Stud poker, a variant of poker, is a slightly less formal way to play poker where players receive a specific number of mixed face-up and face-down cards. Stud poker evolved from what could be called colloquial origins—the game was not, at first, structured by universal rules and is therefore played fast and loose even today, with basic structure but many variants on how it can be arranged.
Stud poker has several significant differences from straight poker. Unlike “regular” poker, stud poker is a non-positional game, which means that the order of betters in each round can change. The person who bets first in the first round doesn’t have to lead the betting in the second round, and so on and so forth. The player who wants to bet first can bet first, and other players can follow in whatever order they want.
A difference that’s even more significant, however, is that some cards are facing up while play is happening. The player who tends to bet first each round is the player with the best face-up hand. While play is happening, players must keep track of both hands, and none of the usual “poker face” or poker tricks will work on keeping the face-up hand concealed. Players must be able to play the game strategically while allowing all the other players to see their hand. Cards that are face-down during play are commonly called “hole cards.”
Stud poker was popular during American wars, when soldiers would play with either three or five cards. Nowadays, seven-card stud poker is much more popular. The number of cards has various effects on the overall way the game is played, and in some cases, regional versions of stud poker have developed that have their own rules depending on where you are.
Casinos in Aruba are famous for their stud poker games, and casinos around the United States tend to play regional or specific-numbered versions of stud poker. Sitting in on a round before you play isn’t uncommon if you’re a player who isn’t familiar with the casino or the area. Better to observe and learn the rules than jump into a game you think you know! Core rules are often the same, but surface rules will change, and making note of these changes can help you participate fully as a player.
The structure of the game (for example, five-card stud and Mississippi stud are both structural variants of the same game) affects the way limits in the game are played. Betting limits—how much players are allowed to up the betting pool by—are generally small numbers in stud poker. Games with less cards and less rounds are often no-limit games, where players can up the bet as much as they want with each round.
Games that involve seven cards may have structured, limited betting. For example, $5/$10 with seven cards would allow upping of $5 for the first rounds and then $10 in later rounds. Betting can be structured with as many number limits are necessary.
Being familiar with these general rules gives you background knowledge of stud poker, but be aware that there are many variants, the most popular of which are six-card, London Lowball, Mississippi stud, Caribbean stud, and high-low stud. Each of these will have unique rules, and betting structures and amounts will vary from casino to casino. Bottom line: if you’re not sure what rules to be following or what the betting structure is like, ask! Casino attendants and dealers are usually happy to let you in on the local know.