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Stud poker is any of a number of poker variants in which each player receives a mix of face-down and face-up cards dealt in multiple betting rounds. Stud games are also typically non-positional games, meaning that the player who bets first on each round may change from round to round (it is usually the player whose face-up cards make the best hand for the game being played). The cards dealt face down to each individual player are called hole cards (which gave rise to the common English expression ace in the hole, which suggests that one has something valuable that is not apparent to others).
Stud poker variants using 3 cards were popular as of the American Revolutionary War. Five-card stud first appeared during the American Civil War when the game was much played among soldiers on both sides, and became very popular. In recent years, Seven-card stud has become more common, both in casinos and in home games. These two games form the basis of most modern stud poker variations.
The number of betting rounds in a game influences how well the game plays with different betting structures. Games with four or fewer betting rounds, such as five-card stud and Mississippi stud (described below), play well with any structure, and are especially well suited to no limit and pot limit play. Games with more betting rounds are more suited to fixed limit or spread limit. It is common (and recommended) for later betting rounds to have higher limits than earlier ones. For example, a "$5/$10 Seven-card Stud" game in a Nevada casino allows $5 bets for the first two rounds and $10 bets for subsequent rounds. Also common is to make the final round even higher: a "$5/$10/$20" game would allow $20 bets on the last round only. Another common rule is to allow the larger bet on the second round if there is an "open pair" (that is, at least one player's upcards make a pair). Some casinos (typically in California) use the smaller limit on the first three rounds rather than just the first two.
It is a common convention in stud poker to name the betting rounds after the number of cards each player holds when that betting round begins. So the bet that occurs when each player has three cards is called "third card" or "third street", while the bet that occurs when each player has five cards is "fifth street". The final round, regardless of the number of betting rounds, is commonly called the "river" or simply the "end".
As mentioned above, seven-card stud is probably the most common form of the game, with most other games being variants of that, although five-card stud is also a basic pattern upon which many variations are built. These games are described on their own page. Most of the games described below started as ad hoc variants, but they have either become popular enough to have a common name, or else have some unique feature to merit including them here.
Six-card stud is usually played as identical to seven-card stud, except that the last face-up round is removed (thus it is two down, three up, one down). It can also be played as 1-4-1, where the first betting round occurs after only two cards are dealt (one down and one up). This latter form more closely resembles five-card stud with an extra downcard.
A variation called Alligator stud starts with one hole card and one upcard, followed by a first betting round; then two upcards are dealt to each player followed by a second betting round; then a fourth upcard and betting round, and finally a fifth upcard and betting round. This game plays well at no limit and pot limit. The same game, but with each player initially dealt two downcards and one upcard, and restricted to using only one of his downcards in his final hand, is called Zanetti stud.
Also known as "seven eight" or "stud eight", eight or better is the most common form of high-low split stud. Played as seven-card stud, but the pot is split between the player with the highest hand and the player with the lowest hand (using the ace-to-five low values). An 8-high hand or lower is required to win low. Betting takes place as if playing standard high-hand stud; that is, low card pays the bring-in, if any, on the first round, and subsequent rounds start the betting with the highest showing poker hand. The showdown is cards speak, that is, there is no declaration for high and low. Each player may choose a different subset of five cards to play for high and low. For example, a player with A-A-8-6-6-4-3 can play a high hand of A-A-6-6-8, and a low hand of 8-6-4-3-A. A player with K-9-8-7-6-5-4 can play a 9-high straight for his high hand, and 8-7-6-5-4 for low (which is the worst possible qualifying low, but it does qualify). A player with K-9-8-7-7-6-5 can play the 9-high straight for high, but cannot play any low hand, because he cannot make an 8-high or lower. If there is no qualifying low hand, high hand takes the entire pot.
Another form of high-low split stud is played under the same rules as stud-8 with one major exception—there is no qualifier required for the low half of the pot. Often referred to as Q, it is much less common than stud-8, and is generally played at higher limits.
Mississippi stud was created to make seven-card stud play better at no limit and pot limit, and is slowly becoming popular for that reason. It is also often played with a betting structure more typical of limit Texas hold 'em: fixed limit with the last two rounds double the limit of the first two. The bring-in should be less than the first-round limit.
Initial deal is as in standard seven-card stud. After the first betting round, two upcards are dealt to each player, so each now has two down and three up (so unlike standard stud there is no betting on "fourth street"). A second betting round is followed by one more upcard and a third betting round. Finally, the last card is dealt face up, so that each player ends with two downcards and five upcards. Because each player has five upcards on the last round, straights, flushes, and full houses count as "high hand exposed" for the purpose of determining who must bet first. After the seventh street bet there is a normal showdown.
Can also be played with low hands, or high-low split. If three downcards are dealt initially instead of two, with the restriction that no more than two of them can be used in the final hand, this variation is called Murrumbidgee stud.
Various forms of roll your own five-card stud, often with a stripped deck and wild cards, are called Mexican stud, Mexican poker, or stud loco. One such variant played by the Casino San Pablo in northern California has these rules: 8s, 9s, and 10s are stripped from the deck, and a single joker is added (the deck therefore contains 41 cards). The 7-spot and the J become consecutive, so that 5-6-7-J-Q is a straight. A flush beats a full house (with fewer cards of each suit, they are harder to get). The joker plays as a bug if it is face up, and fully wild if it is face down. The game is played as five-card stud choose-before roll your own. It is usually played with a very high ante, and the high card on the first round pays the bring-in.
The game of Shifting sands is Mexican stud in which each player's hole card (and all others of that rank) are wild for that player only.
Caribbean Stud Poker is a casino game that has been developed using the poker hands and general rules of 5 card stud poker. The game combines poker elements and standard table game elements in that each player dealt into the hand is playing against the dealer. Originally invented by famed gambling author David Sklansky using the name Casino Holdem with some slight rule variations, the game was first introduced at the Grand Holiday Casino and eventually all the remaining hotels in Aruba in the 1980s.