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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Fun and (Table) Games: Try Caribbean Stud

28 December 2004

You've played the slots so you're used to betting a buck or two to score anything from your money back to a jackpot. Machines usually average hits on something or other at least once every three rounds. Now, the tables are tempting. But, how will you strike it rich? Most bets at the classic games pay close to even money, meaning you have to bet big to win big. And bets with high payoffs (not that 35-to-1 on $5 or $10 on a single spot at roulette puts you on East Street) hit only infrequently. The average is once every 38 spins on this particular roulette bet.

A new breed of poker-based table games offers an alternative. For example, at Caribbean Stud you might begin a round with $5 and go another $10 to stay in the game with a good hand. But you get a shot at a prize that may be in the hundreds of thousands. And you can expect to win $5 or more nearly four times out of every 10.

The game starts when you "ante" for at least the posted table minimum. You can augment this with a $1 "side bet" (most players do) on a progressive jackpot. Players and the dealer each get five cards. With A-K-J-8-3 or better, you're statistically justified to continue by "calling." Do this by making a second "bet" equal to twice the ante. Below A-K-J-8-3, it's wiser to fold. A fancier strategy shaves house advantage a tad. But if you're that picayune about edge you won't play this game anyway.

Folding costs you your ante immediately. Say you call, and are therefore in the running when the dealer's hand is exposed.

The dealer doesn't "qualify" with anything below A-K. Your ante then wins even money; your call bet gets no action. A qualifying dealer's hand is compared to yours using standard poker values to resolve the combined ante-bet wager. When you're outranked, kiss both parts goodbye. Beating the dealer pays 1-to-1 for the ante and a multiple based on poker rank for the bet; payouts range from 1-to-1 for A-K or a pair and 2-to-1 for two pair, through 50-to-1 for an ordinary straight flush and 100-to-1 for a royal.

On the side bet, the dealer's hand is irrelevant. You win with a flush or better. Returns are as follows: flush $50, full house $75, four of a kind $100, straight flush 10 percent of the progressive jackpot, and royal the whole glorious shebang.

Here's the procedure. Take a seat. Wait for the dealer to finish a round and collect all the cards, then drop your money on the layout. The dealer will exchange it for chips. Place your ante in the correspondingly labeled spot in front of you and slip a $1 chip for your side bet into the slot ahead and slightly to the right. When everyone has cards, look at yours then set them down. To fold, do nothing else (grumbling about lousy cards is allowed but not obligatory). To call, put double your ante worth of chips on the spot marked "bet." The dealer will take care of the rest.

At a table with three or four other players, figure on roughly 50 rounds per hour. A normal two-hour session is accordingly about 100 hands. You'll call an average of 53 of the 100, so a $5 ante means you expect to risk $15 this often. The $15, plus $1 side bet, may seem high for a $200 or $300 stake. However, downswings are tempered since you expect a qualified dealer to beat you for $15 in only 14 of the 100 rounds; in another 47, you'll fold and lose just $5. This leaves 23 rounds in which you anticipate winning $5 because the dealer is below A-K, and 16 when the dealer qualifies but you do better and grab from $15 to $1,005. There's also the promise of the side bet to keep your hope aglow.

One more thng. You'll occasionally see solid citizens who always call, thinking they can "bluff" with less than A-K-J-8-3 and steal the ante if the dealer doesn't qualify. It can work. That's why the casino bosses invented luck. But it's trying to bamboozle the laws of the universe, not an opponent with human frailties. Another reason it's a bad idea is that a failure costs three times as much as a success gains. So heed this worldly wit and wisdom from the Wordsworth of the wager, Sumner A Ingmark:

Do not psychology devote,
To challengers who play by rote.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.