Mastering Five Card Stud Poker: The Timeless Classic

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Five Card Stud Poker is a game steeped in history, evoking images of smoky saloons in the Wild West. It’s a classic variant that has captured the imagination of poker enthusiasts for generations. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the rules, strategies, and tips to master this enduring classic.

A Glimpse into History

Five Card Stud Poker, often referred to as “Open Poker,” has an illustrious past. It’s the game Steve McQueen’s character played in the 1965 film “The Cincinnati Kid.” In the annals of history, you’ll find scenes of soldiers playing it during the American Civil War and cowboys testing their luck in Wild West saloons. Legend even has it that Wild Bill Hickok met his fate while playing this very game.

While today’s games might not have life-or-death consequences, Five Card Stud remains a straightforward and engaging poker variant that’s easy to learn and enjoy.

Ante Up!

To kick off the game and build the pot, each player joining the hand must post an ante. This ante is a small, predetermined bet. For this guide, we’ll use $1 as the ante amount. This serves as a clear distinction from other bet sizes you’ll encounter in Five Card Stud.

The Initial Deal

Starting from the first seat, each player receives two cards: the first one face down and the second one face up. This unique dealing style sets Five Card Stud apart from many other poker games.

First Betting Round (Second Street)

The player with the lowest exposed card initiates the betting round. In case of a tie in card rank, the player with the lowest suit (clubs < diamonds < hearts < spades) starts. This player makes a forced bet known as the “bring-in.” Typically, the bring-in is a bit larger than the ante, often $2. Players also have the option to make a larger forced bet known as a “complete bet” or “small bet,” which we’ll set at $6 for this guide.

After the bring-in, the betting proceeds clockwise. Players can fold, call the bring-in ($2), or complete the bet to $6. If a player chooses to complete the bet, the next player can fold, call $6, or raise to $12. The maximum number of raises allowed is four, capping the total bets at $24.

Once all players have either folded or matched the bets, the dealer collects the bets, and the hand continues. If all players except one fold, the remaining player wins the pot, and the hand ends.

Dealing the Third Card

The dealer discards one card (burns it) and deals a third card face up to each remaining player.

Second Betting Round (Third Street)

Betting on Third Street starts with the player showing the best hand. In case of tied hands, the player with the highest-suited card takes the lead. For instance, spades outrank hearts, diamonds, and clubs. The player with the lead can either check or make a small bet of $6.

It’s worth noting that prior to 2012, players with a pair could choose between the small bet ($6) or a big bet ($12). However, this rule changed, and the option to make a big bet is no longer allowed. Some poker rooms may still follow the old rule, so be aware of the specific rules where you’re playing.

Betting continues until all players fold or match the largest bet, capped at $24. If all but one player folds, the remaining player wins the pot.

Fourth Card

The dealer discards another card and deals a fourth card face up to each player remaining in the hand.

Third Betting Round (Fourth Street)

The player with the best exposed hand starts the betting, now with a big bet of $12. The betting is capped at four bets, so the maximum investment per player in this round is $48.

If no player wins the pot by betting and having all opponents fold, the dealer collects the bets, and the final card is dealt.

Fifth Card and Final Betting Round (Fifth Street or The River)

After discarding one more card, the dealer gives each remaining player a fifth and final card, face up. The final betting round begins, with the same big bet of $12 and a cap of four bets.


Once the betting concludes, players reveal their hidden card, and the pot is awarded to the player with the best poker hand, following standard hand rankings.

Basic Five Card Stud Strategy

To excel in Five Card Stud, it’s essential to understand its strategic nuances. Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:

  1. Pairs Are Playable: Any pair is a strong hand, especially on Second Street.
  2. High Cards Matter: Starting with two cards higher than your opponents’ upcards gives you a strong advantage.
  3. Hole Card Strength: If your hole card is higher than your opponents’ upcards, it’s a favorable position.
  4. Seizing Opportunities: If your upcard is stronger than your opponent’s, consider making a bet to claim the pot immediately.
  5. Open Pairs: Hitting an open pair with a high card can often secure you the hand.
  6. Track Opponents: Keep an eye on opponents’ hands and folded cards to estimate your outs and make more informed decisions.
  7. Beware of Trips: If an opponent shows a paired door card, be cautious; they might have trips.

In conclusion, Five Card Stud is a timeless classic that combines skill and strategy. While the game may not have the life-and-death drama of the Old West, mastering its intricacies can provide you with hours of poker enjoyment.

For more poker strategies and insights, explore our other articles.

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