The 5 Best Caribbean Stud Poker Tips
As one of the original hybrid table games, Caribbean Stud Poker has been found on casino floors everywhere for what seems like forever.
I can remember my first time playing the deceptively simple five card poker game played against the dealer, way back in 1993 at the old Sands casino. The Sands was imploded in 1996 to make way for the Venetian, but before that, it was one of my favorite haunts on the Las Vegas Strip.
When I first encountered Caribbean Stud Poker, the Shuffle Master product was quite the novel concept. Today, creative games played against the dealer are the norm, but back then, table games played versus a dealer were typically limited to old classics like blackjack. Poker players, meanwhile, duked it out against one another in cash games.
I tended to alternate back and forth between the poker room and the pits, playing $4 / $8 Limit holdem or small daily tournaments, before heading over to grind blackjack. When I discovered Caribbean Stud Poker, the game was immediately intriguing, if only for the simple fact that it combined elements of both games. I could play a traditional five card poker game, but rather than match wits with grizzled rounders, this game allowed me to apply my strategically oriented blackjack approach versus a rote and robotic dealer.
Of course, Caribbean Stud Poker lacks some of the integral aspects of traditional poker, like the ability to draw and improve one’s hand, and bluffing to name two. But the game does maintain the same poker hand hierarchy, along with the Ante and Raise bet structure, making it a decent conversion of poker to the table game format.
And like I said, for experienced blackjack players who enjoy the mental exercise involved in memorizing strict strategy guidelines and wielding them at the table, Caribbean Stud Poker is perfect. You only see five cards at a time, so the task of assessing that five card poker hand’s strength is very straightforward. Throw in a dealer up card to help gauge relative value, and the game plays out very similarly to old fashioned twenty one.
Players put up a single Ante bet to get started, before taking random five cards face down from the standard 52 card deck. The dealer also gets five cards, but only four of theirs are concealed, while the fifth stays face up to provide that crucial element of partial information. From there, the gameplay is exceedingly, yet like I said above, deceptively straightforward.
If you like the look of your five cards relative to the dealer’s up card, you make a Raise bet equal to the Ante. If your hand isn’t up to snuff, you fold away your Ante without further fight. Once that decision has been made, the cards are turned up and the best five card poker hand wins – with players receiving higher payouts for making better hands.
For a game that’s been around for more than two decades and counting, Caribbean Stud Poker doesn’t draw the crowds like it once did. Even so, it’s still considered a staple game in casinos around the world, so if you’re visiting my neck of the woods in Sin City – or any major regional casino – chances are good that you’ll find a Caribbean Stud Poker game running.
That holds true for online casinos as well as the brick and mortar variety, so if you fancy yourself to be an online gambler, most of the major platforms and software providers have created their own versions of Caribbean Stud Poker.
One reason for the game’s enduring popularity is the ingenious inclusion of a progressive jackpot concept. Once again, nowadays features like escalating pay tables and progressive jackpots are the norm for table game players. But back in the day, we mostly played for even money returns in card games, and the jackpot was a 3 to 2 premium for making blackjack.
Caribbean Stud Poker changed all that by instituting an escalating pay table for the base game, so one pair pays out 1 to 1, two pair pays out 2 to 1, three of a kind 3 to 1, and so on up to the 100 to 1 reward for landing a royal flush. And as if that wasn’t enough, an extra $1 chip wagered on the progressive jackpot side bet entitles players to a shot at even higher payouts for making premium hands.
By subtracting a tiny percentage of every bet won on the game, casino operators are able to create a jackpot pool which climbs higher and higher – until one lucky player with that $1 chip on the felt manages to land a royal flush. When that happens, players can take home life changing sums that regularly rise into the six figures – combining an element of slot machine play to accentuate the cosmopolitan design of Caribbean Stud Poker.
First comes the development of “card sense,” or my term for the poker player’s innate knowledge of how certain hands play against one another. From there, gaining a firm grasp on gameplay mathematics – things like the basic probabilities associated with winning and losing, the house edge you’ll be up against, and the all-important pay table – is crucial to playing Caribbean Stud Poker successfully. Finally, applying a strategy which comes as close to optimal as possible is the key to minimizing losses over the long run, while giving yourself the best chance to score that elusive royal flush progressive jackpot.
With that in mind, take a look below to find out my top five best Caribbean Stud Poker tips, before bringing your own bankroll against the dealer in this classic casino game.
1. Know the Basics
This page assumes you already know the basic rules and gameplay for Caribbean Stud Poker, but with that in mind, certain aspects of the game should be considered as required reading, so to speak.
I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of the game, things like the standard poker hand hierarchy used to score winners from losers, the pay table you should expect to find in any reputable American casino, and the probabilities associated with making each hand.
First things first. I’ve been playing poker for most of my adult life, and I suspect the majority of readers who found their way here possess at least a cursory knowledge of how poker hands stack up. One pair loses to two pair, which loses to three of a kind… how hard could it be, right?
Well, in the heat of the moment, you’d be surprised by how many beginners seem to stumble over the hand reading aspect of the game. In a table game format like Caribbean Stud Poker provides, that’s not a big worry in and of itself, because the “cards speak” as they say in casino parlance.
That means you don’t even have to know what you hold, just flip those bad boys face up on the felt, and they speak for themselves. The dealer will always fairly adjudicate the current hand, sizing up your hand and scoring it against their own, before awarding the corresponding payouts.
But in order to play the game well, you’ll need to know how the hands in play compare to one another. After all, holding one pair of 9s is a decent hand, but if the dealer shows a higher rank as their up card, and you don’t have that same rank in your hand, you very well may be beat by a higher pair. These inflection points won’t occur all that often, but it’s best to be prepared when they do.
To that end, take a moment to review the standard poker hand ranking system below:
|Royal Flush||Broadway straight (A K Q J 10) in same suit|
|Straight Flush||Five consecutive cards (Q J 10 9 8) in same suit|
|Four of a Kind||Four of same card (Q Q Q Q A)|
|Full House||Three of a kind + one pair (Q Q Q A A)|
|Flush||Five cards in same suit (8h 10h Qh Kh Ah)|
|Straight||Five consecutive cards (Q J 10 9 8)|
|Three of a Kind||Three of same card (Q Q Q 9 8)|
|Two Pair||Two pairs of same card (Q Q A A 8)|
|One Pair||One pair of the same card (Q Q 10 9 8)|
|High Card||No pair, highest card is rank of hand (A K 10 9 8)|
Now that you’re better acquainted with the tools of the trade, it’s time to move on to the good stuff: payouts.
For the most part, the pay table used to settle Raise bets in Caribbean Stud Poker is standardized within the industry. That means most American casinos, brick and mortar or online, will use the same pay scale across the board.
Of course, exceptions to the rule do exist, and invariably, when a casino chooses to alter a pay table, they’re doing so to increase the house edge. That’s why you should, in all but a few special cases, stick to the traditional pay table found below:
Standard American Pay Table for Caribbean Stud Poker
|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|
|All other||1 to 1|
This pay table is quite classic in its own right, using a gradually escalating scale to reward premium hands as they increase in strength. As I said, however, be sure to stick to the 100 50 20 7 5 4 3 2 1 model, as this pay table provides the basis for the house edge and strategy considerations you’ll learn about later in the page.
Finally, even though knowledge of probability is not needed to play Caribbean Stud Poker, any casino game is better understood when the player knows the odds against each scenario on the board. Knowing things like how often the dealer is expected to win, the true longshot status of the big hands, and even the frequency you should be making Raise bets with (52.23 percent of hands) can only help you play the game better.
The table below highlights the probabilities underpinning every possible hand and showdown result:
Caribbean Stud Showdown Results by Probability
|Player wins with royal flush||100 to 1||0.0001%|
|Player wins with straight flush||50 to 1||0.0008%|
|Player wins with four of a kind||20 to 1||0.0142%|
|Player wins with full house||7 to 1||0.0834%|
|Player wins with flush||5 to 1||0.1097%|
|Player wins with straight||4 to 1||0.2198%|
|Player wins with three of a kind||3 to 1||1.1751%|
|Player wins with two pair||2 to 1||2.4482%|
|Player wins with pair or less||1 to 1||11.7555%|
|Dealer doesn’t qualify||1||22.7385%|
This data serves to reveal the undercarriage of a complex casino game like Caribbean Stud Poker. Now, you won’t have to wonder aloud what the odds are of hitting a straight flush, because you’ll know they’re much, much less than 1 percent. Information like the fact that the dealer beats your hand 13.67 percent on average is also useful, because if it feels like they’re winning more than that, you can easily walk away without incurring further damage.
2. Come Correct When It Comes to the Cards
As a veteran blackjack player, one who presses every advantage I can find, I know just how important applying optimal strategy can be. The separation between losing and winning over the course of any given session is razor thin, and any deviations from the correct course of action can cost me precious equity and expected value.
In the game of blackjack, the perfect strategy has been studied and scrutinized going back to the 1960s, and today even a raw rookie can fit every item of information on a handheld card. That game has been “solved” so to speak, but Caribbean Stud Poker is a different story.
Of course, the mathematicians and game theorists have cracked the code to Caribbean Stud Poker, but one big problem remains. Rather than boiling everything down into a clear cut set of rules, exact optimal strategy for this game is entirely too complicated to encapsulate on a single card – or memorize for that matter.
In my case, that makes Caribbean Stud Poker a refreshing change of pace, and that’s how you should approach the game too. You can definitely come close to perfect strategy, don’t get me wrong there, so you won’t be flying blind by any stretch. It’s just that, in this case, you’ll need to think a little harder when the tough situations present themselves, and every so often, you’ll be forced to take a flier like any other gambler on the floor.
Moving beyond the exact parameters of perfect strategy, most Caribbean Stud Poker vets swear by a simple set of two rules to live by:
- Always raise when you hold one pair or better
- Always fold when your own hand ranks worse than the dealer’s minimum qualifying hand of Ace King high
By sticking to these tried and true maxims, you’ll take care of the tough stuff for the vast majority of Caribbean Stud Poker scenarios. When you have any hand ranked at one pair or better, you just plow ahead with a raise and hope to beat the dealer. And any hand worse than A K high is ditched without a second thought.
Nothing more to it than that, right?
Well, what happens when you hold exactly A K high, along with three other random cards. Those are the sticky situations that make this game so much fun, and unless you have access to a supercomputer’s calculating capabilities, you probably won’t know the perfect play in these marginal spots.
And I didn’t either, until I came across the Wizard of Odds page on Caribbean Stud Poker authored by esteemed casino game analyst Michael Shackleford. According to the Wizard himself, those tricky A K high hands can be played quite close to optimally be applying the following standards:
- With A K high, you should make the Raise bet whenever the dealer’s up card is a 2 through a Queen AND matches one of your other three cards
- With A K high, you should make the Raise bet whenever the dealer’s up card is an Ace or King AND you hold a Queen or a Jack among your other three cards
- With A K high, you should make the Raise bet whenever the dealer’s up card rank does not match any of yours, AND you hold a Queen in your hand, AND the dealer’s up card is worse than your fourth highest card
Those rules are a little more complex than the two used by most Caribbean Stud Poker fans, but if you can take the time to commit them to memory, you’ll be doing yourself a great service over the long run.
The table below offers a stark comparison of the house edge rate – or the expected return that the casino enjoys on any wager or game – created when you use various Caribbean Stud Poker strategies. And because the game relies on an Ante / Raise format, in which two “units” must be wagered to reach the showdown phase, I’ve also included the element of risk – which is akin to house edge but factors in the dual betting format.
Caribbean Stud Strategies by House Edge and Element of Risk
|STRATEGY||HOUSE EDGE||ELEMENT OF RISK|
|Raise on ace/king/jack/8/3 or higher||5.316%||2.596%|
*Raise if dealer up card matches rank
|STRATEGY||HOUSE EDGE||ELEMENT OF RISK|
|of any player card||5.334%||2.616%|
|Raise on any pair or better||5.470%||2.738%|
|Raise on any ace/king or better||5.682%||2.672%|
|Playing blind (raise on everything)||16.607%||5.536%|
As you can see, playing like a drunken fool and raising on every single hand – which casinos would love to see quite frankly – turns Caribbean Stud Poker into a lottery game like keno, with a massive house edge of 16.60 percent. So I’ll make things easy and advise you to avoid that “strategy” at all times.
From there, you could use the “intuitive” strategies of raising on any A K high hand (5.68 percent house edge and 2.67 percent element of risk), or raising on any pair or better (5.47 percent house edge and 2.38 percent element of risk). Those numbers are reasonably close to the fabled optimal strategy (5.22 percent house edge and 2.55 percent element of risk), but I like to get as close as I can when it comes to casino gambling.
That’s why I try my best to employ the basic one pair = raise, worse than A K high = fold style as a baseline, before augmenting that approach with the Wizard’s strategy for A K high hands.
This philosophy keeps the game relatively simple, so I’m not sweating as I crunch numbers in my head before making a move, while also bringing my house edge all the way down to 5.225 percent – or just 0.001 percent off the optimal rate. In terms of the element of risk, a better judge for Ante / Raise binary betting games, the 2.554 percent rate is actually 0.001 better than optimal strategy.
Take a day and find a free version of Caribbean Stud Poker online, while pulling up this page to see the A K high hand strategy at all times. With only a few hours on the virtual felt, you should have a much better feel for how to solve the game’s primary dilemma, which will keep you as close to optimal strategy as humanly possible.
3. Don’t Get Jacked Chasing Jackpots
This rule holds true for almost all side bets attached to table games, but the case of Caribbean Stud Poker’s $1 progressive jackpot side bet, casino operators should be ashamed of themselves.
For the most part, you’re facing a house edge between 3 percent and 10 percent on side bets of this nature – well within the sucker bet category, but still low enough to warrant the occasional gamble.
But when you try the $1 progressive side bet in this game, the average house edge soars all the way to 26.46 percent. That’s one of the worst rates found in any casino game, and unless you enjoy the scratch cards at your local convenience store, you just can’t find a more unbeatable wager out there.
Of course, the casino relies on that jackpot meter prominently posted above every Caribbean Stud Poker table to lure unsuspecting players into their trap. With the numbers constantly cycling ever higher, reaching into the six figures in most cases before it’s triggered, most recreational gamblers simply can’t resist the temptation to splash around with their $1 chips.
And indeed, you’ll even encounter some reasonably smart, highly experienced players who swear by the $1 progressive jackpot side bet. As their reasoning always seems to go, just imagine how you’d feel if the dealer flicked you those five perfect cards – 10, J, Q, K, and A in the same suit – when you didn’t have the $1 chip in place. Casino lore is littered with tales of woebegone gamblers who plied their trade for years, patiently waiting to hit that perfect score, only to see it sail away into the sunset because they missed their bet.
I’ll tell you this right now: if you wind up holding a royal flush without that $1 chip in play, you’ll be kicking yourself from here to kingdom come. That’s just how it goes in the game called gambling, and I won’t pretend that I’d be immune to the indignity of that happened to me.
On the other hand, I still go outside when there’s cloud cover overhead, even though I could get struck by lightning. That’s because I’m not one to let irrational fear or temptation affect my fundamental decision making. Why am I suddenly talking about weather, you ask?
Here’s why: in the game of Caribbean Stud Poker (or any five card deal poker game for that matter), the odds of landing a pat royal flush with no draws stand at 1 in 649,740. If those odds seem long to you, that’s because they are.
The odds of being struck by lightning over the course of any given year are roughly 1 in 700,000 – right on par with the royal flush. So unless you cower indoors every time it starts to sprinkle, don’t worry about “missing out” on this progressive jackpot payout. The odds are stacked so far against it happening that it shouldn’t really merit any thought at all.
And trust me, if you faithfully risk a $1 chip on every hand of Caribbean Stud Poker you see over the next 20 years, you’ll be wishing you got struck by lightning sometime along the way. That house edge of 26.46 percent is unbeatable, plain and simple. Chasing it and hoping to strike it rich doesn’t make any sense from the standpoint of probability, and even assuming perfect play in the base game, you’ll quickly burn through your bankroll before ever catching that big break.
4. Climb to the Pinnacle
In the entry for my first tip, I advised that any alteration to the standard 100 50 20 7 5 4 3 2 1 pay table would lead to a higher house edge. And in almost every case, that is correct.
However, the realm of online gambling has allowed a few casinos to play with the numbers for a different reason. Rather than goose the game to increase their own house edge, these enterprising online casinos have tweaked the pay table to reduce the house edge – thus favoring the player more than normal.
This is a marketing gambit, don’t get me wrong there, as the casino is only hoping to attract new players to their venue. But as promotional ploys go, lowering the house edge is always fine in my book.
For players who just love Caribbean Stud Poker, and find themselves playing it more than other games in their regular rotation, checking out the Pinnacle Online Casino is a great way to save countless bets over the course of your career.
If the name Pinnacle sounds familiar, it should. The worldwide online sports betting platform has been on the cutting edge of internet sportsbook technology since its founding in 1998. And like most online gambling enterprises have over the years, from virtual poker rooms to bingo halls, once the operators caught wind of the healthy profit margins offered by casino gaming, Pinnacle launched its own online casino in recent years.
I’m a live player through and through, as that’s the way I came up learning the trade, but I’m no old coot either. I can appreciate the ease and convenience provided by online casinos, and I have a few accounts open at the major platforms myself. So when I heard about the savings to be had on Caribbean Stud Poker on the Pinnacle site, I signed up and tried the game so see what all the fuss was about.
As it turns out, Pinnacle’s online casino brand is powered by a small software firm known as Galewind. This company has created a tailor made version of Caribbean Stud Poker which uses a funky pay table, one that manages to pay out higher rewards for all but the lowest three hands in play.
Take a look below to see what I mean:
Pay Table for Caribbean Stud Poker on Pinnacle Online Casino & Galewind Software
|Royal Flush||800 to 1|
|Straight Flush||200 to 1|
|Four of a Kind||25 to 1|
|Full house||10 to 1|
|Flush||7 to 1|
|Straight||5 to 1|
|Three of a kind||3 to 1|
|Two pair||2 to 1|
|All other||1 to 1|
This pay table is vastly improved over the standard version, because it foregoes the usual casino style of exchanging an increased payout in one position for a decreased payout somewhere else. Instead, the first three pays remain the same, 1 to 1 for one pair, 2 to 1 for two pair, 3 to 1 for three of a kind.
From there though, things get more interesting. The payout for landing a straight climbs from 4 to 1 and becomes a 5 to 1 reward, a flush is good for 7 to 1 instead of 5 to 1, full houses pay 10 to 1 rather than 7 to 1, and four of a kind is good for 25 to 1 not 20 to 1.
As for the game’s top two premium hands, the straight flush pays 200 to 1, a fourfold increase over the 50 to 1 found on “normal” tables. And the royal flush pays out an 800 to 1 jackpot for the base game alone, eight times higher than the 100 to 1 standard.
All told, this pay table configuration reduces the overall house edge working against you from 5.22 percent to 3.34 percent – a drop of nearly 2 full percentage points. In effect, Caribbean Stud Poker on the Pinnacle Online Casino platform is an entirely new game, one which carries a house edge on par with most hybrid table games of the day. In fact, the operators may very well have made this move to keep the new generation of table game fans, who aren’t too keen on games above the 5 percent house edge mark, in the fold.
For your sake, bringing your bankroll to this venue as a Caribbean Stud Poker player is just good business. You’ll instantly shave 1.88 percent off your overall house edge, turning a volatile and streaky game into one that is much more manageable. And even better, when you catch some nice cards and form great hands, the payouts are much more top heavy here than they are anywhere else.
5. Search for the Oasis
Along the same note as the last tip, players who prefer Caribbean Stud Poker gameplay to other table games would be well served to run a search for the term “Oasis Poker.”
Although not very widespread throughout the Western world just yet, Oasis Poker is a popular hybrid table game played across Europe and Africa. As a direct offshoot of Caribbean Stud Poker, the rules of Oasis Poker were created by taking the original template and changing one crucial element.
In this case, Oasis Poker is simply Caribbean Stud Poker with one twist: players can select any portion of their hole cards and dump them in favor of replacements drawn from the deck.
As a poker player, the ability to ditch bad cards and hunt the deck for superior alternatives is immediately enticing. Poker really isn’t poker at all unless I can draw to straights and flushes, or catch lucky and fill in a full house. Drawing provides the anticipation and excitement that define great poker games, so it’s no surprise to see Caribbean Stud Poker evolve in this way.
After taking a five card starting hand in Oasis Poker, you can simply stand pat like you’re forced to in Caribbean Stud Poker, or you may discard one, some, or even all of your cards in exchange for new ones. Of course, the casino would get killed if players were afforded this luxury free of charge, so Oasis Poker mandates a certain fee be charged whenever you elect to “switch” out one or more cards.
The drawing fees in Oasis Poker break down as follows:
|# OF CARDS DRAWN||COST|
|One Card||1x the ante|
|Two Cards||2x the Ante|
|Three Cards||3x the Ante|
|Four Cards||2x the Ante|
|Five cards||1x the Ante|
Clearly, ditching three cards and trying to complete some difficult draw – at the cost of three units on top of your Ante bet – is not the best play. But you’d be surprised at how often Oasis Poker presents players with premium drawing opportunities, with say four to a flush or two pair and the chance to fill up to a full house.
Aside from the drawing rule, a hand of Oasis Poker plays out in nearly identical fashion to what you’ve learned in Caribbean Stud Poker. The pay table for Raise bets follows the standard 100 50 20 7 5 4 3 2 1 scheme, the Ante / Raise binary betting system remains in place, and a sucker style side bet is even added to the mix.
The only difference is, this game offers an extremely low house edge of only 1.20 percent (assuming optimal strategy for Oasis Poker is used). Compared to the 5.22 percent rate you’re battling against on every hand of Caribbean Stud Poker, this number is more than four times better.
Think about that for one moment… you can play, and lose, every single hand of Oasis Poker for an hour – and you’d lose one fourth of the amount dropped over a similar session of Caribbean Stud Poker.
Success at any gambling game, for all their bells and whistles to signify winning, is based on losing less over the long run. And any chance you get to shave a full 4 percentage points off of your house edge should be considered a gambling gold mine. In essence, Oasis Poker allows players to enjoy Caribbean Stud Poker – which nominally resembles the game of chance known as double zero roulette in terms of house edge – into a game much closer to blackjack or baccarat.
Oasis Poker is primarily found via online casinos which run the Net Entertainment (NetEnt) software platform, while providers like SwissSoft and PlayPearls also carry versions of the game. Search for one of these software providers in conjunction with the term Oasis Poker and you’ll be on the road to a 1.20 percent house edge on your favorite game in no time.
Hybrid table games like Caribbean Stud Poker have withstood the test of time for one simple reason: they combine the best of both worlds. Poker players can feel right at home in the pits, while blackjack players can chase straights and flushes without getting taken to the cleaners by a table full of pros.
I enjoy the game because it offers a breath of fresh air from my regular rotation, but no matter why you choose to play, I hope you take advantage of these five tips to enhance your experience.