Seven-card stud is one of the most popular games for beginning players because the rules are easy to learn and the betting sequence tends to build healthy pots — and therefore substantial potential winnings. Players make the best five-card hand out of seven total cards. Each player receives two hole cards, dealt face-down, and one up-card. Betting starts with the player who has the lowest card showing, and proceeds to the left of that player. Players can match or increase the bet or fold at this point.
After the first-round bets are made, each player receives another card face-up. For the second betting round, the player with the highest hand showing begins the betting, again proceeding to the left of that player. This process is repeated until each player has four up-cards. For the final round, also called “the showdown round,” each player receives a seventh card face-down. When all bets have been placed, the dealer calls for players who are still in the hand to show their cards, and the highest hand wins.
Under most house rules, a raise must be at least equal to a previous bet or raise. For example, if the player to your right has raised $3, you can call the $3 or raise $3, $4, or $5, but you cannot raise another $2.
How to Bet Seven-Card Stud
According to most experts, the outcome of any seven-card stud game is almost always determined by the first three cards you're dealt. Smart players will make their betting decisions based on their first three cards and will throw away hands that don't carry a reasonable expectation of winning.
Three of a Kind
If you're lucky enough to be dealt three of a kind — the odds are around 400 to 1 against, but it does happen occasionally — chances are you can win the pot if you bet carefully. With this kind of hand, your goal is to let the pot grow so you don't want to scare off the other players. Remember that one of your cards is showing; if you happen to be dealt the fourth in your sequence, you'll have a pair showing, and that may be enough to encourage other players to fold, especially if you're betting aggressively. To keep the pot growing, cover the bets during each round, but avoid raising until the sixth card is dealt.
Pairs and High Cards
A pair of aces, kings, queens, or jacks puts you in a fairly good starting position. If one of your pair is showing (called an “open pair”), it reduces the value of the hand somewhat; other players will assume you have the other half of the pair in the hole. Watch the up-cards during the rounds to see whether other players have been dealt cards that would improve your hand. If you haven't bettered your hand by the fifth card, you're probably better off folding.
If you have a low pair (10s or lower), three high cards (jack, queen, king, or ace), or three cards to a straight, most experts recommend staying in until the fourth card is dealt. If you don't get a card to help this hand by the fourth card, your best option is probably to fold and wait for a better hand.
A hand that has potential to be really good but which requires another card — for instance, if you have four cards to an ace-high flush — is called a “drawing” hand. Your hand isn't big yet, but if you draw the right card (in this case, another card of the same suit) it will be.
Potential Straight Flush
If you have the first three cards of a straight flush — consecutively numbered cards of the same suit — you're in good shape for at least the next two rounds of betting. There are several ways to improve this kind of hand: you can complete the straight flush, get a straight (with consecutively numbered cards of different suits), or get a flush (five nonconsecutive cards of the same suit). Many players recommend betting or even raising during the first round in this situation. On the other hand, if you haven't drawn anything to help you by the fifth card, most experts recommend folding.
If you hold three cards to a flush (cards of the same suit), the odds say you'll complete the flush once out of every six hands. Stay in for at least two more cards. If you haven't received another card in your suit after the fifth card is dealt, you're better off folding.
Any Other Combination
If you don't have one of the previous combinations in your hand after the first three cards are dealt, the odds against you winning the hand are astronomical. Don't throw your bankroll away; drop out and wait for the next hand. Take the opportunity to observe the other players and pick up pointers on their betting strategies and skill level.