At one time, Caribbean Stud was one of the only poker-based casino games you could find. A poker-based casino game is one that uses aspects of poker, like poker hand rankings, while being banked by the house. In a real poker game, you compete with the other players, not the casino.
Caribbean Stud is now hard to find in Las Vegas and Reno. Other poker-based casino games, like Four Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, and Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker are on the rise. They’re more popular with players, because they don’t have the high house edge and high fold percentage that Caribbean Stud has.
That’s too bad, though, because Caribbean Stud is a game where you can get an edge over the house. Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about advantage play for games other than blackjack, but Caribbean Stud is uniquely suited for at least 3 different advantage strategies. I’ll cover those strategies, as well as where to find Caribbean Stud games and how to play, in the post below.
1- Where to Find Caribbean Stud Games
Even though Caribbean Stud is not as commonly offered in Las Vegas as it used to be, it’s not unheard of there. The most recent information I could find about where the game was being played on the Strip listed only 3 casinos still offering the game:
- Monte Carlo
These casinos only have 1 or 2 tables of Caribbean Stud at any given time. The Monte Carlo has the lowest minimum bet ($5), while the Palazzo and the Venetian both have a $15 minimum bet. If you’re a high roller, the maximum bet is $500 at the latter 2 casinos, while the max bet at Monte Carlo is only $100.
You could also play Caribbean Stud online, but none of the advantage techniques I explain below work at an online casino. Still, if you want to get a feel for how to play the game before sitting down and risking actual cash on it, you might try some of the free versions of the game available at the internet casinos recommended on this site.
2- How to Play Caribbean Stud
You start by making an ante bet. You also have the option of making a side bet of $1 on the progressive. You then get 5 or cards. So does the dealer. Your 5 cards are face down, but the dealer has 1 card dealt face up. You get to look at your cards. You are NOT allowed to communicate with the other players at the table about the contents of your hand. (More about this later in the “collusion” section.)
After you look at your cards, you have 2 option:
If you fold, you lose both bets (or just the ante bet, if you skipped the optional progressive side bet). The dealer also takes your cards. If you raise, then you must risk another bet. This one must be double the size of your ante bet. After you raise, the dealer reveals the other 4 cards in her hand. Then the dealer determines whether she “qualifies.” She qualifies if she has an ace, a king, or better—a pair, for example, would also qualify.
The raise, though, pays off based on how high your hand is. The game uses a pay table similar to the pay table on a video poker game. Unlike video poker, though, Caribbean Stud requires you to beat the dealer’s hand before getting paid off.
Also, if you have a great hand, but the dealer doesn’t qualify, you could be disappointed by only winning even money on the ante. That’s a bummer, man. Of course, if your hand and the dealer’s hands tie, all bets are a “push.” The side bet on the progressive is based on how good your poker hand is. It doesn’t matter if the dealer qualifies or not.
Here’s the most common pay table found in American casinos:
- A royal flush pays 100 to 1.
- A straight flush pays 50 to 1.
- 4 of a kind pays 20 to 1.
- Full house pays 7 to 1.
- A flush pays 5 to 1.
- A straight pays 4 to 1.
- 3 of a kind pays 3 to 1.
- 2 pairs pays 2 to 1.
- A pair pays even money.
The house edge figure quoted in the introduction assumes you’re playing with optimal mathematical strategy, which is more complicated than blackjack basic strategy.
A simpler strategy that will get you close to the 5.22% is this one:
- Always raise if you have a pair or better.
- Always fold if you don’t at least have ace-king.
- Raise with an ace-king, but only if the dealer is showing a card lower than a king that doesn’t match one of the cards in your hand. If the dealer has an ace or a king, raise if you have a queen or a jack in your hand, too. You should also raise if you have a queen or higher AND the dealer’s exposed card is both lower than your 4th highest card and not matching one of the cards in your hand.
Now let’s talk about the progressive side bet. Like most progressive side bets in table games, you should ignore it. It’s a sucker bet. The progressive pays off any time you have a flush or higher. The payoff gets bigger over time. And there are actually 2 progressive jackpots. You get 100% of the jackpot if you have a royal flush. If you have a straight flush, you get 10% of the jackpot.
According to Michael Shackleford, every dollar bet on the side bet contributes 71 cents to the jackpot. The other 29 cents goes to the house. The amount contributed to the progressive jackpot varies from casino to casino, though—some might only contribute 65 cents per dollar to the progressive.The house also begins the jackpot at $10,000. This is called “seeding” the jackpot, and it’s done any time you have a table game with a progressive jackpot. Some casinos have other side bets available, too.
3- Why You Can Get an Edge at this Game
One of the best and hardest to get books on advantage play is Beyond Counting by James Grosjean. It’s out of print, and most people who have a copy aren’t giving it up. The book outlines some of the ways you can get an edge at Caribbean Stud. Some of this information has also been revealed online by other bloggers, but not all of it. If you can find a copy of Grosjean’s book for less than $1000, you should buy it. The book is only for serious advantage gamblers, though.
You can get an edge at Caribbean Stud using any or all of the following 3 strategies:
- Edge sorting
- Hole carding
Collusion is, strictly speaking, cheating. If the casino catches you, expect big trouble. The idea behind collusion is that you and your confederates at the table share info (via code, of course) about which cards you hold. You can then adjust your strategy for folding or raising accordingly, getting an edge over the house.
Hole carding is an advantage technique where you take advantage of a dealer’s sloppiness. Some dealers expose their own cards briefly to the players as they’re dealing. If you know more than one of the dealer’s hole cards, you can adjust your strategy accordingly and get an edge of over 10%. This is the hardest and least likely gambling strategy to implement in Caribbean Stud, as it requires seeing not just one but 2 of the dealer’s hole cards.
4- Edge Sorting
When a manufacturer makes a deck of playing cards, they usually leave small, subtle differences in the edge. This isn’t something they do on purpose; it’s just part of making a deck of cards. Even though the backs of the cards are identical, the long edges are often slightly different.
If you know which cards are high and which cards are low, you can easily change your decisions based on this knowledge and get an edge over the house. How well this works in most modern casinos is anybody’s guess. It seems like this method of getting an edge is probably well-known enough now that most dealers won’t comply, but it’s probably worth a try anyway.
5- Hole Carding
If you could play Caribbean Stud with all the dealer’s cards face up, it would be easy to decide whether to fold or raise, right?
With hole carding, you get close to that goal. As long as you’re not using some kind of mechanical option like a mirror to see the dealer’s hole cards, this isn’t cheating. Some advantage players even have someone stand behind the table and signal them about the dealer’s hole cards. It’s often easier to get a glimpse of their cards this way. You can then make decisions based on knowing what the dealer’s face-down cards are, giving you an obvious leg up over the casino.
When multiple players at the table share information about which cards they hold, they’re said to be “colluding.” It might be disappointing to our current political commentators that this expression has a meaning beyond what Trump might or might not have been doing with the Russians.
Some casinos don’t even allow 7 players at the table in an effort to prevent collusion. This is the least practical advantage strategy in Caribbean Stud.
7- Bankroll Management
Any time you use an advantage play technique, you need to keep in mind that even if you have a mathematical edge over the casino, you can still go broke. To minimize the probability of going broke before your edge kicks in, you need to have a certain cushion amount in your bankroll.
If you estimate that you have a 5% edge over the house, then the size of your bets should be 5% of your bankroll. It’s easy to work backward from this to decide on the size of your bankroll.
Here’s an example:
You’re an edge sorter, and you estimate that you have a 5% edge against the house. The minimum bet at the casino is $5, and you’re just getting started in your advantage gambler career. $5 is 5% of $100, so you’d need a bankroll of $100 to have the best chance of not going broke before your edge kicks in.
By the way, a 5% edge over the casino is huge. Most card counters are happy with an edge of 1% or 2% in blackjack, which requires a significantly larger bankroll, too. If your edge is only 2%, you’d need a bankroll of $250 instead of just $100.
Edge sorting is your best bet at gaining an advantage, but I suspect most casinos are on to this technique. To get an edge via edge sorting, you need to find a dealer willing to rotate the cards for you. I suspect this is going to be tougher to do now than in the past. Dealers are better trained than they used to be.
Collusion is the toughest way to get an edge. You need several confederates at the table, and you need to have a code that the casino won’t detect.
Hole carding is the middle road between the 2, offering a hard-to-obtain but smaller edge than the other techniques. You can find other advantage play opportunities out there, but Caribbean Stud sure does offer some fun opportunities.