If you came up during the “Poker Boom” era, sparked in 2003 by (one of the most successful gamblers in history) Chris Moneymaker’s momentous victory at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, you probably haven’t had much exposure to Seven-Card Stud.
The wall-to-wall coverage of WSOP and World Poker Tour (WPT) back in the boom days meant that millions of poker fans worldwide learned no limit Texas holdem first. For many poker enthusiasts, in fact, Texas holdem is the only game they’ve ever played in the casino setting.
But it wasn’t always this way…
Before the boom, most poker players considered Seven-Card Stud to be their game of choice. The antique game, and its various offshoots like the split-pot variant Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better, was the de facto poker product in casinos and card rooms from coast to coast through the late 1990s.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the basic gameplay and structure of Seven-Card Stud, here’s a quick tutorial to get you brought up to speed.
How to Play Seven-Card Stud
There will be two to eight players at the table, with everyone paying a nominal ante amount based on the game’s table stakes. Each player is dealt three cards to begin the hand.
Two of those cards are dealt face down, while the third is face up for the table to see. From there, whomever shows the lowest ranking card must place a forced bet known as the “bring-in.”
The antes and the bring-in bet serve the same purpose as the blinds in a game like Texas holdem, putting chips in the pot and giving players something to fight for. After the bring-in bet is made, the next player to the left acts by folding, calling the bring-in amount, or raising it up.
In a cash game using $5/$10 limits and a $2 bring-in, for example, a raiser could increase the bet to the $5 small bet amount.
Once the table has acted around on “third street,” named for the amount of cards held at this point, the dealer will deliver all remaining players a fourth card face up. Betting on fourth street sticks with the small bet unit, but all subsequent streets increase the stakes by using the “big bet” sizing.
Players alternate taking face up cards and betting on fifth and sixth street, before taking their seventh and final card face down. After one last round of betting, the remaining players turn over their three hole cards. Whoever has the highest-ranked (in standard high-hand Seven-Card Stud) five-card poker hand takes the pot.
As you might imagine, removing shared community cards from the equation makes Seven-Card Stud a test of memorization. As a hand plays out, you’ll instantly get to see one card from each of your opponents’ hand.
Even if they wind up folding out, this knowledge can be used later to help deduce remaining opponents’ holdings or calculate your current drawing odds based on card elimination.
Seven-Card Stud in Las Vegas
Back in the 1990s, Sin City card rooms spread Seven-Card Stud by default, as interest in other variants like Texas holdem or Pot Limit Omaha was sparse to say the least. That script has definitely been flipped over the last two decades, leading to Seven-Card Stud’s current status as a niche game largely ignored by the recreational poker-playing masses.
The biggest cash games in town all use a mix or a rotation of variants, which typically runs between eight and 12 games. The mixed game economy has ensured that Seven-Card Stud remains alive and well. But, believe it or not, you can still visit the city of Las Vegas and enjoy straight up Seven-Card Stud like the good old days.
Below, you’ll find a full tour of five poker rooms in Las Vegas where you can still play Seven-Card Stud in style.
1 – Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa
Kicking off the list is Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa, a gorgeous venue located in the upscale suburb of Summerlin. To reach Red Rock Resort, you’ll need to drive about 25 minutes northwest of the Strip, but the wait will definitely be worth it for Seven-Card Stud fans.
As this handy guide from the PokerAtlas poker room database shows, Red Rock Resort is home to the lowest-stakes Seven-Card Stud games in all of Sin City with $4/$8 and $2/$10 games running a few times per week.
These tables play the Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better offshoot though, so be sure to familiarize yourself with that game’s key twist. As the name suggests, the Hi-Lo Eight or Better version of Seven-Card Stud uses a split pot system in which a qualifying low hand can earn half of the pot. You’ll need to hold a string of five cards that are all ranked at eight or lower, something like 2-3-5-6-7 or 3-5-6-7-8, to form a qualifying low hand.
The goal in an Eight or Better hand is usually to “scoop” the pot, or win both the high and the low portions at the same time. Picture yourself holding the A-2-3-4-5 “wheel” straight to claim the high portion, with the same five card combo forming the best low hand at 5-high to get an idea of how scooping works in this extremely interesting Seven-Card Stud variant.
Red Rock Resort’s poker room isn’t the biggest in Las Vegas, but does boast 20 tables. And, on busy days, two of them should have Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better running at extremely reasonable stakes.
The $4/$8 table uses a $40 minimum buy-in with no maximum limit, while the $2/$10 tables opts for a $100 minimum and no maximum. In the $4/$8 game, the ante stands at just $0.25 and the bring-in is for $1. As for the $2/$10 game, expect to ante $1 and bring-in for $2.
These stakes are perfect for recreational players looking to test the proverbial waters before moving up the ladder.
2 – Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall
Another “off-Strip” casino located far from the wilds of Las Vegas Boulevard, the Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall is a beloved casino for locals who appreciate value.
You’ll hit the Boulder Highway to get here, and when you do, the cozy 11-table poker room at Sam’s Town will have a sweet $2/$10 game featuring traditional high-hand Seven-Card Stud.
The minimum buy-in here is $50, but given the $10 big bet sizing and no maximum on buy-ins, most Seven-Card Stud players at Sam’s Town Casino roll with a $100 buy-in that gives them 10 big bets to work with.
Both the ante bet and the bring-in for this game are just $1 too, making even a minimum $50 buy-in plenty to get your feet wet.
3 – Bellagio Hotel and Casino
While the poker industry’s heaviest hitters like Doyle Brunson, Daniel Cates, and Jean-Robert Bellande duke it out in “Bobby’s Room” in the Bellagio, home to the largest stakes mixed cash games in Las Vegas at $2,000/$4,000 blinds, you can attempt to live vicariously through them.
Bellagio’s world-class poker room, as a regular host of the prestigious WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic with 37 tables, offers the most diverse array of Seven-Card Stud tables anywhere in Las Vegas.
The “smallest” stakes game here is $20/$40, however, so you’ll need to bring a bigger bankroll than would suffice at Red Rock Resort or Sam’s Town. Even so, the minimum entry point is a $200 buy-in (with no maximum), so these stakes certainly don’t box out recreational players by any means.
In the $20/$40 high-hand Seven-Card Stud game at the Bellagio, players ante for $3 and pay a $5 bring-in. These tables also charge a $5 house rake every 30 minutes.
On busy weekend nights, the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas also spreads a $30/$60 game of Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better. Here, the minimum buy-in is $500 with no maximum, antes cost $5 apiece, and the bring-in runs $10. The house rake on the $30/$60 Eight or Better table is $7.
And to cap things off, you’ll also find a $50/$100 high-hand game that runs occasionally at any point in the week. At these higher stakes, the players prefer to add blind bets a la Texas holdem, so look for $5 and $15 small and big blinds, respectively. The ante and bring-in follow the same $5/$15 structure, putting plenty of chips in play right off the bat.
4 – Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino
For six weeks every summer, the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino becomes a smorgasbord of Seven-Card Stud tournaments and cash games thanks to the annual WSOP.
Plan your trip for between late May and mid-July to get in on the WSOP fun, which featured no less than 11 gold bracelet events based around Seven-Card Stud and its related variants a few months back.
The lowest entry point in terms of buy-in are the $1,500 high-hand Seven-Card Stud tournament, and its $1,500 Hi-Lo Eight or Better counterpart. As you might expect, elite pros dominate the smaller fields in these niche events, with veteran Eli Elezra winning the $1,500 high-hand tournament this summer for a $93,766 score.
You’ll also find a few $1,500 buy-in tournaments which feature Seven-Card Stud as one component of a mix. The eight-game mix is exactly what it sounds like, while the popular Dealer’s Choice event allows the dealer to call the game ahead of every new hand.
And of course, the centerpiece of the WSOP’s Seven-Card Stud schedule is the $10,000 buy-in World Championship which Hennigan claimed this year. That’s a hefty buy-in for most players, but you can try to parlay $500 or $1,000 into a seat through the satellite tournament qualification system.
5 – WSOP.com Online Poker Room
Although not technically a poker room in the traditional sense, WSOP.com offers online play on a fully regulated and legal platform.
You can play from anywhere in Las Vegas, or Nevada for that matter, provided you’re of age and have a steady internet connection.
Seven-Card Stud cash games on WSOP.com, in both high-hand and Hi-Lo Eight or Better versions, begin with $0.05/$0.10 limits and run up to $10/$20.
You’ll also find the occasional tournament running, including online satellites that feed into the live WSOP every summer.
Why Seven-Card Stud Remains Beloved by Poker Pros
Unfortunately for fans of Seven-Card Stud, the game’s lack of community cards and limit betting structure doesn’t make it a great fit for televised coverage.
With an entire generation caught up in the two-card tango of Texas holdem, defined by bold “all-in” bluffs and bad beats when the community cards come up just right, Seven-Card Stud has waned in popularity over the last decade or so.
It’s a shame, because Seven-Card Stud is among the most complex and challenging forms of poker ever devised.
The lack of community cards turns Seven-Card Stud into a contest of wills, one based on memorization skills, logical reasoning, the ability to back up a solid read with a well-timed bluff.
For this reason, well-rounded poker players who pride themselves on knowing all of the variants in a good eight-game mix down cold consider Seven-Card Stud to be the proving ground which separates elite pros.
Veteran pro Johnny “World” Hennigan captured his sixth career WSOP gold bracelet in the prestigious $10,000 Seven-Card Stud World Championship event. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that excelling in every old-school poker player’s favorite game made the win a little more special.
“I’ve won tournaments for much bigger prize money, but winning this tournament in particular had a lot of value to me. I grew up playing stud, and a lot of people say I’m the best at that game, and I’ve always been really good at that game. It’s kind of a feather in my cap.”
Clearly, Seven-Card Stud is a beautiful poker game that has withstood the test of time. It might not provide those memorable all-in moments and “Aces cracked” bad beats generated by Texas holdem, but true poker aficionados appreciate Seven-Card Stud for the skillful play required to excel.
Luck doesn’t play as large of a role in a game lacking community cards, and the limit betting structure actually produces much more action on any given hand. If you haven’t experienced Seven-Card Stud in the live arena, make sure to visit one of the poker rooms listed here during your next trip to Las Vegas.