Caribbean Poker is a favorite game aboard cruise ships and in South Pacific clubs. It’s an easy game to learn and employs many of the skills of standard 5-card Stud.
You ante in and the dealer deals five cards to you and five to themselves. The dealer turns one of their cards up. At this point you can make an additional bet — the “call” bet — or surrender. If you surrender you lose the hand and your ante.
If you make the “call” bet then the dealer turns over their cards. To continue to the showdown, the dealer must “qualify” by holding at least an Ace-King or better. If the dealer does not qualify, you win the ante but your “call” bet is simply returned, no matter what the cards show.
If the dealer does qualify then it’s a good old fashioned showdown, with a catch. If you win, the ante pays even money. But if you win with anything better than a pair, then the house pays you a multiple of your “call” bet based on a bonus ranking. The better your hand, the higher the bonus.
There are two betting rounds in a hand of Caribbean Poker. The first is your ante. The second comes when the dealer turns one of their cards face up. If you like what you see and think you’re still in the running, you can place a “call” bet — which is fixed at twice whatever you anted — and play on. If you don’t “call” you surrender and forfeit your ante.
Payoff in Caribbean Poker is very simple. If you place a “call” bet and the dealer fails to qualify, you win even money on your ante and the “call” bet is simply returned.
If the dealer qualifies and you win the showdown, you get even money on your ante and your “call” pays out according to the following chart:
|4 of a Kind||20:1|
|3 of a Kind||3:1|
If you lose the showdown, the dealer takes both your bets and it’s time for another hand.
Caribbean Poker Strategies
Trying to get an edge and keep your money in Caribbean Poker (a.k.a. Caribbean Stud) is no small feat. The house has a solid edge backed up by a couple rules that will prove frustrating if you play for very long or for serious money.
The Truth of the Game
Despite its name, Caribbean Poker is a table game, more akin to Blackjack than Poker. But don’t think that Caribbean provides the same opportunities for the shrewd player that Blackjack does, ’cause it most certainly does not. The house has a solid 5.2% edge over the player and that’s close to the worst odds you’ll find in the casino. As to its relation to Poker, the only thing they have in common is that Caribbean uses the Poker hands for scoring.
There are only three decisions a player needs to make in Caribbean Poker. The first is how much to bet. The second is whether to Raise or Fold after the dealer’s one-card flop. And the third is whether take the Side (a.k.a. Progressive) Bet.
There are a few factors in this game that recommend the smart player place small bets. The first is the house edge which there is simply no getting around and in the long run that means you’re going to lose money. Better to lose small than big, no? The second is that most Caribbean tables limit the payout. You may bet $100 a hand and Raise your $200 and think you’ve hit a $6,000 jackpot when you come up with 4-of-a-Kind with its 20-1 payout. But if the Maximum Payout at your table is $5,000 then that’s all you’re going to get. So know your table’s Max and bet accordingly.
Simply put, the basic strategy in Caribbean Poker is to Raise on A-K-J-8-3 or better and Fold otherwise. That is called the “beacon hand” and it’s the lowest break-even hand in the game. While this won’t make you a long-term winner, it will help slow your losses. It’s the paying hands, a pair or better, that will net you the good wins. Trouble is that the dealer must qualify (A-K) in order for you to get the real payoffs and those opportunities are annoyingly infrequent in Caribbean Poker. More on this later.
If you’ve spent any time looking around, you’ll know that there are many varieties and variations of this strategy. Using them will help you shave the house edge by teeny amounts, but they’re hardly worth the effort. Even if you played the mathematically optimal strategy you’d only improve over the basic strategy by a few tenths of a point. Is it worth it? On paper maybe, but the bottom line is that you’re playing a losing game so getting deep into it in order to shave a couple tenths is an effort of dubious worth.
In most of the Caribbean Poker games there’s a little meter running showing you the amount of cash in the Progressive Pot. The idea is that for a $1 Side Bet you’ll have a crack at some or all of that Pot if you win a hand with a Flush or better. Guess what, it’s a sucker bet with the house edge around 22% or more. The gurus say don’t do it, and if you must do it, wait until the Pot is $150,000 or better.