How to Play 5 Card Stud Poker and Win!

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It’s almost surprising that casinos don’t have a portable set of bat-wing doors that they can bring to final poker tables. The image of the doors swinging as a cardsharp enters the field of play is so iconic its absence is almost shocking.

Not that you need the artifice to show off your skills and intimidate at a table. When it comes to playing 5 card stud, what you really need is a winning strategy and the presence of mind to pull it off.

Few games can boast such a high level of skill as poker and even among poker games, it has a particular reputation. It’s no accident that all four World’s Series of Poker bracelets for 5 card stud are held by the same man. In Australia, poker accounts for almost half of the money spent on games of chance.

Read on to learn what you need to know to get a grounding in and a mastery of this once popular table game.

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Playing 5 Card Stud

The goal in 5 card stud is to create the best hand using five cards. The value of the hand is based on conventional rules with a pair beating a high card, three beating a pair, and so on with the best hand being the royal flush.

What makes playing the game exciting is the element of risk that stems from the unknown. As you don’t get to see all of the cards, you have to infer from behaviours and betting strategies what strength an opponent’s hand likely has.

Mastering poker, which is a skill game over a game of chance, requires you to do some quick math and have a memory for what you see and what you don’t see. There is some intuition to be had and knowing how to trick other players by making your motives pays off.

Altogether, playing poker to win is all about control of yourself, your opponents, and the table in general.

This guide will start with the basics and work up to the advanced strategies so you can follow along.


Like most poker games, the first thing that happens is an ante. There is no blind in 5 card stud so everyone at the table pays the same amount to begin.

As a stud poker game, 5 card stud features an unseen card dealt face down at the beginning. A second card is then dealt face up to each player. This completes the setup.

A round of initial betting called the ‘bring in’ then occurs. More on that later.

After betting a third card is dealt. In 5 card stud, the final three cards are referred to as ‘streets’. Each street card is dealt face up and is followed by a round of betting.

After the conclusion of the fifth street betting, the pocket card is shown and the pot is awarded to the strongest hand.

Bring In

The bring in is an interesting take on the usual betting rules for poker. Instead of betting being led by the player to the dealers left or the one with the big blind, the action starts with the player with the lowest showing card.

The player placing the bring in bet sets the pace for the betting for the game. They can make a bet which is roughly a fourth of the size of the subsequent street betting or make a standard raise.


The street betting rounds follow the bring in. Five-card stud is a limit game. There are set ceilings on how much can be bet on a single street.

This limit keeps the game more standardized and prevents all-in style power plays.

Street betting starts with the player with the strongest hand. The moving nature of the bet starter creates key opportunities for developing a strategy in the game.

Basic Strategy

You must pay careful attention to the table as the game progresses to play well. It’s equally important to maintain general poker etiquette.

As players leave the hand, they are under no obligation to show their pocket cards. There’s no guarantee that their cards won’t be swept up as they leave, so remembering the cards no longer in the game is important.

Starting Hands

You form the basis of a winning strategy with your starting hand. You can’t build a five-card winning hand if your initial hand doesn’t contain key components. While the vast majority of winning hands will be pairs and three-of-a-kind, it’s important to place the proper value on each card.

You can win with cards you don’t yet have but your best strategy is to play strong with the cards you do have.

Generally speaking, you have four things to consider in your starting hand.

Pairs let you build into several favourable hands. A high pair should be fast played to build momentum while the hand is strong and force other players out. It’s wise to fold if a better pair is shown or if you see matching cards.

The second thing to consider is playing to the high card. If your face-up card is higher than any of your opponents, you have a notable advantage and the hand is playable.

Third, if your hole card is a higher value card than any showing card you have leverage. There is a subtlety between how you bet in the second and third instances. Generally, push harder with a high hole card.

Finally, if both your hole card and your first showing card are higher than anything on the table, push accordingly.

All of these starting hands have immediate value. Think about your hand in each round as if it was the final round. If your current hand beats anything you can see, you are good to continue.


Remember that since the betting positions swap from one round to the next, that the information you have will change. The earlier in the round you bet, the weaker your knowledge.

Slow playing a hand works best when your hole card is higher value than face-up cards. This gives you more time to watch other player’s betting tactics before making your own decision.

If you find yourself consistently in the first betting position, push hard with confidence to wrap up the pot.

Quick Tips

The basic strategy leaves a lot of wiggle room for playing from round to round. To sharpen your tactics on the way to advanced strategies, keep these tips in mind.

  • Fold earlier than later. If you don’t see strength in your hand move on.
  • Pairs are the most common draw with a 42.3% chance per deal.
  • Don’t over-focus on a high hole card, one card isn’t a hand.
  • Read your opponents. Make guesses as to their final hands and ride out a few hands to see how close your predictions come.
  • Remember the cards you see now before they go away. Don’t fixate on a card you need, know what is on the table.

Advanced Strategy

You may have heard the term ‘outs’ in relation to poker hands. These are the cards that allow you to win a hand if they appear. The higher the number of outs, the better the hand.

Flushes and straights are favourable hands because they have a larger number of cards that can appear and still complete them. There are only four kings in a deck so a four of a kind is highly rare. There are thirteen hearts, so getting another heart is more viable.

Balance the size of the pot against the possible outs to see how viable your position is. The more money on the table and the fewer possible cards that allow you to win, the more likely you should cut your losses.

This is the hardest thing to learn by feel. It helps to build a spreadsheet and see how the numbers interact to give a foundation of this kind of high-level play before you hit the table.

Betting Policy

Before you get into manoeuvring bets, remember the odds of each hand appearing. Weigh your bet against the odds to keep better track of where you are in the game. Even if you are betting large and winning on small odd hands, you can still be outpaced in the game by someone making larget bets on higher risk hands.

It’s not about the return on investment since the game has limits and not multipliers, but it shows a comparable strength of skill if an opponent only bets when they win.

Five-card stud rules dictate a limit to bets. These limits are often set by the table and have no standard. There is a standard, however, with the idea of small and big bets. Small bets are half the size of big bets.

Casino rules stipulate only big bets are allowed on the fourth and fifth street.

The bring-in can be half of a small bet or up to a small bet. The bring in will also always be higher than the ante.

Keep these weights in betting in mind to gauge the confidence players express in their hands.

Enjoy the Game

The best way to learn to play 5 card stud is to practice often and to practice smart. Getting involved in games where you have serious stakes to lose will be less fun and lead to reactionary habits. Win or lose, your attitude from early games when learning creates habits that may not serve you in the future.

There’s also a lot of poker games out there. Play the one that you enjoy and the ones you have an affinity for.


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