How to play 5-card stud

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Posted on: August 25, 2022 5:45 pm EDT

Five-card stud is one of the first poker games played in America. It was the original stud game, believed to have been developed during the Civil War in the early 1860s.

For many years, especially during the poker boom, stud lost its popularity to Texas Hold’em and then to Omaha poker. In the 2010s, however, stud mounted a comeback alongside other poker variations played in mixed game formats like HORSE.

Five-card stud remains a less popular version of stud compared to the seven-card version, as the latter is an integral part of the World Series of Poker schedule each year. That said, players enjoy putting the five-card game of stud into mixed game rotations when possible.

Whether for its simplicity or its important role in poker history, players like to keep five-card stud alive and well for future generations of poker enthusiasts.

What is the difference between 5-card stud and 5-card draw?

There are several key differences between 5-card stud and 5-card draw.

In draw poker, all cards are dealt face-down. It provides no community cards and no clues to opponents as to what the player may hold. In stud poker, only the first card is face-down. The other four cards for each player appear face-up, with one for each round of play and possible betting. 

Draw also allows players to discard and retrieve new replacement cards, while five-card stud forces players to play the original cards they receive.

Rules and gameplay of 5-card stud

Five-card stud is one of the easiest games to learn. Players can improve their gameplay by implementing betting strategies on different streets. The stud poker rules themselves are straightforward with little room for variation in the basic stud game.

Antes and bring in

Stud players use antes instead of blinds to ensure betting in every hand.

Each player contributes the set ante prior to any cards dealt. That ante creates an initial pot and provides an incentive for players to hold cards and play forward. In most games, the amount of the ante is half of the small bet. That small bet is a known quantity because of the stakes.

For example, if players are at a $1/$2 table, the bring-in is $0.50. The $1 represents the small bet and the $2 the high. 

Players then receive one card each face-down and then one card each face-up for all players to see. The person with the lowest-ranking card of those shown face-up will post the bring-in, which is a predetermined amount for the game and reflective of the stakes. 

If two or more players show the same low cards, the suits determine the lowest value with clubs being the lowest, then diamonds, hearts, and spades.

Second street

The second card dealt — the one face-up on top of the initial face-down card — is sometimes referred to as second street or the door card. For reference, the first and second streets in stud poker are akin to the two hole cards in hold’em poker.

Second street betting starts with that bring-in player. That person can post the bring-in only to start the betting or complete the initial bet by putting in $1. 

The player to the left of the bring-in can call that amount or raise by at least $1. Another option is to fold, which should be done by turning the face-up card down and mucking both cards. There is no need to show the face-down card. 

Betting then moves around the table, with players calling, raising, or folding until there are no raises to be called. The maximum number of raises is three.

Third street

During third street, the dealer distributes the third card of the hand face-up to each player. At this point, the best face-up two-card hand that all can see starts the second round of betting. That player can check or bet the amount of the small bet. In the aforementioned example at a $1/$2 table, that bet would be $1. Again, there can only be three raises before betting is capped.

At this stage, players typically fold if they don’t have a pair among the first three cards. If an opponent shows a face-up pair, a lesser pair or drawing hand will often fold. 

There are alternative strategies, depending upon the opponents’ betting patterns and proclivity for chasing draws. Also, a player with three strong cards to a flush or straight may continue drawing if others are not betting strong.

Fourth street

As with previous rounds, the dealer starts fourth street with the player to the left of the dealer button to distribute another face-up card to each player. Dealing is always clockwise.

The player with the highest face-up hand starts the betting. This could easily be a different player than in the previous round. The ranking of the hands at this point includes a pair, set, or high card, as straights and flushes aren’t considered when determining the initial bettor.

Just like in the previous rounds, players can either check or bet the small bet. Others have the option to call, raise, or fold.

Few players stay in the hand at this point without a pair or a set, but a player with a strong draw to a straight or a flush may continue calling bets if no other player shows a very strong hand face-up.

Fifth street

On fifth street, the dealer places the fourth card face-up (fifth card in total) on each remaining player’s stack of cards. This completes the dealing, with four cards up and one down. 

Again, the player with the best face-up hand begins the action, and play continues with a maximum of three raises. It is rare to see this much action on fifth street, as a raise often takes the pot at showdown. However, if two or more players remain in action, the betting finishes.

The person who acted first in this fourth round of betting is the first player to reveal their face-down card. Other players then turn up their hands, in a clockwise position from that player, if they can compete with the first five-card hand shown. Those without a winning hand typically muck their cards without showing the face-down card.

Size of bets in 5-card stud

The first two rounds of betting always start with the bring-in, which is half of the small bet. In a $1/$2 game, the $1 is the small bet. In subsequent betting rounds, the person with the highest hand face-up starts the betting with a check or bet. Players can then use the big bet ($2 in this example) with a maximum of three same-size raises. 

The use of antes in a stud game prompts more betting. Players are more likely to stay in a hand to see third or fourth street due to the size of the pot before they even receive cards.

Private stud games can alter the rules regarding big bets and the maximum number of raises. Some games require raises to a big bet to only be the size of the big bet, while others allow min-raises to limit the size of the pot.

Hand rankings in 5-card stud

Five-card stud hand rankings are the same as in most other poker games. 

  • High card: The highest card is the best hand. If two cards are the same value, the spade is usually regarded as the highest-ranking card, followed by the heart, diamond, and then the club.
  • One pair: Two cards of the same value.
  • Two pair: Two pairs, with each pair containing two cards of the same value.
  • Three of a kind: Three cards of the same value.
  • Straight: All five cards in sequential order; the ace serves as the low or high end.
  • Flush: All five cards of the same suit, though not necessarily in sequential order.
  • Full house: Three cards of one value and two cards of another.
  • Four of a kind: Four cards of the same value.
  • Straight flush: All five cards are of the same suit and in sequential order, with an ace as the low or high end.
  • Royal flush: The straight flush must contain an ace, king, queen, jack, and ten.

A rarer version of five-card stud is the hi-lo (or high-low) version, which plays a high and low in the same hand. In order to qualify for a low hand, all five cards must be valued under eight. The best hand is an A-2-3-4-5 with the ace playing low. The next best hand would be A-2-3-4-6 and so on.

5-card stud variations

Poker players who enjoy mixed games sometimes play variations of five-card stud. There is the high-low version we mentioned, but it’s not very popular. A more common variation is lowball, playing only the low. The rarest version of stud is Soko, which is popular in Finland but also in America, where it’s known as California stud.


Five-card stud low is better known as lowball, which is playing the low hand rankings only. In this game, the ace always ranks low. The player with the highest card (not an ace) takes care of the bring-in bet. All other betting rounds start with the player showing the lowest hand.

5-card stud high-low

When players add the high-low component to stud poker, it means that players can win with a high hand or low hand, though almost impossible that a player achieves both. The big difference with this format is that players must declare whether they are playing a high or low hand during the final betting round. Often, this results in a split pot.

5-card stud high-low with a buy

Home game players like this extra component in high-low because it gives players the chance to buy a card during the final round of betting. Players can discard one face-up or face-down and receive a replacement in the same manner. The typical price for a card is a large bet.


Whether called Sökö in Finland or California Stud in America, this version of five-card stud poker has more hand rankings. This allows a four-card straight or four-card flush to play. A four-card straight ranks just higher than a pair, and a four-card flush ranks just higher than that. Both will lose to two pair.

The takeaway

Today’s poker players are bringing five-card stud back to the lineup of many mixed games because of its variations and its ability to build big pots. At the same time, the basic game is simple enough for new players to quickly learn and enjoy. Be on the lookout for five-card stud in your local tournament series or mixed cash game spreads if it sounds like a game you’d enjoy!

Featured image source: Flickr by Poker Photos used under CC license