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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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If Dealers Don't Qualify, Caribbean Stud Hands are Dud Hands

1 June 2000

Calling on Caribbean Stud hands of A-K-J-8-3 or better, and folding with worse, yields a house advantage equal to 5.32 percent of the ante. A simpler strategy, calling on a pair or better, raises this edge to 5.47 percent. And more complex approaches, which require at least A-K but depend on the dealer's upcard to ascertain what else you need before deciding what to do, can cut the casino's commission to about 5.22 percent.

The differences are hardly titanic. For instance, say you begin every round with a $10 ante and play for two hours. At a table with three or four other kindred spirits, you'll get about 100 hands during this interval for a total ante of $1,000. The house advantage translates into $54.70 calling with a pair or better, $53.20 with A-K-J-8-3 or better, and $52.20 with an approach that only a Nikolai Ivanovitch Lobachevskii would appreciate -- let alone memorize. The bite is big, over $25 per hour in a game with a $10 ante, no matter how you play. But from the weakest to the strongest of these strategies, the gain is only $1.25 per hour.

House edge in Caribbean Stud arises from the rule about the dealer qualifying. Dealers having poker values less than A-K don't qualify. Players who haven't folded then get 1-to-1 on their antes and push their call bets. Picture pulling a royal with a $10 ante. The return is $2,010 -- $2,000 for the $20 call bet at 100-to-1 plus $10 for the ante at 1-to-1 -- if the dealer qualifies other than with a second royal, and $10 if the dealer doesn't qualify. Were it not for this rule, players would have an edge because chances associated with the hands would be the same and bettors see one dealer card before making their decisions.

Overall, the chance the dealer won't qualify in any round is 43.7 percent. When the dealer's upcard is king or ace, the likelihood of not qualifying falls to 33.6 percent. It's 45.4 percent for upcards of five through nine, 45.5 percent for four or 10, 45.6 percent for three or jack, and 45.7 percent for two or queen.

Almost everyone who plays Caribbean Stud makes the $1 side bet on the progressive jackpot. This pays whether or not the dealer qualifies. Make believe the progressive meter reads $100,000 and you win it with a royal. You'd probably tip the dealer the $2,000 pocket money qualifying would bring (wouldn't you?), so the point is moot. Plain vanilla straight flushes are ninefold more likely than royals and pay 10 percent of the jackpot. Now the side bet pays $10,000. The $1,000 for the hand if the dealer qualifies, versus $10 otherwise, no longer looks like chump change.

The situation reverses -- the side bet payoff becoming the consolation prize -- for lesser jackpot winners. Four-of-a-kind pays an automatic $100 on the side bet and $410 or $10 on the hand with a $10 ante. For full houses, the figures are $75 for the side bet and $150 or $10 on the hand. And flushes bring $50 on the side bet and $110 or $10 on the hand. With winning poker values below flushes, the side bet loses altogether and you need to beat a qualifying dealer to make more than a measly sawbuck.

The disappointment is greater for high rollers. The side bet is always $1 and has the indicated return no matter what the ante. For example, starting with $25 and calling with $50, flushes still pay an automatic $50 on the side bet. But winning flushes are worth $275, as opposed to $25 when dealers don't qualify.

How often are strong hands wasted because dealers don't qualify? Solid citizens who call with A-K-J-8-3 or better will play 56 out of every hundred hands. The dealer will bow out on 24 of these. Just considering hands of two pair or better, and therefore a high likelihood of beating a dealer who qualifies, you're looking at calling on less than eight out of every hundred rounds, with the dealer not qualifying on over three.

Frustrating? Enough to make big boys and girls cry? The person who said gambling was all sweetness and light must have missed these musings of the immortal poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

Make certain that you've really done it,
Before you tell yourself you've won it.

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.