The game of Caribbean Stud Poker is a casino game, not a poker game. The difference is that in a real poker game, you’re playing against the other players. In a casino game, you’re playing against the house. One of the best examples is blackjack, which is game in which the other players’ totals don’t matter one whit. The only totals that matter (to you) are yours and the dealer’s. Understanding Caribbean Stud Poker strategy begins with understanding that it’s a game where you play against the house.
Caribbean Stud Poker became popular originally on various casino-friendly Caribbean island, hence the name, and then it became popular on ships where gambling was allowed. It has since spread to mainstream casinos in destinations like Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City, and others, and it’s continued to grow popular since its introduction.
- up to $1,000
- up to $1000
- up to $10,000
- up to $3,000
How to Play Caribbean Stud Poker
I used blackjack as an example earlier, and it’s an appropriate one, because a Caribbean Stud Poker tables looks almost just like a blackjack table. It’s a semi-circular table with room for a single dealer on one side and seven players on the other side.
The Caribbean Stud Poker Deck
Caribbean Stud Poker is played with a 52 card deck, which is usually randomized using an automatic shuffling machine. On the players’ side of the table, each player has a spot on the table where she can place an “ante” and a spot where she can place a “bet.”
The Caribbean Stud Ante
The ante is a mandatory bet, and if you want to play, you have to make the ante bet. Once all the players have made their ante bet, the dealer takes sets of five cards for each player and for herself from the automatic shuffling machine.
The dealer then reveals the top card of her five card hand to the players, who haven’t looked at their cards yet. Once she reveals her top card, she’ll push your five card set closer to you. That’s when you can look at your hand.
You can then decide how good you think your five card hand is. This requires an understanding of the standard ranks of poker hands. If you don’t think you’re likely to win, you can fold. If you fold, you lose your ante, but no further money.
The Caribbean Stud Bet
On the other hand, if you like your hand, to stay in you have to place an additional bet, which is always twice the size of the ante bet that you placed earlier. For example, if the ante were $10, and you liked your hand, you would place an additional $20 in order to continue playing.
If the Dealer Qualifies
After the players have each either folded or bet, the dealer reveals her cards and arranges them into the highest-ranking poker hand she can. She tries to “qualify.” That means her poker hand needs to be Ace-King or better; if her hand is lower in rank than that, the dealer doesn’t qualify.
If the dealer qualifies, then the players each compare their hand to the dealer’s hand to see whether or not it ranks higher. If the player wins, she gets even money on the ante. The player also gets paid off on the bet based on the following payout schedule, based on the strength of her hand:
|One pair or lower||1 to 1|
|Two pair||2 to 1|
|Three of a kind||3 to 1|
|Straight||4 to 1|
|Flush||5 to 1|
|Full house||7 to 1|
|Four of a kind||20 to 1|
|Straight flush||50 to 1|
|Royal flush||100 to 1|
If the player loses, then the house gets both her ante and her bet. If there’s a tie, the player gets her ante and her bet back, but no winnings.
If the Dealer Doesn’t Qualify
If the dealer doesn’t qualify, then all the players who stayed in win. But there’s a catch, and it’s important. They only win their ante bet. The other bet is returned, but not paid off.
This can be the most irritating aspect of Caribbean Stud Poker. Suppose you’re dealt a royal flush. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, you only get even money on your ante bet. The payouts in the chart above ONLY matter if the dealer qualifies.
The Progressive Jackpot
Gambling games are games of exceptions to the rule, and Caribbean Stud Poker is no different. You do have an option to get paid off even if the dealer doesn’t qualify, and that’s the progressive jackpot.
The progressive jackpot bet is a third bet available to Caribbean Stud Poker player. This bet usually costs $1 to play, but it gives the player the opportunity to win a progressive jackpot that’s usually over $100,000. If your hand is a flush or better, you can win some or all of the jackpot.
The amounts of these winnings vary from casino to casino, but the table below lists some of the more common payouts on the progressive jackpot bet.
|Royal flush||100% of the jackpot|
|Straight flush||10% of the jackpot|
|Four of a kind||$100 to $500|
|Full house||$75 to $250|
|Flush||$50 to $100|
If more than one player qualifies for the jackpot, usually they’ll split it. But some casinos have a rule that the player closest to the dealer’s left wins the progressive jackpot.
The odds of two players getting a straight flush at the same table on the same hand are astronomical, though–if you’re ever in such a situation, write to me and tell me about it.
Caribbean Stud Poker Rules
Caribbean Stud Poker does have some rules that players should be aware of. One important rule is that you’re not allowed to share information about what’s in your hand with the other players in the game until the showdown.
You can only play one hand per game.
You must keep your cards within view of the dealer at all times.
You can only touch your cards once. After you’ve examined them and made your decision, don’t touch them again.
The House Edge in Caribbean Stud Poker
The house edge in Caribbean Stud Poker will vary according to the payout schedule for the progressive jackpot, but it’s usually around 5%, making it comparable to roulette, mathematically.
The house edge comes from the betting structure. 44% of the time, the dealer won’t qualify, so you’ll only win your ante.
The other 56% of the time, the dealer will qualify, and you’ll have about a 50/50 chance of beating the dealer. But in order to stay in the game and try to beat the dealer, you have to triple the amount of money you’re wagering. (Remember–the bet is always twice the size of the ante, and you have to place the bet in order to stay in the hand.)
Caribbean Stud Poker Strategy
You should always make the bet if you have a pair or better.
You should also make the bet if you have an Ace King and at least one of your other cards matches the dealer’s upcard.
You should also make the bet if you have Ace King Queen or Ace King Jack and ANY of your cards matches the dealer’s upcard.
If you hold Ace King Queen and two other cards, make the bet if the higher of those two other cards is higher than the dealer’s upcard.
If you play with this strategy, and if you avoid the progressive side bet, you’ll be giving the house an edge of 5.22%.
If that strategy seems too complicated, you can follow a much simpler strategy and only give up 0.1% on the game.
The simple strategy? Bet if you have AKJ83 or better; otherwise fold.
The simple strategy for Caribbean Stud Poker gives the house an edge of 5.32% instead of 5.22%.
Progressive Jackpot Strategy for Caribbean Stud Poker
If the progressive jackpot is over $352,150, the you have a mathematical edge over the casino when you make the optional $1 side bet. You’re still unlikely to win, but any time you can get an edge over a casino, it’s worth making the bet if you can afford it.
If the progressive jackpot is under that amount, don’t make the side bet, because the house has the edge.
Caribbean Stud Poker is a lot of fun, and usually the other people playing at the table with you are social and some of them are even inebriated. It’s a game worth playing if you like slow, social card games where you don’t have to compete with the other players at the table.
I’m indebted to American Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways by Andrew Brisman for most of the information presented on this page.