5 Card Stud
5 Card Stud is one of the oldest poker variants around, having originated during the American Civil War of the 1860s. Although it has fallen out of fashion, and it hasn’t been dealt at the World Series of Poker since 1974 (prior to that, all four Five Card Stud events had been won by the same player), no examination of poker variants would be complete without it, as it is the ideal training ground for some key stud poker concepts.
5 Card Stud was made famous by the movie The Cincinnati Kid, in which Eric ‘The Kid’ Stoner, played by Steve McQueen, faces off against Lancey ‘The Man’ Howard in a high-stakes game. The final hand, in which The Man backs into a Straight Flush against The Kid’s Full House, is one of the most far-fetched and improbable hands ever shown in a poker movie, as we will see.
5 Card Stud is played with an ante, as are most stud games. After everybody has anted, each player is dealt two cards. The first card is face down and is known as the hole card. The second card is face up, and is called the door card. The player with the lowest door card must now make a compulsory bet known as the bring-in. On the MPN, the bring-in bet is twice the size of the ante, but the player making the bring-in can choose to make a larger bet if they wish.
If two players have the same door card, then suits are used to break the tie. The suits are ranked in alphabetical order, from Clubs (lowest), to Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades (highest). The player with the lowest suit brings in. The action now proceeds clockwise around the table. Unlike a blind in Hold’em, the bring-in does not have the option to check or raise when the action returns to them. They can only act for a second time if somebody has raised the bring-in.
After the first betting round is complete, each player receives another card face up, followed by another betting round. Now, the player with the best poker hand showing (usually the person with the highest card) acts first. This process repeats until every player has five cards, of which four are face up and one is hidden. There is a final betting round, followed by a showdown. The best traditional poker hand wins the pot.
5 Card Stud is typically played with up to eight players. Unlike most other stud variants, 5 Card Stud makes an excellent No Limit game, and that’s the variety we deal on the MPN.
The first key concept that is crucial to success in all stud games is the importance of the upcards to your decision-making. Around the table, your opponents’ boards are telling you about the type of cards that are remaining in the deck, and if you’re not making use of this information, you’re giving up a huge edge to players that are.
Let’s say, for example, that you start with [A♥] K♣ (the Ace is your hidden hole card). Your opponents are showing K♥, K♦, A♣, A♦, Q♣, J♥, 9♦. How does that affect your decision making?
Well, many of the cards that you need to improve your hand are already gone. There is just one Ace and one King remaining, so it’s very unlikely that you’ll make a pair later in the hand. The upcards also tell you that you should be more scared of the opponents showing a Queen, Jack or nine because they could have a pair already, while it’s very unlikely that the Kings or Aces are paired up. So, in this hand, you would be more inclined to fold if the Queen raised in early position than if an Ace or King did the same.
Now let’s change your hand to [A♥] K♥, and the upcards to 10♠, 9♦, 9♠, 7♣, 7♦, 3♠, 2♣ (no Hearts are showing). The effect is enormous. Now, you’re not really scared of anyone, since you have a good chance to make a pair, or, if you’re really lucky, a Flush.
I say really lucky, because it should be obvious that in 5 Card Stud, as only five cards are in play compared to seven in Hold’em and nine in Omaha, the value of hands is very different. In fact, think about it this way. How often do you flop a Flush or a Straight in Hold’em, when you start with two suited or connected cards? How often is Ace-high or a small pair the best hand when a lot of money goes in?
The answers to those questions tell you a lot about the hands you should start with in 5 Card Stud. Draws to Straights and Flushes are much weaker than they would be in a seven-card game, since even if your hand is completely live you still have to hit three perfect cards in a row, possibly calling bets after each card.
Conversely, strong Ace-high hands, face cards, and pairs are very strong. Ace-high will often be the best starting hand, and as in Hold’em, a hand like [A♥] K♣ is a significant favourite over a smaller Ace-high such as [A♠] Q♦.
Recognising Board Lock
Another key skill in all stud games is recognising board lock. This is a situation is which you are certain to be winning, because no matter what your opponent has in the hole, it cannot beat your hand. Such situations are common in 5 Card Stud.
For example, you have [8♦] 8♠, and your opponent is showing a 7♥. Note that there is no card he can have in the hole that gives him the best hand at this point. The situation is similar to having the nuts in Hold’em – and just like in Hold’em, that doesn’t mean that you should slowplay. It may be best to extract value right now, when it’s unlikely your opponent will fold, and before you catch something scary that might kill the action.
Playing the Later Streets
Because so much of your opponent’s hand is exposed, it can be relatively easy to read your opponent’s hand in 5 Card Stud, at least if they are a straightforward player. Against such people, you should often be prepared to go to the end with any pair bigger than their door card. Even ace-high will win its fair share of showdowns, although it’s important to be cautious with Ace-high and smaller pairs in multi-way pots.
What makes No Limit 5 Card Stud an interesting game is the sheer amount of bluffing that is possible. Your opponents, who will likely be used to games where the hand values are higher, might lay down hands like small pairs and Ace-high if you develop a frightening-looking board and bet accordingly. In fact, almost every bet or raise results in a question that your opponent must answer. They raised with a King showing, and you reraised with a Nine up. Does that mean you have a pair of nines, or does it mean you have an Ace in the hole? If they have [K♦] Q♠, you’ve put them to a difficult decision. It doesn’t matter what your other card is!
Mix in some well-timed bluffs with your genuine hands, and you’ll keep your opponents guessing and be very successful at 5 Card Stud.