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How to play 5 card stud: basic tips

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Like 5-card draw, 5-card stud is almost dead as a casino game, and it isn't found too often in home games either. It was popular in the old west, and in the days before poker books started greatly improving the quality of the average player's game. We do see it in the movies-most notably in The Cincinnati Kid-and it surfaced occasionally in the shipboard poker games on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it has faded in popularity as a money poker game because it is too simple and too boring. In 5-card stud, the players all ante, and then the dealer gives everyone two cards, one face down, and one face up.

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There is a round of betting, and as with 7-card stud, the rules vary as to whether the low or high card on board starts the betting. I believe the better rule is to force the low card to bet; it stimulates action and makes for a more interesting game. After this betting round, each player receives his third card face up, and the high hand starts the betting action. Once the betting is complete, each player receives his fourth card face up, there is another betting round, and then each player receives his fifth and final card face up. Because the players receive only five cards, the hand values in 5-card stud vary dramatically from games like hold 'em or 7-card stud, where the players each get seven cards and then can choose their best five.

It is far easier to make a strong hand when you can pick five out of seven cards, rather than just getting five. Even in draw poker, where the players never have more than five cards at one time, they start with five and have the option of replacing several. So the average winning hands are also much higher in draw than in 5-stud. The rules are still the same-that is, a flush still beats a straight, and so on-but even in a game where nine players stay in the game until the very end, a hand like a pair of Aces stands an excellent chance to win the pot. In hold 'em, 7-stud, or 5-card draw, the average winning hand is much better. The main problem with 5-card stud is that there is too much information available to the players. With only one hidden card, it is very easy to see what an opponent's best possible hand might be. Further, unless the ante is very high, there is little reason to try to chase down an opponent from behind.

For example, if your first two cards are an Eight in the hole and a Jack exposed, and someone with a King exposed bets, where is the incentive to call? It's already very clear that you are trailing in the hand, even if the player betting has a bad card like a Two in the hole. If the player holding the King has ANOTHER King in the hole, you are trailing so badly that it is extremely unlikely that you will catch up. As a result, unless your game is a low stakes, highly social game where the participants play mainly to enjoy each other's company, 5-card stud tends to be boring.

The player with the highest card bets, and unless someone has a pair or a higher card in the hole, everyone folds. At least, they should fold! Staring at a King, a player holding a hand like the Jack and Ten of hearts is a big underdog. With only three more cards to come, the odds against making either a straight or a flush-the two hands that 10-J suited seem to promise-are very, very bad. Without the action that these "drawing hands" create, 5-stud thus becomes a game of high cards and pairs, and it's usually just too obvious to everyone that they are a big underdog. 5-stud is a fine game for the movies for the same reason as 5-card draw: the audience can easily understand what's happening. In a real poker game, that easy understanding makes the correct play too obvious to create much excitement, or much betting action. A good 5-stud player will take the money from bad 5-stud players much too quickly for the bad players to remain interested in the game. The Cincinnati Kid was a great movie, but the final confrontation between Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson could never have taken place in a game between two players who were supposed to be as good as "The Kid" and "The Man."

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