7 Caribbean Stud Poker Strategy Tips for Beginners

7 Caribbean Stud Poker Tips for Beginners

Caribbean Stud Poker is a table-based version of five-card stud. The game gets its name from its origin – it was invented by the manager of a small card room and casino in Aruba that happened to be right on the American cruise ship circuit. As the story goes, Americans returning from Caribbean cruises had a hankering to play the game they learned in Aruba. In gaming, demand is the mother of invention.

Initially, the game was produced in large-scale by ShuffleMaster. Their version was a trademarked table game that features all the same rules of the game as it's played anywhere else, but with a custom layout and a few side wagers and other features. Though you can still find the SHFL version of the game in casinos, imitations and knock-offs make up the bulk of the games in America. Truth be told, as long as the game's pay table is decent, it doesn't matter who made the game.

Caribbean Stud Basics

Caribbean Stud Poker as played in casinos is a competition between each player and the dealer. There's no competition between players, as you find in poker games like Omaha and Texas hold'em. Caribbean Stud is made up of two betting rounds and a laundry list of side bets.

The game begins with an ante, at which time you'll have the option of placing a side wager. Some versions of the game have a half-dozen available side bets, though most of them have only the single Progressive side wager. For a bet of $1 per hand, you make yourself eligible for an ever-increasing jackpot, much like a progressive slot. We'll talk more about this side wager further down the page.

Once all the antes and bets are placed, each player and the dealer are dealt five cards. The dealer has four cards dealt face-down with one card showing. That means you have to make all your decisions based on the five cards in your hand and the one card showing in the dealer's hand. Your options at this point are: fold, forfeiting your ante and any side wagers, or place an additional bet to stay in the game. This is a fixed-amount bet, twice the size of your ante.

The dealer's hand is revealed after each player decides whether to bet or ante. Take note that the dealer's hand has to "qualify" for players to earn a payout. If the dealer's hand doesn't hold at least an Ace and a King, the dealer will fold, and you win a 1:1 payout on your ante. The second bet is push.

If the dealer's hand qualifies, hands are compared. Players with better hands win an even money payout on their ante and a special payout on the second bet based on the value of their final hand.

The tips below are designed to help newcomers to the game enjoy themselves more at the table. We can't promise that you'll become a Caribbean Stud expert and starting winning money hand over fist just by following these seven tips. But we do think that a person who listens to this advice will have more fun and feel more confident.

Tip #1: Learn the game before you play

Caribbean Stud Poker is deceptively-simple. Casino-style poker is considered a lightweight game, looked over in favor of blackjack or head-to-head Texas hold'em. While we admit that those games are strategically robust in a way that Caribbean Stud Poker isn't, the fact that this game isn't blackjack doesn't mean you can just walk up and start making bets.

Don't forget, Caribbean Stud's house edge is around 5.5%, depending on house rules. If you start placing side bets, you're in dangerous territory – we know of one game in Vegas that offers a side bet with a house edge of 36%. If you think you're a good enough gambler to walk up against odds like that without practicing, more power to you.

You can play Caribbean Stud Poker online without betting real money or even opening an account. The trick is to find a casino website that operates in your country, find the "free play" option, and learn the rules as you place fake wagers. This is really the best way to prepare yourself for the real game.

Tip #2: Always fold if your hand doesn't "qualify"

We don't want to confuse you – your hand doesn't have to qualify, it's the dealer's hand that does. But we like to use the dealer's qualification system as a metric to judge our own hand. Think of this as the first thing you should do before deciding whether or not to fold. If your hand doesn't contain and Ace and a King (and therefore wouldn't qualify if it were a dealer hand), you should definitely fold, no questions asked.

The reason is simple – any dealer hand that qualifies will beat a hand without an Ace and a King. In other words, the best result you can possibly get from raising on a hand without AK is a loss. This fact tends to escape newcomers to the game, so we wanted to make sure and highlight it.

Tip #3: Create a minimum hand value for raising

A good strategy for evaluating your hand quickly is to establish a minimum hand value, below which you will always fold. Over the years, we've established a simple system to do just that – when holding the all-important AK combo, it's good to have three high cards to back it up, or to be facing down a dealer up-card of Jack or less. This is the system we like to use, but it won't work for everyone.

At some point, you'll want to create your own system for quickly analyzing your hand and deciding if it's eligible for a raise bet.

Tip #4: Know the ideal time to raise holding Ace/King

It may seem like an inordinate amount of these tips deal with the Ace/King issue. There's a good reason for that. Caribbean Stud Poker's ideal strategy is complicated, but is easy to simplify if you think of everything in terms of dealer-qualifying hands.

Generally speaking, ideal strategy when holding AK says to raise if any of the following additional factors are in play:

  • If the dealer's up-card is a 2-Queen AND it matches a card in your hand. That last bit is to make it less likely that the dealer will draw to a pair.
  • If the dealer's up-card is an Ace or King and you have a Queen or Jack in your hand.
  • If the dealer's up-card's rank doesn't match any of your cards AND you have a Queen in your hand AND the dealer's up-card is lower-ranked than your fourth-highest card. This one is a bit complicated, but with practice, it becomes second nature.

Tip #5: Avoid any and all side bets

If you've spent any time reading our gambling strategy pages, you probably know by now that most side bets are sucker bets. Pay tables vary from casino to casino, but every Caribbean Stud Poker game will pay out 100% of the progressive jackpot meter for a royal flush and 10% of the meter for a straight flush.

These meters are usually reset to a value of $10,000, and can grow to huge amounts depending on the size of the casino and the game's network. Our research indicates that the average house edge on these progressive side wagers is 26% - what's scary about that is that it means as many bets have a house edge HIGHER than 26 as lower.

On the other hand, if you think a $1 side bet per hand (at a cost of about $35 an hour in the casino) is worth a shot at whatever prize is shown on the meter, and you get more fun out of the game in exchange for that $35 an hour, then don't let us tell you not to place that bet. So long as you know that the odds against a royal flush are 1,000:1, and you're doing it for entertainment and not to chase a big jackpot, then it's a kosher bet.

Tip #6: Stop playing when you stop having fun

We've included this tip here because we've noticed that a lot of inexperienced gamblers are drawn to Caribbean Stud Poker and other forms of casino-style poker, played against a dealer rather than other players. If a game isn't fun anymore, stop playing.

There's a concept in gambling called "tilt," which refers to an angry or upset state of mind that gamblers can get in. Tilt is a bad thing – it destroys your bankroll and can create real problems, should your behavior get out of hand.

This all goes back to the central theme of all of our strategy advice. Gambling is entertainment. A tiny percentage of people are able to gamble professionally, earning their entire living from the practice of betting. Most of us are rank amateurs, even if we think we're experts. Don't lose sight of the fact that you've come to the casino to have fun. When you find yourself betting to chase losses or because you feel compelled to bet, it's time to consider a long break.

Eat a meal, take a walk, and take a nap – whatever you have to do to keep from blowing your stack.

Tip #7: Beware of folding low pairs

Lots of newcomers to the game think that they should always fold "low pairs." In this instance, newcomers seem to think that any pair made of 5s or lowers is an automatic fold. While risk is involved in playing low pairs, remember that the dealer's hand fails to qualify 44% of the time.

That means you can win with your ante beat more than 50% of the time by playing low pairs. The act of automatically folding low pairs will reinforce poor strategy and gradually strip your bankroll of potential small sustaining wins. No legitimate Caribbean Stud Poker strategy will recommend folding any pairs as a matter of habit.


Various sources give the house edge for Caribbean Stud Poker between 5.2% and 5.5%. So we have to admit that it's not exactly a great game, odds-wise. Even still, worse odds are available on the gaming floor. Playing Caribbean Stud Poker gives you about the same odds as any of the popular even-money bets on American roulette wheels. It's not a great game, but it's not a rip-off.

Before you sit down to play Caribbean Stud Poker at a casino, understand that you're going to be handing over about 5.5% of your bankroll over to the casino over the course of any amount of play time. At a $5 table, and at an average pace of 35 hands per hour (this IS a slow game, after all), you're looking at losses of about $19 an hour. That's expensive compared to some other casino-style poker games, but still cheaper than dinner and a movie.

We say all that to say this – play Caribbean Stud Poker because it's fun, it moves at a stately pace, and it offers some fun side bets. Don't play it because it offers you great odds – it doesn't. If you choose to play those fun side bets, you're giving yourself an even worse chance of success. But, so long as you're enjoying yourself, that $19 an hour is totally worth it.