Seven-card stud was probably the most popular form of poker in the world for most of the last half century, although Texas Texas hold'em surpassed it in popularity in two of the United States' largest legal poker centers, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, around 1990.

Nonetheless, stud remains the game of choice on the American East Coast, and in many parts of the world, and certainly rules supreme in home games, probably because it can so easily be changed into interesting variations involving wild cards.

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The game begins with each player automatically anteing a small sum. The exact size of the ante depends on the stakes you have chosen to play. Three cards are then dealt to each player; two face down and one face up. You will, of course, be able to see all three of your cards, but it's very easy for you to distinguish which one of your initial three cards is the one the other players can see.

The Bring In Bet

After the first three cards have been dealt, the player showing the lowest upcard must make what is called a “bring-in” bet. As with the ante, the size of the bring-in varies depending on the size of the stakes, but unlike the ante, you have a choice with the bring-in. You may (as most players do) make a minimum bet that is only slightly larger than the ante, or you may choose to make a full-sized bet.

For example, in a $3-$6 game, you could choose to make a bring-in bet of either $1.00 or $3.00 (we will continue to use the $3-$6 game for our other examples in this section). Most players opt for the minimum even if they have a strong hand, because it creates deception, but there are strategic reasons why making an occasional full-sized bring-in makes sense.

The bring-in bet, by the way, is the only significant time and place in poker where card suits come into play. The highest suit is spades, followed by hearts, diamonds, and clubs. If the lowest upcard showing is a three, and two players are showing threes, the player with the lower suited would be forced to make the bring-in bet. If one player held the three of hearts, and the other the three of diamonds, the player with the three of diamonds would make the bring-in bet.

Assuming the player who brings the hand in does do so for the minimum, the next player to act (action, as in all forms of poker, moves in a clockwise direction) may choose to fold, call the minimum bet, or “raise” by “completing” the bet. For example, in the $3-$6 game, the first raiser would increase the bet from $1 to $3, a raise of only $2. Any further raises during this round would be in normal $3 increments.

Fourth Street Second Round Of Betting

After the action has been completed on the opening round, the dealer gives a face-up card to each player remaining in the game. Unlike the first round, where the lowest hand was forced to start the action, in this second betting round, the highest hand on board has the option to start the betting; that is, the player showing the highest hand is called upon first to either bet or check.

Checking

Declining to bet, but retaining the option to remain in the hand if someone else bets, or even to raise if someone else bets is not an option on the first betting round, because the forced bring-in bet creates a bet that must be called or raised. The betting action starts with the highest visible hand throughout all further betting rounds. In the unlikely event of a tie, suits once again come into play. For example, if two players are each showing the highest hand with an ace-four (or four-ace; the order the cards are received in doesn't matter), the player with the higher suit would start the action.

Normally, all bets and raises are at the lower dollar figure (in our example here, $2) during the first two betting rounds, and at the higher dollar figure ($4 in this example) for the final three betting rounds. If, however, someone immediately makes an open pair on his first two upcards, he is allowed the option to immediately make the larger bet; that is, he can choose to bet either $3 or $6.

He could also choose to check, although he probably wouldn't do that unless he either had such a strong hand that he wanted to entice other players to stay in, or someone else had shown such strength on the first betting round that he suspected he was playing against someone whose hand was still stronger despite the open pair (for example, if he thought his opponent was “rolled up”-a player who had started with three of a kind).

If the player bets $3, his opponents may call or raise in $3 increments. Because the open pair creates the possibility of the $6 wager, just because the player who owns the pair bets $3, the other players don't have to stick with that number. For example, Player A, who is showing an open pair of fives, might bet $3, and find himself immediately raised $6 by Player B (who puts $9 into the pot to do so). As soon as the $6 raise is made, the action stays at the $6 level; that is, Player C cannot re-raise $3 (putting $9 into the pot). If Player C wants to re-raise after Player B has raised $6, Player C must also raise $6.

Similarly, if Player A bets $6, all further calls or raises are in $6 increments.

If you find these “open pair” betting options at all confusing, relax: you're about to encounter another of the advantages of online poker! You don't need to remember the rules about what size bets you are allowed to make: you will see, right on your screen, buttons that present you with all the legal betting options, and you simply select which option you prefer.

Fifth And Sixth Streets

On fifth street, you receive your third upcard, and then there is a round of betting, again started by the highest hand on board. There are no more $3 bets: all bets and raises are at the higher $6 increments. Sixth street is virtually identical: an upcard is dealt, the highest hand acts first, and all bets and raises are at the higher $6 increments.

Seventh Street

The River -The betting on seventh street is identical to sixth street, but the card dealt is the last card you will receive, and it is dealt face down, meaning that like your initial two hole cards, only you know what you've received. After you examine this final card, you assemble your best possible five card poker hand out of the seven in front of you. Don't forget that a poker hand is always five cards. If your hand is (4-4) 5-6-5-7 (7), you don't have “three pair.” Your best hand here is two pair, sevens and fives, with a six kicker.

Although it is important for you to be able to figure out exactly how strong your hand is, so you can make intelligent checking, betting, raising, and calling decisions, once the money goes into the pot, you don't have to worry about overlooking a great hand they you can in live poker. If you have been focused all along on trying to make a flush, you might (especially when you are starting out) might miss the fact that you made a straight on the last card, but the UltimateBet computer won't miss that fact, and if you haven't folded your straight, and are still in the hand at the end, the computer will automatically determine the best possible hand that can be made from the seven cards in front of you.

Because you wind up with four cards showing and three cards in the hole, it is possible to have an extraordinarily well-disguised hand in seven-card stud. Your board (visible cards) can look like you have a collection of garbage hands, but you could have a hand a strong as four of a kind. The only clues your opponents might have to the hidden strength of such a hand are the aggressive way you would likely bet, if you started with trips (rolled up), and the fact that they never saw another open card that matched your first open card.

This practice of keeping an eye peeled for what cards are and are not available to catch, for both you and your opponents, is one of the most significant differences between stud and flop games like texas hold'em and Omaha (where you don't need a good memory for cards because every card you're ever allowed to see is always in sight). The other main difference between stud and these two games are:

There are five betting rounds in stud (three of which, and sometimes four, are at the higher betting level), vs. only four in texas hold'em and Omaha (only two of which are at the higher level).

Because you don't share community cards with other players in stud, it is somewhat easier to catch up when you are trailing. Very often in texas hold'em and stud, a card that improves your hand improves an opponent's hand by an equal amount, and so really hasn't improved your situation. In stud, any card you catch is uniquely yours, and so has a chance to improve you and only you.

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