Caribbean Stud Easy to Play, Tough to Beat,
by Andy Glazer

Caribbean Stud is, along with Let It Ride, one of the few table games that have been able to claim a share of the increasingly small space casinos give to table games. Casinos prefer slots, because they don't require trained dealers, don't require quite as much close eye-in-the-sky supervision (although they need more than you might think, because casinos must remain alert for cheats who try to gimmick the machines), and don't encounter math professors figuring out ways to beat the casinos out of their god-given right to vacuum clean the pockets of every visitor.

Caribbean Stud is loosely based on the classic American poker game, 5-card stud, although it requires none of the skills that let Edgar G. Robinson, as «The Man,» Lancey Howard, defeat Steve «The Kid» McQueen in «The Cincinnati Kid.» If you know poker hand values, you can play Caribbean Stud, and you really don't even need to know that a flush beats a straight. If you know enough about poker to realize that you HAVE a flush, you know almost everything you need to know to sit down at a Caribbean Stud table, almost.

When you first sit down to play Caribbean Stud, you will be asked to make an «ante» bet, and this bet is what creates much of the house edge. You have to make the bet before you see any of your cards.

You're also given the option of dropping a dollar in a slot to make you eligible for a progressive jackpot. This progressive jackpot bet is where most of the rest of the house edge comes from. For the progressive jackpot to be a good gamble, it needs to get upwards of $400,000, and the gambler in me says that no one reading this column has ever seen it climb that high.

Still, just as with Let It Ride, many players drop the dollar anyway, figuring it's only a dollar, and fearing the nightmare that they might hit a five-card royal flush and not have played the progressive jackpot. Let's keep the math simple and say that you could play Caribbean stud four hours a day, five days a week, for the rest of your life, and you'd still be a HUGE underdog to catch that five-card royal. Just relax and play the game without the dollar.

By the way, at 40 hands an hour, those dollars add up in a hurry. How many of you reading this would like a $40 an hour job?

Assuming you can resist the urge to play the progressive jackpot bet, you're halfway home in your Caribbean Stud strategy. All you need do to play perfectly is, don't play unless your starting hand is A-K-J-8-3 or better. That means you do play if your hand is any pair (or better), you do play if your hand is A-K-J-9-2, and you don't play if your hand is A-K-J-7-6, or A-Q-J-10-9.

If you do play, you must post a bet that is twice the size of your original ante, and if you look down at your hand and see something like 5-5-5-3-3, you happily stick that money out there, because you have a full house, and you will be paid a multiple of your bet, maybe.

Here's the other problem with Caribbean Stud, and one reason why some players prefer Let It Ride. If the dealer does not «qualify,» that is, make a hand that is at least A-K or better, you don't win anything but your ante bet. The nice multiple you were expecting for your full house doesn't get paid if the dealer turns over something like K-Q-6-5-3. You just win your ante bet, and get the other money returned to you.

Because you always win the ante if the dealer fails to qualify AND you have stayed in the hand by making the double-ante bet, many poor Caribbean Stud players will make the double ante wager with horrible hands, hoping that they will collect because the dealer fails to qualify.

This is a very dangerous way to play Caribbean Stud, because you have to risk double your original bet just to try to win the ante. It's much better just to give up the ante bet when you don't have the minimum I've set out, and wait for another hand. Unlike real poker, where folding often means a wait of several minutes before another hand gets dealt to you, in Caribbean Stud, you'll get another hand almost faster than you can blink. Fold the losers, play the decent hands, and you'll have a decent chance. You will still be an underdog to the house, make no mistake about it, but you won't be a sucker, either.

Andrew N.S. ( «Andy «) Glazer is a professional poker, backgammon and blackjack player, and an expert in virtually all forms of gambling.