Ryan Shawcross' debut goal and a superb penalty save from Steve Simonsen gave Stoke the win at Ninian Park.
Stoke's battling qualities helped them to an away win
Cardiff started well, but the Potters' physical approach troubled them.
On-loan Manchester United defender Shawcross got on the end of a 27th minute Liam Lawrence corner to crash home a right-footed volley.
On 85 minutes Shawcross pulled Steven MacLean's shirt, but the striker saw Simonsen block his resultant penalty and miraculously parry the follow-up.
Consolation for the Bluebirds will be that they still have Robbie Fowler to throw into the Championship mix, their big summer signing ruled out of the opening game of the season by a thigh injury.
Cardiff manager Dave Jones:
"They rely on their set pieces and they caught us, but if you look at the possession and the way we played it's frustrating.
"When you have chances you have to put them away, sometimes you can't give other sides hope.
"Their goalkeeper was inspired, but you have to put the ball in the back of the net.
"There was a full house here and we're all disappointed, but it won't be won or lost on the first day and if we play like that all year we'll win more than we lose."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis:
"Cardiff played well in the first half and we knew it was going to be difficult, but we were on top for most of the second half.
"We are delighted with the result but it still needed that great double save by Steve from the penalty to keep us ahead."
Cardiff: Turnbull, McNaughton, Loovens, Johnson, Capaldi, Ledley, Rae, McPhail (Whittingham 71), Sinclair, Feeney (Parry 62), MacLean.
Subs Not Used: Oakes, Purse, Gunter.
Booked: Loovens, Rae, Whittingham.
Stoke: Simonsen, Dickinson, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Wright, Cresswell, Matteo, Delap, Lawrence, Fuller (Eustace 80), Sidibe.
Subs Not Used: Hoult, Parkin, Pulis, Wilkinson.
Booked: Cresswell, Wright, Shawcross.
Goals: Shawcross 27.
Ref: S Tanner (Somerset).