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Often derided by casino aficionados as a mug’s game due to its high house advantage, Caribbean Stud Poker really isn’t as bad as it would first appear. True, when calculated as a percentage of the initial ante stake the edge against the player is over 5%; prohibitive when compared to the 2.70% on single zero roulette or the 0.28% for those playing perfect strategy blackjack at the most generous tables around. However this figure of 5.22% does not offer a true reflection of the percentage of total money staked a player will lose.

This discrepancy comes from the fact that the total a player stakes per hand is partially dependent upon the quality of their hand. Whilst they must place the initial ante stake before receiving their cards, the subsequent raise bet is optional. That is to say that a player with a poor hand can choose not to place the bet and simply fold, losing only his ante stake.

Following the strategy outlined in this article a player will be placing the raise bet a shade over 50% of the time. If we use the 50% figure as an approximation we can see that this acts to create an average stake per hand of around two units. Half of the time the player will fold having staked only his ante (one unit), the other half of the time the ante and raise bets will be placed for a total of three units. (0.5 x 1) + (0.5 x 3) = 2. The effect of this is to reduce the house edge when expressed as a percentage of total amount wagered to a much more acceptable 2.55% which is in fact slightly better than single zero roulette. Perhaps not such a mug’s game any more?

Correct Strategy: The Simple Part

Achieving the desired outcome of ensuring the edge against a player is only 2.55% is reliant upon playing perfect strategy. The first part of this strategy is easy to remember. If you have a pair or better you should raise. Any pair will do regardless of what the dealer’s up card is. The second part is also easy. If you don’t have at least A-K high you should always fold. This seems to be common sense. If the dealer’s hand doesn’t qualify with anything less than A-K, you should follow his lead and also fold all hands inferior to this.

A-K: Raise or Fold

This is where things start to get a little more complicated. The dealer will play every A-K hand. The player however would be incorrect to do so. The reason for this is that the player has one crucial piece of information which can be factored in when formulating the perfect strategy for this game. Namely the identity of the dealer’s up card. Optimal A-K play centres solely around the card the dealer has showing. Perfect play requires memorising what to do with each of 175 different A-K hands dependent upon what the dealer’s up card is! Easy, right? Thankfully we can get to within 0.001% of optimal strategy by remembering a much smaller set of rules.

  • When the dealer is showing an Ace, King, 2,3,4 or 5: Raise all A-K-Q and A-K-J hands. The reasoning behind this is that when he shows Ace or King he is less likely to hold a pair or an A-K himself as you already hold two of the cards he needs. When he is showing a card 5 or lower your added value comes from when he subsequently reveals an A-K hand as you will more than likely have a better one.
  • When the dealer is showing a card that isn’t an Ace or a King: Raise you’re A-K if one of your cards matches the dealer’s up card. You can lower your standards slightly here as not only is he less likely to have an A-K himself in his four hidden cards but you are also holding one of the cards he needs to pair his up card.
  • When the dealer is showing a card which is lower than your fourth highest card: Raise any A-K-Q hand. Again the additional value here comes from the times when you win an A-K showdown.

A-K-J-8-3: A simpler version

This one is really easy to remember and is our recommended approach for the casual player. By playing this way you will be giving up an additional 0.1% in house edge when compared to optimal strategy but the simplicity of the system makes it worth it. This method has just two points to remember. First, if your hand is A-K-J-8-3 or better then you should raise. On the other hand, if your hand is worse than A-K-J-8-3, you fold.

This simple and easy to remember strategy offers, in our opinion, the best balance between a manageable house edge and a workable list of rules that the casual player can hope to remember. This is especially the case when playing in a bricks and mortar casino, although of course whilst playing online you have the time and privacy to opt for a more thorough version of optimum strategy if you so choose.

The Progressive Jackpot

This is a side bet on the quality of hand you are dealt. There is no strategy that can be employed to improve the house edge against you with the casino retaining around 30% of all stakes on this wager. This is a colossal amount even considering some of this is used to re-seed the pot after it has been won. The best strategic advice would be to not place this bet at all! The bet only approaches value for the player when the jackpot available is in excess of £/$200,000. The casino takeout is similar to many lotteries around the world. In general gamblers are willing to accept a larger percentage against them as long as the potential win is correspondingly large. As such, the progressive jackpot bet does still offer this opportunity to bet small and win big and will, therefore, always remain popular players seeking the life-changing cash.