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Cracking Caribbean Stud

22 November 1999

Caribbean Stud is the game that all gaming writers hate. No one, but no one, has a good word to say about Caribbean Stud. Pick up a book on general gambling, any book, and it will tell you Caribbean Stud sucks.

The reason is this: even with perfect strategy, Caribbean Stud has a five and a bit percent house edge, much larger than blackjack, baccarat or single-zero roulette.

Similar in structure to traditional stud poker, it is basically an adversarial contest between you and the dealer as to who gets the best hand, with long odds payoffs for rare hands like flushes. The full rules can be found in Bold Card Play: Best Strategies for Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride & Three Card Poker by Frank Scoblete.

Most authors will tell you to avoid the game like the plague because it cannot be beaten. Which is not quite true. But you knew I was going to say that.

If the table is full, you could in theory adjust your playing decisions based on the data from the other 30 cards seen and, playing perfectly, win at the rate of 2.7%. Of course, this is specifically prohibited by the rules, and not very practical. It also requires a computer, which is illegal in most jurisdictions.

I did actually work out a useable, simple strategy based on the number of cards equivalent in value to the dealer's card that would enable you to win at the rate of just under 1%. But I never used it and will never publish it. Why?

1) Doing something prohibited by the rules of the game just isn't my way. As transgressions go this is pretty minor, I'm no boy scout, but I don't cheat period. I don't have to. And you don't have to either.

2) The 1% edge depends largely on getting those long-odds payoffs, which occur only rarely. This means you have to bet a really small fraction of your bank, so your return on investment won't compare with blackjack or poker.

There is a small possibility of a way round the first condition. You do get some information about the other player cards that the casino can't prevent you from using. If you sit at third base, you will be able to infer something about the cards players are holding from their decisions whether to fold or ante. Math types will complain that this just does not give you enough information to beat the house. But in truth it's not very easy to say. It depends on a number of factors: how well you can read other player's body language, what type of strategies they use and how consistent they are, whether they play the progressive jackpot (if a player gets a royal, you will know about it!). There's a whole book to be written on the subject. I could certainly envisage a scenario in which players would reveal enough information about their cards for you to win to some extent, but it may not be realistic. Even then, the low table limits and snail's pace of play make the returns unattractive.

But don't give up just yet. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

A very few dealers, maybe 1 in 150, will reveal their hole cards to the player accidentally. If you can see all of them, you can have a 17% edge! Amazingly, if you can see only 1 hole card, the house still has the edge. That is how bad the game is.

Finally, some games (particularly in Europe, where Caribbean Stud is usually called something else to prevent copyright infringement) shuffle by hand exactly as they do with blackjack. A player who can follow cards through the shuffle and gets the cut will be able to give himself a nice hand.

But Caribbean Stud is one tough cookie. I made a bit of money out of it and had some fun with the above techniques, but for the serious dough I look elsewhere.


For more information about Caribbean Stud, we recommend:

Bold Card Play: Best Strategies for Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride & Three Card Poker by Frank Scoblete
John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May

John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May