The descriptions below assume that you are familiar with the general game play of poker, and with hand values. They also make no assumptions about what Betting structure is used. In casino play, it is common to use a small Ante and Bring-in. In home games, it is typical to use an ante only.
The game begins with each player being dealt two cards face down and one card face up. If played with a bring-in, the player with the lowest-ranking upcard pays the bring-in, and betting proceeds after that in normal clockwise order. The bring-in is considered an Open, so the next player in turn may not check. If two players have equally ranked low cards, suit may be used to break the tie and assign the bring-in (see Poker/High card by suit). If there is no bring-in, then the first betting round begins with the player showing the highest-ranking upcard, who may check. In this case, suit should not be used to break ties. If two players have the same high upcard, the one first in clockwise rotation from the dealer acts first.
After the first betting round, another upcard is dealt to each player (after a burn card, and starting at the dealer's left as will all subsequent rounds), followed by a second betting round beginning with the player whose upcards make the best poker hand. Since fewer than five cards are face up, this means no straights, flushes, or full houses will count for this purpose. On this and all subsequent betting rounds, the player whose face-up cards make the best poker hand will act first, and may check or bet up to the game's limit.
The second round is followed by a third upcard and betting round, a fourth upcard and betting round, and finally a downcard, a fifth betting round, and Showdown if necessary. Seven-card stud can be summarized therefore as "two down, four up, one down". Upon showdown, each player makes the best five-card poker hand he can out of the seven cards he was dealt.
You may note that seven cards to eight players plus four burn cards makes 60 cards, and there are only 52 in the deck. In most games this is not a problem because several players will have folded in early betting rounds. But there are certainly low-stakes home games where few if any players fold. If this is the case in your game, you may want to limit the game to seven players. If the deck does become exhausted during play, previously-dealt burn cards can be used when only a few cards are needed to complete the deal. If even those are not sufficient, then on the final round instead of dealing a downcard to each player, a single Community card is dealt to the center of the table, and is shared by everyone (that is, each player treats it as his seventh card). Under no circumstances can any discarded card from a folded hand be "recycled" for later use. Unlike draw poker, where no cards are ever seen before showdown, stud poker players use the information they get from face-up cards to make strategic decisions, and so a player who sees a certain card folded is entitled to make decisions knowing that the card will never appear in another opponent's hand.
The sample deal below assumes that a game is being played by four players: Alice, who is dealing in the examples; Bob, who is sitting to her left; Carol to his left; and David to Carol's left. If you cannot read the card suit symbols used below, this page contains the same text using the letters c, d, h, and s to represent suits.
All players ante $.25. Alice deals each player two downcards and one upcard, beginning with Bob and ending with herself. Bob is dealt the 4♠, Carol the K♦, David the 4♦, and Alice the 9♣. Because they are playing with a $1 bring-in, David is required to start the betting with a $1 bring-in (his 4♦ is lower than Bob's 4♠ by suit). He had the option to open the betting for more, but he chose to bet only the required $1. The bring-in sets the current bet amount to $1, so Alice cannot check. She decides to call. Bob folds, indicating this by turning his upcard face down and discarding his cards. Carol raises to $3. David folds, and Alice calls.
Alice now deals a second face-up card to each remaining player: Carol is dealt the J♣, and Alice the K♥. Alice's two upcards make a poker hand of no pair, K-9-high, and Carol has K-J-high, so it is Carol's turn to bet. She checks, as does Alice, ending the betting round. Another face up card is dealt: Carol gets the 10♥, and Alice gets the K♣. Alice now has a pair of kings showing, and Carol still has no pair, so Alice bets first. She bets $5, and Carol calls. On the next round, Carol receives the 10♦, making her upcards K-J-10-10. Alice receives the 3♠. Alice's upcards are 9-K-K-3; the pair of kings is still higher than Carol's pair of tens, so she bets $5 and Carol calls. Each player now receives a downcard. It is still Alice's turn to bet because the downcard did not change either hand. She checks, Carol bets $10, and Alice calls.
That closes the last betting round, and both players remain, so there is a showdown. Alice shows her cards: 9♥ 5♦ 9♣ K♥ K♣ 3♠ 5♠. The best five-card poker hand she can play is K-K-9-9-5, making Two pair, kings and nines. Carol shows Q♠ 2♥ K♦ J♣ 10♥ 10♦ A♦. She can play A-K-Q-J-10, making an ace-high Straight, and so Carol wins the pot.
See Stud poker for many variations.