At one time, this was the most popular of all casino poker games. It's one that practically everybody knew how to play. Today, it shares the spotlight with Texas Hold'em and Omaha, but the number of Stud games in Las Vegas is still greater than either Hold'em or Omaha.
In a typical Stud game you'll find from five to eight players. On a slow day, there may be only four players at the table, including yourself, and if this happens, don't play unless the card room manager agrees to reduce the rake (3-4% approximately, but varies according to casino) until at least one additional player enters the game. On a busy day, the manager might try to squeeze an eighth person into the game, but if everybody decides to play a round, he may end up with too few cards come seventh street (see below).
The Buy-in: To begin play, you must first buy chips, either from the brush at the podium or from the dealer. You'll almost always be asked for at least a $20 buy-in in a typical $1-3 game, though smaller card rooms will let you in for $10.
The Deal: The house dealer begins by giving each player one card face down, from his left. He continues with a second down card and finishes by giving each player a third card face up. This is referred to as the "door" card. Make certain you watch and remember the door cards. These give you a great deal of information about how you can proceed with your own hand.
If, for example, you have a pair of sevens with a five and two other players have a seven showing, your pair is considerably weaker than it would be if no sevens have shown. We can't emphasize this enough: pay attention to the cards around the table -- even if you have to look at them before you look at your own cards.
Openers: In stud, either the low or high card showing must make the initial wager equal to the low end of the game limit you're playing. So, if you are in a $1-4 game, the opener must be for at least $1. This is not a standard rule, however, as many casinos start with a mere 50-cent opener. Typically, in Las Vegas, low card opens the game.
If, however, there's an ante (which could be anything from 10 cents on up), then high card opens. You don't have to open for the minimum amount -- you can start off with a raise if you like but you must begin the betting.
Betting Rounds: Once the first wager goes into the pot, each player in turn, starting from the left of the opener, can either fold, call, or raise (and eventually reraise if there's a raise beforehand). Don't bet out of turn, not just because it disrupts the game, but also because it gives away information about you and your hand. Always wait your turn.
Starting Hands: Naturally, when you have to open the betting, you must bet something, but what if you have a very good hand already. On extra strong hands (three of a kind for example), don't scare others out by betting aggressively.
Your most important decision begins with those first three cards(!) so you must know the rudimentary starting hands. They are:
One recommendation: An excellent low-limit beginner's book is the classic 7-card Stud "The Waiting Game" by George Percy.
If you start with three of a kind, you have an excellent chance of winning the pot at the end of seven cards. If you've analyzed the other players in the game (a must) and think they are willing to gamble with you, then by all means, bet aggressively (don't show off). If you have too many rocks in the game (players who, like you, play only the best starting hands), bet conservatively to keep them in the pot for a round or two.
Three cards to a straight flush offers several options and should be played initially the same as three of a kind. What you're hoping for, of course, is a straight flush or even a royal, a flush, or at the very least, a straight. You might also get other decent hands, but if you do, make certain you know where you stand with them. If you have Ace-king-queen, for example, and you've seen a king and two Aces in other hands, you are in a weak position. Play carefully!
A pair of aaces or kings in your first three cards are very strong -- especially if they're hidden. (Note: No matter what kind of pair you have, if you don't improve by the fifth card, you should seriously consider folding, especially if there's any betting and raising going on.) You should probably bet these cards aggressively, wagering the maximum or raising the maximum. The goal is to discourage drawing hands from continuing against you. If you bet meekly, somebody who has a border line hand gets a cheap, or even free card that could smother your fire.
The general rule of thumb for cards of lesser value than a high pair is to be cautious. Watch the betting; watch the cards. If you see your "outs" dwindling because somebody else is getting the cards you need, be prepared to get out of the hand. If you started with a borderline hand and managed to make it stronger by the fifth card, get aggressive. At this point, you want to force out other borderline hands that are waiting to see one more card.
About half the people who play poker will tell you that you must understand odds and probabilities. While it's very helpful to get a grip on this concept, you can play the game of poker even if you don't have Einstein's mathematical brain. You will, however, be shaving a few dollars off your bottom line.
If you can't deal with pot odds, card odds, or implied odds, make sure you can keep track of the cards that are out. At least you won't be getting the worst of it. (For the mathematically brain dead, there's a very good book that will give you lessons in figuring odds and probabilities in general and in particular as they relate to poker. It's called, coincidentally, "Poker Expertise Through Probability" by Robert Riley.)
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