Basic Calling Strategy for Caribbean Stud Poker

Basic Calling Strategy for Caribbean Stud Poker

"Do you know what the best thing about this game is?" Jim said as he pulled up his chair next to me at the Caribbean Stud table. "You can play for a long time before running out of money. I don't know why casinos keep these games around!" 


That's a typical and sadly all-too-common sentiment felt by most players of the game Caribbean Stud poker. They think that just because it takes them longer to go broke, it must be an easy game.

"I thought the object of gambling was winning," I responded. "Not seeing how long it takes to lose."

"Well sure," he said. "But I always lose anyway, so I might as well play a game that I'm good at that takes a while. Besides, this one's real easy."

See also: Oasis Poker Classic

Sound familiar?

If you ask most players if they're good at Caribbean Stud, most answer with a nod and an emphatic, "Of course! They’re fun and very easy to play.” Unfortunately, however, any game is easy to play. Playing, however, is very different from winning. To win, you have to play correctly, using the proper strategy and money management techniques that professionals have been preaching for decades. Those principles are no different if you play a difficult game like blackjack, or the more "straightforward" games like Caribbean Stud. But unlike 21 Blackjack (which most players realize is difficult) Caribbean Stud's apparent simplicity makes players an easy target for the casino.

Let's take a quick little test and see how well you know the strategy for Caribbean Stud. 

Which of the following hands would you never make the call bet on in Caribbean Stud Poker?

  1. Player has A-K-10-4-2 (unsuited) with the dealer exposing an ace. 
  2. Player has Q-J-7-2-2 with the dealer exposing a 10. 
  3. Player has K-10-8-8-5 with the dealer exposing an 8. 

If you answered number one, congratulations -you're wrong, and you're one of the majority of players who thinks that just because a game looks easy, it must be. The truth is, each of these hands is of sufficient strength to warrant play. And while you may have known that you must play any pair, you lack the strategic knowledge necessary to fully compete at this game, and in the not-so-long run that fact will ruin your bankroll.

Compared to other games, Caribbean Stud is tough for the simple fact that casinos have a relatively high edge: 5.26% on the ante bets, which reduces to about 2.5% when the call bets are taken into account. Of course these figures go right out the window unless the correct strategy is followed. 

Before we get into the strategy for the games, let's take a look at some of the most common, and costly, the average Caribbean Stud player makes.

See also: Oasis Poker (Three hands)

Common Mistakes

Folding on all pairs under 5. Since the call bet is twice the amount of the ante, some players refuse to play low pairs. Too risky, they say. Statistically, however, 44% of all hands will not even contain a qualifying set; no pair, no ace-king, nothing. Another 6.08% of the time, the dealer will be holding an ace-king-x-x-x, (where x represents unpaired, non-suited, non-sequential cards.). The result: even the weakest pair will beat the dealer 50.08% of the time.

Calling on an ace-king, but folding on a pair of twos. This method of playing is based on the misguided notion that if they player doesn't have a pair, then neither does the dealer. Flat out, it's a bad move. As I've already shown a pair of twos will beat the dealer 50.08% of the time, while ace-king hands will fall within the range of 44% to 50.08%, depending on the strength of the remaining cards in the hand.

Playing Ace-Queen-X-X-X hands. Inexperienced players call on this hand because under the right circumstances it can look powerful. For example, the hand A-Q-J-10-9, (unsuited) looks strong, but is in reality worthless. Since the only way this hand can win is for the dealer to have nothing, there is no good reason why this play should ever be made. 

Betting all hands. Some players routinely "bluff" the dealer, regardless of the strength of their hand. Since the dealer will have a qualifying hand 56% of the time, even a large bankroll cannot withstand the constant draw.

Now that you know what not to do, it's time to see exactly what you must do to get the edge down to the lowest amount. The following table lists the rules for making the call bet.

Basic Playing Strategy

Table 1: Call Bet Strategy
Hand Dealer's Card Call Bet
8's-A's Any Yes
7's 7,6,5,4,3,2 Yes
6's 6,5,4,3,2 Yes
5's 5,4,3,2 Yes
4's Any Yes
3's Any Yes
2's Any Yes
A-K-Q-J-X Any Yes
A-K-Q-X-X A,K,Q,X,X Dependent
A-K-J-X-X A,K,J,X,X Dependent
A-K-10-X-X A,K,10,X,X Dependent
X represents any unpaired, non-sequential, non-suited cards.

From this table you can see that a pair of 8's or higher has a statistical expectation for winning regardless of the dealer's exposed card. With 5's, 6's or 7's, however, the strength of the hand is directly related to that card. Since the dealer has a greater chance for exposing one of his paired cards (40% of the hand makes up the pair) players have a greater chance of winning when the dealer exposes a card of equal or lesser value then their pair. However, despite the dealer's card, you must still make the call bet on any pair.

Hands like A-K-Q-X-X, A-K-J-X-X, and A-K-10-X-X, are the weakest playable hands, with a very low win expectation. For these hands, the call bet is made only when the dealer's exposed card matches any card in your hand. Any other hand that you are dealt is considered garbage and should be folded.

You're now set with the optimal strategy for making the call bets Caribbean Stud poker. As you can see there aren't as many rules as there are with games like blackjack, but there are important rules nonetheless. Knowing them will help reduce the edge down to it's lowest attainable value and help you to start walking away with a profit, instead of just taking longer to lose.

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