Five Card Stud

The game of Five Card Stud is seldom found in most Western countries today, having long been replaced by more popular games such as Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and, indeed, Seven Card Stud. That’s not to say it has disappeared completely – the Finnish are said to be particularly fond of this ancient form of poker, and often refer to it as Canadian Stud or Scandinavian Stud

In truth, Five Card Stud wasn’t actually very popular even at the time it was invented. The simple rules offer few possibilities for complex bluffs and strategies, which results in the vast majority of hands finishing long before a showdown is reached. Players were quick to realize the shortcomings of the game, which led to the creation of its bigger brother – Seven Card Stud.

The seven-card game offers much more variety, as well as requiring far more skill to master. The earliest recorded instances of people playing five-card stud date to somewhere around 1820-1830, before reaching the peak of its popularity around 20-30 years later. By the end of the 19th century, the game had been almost completely replaced by the seven-card variant.

Today, even Seven Card Stud is something of a novelty, itself having been replaced by Texas Hold’em and it’s more complex cousin Omaha Hold’em.

History

Most historians agree that Five Card Stud was one of the first successful alternatives to the widely known game of Draw Poker, which is known to have been played as early as the late 18th century.  The tale of how stud poker came to be is somewhat hilarious, but unfortunately there is no way to verify if it’s a true story or just another example of the typical propaganda and Chinese whispers that have become synonymous with scores of early card games.

Either way, the story goes that a group of war veterans were gathered around a table in a shady saloon somewhere in Ohio, sometime during the first couple of years directly following the American Civil War. Let’s be realistic here – we’re probably talking about an extremely intimidating place! Filled with drunken ex-soldiers each of whom would have been accompanied by their favorite weapon, playing Poker at this time was a dangerous pastime.

In those days, finding a fair game was a difficult feat, so players would suggestively position a sharp knife or revolved next to their hand and makeshift chips – a clear warning to anybody who was considering any kind of funny business during the game. The veterans were engaged in a hand of Draw Poker, possibly the only form of poker that was widely known and understood at the time.

A player at the table found himself with three kings in his hand but lacked the necessary funds to participate in the hand as required. The player popped outside the saloon, returning inside with his prized stallion (or stud) before proceeding to tie the beautiful creature to one leg of the gaming table.

The player intended to use the stud as collateral to continue with the hand, however, the savvy gambler knew that there was a high possibility that the other players would have cheated by examining his cards whilst he was collecting the horse. To combat this, he insisted that all players must turn three of their cards face up, then muck their remaining two cards before drawing fresh ones from the deck.

This resulted in each player having two private hole (or “pocket”) cards, plus three visible cards placed face up on the table. This setup is immediately recognizable as being similar to the games we now know as Stud poker. Sadly, no source has ever claimed to know what happened next – we’ll never know if this player won or lost the hand, or what happened to his prized thoroughbred horse.

How is Five Card Stud Played?

Although Five Card Stud bears little resemblance to any of the popular forms of poker played today, the game features enough similarities in its rules to make it easy to recognize as a variant of poker. Most notably, the overall aim of each round is identical to that of Draw Poker, Seven Card Stud, and even Texas Hold’em – to create the best possible five-card poker hand.

In the older game of Draw Poker, players kept all five of their cards hidden. This meant that the only information players could use to attempt to determine the strength of their opponent’s hands was the number of cards that were discarded prior to each round of betting.

In this respect, Five Card Stud was revolutionary at the time because it allowed each player to study four of the five cards that each player was holding. Each player also had a single hole card, the value of which was known only to themself. This introduced far more strategy to the game, but players quickly realized that having just one private card made for a very limited range of bluffing opportunities.

Because every player can see 80% of the cards in play, most hands of Five Card Stud result in a situation whereby a player can easily figure out if they have a chance of winning a hand long before a showdown is needed. This in turn ensures that most hands conclude at a very early stage, guaranteeing that most pots remain small – no matter what limits are being used.

To counter this, most Five Card Stud games employ a small ante as well as a forced bet known as a bring-in. This is intended to jump-start the action, tempting more players to remain in each hand for longer. Because of these difficulties, Five Card Stud is best played as either a No Limit or Pot Limit game.

First Betting Round

Each hand begins with the dealer handing a single card face-down to each player, immediately followed by a single card face-up. If an ante is in effect, each player must make a bet of the agreed amount prior to the start of play.

The player with the lowest ranked card is then the first to act. Just as in Seven Card Stud, suits are used to break the tie whenever two players find themselves showing up-cards of the same rank.

The order of suits in Five Card Stud is as follows:

  • Clubs (Lowest)
  • Diamonds
  • Hearts
  • Spades (Highest)

Just as with rank, it is the player with the lowest ranked suit who is forced to place the bring-in bet. Should the player wish, they may bet more than the bring-in. After this, play continues in a clockwise circle. Just as with the blinds in Texas Hold’em, all subsequent players are required to call the bring-in bet if they wish to stay in the hand. They may also raise or fold if they prefer.

When play returns to the player who made the bring-in bet, they may check, provided that all of the other players still in the hand have only called, not raised. If another player has raised before the action returns to the first player, they must top up their bring-in to match the size of the bet that is now in play.

Second Betting Round (Third Street)

Once all players have called, raised, or folded, the dealer will hand all remaining players a second face-up card. From this round on, the first player to act is decided by who has the best visible poker hand. At this stage, each player only has two visible cards, so the highest possible hand is a pair of Aces.

It is rare for any player to have a pair of face-up cards at this early stage, so the “best hand” will usually be a simple high card. Once again, suits are used to break a tie should it occur.

Nobody is forced to place a bet in the second round, so all players can opt to simply check if they wish. If this occurs and you are the last player to act, it can be very tempting to make a large bet and try to steal the bring-in and antes. Before you do, however, consider if the value of the current pot is worth the risk.

If you have a very strong hand between your hole card and your two visible cards, it may be worth the danger – the longer you wait, the higher the chances are that the other remaining players will form a monster hand. Check out our “Strategy” section below for some more specific pointers on this.

Third Betting Round (Fourth Street)

By the time you reach fourth street, each player left in the hand has three visible up-cards, and a single hole card known only to them. By now, a skilled Five Card Stud player will usually have decided if the hand is worth pursuing. Lots of players will end up folding here, particularly if one or more players have made large bets.

As with the second betting round, action begins with the player currently showing the highest-ranking poker hand, then continues in a clockwise manner.

Fourth Betting Round (Fifth Street)

Finally, each player still in the hand receives a fifth and final card, once again dealt face-up. If you have a pair or better showing among your visible cards, and another player has continued raising and calling you all the way to this final betting round, now is the time to worry!

Even if you have a high pair such as two kings, you are in a precarious spot if any other players are showing an Ace. Unless you have another King in the hole, each of those players showing an Ace is a major danger to your chances of winning at showdown.

If your pocket card IS a third king, you can now use the information available to you to figure out if there is any chance of you losing the hand. Make a large bet here and even players with an Ace in the hole are likely to fold, unless they believe you are bluffing.

This is the problem with Five Card Stud – the number of possibilities once all of the cards have been dealt is extremely limited. Seven Card Stud was created with the specific intention of fixing these problems, resulting in a much more varied and interesting form of poker.

 

Example Hand

Let’s take a look at a typical hand of Five Card Stud featuring four players:

 

Round One:

 

Chris At the beginning of the first round, all four players contribute a $1 ante to the pot. The player to act first is determined according to who has the lowest ranking up-card.

Both Chris & Alex are holding fives, so suits are used to break the tie. Suits are ranked in alphabetical order, as follows:

Clubs (Lowest)
Diamonds
Hearts
Spades (Highest)

Chris has the lowest ranking up-card, so adds his $2 bring-in to the pot. Play now continues in a clockwise motion. Mark and Alex both call, before Rob raises to $5. Chris, Mark, and Alex all choose to call again, so add a further $3 to the pot.

Current Pot Value: $21

Mark
Alex
Rob

Round Two (“Third Street”):

Chris All four players are still in the hand, so the dealer passes each of them a second up-card. This time around, the first person to act is decided by who has the highest poker hand, using the two cards they currently have visible on the table.

Alex has a pair of fives, so he will be the first to act in this betting round. Although his pair is currently the best visible hand, most of the other face-up cards on the table rank higher than his fives – any other player may have a matching card, meaning he would actually be behind. Nevertheless, he decides to bet $5.

Rob now folds, before Chris calls and Mark raises to $10. Mark is representing that he has a nine in the hole, but Alex isn’t convinced, so calls for a further $5. Chris, too, decides to make the call and adds another $5 to the pot.

Current Pot Value: $51

Mark
Alex
Rob

Round Three (“Fourth Street”):

Chris Each players latest up-card has not changed the value of their hand, so Alex is first to act again.

Alex received an Ace, which, although having no effect on the value of his poker hand, is a useful card to spook other players – could he have an Ace in the hole, too? Alex raises by $20, hoping to steal the pot.

Chris surprises him by calling, though Mark does finally fold his hand.

Current Pot Value: $91

Mark
Alex

Round Four (“Fifth Street”):

Chris Most hands of Five Card Stud do not make it this far, suggesting that both Chris and Alex felt confident in the value of their hole card.

The final up-cards, however, have turned the situation on its head. We’ll analyze this incredible situation below!

Alex

Rather than demonstrating just how common it is for players to fold early in Five Card Stud, this example instead is intended to highlight just how limited the possibilities are as to the card each player could have in the hole.

Alex’s play could be interpreted as an attempt to convince the other players that he had three-of-a-kind (fives) early on. Once he received an Ace, this gave him an additional possibility to represent a two-pair of Aces and Fives.

Chris, on the other hand, seemed to have very little all the way through – even when his final card gives him an open ended straight, he would never have continued in the hand this long with nothing more than a prayer of eventually forming a straight. This suggests that Chris’ hole card is probably an eight, but as he called a $20 bet after receiving the seven, that would be a second possibility.

Chris may have been hoping that his pair of eights – higher than Alex’s fives – would be enough to win him the hand. These hopes were dashed when Alex received a second Ace as his final card. Chris now knows for certain that he has lost unless he has a four or a nine in the hole. Even then, Alex could still be holding the five he was representing from the start – or even a third Ace.

Alex has the best hand once again, so is able to act first. He places a suspiciously small $20 bet. This indicates to Chris that Alex is trying to extract value from the hand – perhaps he is hoping that Chris does have the straight, as he knows he can beat it. Less likely is the possibility that Alex has been bluffing and doesn’t want to risk too much more money in case his two-pair is about to be beaten by a straight.

In the end, Chris decides to fold, and Alex screws his hand, leaving Chris in the dark as to whether his opponent was holding a Full House, or just the two-pair that was visible. Let’s reveal the hole cards, and see how they fit with this analysis of the information available:

 

Chris
Alex

 

Sure enough, Chris had been hoping that his pair of eights would turn out to be good. Unfortunately, he knew as soon as the final Ace was dealt that there no was no way for him to win the hand, so was forced to fold. Alex collects the $91 pot, without having to go to showdown.

Strategy

In contrast to the complex, multi-layered strategy of Seven Card Stud, mastering the five-card variant is extremely straightforward. This is likely why the game fell out of favor relatively quickly after first being invented. The game felt exciting and complex at first – players had much more information on their opponents’ hands, and there were more betting rounds to generate action compared to Draw Poker.

As soon as players began to gain a better understanding of the game, however, it was clear that there were some huge problems with Five Card Stud.

A full table of skilled players will inevitably find that there is little they can do to change the outcome of each hand, and over the course of an evening’s play their entire bankroll is at the mercy of the luck of the draw. Even worse, following the correct strategy will often cause players to make a couple of bets before folding early, making it difficult to reach any kind of significant profit.

This last problem is greatly exacerbated if the game is being played in a poker room environment where a percentage of each hand is being collected as “rake” by the house – every player is likely to go home poorer, with the only winner being the organizer of the game.

How to Master Five Card Stud

  1. If any of your opponents’ visible cards can beat your complete hand (including your hole card), avoid making or calling any large bets. In our example, Chris stayed in the hand because he made a pair of eights early on, beating the pair of fives that Alex had visible on the table. The other players folded early because they did not want to call the large bets being placed, indicating that their hole cards were effectively worthless.
  2. It may be worth staying in a hand longer if you have a high card such as a King or an Ace in the hole, but if other players are making very large bets, save your chips for a better spot. If your first two cards do not include an Ace, a King, or a pair, your chances of making a pair with just three more cards is below 50%.

This means that, more often than not, you will end up losing to a hand as low as an Ace or King High.

  1. If you do make a pair but there are lots of higher ranked visible cards, your pair could easily be beaten by a higher pair – the players holding those higher ranked visible cards may have a matching card in the hole already, meaning you are already beat. If players are making large bets with high-rank cards in front of them, you are probably best off folding – unless other clues suggest that you are being bluffed.
  2. Any time you start a hand with an Ace in the hole, loosen up your play a little bit – if no other Aces are visible on the table, it may be worth opening up a little more.
  3. Never chase straights or flushes in Five Card Stud. In games where there are eventually seven cards to choose from when making your hand, the odds of hitting one of these hands is sometimes acceptable. In a five card game, straights and flushes occur so rarely that you will almost never complete your draw successfully.

The only exception to this Is when your hand has other positive attributes as well – for example, you have several highly ranked cards which could make a pair later, in addition to your draw.

  1. If you have a visible pair among your cards, but an opponent with a higher visible card continues to call, bet, and raise each time you act, it’s probably time to move on. The chances are, this player has a higher pair using their hole card.
  2. Consider your opponents cards and imagine what hole card he could be holding. Put yourself in their shoes, looking at your own cards. Is it possible for that player to know for certain he has you beat?

For example, imagine you have a pair of Queen in the hole, along with a second Queen, a Seven, a Six and a Deuce visible on the table. There is only one other player left in the hand, and he is showing an Ace, Queen, Ten and a Four. Your pair of queens could be the best hand, but you have no way of knowing for sure.

Your opponent, on the other hand, knows for sure that he has you beat irrespective of the value of your hidden card. He may choose to check, hoping to induce a bet, or he could decide to raise – he knows he cannot lose either way. If you find yourself in such a spot, you should check back or fold, never call or raise.

 

Sometimes you might feel it necessary to fall back on instinct – other players who know this same strategy may well seek to exploit you if they believe you will always fall for their bluffs. In most situations, however, these guidelines are all you will need to play Five Card Stud successfully.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m only just starting to play poker – if Five Card Stud is so much simpler than other variants, does that make it a good way to learn the game?

Playing Five Card Stud won’t teach you much about the psychology and probabilities involved in more complicated games, but it’s a great choice if you are still memorizing the order of winning hands. The game is unique in the sense that most information you need to make the right decision is available to you, so little guesswork is needed. Playing Five Card Stud will certainly help improve your ability to recognize which hands are possible in given situations, though you will probably find yourself quickly growing tired of its simplicity.

If I want to hold a home game of Five Card Stud, how is the dealer decided if there are no fixed positions?

Exactly the same way as in any other form of poker! Most home games of Hold’em will split the responsibility of dealing the cards between each player, so a small token known as the “dealer button” is passed around the table in a clockwise manner at the end of each hand. On the other hand, if you play Hold’em at a land-based casino then this task is handled by a dedicated dealer instead. Despite this, the button is passed around from player to player anyway.

This is because of the “fixed position” used when playing Texas Hold’em. The player to the left of the one who currently has this button is the one who will place the first mandatory bet – the “small blind” – followed directly by the player who is required to make the “big blind” wager. Because of this, the player with the button is always the last to act – a significant advantage.

In Stud, the button is passed around in the same way, but there is no advantage or disadvantage to players no matter where they are sitting in relation to the button – it’s only purpose is to keep track of who’s turn it is to deal out the next hand.

Are there betting levels in Five Card Stud?

Five Card Stud tournaments make use of timed levels just as with other forms of poker, to ensure that the game continues to progress towards an eventual conclusion. How much, and how fast the ante/bring-in will rise is up to the poker room or organizer of each specific game. The minimum bet will also increase steadily as well.

Where can I play Five Card Stud?

It’s difficult to find a game of Five Card Stud in any land-based casino in the United States, and only a small handful of online poker rooms still have the game available for play. Even if you do manage to find a game, you may well find that there is nobody else interested in playing.

If you do happen to stumble across a table full of players, be careful – don’t be surprised to find that they are all experienced, highly-skilled veterans of the game just waiting for a newcomer (AKA, a “fish”) to sit down and hand them some easy money.

How does Five Card Stud differ from Seven Card Stud?

Every hand of the seven-card variant begins with each player receiving three cards – two face down, one face up, rather than the one-down, one-up configuration used in five-card. In both games, players receive a further three face-up cards with a betting round in between each.

When playing Seven Card Stud, players receive a final face-down card after all of the visible cards have been distributed, which means one extra round of betting is needed as well. There are a few other changes too, such as a more complicated ruleset that defines how much you are allowed to bet during each round.

Having three hidden cards rather than just one makes the game much more unpredictable and exciting but requires far more skill and strategy to master as well.

Seven Card Stud is by no means common, but it is much easier to find an active game should you wish to give it a try. Several large online poker rooms offer Seven Card Stud, and it is still played at the World Series of Poker each year – albeit with a very small number of players compared to other forms of poker.

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