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Basics of Caribbean Stud Poker

Ten years ago you couldn’t find a Caribbean Stud Poker table in any casino in the USA . Nowadays, virtually every major casino has at least one Caribbean Stud Poker table and in fact, most casinos have 2 or more tables. What led to its explosive growth? First, it’s based on the All-American game of five-card stud poker that is familiar to most players. Second all players compete against the dealer eliminating the intimidation of playing against other players that occurs in regular table poker. Third, the game features a progressive jackpot that sometimes reaches $100,000 and more. And fourth and most importantly, the game is easy to play.

Dennis King, who operated a casino in Aruba, invented the game. For many years Caribbean Stud Poker was played in casinos in the Caribbean and aboard cruise ships sailing the Caribbean Seas. However, in the early 1990’s the game was introduced into US casinos and as they say, “the rest is history”.


To beat the dealer’s five-card poker hand. There are no draw cards in Caribbean Stud Poker. Every player and the dealer are dealt five cards and if your five-card hand has a higher poker rank than the dealer’s five-card hand, you win.

Hierarchy of Poker Hands.

It’s important that you know which poker hands beats what. Table 1 summarizes the possible poker hands in Caribbean Stud and their ranking from high to low.

Table 1

Hierarchy of Poker Hands

Royal Flush Strongest hand consisting of 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace of the same suit

Straight Flush Five consecutive cards of the same suit, for example 6,7,8,9,10 of spades.

Four-of-a-Kind Four cards of the same rank., for example four Kings.

Full House Three cards of the same rank along with two cards of the same rank, for example three jacks and two fives.

Flush Any five cards of the same suit, for example 3, 5, 7, 9 ace of hearts,

Straight Five consecutive cards but not of the same suit, for example 3 hearts, 4 spades, 5 spades, 6 diamonds, 7 hearts

Three-of-a-Kind Three cards of the same rank, for example three Jacks.

Two pair Two separate pairs of identically ranked cards, for example two 5’s and two 8’s.

One pair One pair of identically ranked cards, for example two Queens

No pair A hand containing five odds cards .

Note: In the event the dealer and the player hands have the same rank, the value of the cards determines the winner.

For example, a player with three 8’s wins over a dealer with three 4’s while a dealer with a pair of

kings and an ace kicker (the next highest card in the hand) wins over a player with a pair of kings and jack kicker.

Play of the Game

The game is played on a table similar to a blackjack table with up to seven Unique Casino player spots. One standard deck of 52-cards is used. The cards are usually shuffled usually by an automatic shuffle machine which speeds up the game (while one deck is being used the other deck is being shuffled by the automatic shuffler). There are two betting areas in front of each player. One is labeled ante and the other is labeled bet. Above the ante bet is a slot where players can drop a dollar coin to become eligible for the progressive jackpot.

Play begins with all players making the mandatory ante wager and if they wish dropping a coin into the progressive jackpot slot. The dealer deals five cards face down to each player and for himself, four cards face down and one card face up for all players to see. Each player then picks up his five cards and based on the strength of his hand and the value of the dealer’s upcard makes one of two decisions.

Decision one: If the player does not believe he will beat the player’s hand, he can fold by laying the cards face down on the layout. When a player folds, he automatically loses his ante bet and the dealer will remove the cards from the layout (without facing them).

Decision two: If a player decides to play out his hand because he thinks he has a chance

to beat the dealer, the player must make a call bet equal to twice the amount of the ante.

For example if your ante was $5, your call bet must be $10.

After all players have decided to either fold or call, the dealer exposes his cards on the layout. Now comes the most important rule in Caribbean Stud Poker. In order for players to win both of their bets, the dealer’s hand must qualify. This occurs if the dealer’s hand contains at least an ace, king or better. This is an important rule because based upon whether the dealer’s hand qualifies or not determines how the round is brought to closure.

If the dealer’s hand does NOT qualify.

Players who did not fold win even money on the ante bet. The secondary call bet is returned (a push). The dealer removes all the players’ cards from the layout without facing the cards. Essentially the dealer folds and there is no comparing of the dealer’s hand vs. the player’s hand to see which hand is the highest.

If the dealer’s hand does qualify.

If the dealer’s hand contains at least an ace, king he will “call” all the player’s hands. Player’s lay their cards on the layout and the dealer compares his hand with the players hands to determine which hand has the highest poker rank. If the dealer’s hand is higher than the player’s hand, the dealer wins both the player’s ante and call bet. If instead the player’s hand out ranks the dealer’s hand then the player wins even money on the ante wager and the call bet is paid according to the following payout odds.

Call Bet Payoff Odds

Royal Flush 100 to 1

Straight flush 50 to 1

Four-of-a-kind 20 to 1

Full House 7 to 1

Flush 5 to 1

Straight 4 to 1

Three-of-a-kind 3 to 1

Two pair 2 to 1

One pair 1 to 1

Ace-king 1 to 1

Let’s try a few hands. Suppose you make a $5 ante wager and you are dealt

5 (club) 6 (diamond) 7 (club)8 (heart) 9 (spade)

The dealer shows an 8 (club).

Because you have a straight and believe you will beat the dealer’s hand, you make the $10 call bet. The dealer turns over his cards and ends up with:

8 (club) 8 (spade) 10 (heart) Jack (diamond) Queen (club)

The dealer has a pair of 8’s and his hand qualifies. Your straight beats his pair and therefore you win $5 for the ante bet and $40 for the call bet (4 to 1 payoff).

Let’s suppose instead the dealer turns over this hand.

8 (club) 3 (heart) 5 (diamond) 10 (heart) Jack (spade)

The dealer’s hand does not qualify because it does not contain an ace, king or better. Inthis situation the dealer pays you $5 for the ante wager and the call bet is a push.

The latter scenario is often disheartening for players who sometimes have a strong poker hand but can not participate in the bonus call bet payouts because the dealer does not qualify. However, the reason for this rule is to give the casino it’s edge because without it and the bonus payoffs for the call bets, Caribbean Stud would be an even game between the casino and player. And as we all know, casinos are not in business to offer even games of chance hence the reason for the dealer qualifying rule.

Progressive Jackpot Bet

This optional bet is separate from the ante and call bet and independent of the dealer’s hand. In other words no matter what the rank of the dealer’s hand or for that matter even if he qualifies, you will be eligible for a payout if you make the optional dollar jackpot

bet and are dealt one of these hands.

Table 2

Typical Progressive Jackpot Pay Schedule

Royal Flush 100% of jackpot

Straight flush 10% of the jackpot

Four-of-a-kind $500

Full House $100

Flush $50

Please note the jackpot pay schedule may be slightly different from one casino to the next especially in the amount of the payoff for the four-of-a-kind, full house, and flush. The jackpot grows as players feed coins into the jackpot slot (casinos put anywhere from 25 to 75 cents out of every dollar bet into the jackpot pool).

Tempting as it is to bet a buck and win possible a hundred thousand dollars or more the progressive bet is not a smart bet to make because the casino’s edge is very high. The exact casino’s edge depends on the pay schedule for the flush, full house, four-of-a-kind and the size of the jackpot. Our resident Wizard of Odds, Michael Shackleford (Dec. 1999 Casino Player) calculated that in order for the pay schedule listed in Table 2 to

have no casino edge (break even point) the jackpot would have to be $218,047. In reality the jackpot rarely approaches this amount therefore you should avoid making the progressive jackpot bet until the jackpot exceeds the break-even point (see Shackleford’s article for the break-even points for different pay schedules).

One more tip if you decide not to heed my advice and make the progressive jackpot bet anyway. If the dealer does not qualify, he will pay off the player’s ante bets then scoop up the player cards without turning them over. If you have a hand that qualifies for the jackpot, it’s your job to tell the dealer before he picks up your cards. So be alert, otherwise you’ll be out of luck.

Playing Strategy

Two of the most common playing mistakes made by players is to fold when they have a small pair or to bluff the dealer by making a call bet when they have a weak hand.

First, never fold your small pairs. You will be dealt a pair about 42% of the times and you’ll win more (or lose less) in the long run by making the call bet rather than to fold (the casino has about a 7% edge against players who fold on small pairs). Also, never try to bluff the dealer! Some player’s mistakenly believe they can win more hands by making the call bet when they have a weak hand. They figure that the dealer who doesn’t qualify pays off the ante wager for player’s who stay in (i.e. make the call bet) regardless if the player has a strong or weak hand. The problem with this strategy is that when the dealer does qualify (and he will about 56% of the time), the player loses not only the ante bet but also the call bet (which is twice the ante bet). Mathematically a player who bluffs with a weak hand will lose 25% more of his ante over the long run than if he folded. Bottom-line – don’t bluff!

There are at least six published basic playing strategies that will yield a casino edge of 5.2-5.3%. They vary in complexity (see list below) but here is a simple basic playing strategy to get you started.

Basic Playing Strategy

1. Fold if you have less than Ace-King.

2. Make a call bet if:

* You have at least any pair or higher.

* You have at least an Ace-King and one of your other cards is the same as the dealer’s face card

The 5.2-5.3% casino edge is based on the player’s ante wager. Using the concept of “Element of Risk” that was proposed by Michael Shackelford (Casino Player, Dec. 1999), the casino edge based on the average amount bet by the player (that includes the ante and call bet) is about 2.6%. You can use the latter figure to compare Caribbean Stud Poker against other table games like Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, etc.

If you want to play Caribbean Stud Poker, remember to play it smartly by following the basic playing strategy, avoid bluffing on weak hands & folding on low pairs, and do not make the progressive jackpot bet unless the amount of the jackpot justifies it.

Published Playing Strategies

Expert Strategy for Caribbean Stud Poker by Lenny Frome

Mastering the Game of Caribbean Stud Poker by Stanley Ko

Bold Card Play by Frank Scoblete

Smart Casino Gambling by Olaf Vancura

Caribbean Stud Poker by Michael Shackleford (Casino Player Magazine, Dec. 1999)

An Analysis of Caribbean Stud Poker, paper by Peter Griffin & John M. Gwynn, Jr.

Caribbean Stud & Let it Ride: The Real Deal by J. Phillip Vogel

More Playing Tips

1. Many casinos will limit the maximum payout that they will give on a winning call bet (there is usually a disclaimer stating this on the table). Therefore, it’s important if you are a big bettor to determine how much your maximum bet should be in order to be compensated at the listed odds. For example, suppose you make a $100 ante bet followed by a $200 call bet. You are dealt a royal flush and beat a dealer’s qualifying hand. You should be entitled to win $100 on your winning ante bet and $20,000 on your call bet (100 times $200). However, if the maximum table payout is $10,000, you’ll only receive a $10,000 payout. I know this stinks, so follow this rule to ensure you will never be shortchanged- divide the maximum payout by 200 and do not bet more than this on your ante bet. In the above example, your maximum ante bet should be $50 ($10,000 divided by 200).

2. It is theoretically possible to beat this game with card counting. Because of this casinos have implemented two rules which make card counting futile. First you are not allowed to look at the other player’s cards and second, you are not allowed to play more than one hand.

3. Even though the probability is very, very slim that two players at the same table would be dealt royal flushes during the same deal, if it occurred and they both made the jackpot bet, casinos have been known to either split the jackpot evenly between the two players or award the jackpot to the player farthest to the dealer’s left while the other player will be awarded the reseeded jackpot (the latter is usually much less).

4. Many Caribbean Stud players mistakenly believe that a royal or straight flush is “due to hit” when the jackpot gets large. In fact the probability of hitting the straight or royal flush remains the same no matter what the size of the jackpot or when it was last hit. The probability, by the way, of being dealt a five-card royal flush with no draw cards is 649,730 to 1.

5. Overall by using the basic playing strategy you will win about 39% of the time and lose 69%. On some of the 39% hands that you win, you will be paid a bonus, which will keep you in the game longer or possibly give you a win for the session.

6. Even at a $5 minimum bet table using the basic playing strategy, your cost to play Caribbean Stud Poker is about $13 per hour. You can lower your overall cost by decreasing the number of hands you play per hour. Playing at a full table will do this as opposed to playing heads up with the dealer. Also, slow down your play by sitting out a few hands. You can also reduce your cost by getting rated when you play and then asking for a comp.

Ten years ago you couldn’t find a Caribbean Stud Poker table in any casino in the USA . Nowadays, virtually every major casino has at least one Caribbean Stud Poker table and in fact, most casinos have 2 or more tables. What led to its explosive growth? First, it’s based on the All-American game of…

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