Seven Card Stud

Ask anyone about the game of Poker today, and they will almost certainly assume you are referring to the game of Texas Hold’em. It hasn’t always been this way – in fact, Texas Hold’em has only been the dominant form of Poker for the last two to three decades. As recently as the 1980s, seven-card stud was the most popular form of Poker in both professional and home games.

Over the past half a decade or so, Omaha has been gaining popularity amongst Poker players. This alternative form of Hold’em requires more skill and strategy than the Texas variant, with luck playing a less significant role in the outcome of each hand.

Could Omaha replace Texas Hold’em as the most popular form of Poker? Or will Seven Card Stud make a comeback as players tire of playing the same game? Only time will tell, though if you are a fan of Texas Hold’em but find yourself growing tired of losing your chips after yet another unbelievable “cooler” on the river, maybe it’s time to consider alternatives such as Seven Card Stud?

What is Seven Card Stud?

Like most forms of Poker, players of Seven Card Stud aim to create the best five-card Poker hand they can using the cards they have available to them. Unsurprisingly, this means that there are many similarities between Stud and Texas Hold’em.

In both games, each player has a total of seven cards they can use to create the best possible five card poker hand. The difference comes in how these cards are distributed – Hold’em features five community cards which are available for every player to use in addition to two “pocket” cards unique to each player. Stud players all receive seven cards of their own, four of which are dealt face up for other players to see, with the remaining three kept private by each player – just like the pocket cards in Hold’em.

Both games can be played using “Fixed Limit”, “Pot Limit”, or “No Limit” stakes. Seven Card Stud is most often played as a fixed limit game, whereas Texas Hold’em is almost always played in a no limit format. Interestingly, Omaha tends to be played as a pot limit game.

The trouble with no limit poker is that attempts to steal the blinds are extremely frequent, resulting in far less hands making it to showdown. Some players will re-raise all in every time somebody makes a bet, hoping to steal their bet and make an easy profit. Unless a player already has a very strong hand, they will probably feel they have no option but to fold.

Alternatively, they may go for a “hero call”, in the hope the re-raising player was bluffing or that they will catch the card they need on the turn or river. All of these scenarios result in a game that comes down to far more luck than skill, which many poker players find extremely unattractive.

Because seven-card stud is normally played with a fixed limit, far more hands will make it all the way to showdown. Most importantly, a far higher proportion of decisions are made based on skill and knowledge rather than just “donking it” (poker terminology for making a very bad play) in the hope that the cards will run out in the players favor.

History

Like most other poker variants, Seven Card Stud is known to have originated in the United States. Unfortunately, the exact history of Seven Card Stud beyond this is hard to pin down – nobody is certain how or where the game was first played, or who invented it.

Some elements of both poker and Seven Card Stud specifically are suspiciously similar to other games – the name Poker is believed to have come from the French card game “Poque”, although the two games play significantly differently. A persian game called “Nas” is a much closer fit, but that game was played using a five-suit deck, so is far from an exact match.

Perhaps the most likely inspiration is the British card game of brag, which, despite being played using only three cards, shares many of Poker’s key traits such as bluffing. It is likely that modern Poker is an amalgamation of all three of these games.

In the early days, Poker had a very poor reputation – finding a fair game was extremely difficult because the game was extremely popular amongst criminals, card sharks, and fast-fingered hustlers. This wasn’t helped by the legendary lawlessness of the “Wild West”.

Players would often place their gun or knife on the table as a warning that they would not tolerate cheating, and would quickly resort to violence if they so much as suspected they were being ripped off. In the days before probability was well-understood, its easy to see how this could quickly get out of hand. This led to poker  gaining a reputation for violence, an image that only truly began to dissipitate around the mid 20th century.

Stud poker specifically is believed to have first appeared during the years of the California Gold Rush, somewhere around 1849. The earliest versions were played using five cards, but had largely been replaced by the seven card variant by the end of the 19th century.

Before the appearance of the seven-card version of the game, a five-card variant is known to have been a typical game in saloons located around Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. We know this because a famous book known as The American Hoyle*, published in 1864 and also known as “The Gentleman’s Book of Games,” includes Five Card Stud amongst its pages, simply titled “Poker.” By the end of the 19th century, five card stud had largely been replaced by the seven card variant.

*The complete book makes for a fascinating read, so I have created a short link to it at the following URL if you are interested in taking a look: https://bit.ly/2T9QJen.

The Rules

A Stud hand begins with each player being dealt two cards face down, much as it does in Hold’em. After this, things play out very differently. Before betting begins, every player will be given a third card; however, this card is dealt face up and is visible to the other players.

The player with the lowest ranking card places the first bet, referred to as the “bring-in”, although it is much the same as a blind in Hold’em in all but name. In Hold’em, the action proceeds in a clockwise fashion, meaning that a player always knows there Position in each hand in advance. Converesely, the next player to act in Stud is always determined by the cards which are visible on the table. This makes Stud far more unpredictable, and means that Stud does not suffer from a common issue that occurs in Hold’em games whereby the player to the right of a small stacked player can continuously take advantage of their neighbours shortage of chips.

The Betting Rounds

At this stage, the first round of betting will commence. Once each player has checked, raised, or folded, the dealer will give each player remaining in the hand a second visible card – better known as an upcard in Stud parlance. The second round of betting now begins. The first player to act is determined by who has the strongest two upcards.

Play continues with a third upcard being dealt to each player, followed by the third round of betting. The next player to act is determined in the same way as the second round. This process repeats until all remaining players have four upcards. After the fourth betting round, each player receives one final card face down.

A final betting round follows, after which a showdown will occur if necessary. Players only need to reveal their hidden cards if they are involved in a showdown, though some players will choose to show their cards if they have just pulled off a successful bluff, just as in Hold’em.

The Effect of the Betting Limit

Stud is almost always played as a limit game, which means you don’t have to worry about players shoving their entire stack onto the table to try and steal the pot. In a 200/400 game of Seven Card Stud, players can only increase their bet size in increments of 200 during the first two rounds, then 400 for the remainder.

Despite this, pots can still inflate hugely throughout a hand of Stud because as well as there being five betting rounds per hand rather than four in Hold’em, players tend to stay in each hand longer than they would in Hold’em because of the set cap on bet sizing. The size of the pot increases in a predictable fashion, and players cannot bet more in later rounds no matter how big the pot is getting. This leads to each player having far better pot odds each round, so all players with a strong draw are more likely to continue in the hand.

That said, it is still wise to play tightly in the early stages of a game of Stud. This may seem counterintuitive given the previous paragraph, but remember there are five betting rounds, and many more players likely to stay in each hand for longer – no matter how small the bet is, you could quickly burn through your entire stack if you were to try and reach the showdown every round. For a more indepth explanation of this, read up on Implied Odds in Seven Card Stud.

Here’s the short version, however: You want to save as many chips as possible for the hands where you are reasonably certain of reaching the showdown. This is because in a game of limit poker, the size of the pot relative to each bet is much larger than in a no-limit game, where a single wager can equal or even exceed the size of the pot.

By the time you reach showdown, making a call will often require a relatively tiny bet compared to the size of your potential winnings. Therefore, you should hang on to as many chips as possible for the hands where you reach a later stage, so don’t give away all your chips early on in a hand! This is called Pot Odds.

Interested in Playing Seven Card Stud?

If you have only ever played Texas Hold’em, the rules and mechanics of Seven Card Stud can be challenging to understand at first. The game is also quite rare compared to Texas Hold’em and Omaha at Online Poker Rooms, making it much more difficult to practice effectively.

Some of the largest online Poker sites such as PokerStars do still offer Stud and several other less popular variants in addition to Texas and Omaha, so this is where you will need to look if you are interested in giving the game a try. Remember, you can always open and watch games in progress without taking a seat yourself, something I would highly recommend before attempting Stud for real money.

Watching a few live hands should help you understand the way the game works, but if you really want to learn the game I would suggest looking at the replays of each hand too. The difference is, when you watch a replayed hand all of the cards on the table are face up, making it much easier to understand why players have made the decisions they have. Study each betting round carefully, taking note of what triggers cause players to check, raise, or fold.

Another great option is to download a Seven Card Stud Trainer for your smartphone. These apps are usually free, and are a fantastic way to learn the rules of any new game. If you are still interested after this, try playing a few hands yourself – at the micro-stakes, of course – to see if this is a game you enjoy.

Example Hand

We’ll begin our example by showing a four player game right after the dealer has finished passing out each players first three cards. Remember, the first two cards are to be seen only by that player, whereas the third is dealt face up, like so:

Round One:

Chris As explained in “The Rules”, the first player to place a bet is decided according to who has the lowest ranking visible card. If two players have cards with mathing ranks – two players with a six, for example – the suits are ranked in alphabetical order:

Clubs (Lowest)
Diamonds
Hearts
Spades (Highest)

Once again, it is the player with the lowest ranking suit who is required to place the bring-in bet.

In this example, there is no tie between suits, so Rob will be the first to place a bet. Note that while an Ace can be used as both a 1 or 14 when making your hand, it always counts as the higher value here.

After the bring-in, play continues in a clockwise direction. Note that the second player cannot check immediately after the bring-in – they must call, raise, or fold.

Mark
Alex
Rob

Round Two:

Chris After the first round of betting has completed, each player receives a second card face-up. All four players are still in at this stage.

The first player to act in round two is decided by who currently has the best poker hand with just the two face-up cards they have on the table.

In this example, Chris would be the first to act. The second player is free to check this time around if they wish.

Chris places a bet, Mark calls, Alex raises, and Rob folds.

Chris and Mark both now call Alex’s higher bet, completing the second betting round.

Note that both Chris and Mark could have chosen to re-raise if they wished. In Seven Card Stud, each player is allowed to re-raise a maximum of three times.

Mark
Alex
Rob

Round Three:

Chris In round three, players receive their third face-up card. This time, Alex has taken the lead with his pair of Aces, so will be the first player to act. From this point on, players may opt to place “high” bets – double the previous limit.

Alex raises, followed by a re-raise by Chris. Mark Calls. Alex re-raises again, to which Chris responds with a re-raise of his own.

Mark decides it is time to quit the hand – it is getting too expensive, and it appears both Chris and Alex have very strong hands.

Mark
Alex

Round Four:

Chris As we enter round four, Chris once again takes the lead with two pairs. He checks, which suggests to Alex that Chris may now have a very strong hand.

Alex decides to check too.

Alex

Final Round:

Chris
Alex

The final card dealt to each player is dealt face down. With each player now holding seven cards, the final betting round begins. Because each players upcards have not changed, it is once again Chris who will make the first decision in the final round of betting. Both players now know exactly what hands they can make using the seven cards at their disposal, but have no idea what the other player might be concealing with their downcards.

Let’s examine the possibilities:

  • Chris has two pairs visible, so only needs one more matching card among his three face-down cards to make a full house. If he doesn’t have a hidden Four or Jack, he is in a precarious situation, and both players know that Mark has already folded one of the Jacks.
  • Alex only has one pair of Aces visible, but that pair is ranked higher than either of Chris’ two pairs. Therefore, if he has a ten, an eight, or a matching pair of ranked cards, he will win the hand.

Chris places a small bet, suddenly making him appear much weaker than he did when he checked the previous betting round. Is this a trick? Or was Chris hoping to catch a Jack or a Four, and missed his draw?

Alex decides to pile on the pressure by re-raising with a large bet. If Chris is bluffing, this may be enough to get him to fold – but as he already placed a small bet, it wont cost much to call and try his luck.

Chris wonders if Alex is bluffing, so re-raises with a high bet. This is a confusing action that once again suggests strength – but could also be a ploy, as Alex now needs to match his high bet to reach the showdown.

Alex makes the call.

Showdown:

Chris
Alex

In poker, this is what we would call a cooler! Chris knew he had three Jacks from the start, but played it cool, trying not to bet too big or arouse suspicion of his monster hand. When he was dealt a second four for his last upcard, he checked – a move that Alex rightly interpreted as showing strength.

What Chris didn’t know is that Alex had received a third Ace in the third betting round, although the signs were there – Alex was playing very strong that round, which might have tipped Chris off if he did not have a monster hand of his own hidden away.

When Chris received that last four, completing his full house, he thought he had this one in the bag – the check was designed to induce a bet from Alex, but the tactic failed – unknown to Chris, Alex had just completed a full house of his own, and the cards visible on the table meant that there was no way Chris could beat him, as the only possibility would have been a four-of-a-kind in Jacks – impossible, as Mark already one of the two remaining Jacks.

When Alex checked back to Chris, he assumed that his hand was probably good, and pushed hard at the showdown. Unluckily for him, Alex had a higher full house – Aces full of eights, against his Jacks full of fours.

Alex takes the pot!

Strategy

One of the big reasons for the popularity of Texas Hold’em – and therefore, the decline of Seven Card Stud – is the level of knowledge and strategy required to play these two games profitably. Spend a few months playing Texas Hold’em every day, along with a bit of reading, research, and watching how professionals react in specific situations, and you should be able to reach a high level of proficiency without too much trouble.

Seven Card Stud, on the other hand, is a much more complicated game with far more skill and strategy involved. No matter how good you are at other forms of poker, try playing Stud for real money without any research or training and you are sure to be crushed by even an amateur level player.

Whole books have been written on playing Seven Card Stud correctly, and whilst that is also true of Hold’em, those books tend to be targeted at high-level players who want to learn the secrets of the pro’s, as opposed to just the basic strategy required to hold your own on a micro-stakes table!

Nevertheless, here are just a few small pointers we hope you will find useful:

  • As soon as you look at your initial three cards, take a look at what other upcards you can see lying around the table. Do the other visible cards help or hinder your chances of making a big hand later on? For example, lets say you have three cards in spades, and you can see four other spades on the table before you have even received your second upcard, your chances of hitting a flush are already looking bad.

If you stay in the hand until the second hand and see two more spades land on the table, you can now see nine of the fourteen spades – your odds of making a flush are now terrible, so unless you have the possibility of a straight or can see the next card for cheap, it’s time to fold.

 

  • A bird in the hand, as they say … If you have a high-ranking pair such as Queens or Kings at the beginning of the hand, you should raise early and see if you can reduce the number of players in the pot. Big pairs tend to do well against fewer numbers of opponents, and you always have the possibility of improving later down the road, too.
  • If you start a hand with three cards to a flush, or three cards to a straight, try and keep the pot as small as possible – obviously, you want to try reduce your spending while you try and complete your draw, but smaller bets will lure more players to stay in the hand as well.

More often than not, you won’t complete your straight or flush. Therefore, when you do, you want to try and get paid off by as many other players as possible. Just be careful not to spend too much chasing your draw – if multiple players are raising and re-raising each other with upcards that will beat you unless you go on to make your hand, this is another time to fold.

  • High pairs are worth disproportionately more in Stud than they are in Hold’em. If multiple other players are holding high cards – or worse still, a high visible pair – then your lower ranking pair is worth close to zero. Sure, you may catch just the right card to improve to a three-of-a-kind or a full house, but the same is true of your opponents.
  • In Hold’em, whenever there is a large number of picture cards on the board, players are rightly weary that someone may have the necessary pair required to fill in the gap(s) and make a high straight. If you are lucky enough to catch two or more visible high cards – suited high cards are even better – be sure to play on your opponents fears by betting big and representing that you have the goods hidden away in your pocket cards. Just watch out for any “Scare Cards” on show by your opponents, too.­
  • Because of the limited bet sizing, chasing a draw is often the correct play in Seven Card Stud. If you are going to start calling and raising the large bets from the third round onwards, you should probably see it through to the showdown – unless you can tell you are hopelessly outmatched, of course!

Again, this really is just a few tips to get you started – watching and playing Seven Card Stud is the only real way to learn the intricacies of this complicated but extremely fun and rewarding game of poker.

House Edge

Unlike other table games you can play at the casino, Poker does not have a House Edge. How can this be? The house edge is how every casino and online poker room ensures that they can turn a profit on their games, so how can these businesses afford to offer Poker? It depends on the format of the game being played, as follows:

Cash Games

Poker is a game played between several players, all of whom are competing against each other. This is in contrast to a blackjack table, where every player is competing against the casino individually. When a player wins, they collect (almost) all of the chips accumulated on the table. By contrast, the players at a Blackjack table are competing with the dealer – if they lose, it is the dealer who collects their chips, not another player.

In a cash game, the casino specifies the Rake percentage, which is collected at the end of each hand. If the rake is set at 2%, the dealer retains 2% of the chips on the table after each hand. Each casino or poker room is free to set its rake percentage, and it will usually vary depending on the betting limit of the Poker game. The larger the limit, the lower this percentage will be.

Tournament Poker

Tournament Poker seems much more straightforward on the face of it, but things have gotten a little more complex in recent years. Every player pays a fixed amount to enter the tournament, called a buy-in, most of which is used to fund the prize pool. The game’s organizer takes an agreed percentage from each buy-in, so no rake is collected at the table.

Later, many Poker tournaments began to offer a prize guarantee to attract players to their games. The guarantee amount has usually been calculated carefully based on the number of players that typically compete in that type of tournament, which day of the week it is on, at what time, and various other factors. The idea is that the poker room will always make a profit, despite the guarantee amount.

In the early days of online Poker, one of the most profitable ways to play was to seek out tournaments with a high guarantee and a low number of participants. Alas, the gambling companies were quick to find solutions to this problem, as always. Some of the techniques in everyday use today are:

  • Late entry, which allows players to join tournaments for a set period after the game has started. If a player spots a game with a high guarantee but low participation, they might choose to take a chance of joining in the hope of making an easy profit. Some players even prefer to use this option to skip the slower early stages of a game.

When players see a high guarantee and a low number of players, they will be very tempted to join the game, bringing the casino closer to covering their guarantee amount. The only problem is, those late-starting players receive no more chips than those who were there at the beginning. If you don’t get lucky quickly, the increased blinds can eliminate your stack within just a few hands.

  • Rebuy tournaments give you the option to re-enter a game after all of your chips have been lost. Having this option available can result in participants playing much looser than they usually would, as they have the choice to purchase a new stack of chips even if they lose. Each time a player rebuys, the organizer of the tournament collects an additional buy-in.
  • Addons are sometimes offered late in a tournament, allowing players who are not doing so well to top up their stack with some extra chips. The price of purchasing an addon varies but is usually somewhere between half and twice the original buy-in.
  • The most insidious option by far is the offer of gambling your winnings at the end of the game. The gamble option can work in several ways but will often be as simple as the gamble option in many types of Video Poker.

Opt to gamble, and the server or dealer will shuffle the deck before asking the player to choose red or black. If the correct color is selected, the player walks away with double their winnings.

If the player guesses incorrectly, they will walk away with nothing. Poker tournaments can sometimes take many hours to complete, so no matter how big the potential prize is, I recommend never accepting this type of offer.

While tournament Poker can be extremely attractive because of the enormous prizes involved, one unlucky hand can sometimes be all it takes to eject you from the game. This is one reason why most Poker Pro’s prefer to play cash games, but it isn’t the only one. In a cash game, you are free to stop playing at any time. In tournament poker, you have no choice but to stay at the table for as long as it takes. I have personally ended up being forced to stay up much later than I would have liked on a work night because a tournament went on far longer than I had expected.

Tournament Poker is fun, and I definitely recommend trying it from time to time. If you enjoy the game just fancy a few hands then cash games are much more convenient. When playing online, I find it much more useful to look at the average pot size of each of the tables rather than choosing one based on stakes alone. If you were thinking of spending $50 on a game of Tournament Poker, look for a table with an average pot size of around $10.

I would estimate that such a table would have stakes of either $0.50/$1 or $1/$2. If this sounds a little off, consider the fact that the majority of hands never reach the showdown stage. When they do, the pot is likely to be much more than $10, but because of all the hands that do not reach that stage, the table average comes in much lower.

Frequently Asked Questions

I like the idea that Seven Card Stud is a much more skill-dependent game than Texas Hold’em, but as it is so rarely played these days, how can I ever hope to learn the game to a high level?

A. It’s unfortunately true that Stud has almost disappeared from land-based casinos at this time, and even finding a game going online can be tricky outside of peak hours. There are still games running at the biggest poker sites such as PokerStars, however, and if you spend some time learning the game properly using a training app on your phone, you could easily find yourself the most skilled player at the table!

Lots of people give Stud a try to see what it’s all about without even taking the time to learn the basics – I will even admit to having done this myself several times in the past, when Ladbrokes used to rotate the game played in their weekly freeroll on a regular basis. 90% of the players involved in that game had no idea how to play Stud correctly, and when I did finally take the time to teach myself how to play properly, I was able to reach the final table almost every time!

Sadly, that game no longer operates but PokerStars do run regular games of Stud where you will find a similar number of clueless players – including some who didn’t even realize they were joining a game other than Hold’em! Keep in mind, millions of people are skilled at Hold’em – but only a fraction of that number are clued up on how to play Stud.

I’ve been trying a few games of Stud online but often find myself confused by seemingly random situations, for example, the option to check is not available early in the hand. Why is this?

A. If you are the second player to act directly after the bring-in, you are required to call, raise, or fold. If this were not the case, the entire table could check and the pot would hold only the single bring-in bet. In Hold’em, two players are required to place a blind bet – you can think of this rule as the equivalent in Stud.

I placed the bring-in bet, what happens when the action comes back around to me? Am I required to act a second time? Say I wish to call, do I have to match the full size of the bet now in play, as in Hold’em, or do I just top up my previous bet so that it matches the current bet?

A. This is a key difference between Hold’em and Stud, as the blind bets are placed prior to any cards being dealt whereas the bring-in is a bet made in response to the first set of cards which have been dealt. Because of this, the bring-in player is not required to match the size of any raises that have taken place – instead, you add the difference between your bring in and the current bet.

If you fold, however, you forfeit tour bring-in bet.

I was invited to a private poker game, and when I arrived I found that the game to be played was Seven Card Stud, and not the regular game of Texas Hold’em which is the game I am familiar and confident in playing. Should I play anyway?

A. This all sounds a little bit suspect to be honest – those who arrange private poker games know that the majority of players are not familiar with Seven Card Stud, and if you were not informed in advance that this was the plan for the game, I would be extremely uncomfortable. I have heard of this happening in the past, and two of the five players who had been invited were unaware they were going to be playing Stud, whereas the remaining three appeared to be fully informed.

Personally, I would refuse to place my stake – don’t even be tempted to agree to join in after watching for the first hour or so. Even if you can grasp the basics of what is going on from watching a game in play, you won’t stand a chance against experienced Stud players.

With only 52 cards in a deck, and the number that are normally burnt by the dealer during a hand, surely there isn’t enough cards for a full-ring game?

A. This is correct, and limits the number of players at a table to a six-max configuration if you follow standard burning practice. The situation rarely occurs, even at an eight player table, because it is very likely that one or more players will fold long before the deck runs dry.

When this situation arises online, the final face-down card is changed into a community card and placed in the middle of the table for every player to choose from, if they wish.

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