not be enough cards to deal to each player. If there still aren’t enough cards for each player, one card is dealt face-up in the middle of the table, which all remaining players can use.
Stud uses a lot of cards, so there’s a lot for a dealer to manage! If it’s your first time playing Stud, remember to take your time and try to remember each card that’s been shown, as it will help you make better decisions on future streets.
Stud poker may not have the same popularity it once did, but that doesn’t mean the poker world has ultimately passed it by. Many players still play Stud variants as part of a mixed game and are heavily featured in WSOP events. They’re a lot of fun to play once you get the hang of them, and they’re entirely different from any other form of poker you’ll have played before. The key to being a great all-around poker player is knowing how to play all the games well, and if you want to mix it with the best of them in Bobby’s Room, you need to have a strong Stud game.
Stud Poker FAQs
The deck is always shuffled between every hand of poker played.
There are five betting rounds in stud poker; 3rd street, 4th street, 5th street, 6th street, and 7th street. In Five-Card Stud, there are only four betting rounds; 2nd street, 3rd street, 4th street, and 5th street.
You are dealt three cards to start the hand (two face down, one face up), a further three cards face up on subsequent streets before a final card face down, making a total of seven cards dealt.
A maximum of eight players can play Seven Card Stud. However, there is a special rule in place to allow the game to be played with eight players – in the event of an eight-handed game where no player folds before 7th street, the last card will be dealt in the center of the table as a seventh communal card.
The hand rankings in poker are as follows in descending order from strongest to weakest:
- Royal Flush
- Straight Flush
- 4 of a Kind
- Full House
- Three of a Kind
- Two Pair
- One Pair
- High Card
The bring-in is a forced bet made by the player with the lowest up card on 3rd street. It is smaller than the “small bet” and can be equivalent to the ante size depending on the game’s structure.
An ante is a forced bet made by every player at the table before the cards are dealt. You will not be dealt a hand if you do not post an ante.
Splashing the pot is placing your chips directly into the pot when betting or calling. It is not allowed in any game as it makes it hard to tell whether a player put the right amount of chips in the pot.