How to Play Stud Poker

Once the most dominant form of poker in the world, Stud Poker has taken a backseat to games like No Limit Hold'em and Pot Limit Omaha over the last couple of decades.  While no longer the king of poker, Stud remains a relatively popular format that is experiencing a small resurgence thanks to high-profile events at the World Series of Poker and a renewed interested in mixed games, where many standard rotations include some form of stud.

With dozens of variants, it's impossible to cover the rules for all Stud Poker games in a single article.  Instead, we're going to break down the fundamental components of typical stud games and talk about how such games differ from formats like NLHE and PLO.

Stud Poker: Key Terms

  1. Streets:  The different betting rounds of stud poker (and the cards dealt during these rounds) are often referred to as "streets," with a number that corresponds to the number of cards dealt to that point.
  2. Bring-in: A small forced bet during the first betting round paid by one player. 
  3. Ante: Small forced bets paid by all players prior to the start of the hand.  There are generally no blinds in Stud Poker, so the bring-in and ante can be thought of as accomplishing the same goal: Putting some money in the pot before play begins.
  4. Down cards / Up cards: Cards in your hand that are either hidden from view (down) or face-up for all players to see.

Stud Poker: Basic Gameplay

As opposed to games like NLHE and PLO, there are no shared, or "community," cards in Stud Poker games.  While gameplay varies by variant, the basic structure of a stud game is for players to receive a mix of down cards (viewable only to them) and up cards (viewable by all players).  Rounds of betting accompany the dealing of additional cards, and players win either by betting and forcing all opponents to fold or by making the best five card hand from their available cards when all betting is concluded.

Betting in stud games can be limit, no limit or pot limit; the majority of stud games are traditionally played with a limit betting structure, but there are several stud-based games that use no-limit betting structures.

Stud Poker: Understanding Hi / Lo Formats

While Stud Poker isn't the only game to have hi / lo variants, the majority of such variants do end up being stud-based.  Understanding how hi / lo works can be a bit of a confounding process for the new player, but it's actually a fairly simple thing when you break it down.

In a hi / lo stud game, you're basically competing for one of two potential pots: A pot awarded to the best hand at showdown, and a pot awarded to the worst hand.  In the simplest version of such a game, the pot would be split in half between the best and worst hands.  In actual gameplay, things get trickier; a person can hold both the best and worst hand, as you can usually use different combinations of your cards to make each hand, and win the whole pot.  Or, two people could have the same low hand and a different player could hold the best hand, meaning the two tied players would get only a quarter of the pot each, with the remaining half going to the player with the high hand.

Throwing another wrench into the works:  Many hi / lo games have a "qualifying" threshold for low hands.  In Stud Eight or Better, for example, the low hand must be no better than an eight-high five card hand.  If no players hold a qualifying hand at showdown, then there is no "low" pot and the player with the best hand wins the entire pot.

Stud may be a classic game, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be part of your repertoire as a modern poker player.  Not all online poker rooms offer stud, so use our guides to quickly locate the best sites for Stud Poker play.