Stud poker is characterized by a totally unique style of play in which each player is dealt a specified number of cards, some face up and some face down. Unlike other popular poker variants, stud poker rules do not dictate that there are any board cards to be shared among the players communally - though all players can see each other's open (face up) cards.
While the exact origins of stud poker are unknown, general consensus holds that 3 card stud poker became widely popular among soldiers of both camps in the American Revolutionary War (between 1775 and 1783), while 5 card stud enjoyed a heyday almost a century later during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Today, 7 Card Stud is the most popular form of stud poker – and the second most popular kind of poker, period, after Texas Hold’em. There are almost innumerable other variations of the game including the aforementioned 5 card variation, Hi-Lo Stud and Hi-Lo Stud/8 or Better and the relatively new Caribbean Stud. More on these later, in the meantime, let’s start by familiarizing you with some basic stud poker rules.
Stud Poker Rules
Despite the numerous variations of the game, there are a few stud poker rules that apply across the board. Knowing and understanding these basic principles can help you slide into any game with relative confidence. Most stud poker is based on the most popular 7 card variant, so we will explain stud poker rules using 7 Card Stud as your foundation.
1. Like Texas Hold'em, stud poker rules maintain that dealing occurs clockwise. Each player is dealt two cards face down and one face up. Unlike Hold'em, the player with the lowest open card starts the betting by paying the bring-in (a forced bet to start the action). In the event there is a tie among low ranking cards, suit is usually used to break it. (Spades are highest, followed by hearts, then diamonds then clubs.)
2. The first round of betting ensues starting with the player clockwise from the person who posted bring-in. Since the bring-in is treated as bet, subsequent players cannot check.
Note: In some stud variations, there is no bring-in, in which case stud poker rules dictate that the player with the highest ranking card begins and s/he may check. If there is a high-card tie, then the player who is next in line clockwise from the dealer start begins the action.
3. The dealer burns a card (discards one card face down) and then each player is dealt another card (their fourth card) face up. Another round of betting takes place, beginning with the player whose up card revealed the highest rank.
4. Another card (a fifth card) is dealt, followed by a round of betting.
5. The dealer deals a sixth card to each player, followed by a round of betting.
6. The final card, the seventh, is dealt face down, followed by a round of betting and - if necessary - a showdown. (If there is only one player left in the pot after this final round of betting, no showdown is required.) The best five card hand wins!
7 Card Stud is played with 2-8 people. If playing with 8 players, a 52 card deck will not technically have enough cards for everyone to get their required seven. This said, unless you are playing for low-stakes in home games, you'll be hard-pressed to encounter a situation where everyone actually stays in the hand until the end. Usually, people fold before showdown.
Other Variations and Variant Specific Stud Poker Rules
5 Card Stud
You’ll find 5 Card Stud poker rules very similar to 7 Card Stud, except that each player is not dealt as many cards. Here’s how it works: each player gets 1 hole card and 1 up card, then, after a round of betting, three more up cards with a round of betting following the deal of each card. In the end, active players will have 5 cards; 4 of which are face up and 1 which is face down. Unlike 7 Card Stud poker rules, players don’t have the option to pick and choose their cards. All 5 cards have to be used to make the best hand.
This stud variant was invented by the famous gambling authority and author David Sklansky - though he coined it 'Casino Hold'em'. Caribbean Stud poker rules follow much the same suit as 5 Card Stud, with the notable exception that players are pitted against the dealer.
Hi-Lo stud poker is pretty common. Playing in a hi-lo game simply means that the pot is split between the player with the best ranking poker hand at the table, and the player with the lowest ranking hand. In some cases, a player may have both the best possible high hand and low hand, in which case that player gets the whole pot. Aces count as high and low. A ‘wheel’ (A-2-3-4-5) is the best possible nut low hand.
Note: The “lowest” ranking hand is not to be confused with the worst possible hand. (The worst possible hands are hands that don’t win. A low hand can win!) In most stud variations, straights and flushes do not count against your hand, meaning a low straight (for example) is still good even though the straight could be viewed as enhancing a low hand’s ranking. If you are unsure if this rule applies, clarify with the dealer.
8 or Better Hi-Lo Stud
Play this stud variation just like 7 Card Stud with Hi-Lo Stud poker rules, and then add in the fact that a player requires a hand with 8 as the highest possible card to win the low hand. This means a player must make his or her hand with an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2 or an ace, which remember, can count as a '1' according to Hi-Lo Stud poker rules. In the absence of a qualifying low hand, the high hand takes the whole pot.
Stud poker is played in casinos, home games and backrooms, so there are almost limitless other variations of stud poker. This said, if you understand these basic stud poker rules, you’ll have no problem adapting to any variant.