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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Is It Worth Learning to Play Caribbean Stud Like an Expert?

20 December 1999

Players who study Caribbean Stud before throwing money away on this game use different strategies, depending on the authority they happen to find or choose to trust. The idea is minimize the house edge by making the best decisions when to "fold" or "call." Folding surrenders the "ante" or initial wager. Calling requires a "bet" equal to twice the ante, then wins various amounts if the hand beats the dealer, and loses everything if it doesn't.

Some players think gambling gurus shill for the casino bosses. So they adopt their own strategies based on instinct, premonition, or a system they doped out on the back of a bus schedule. Most others fall roughly into three main groups.

  • Conservative: bet with a pair or higher.

  • Expert: bet with A-K-J-8-3 or higher.

  • Optimum: bet with A-K-J-8-3 or higher, regardless of the dealer's up-card; bet with A-K and nothing greater than 10 if any of the other three cards matches the dealer's upcard.

Worse strategies have been advocated, giving the casino greater edge than these. For instance, some players call only with a pair of fours or higher. And rules have been devised that surpass the three cited, which hinge on the suit as well as the rank of the dealer's upcard. However, the latter offer such small improvement that they're regarded more of philosophical than practical value, especially in light of how tough they are to memorize.

With the conservative approach, players should call on 249 of every 500 hands. And the house will have an edge equal to 5.47 percent of the ante. This edge means that after 500 rounds starting with $10, the casino expects to have won $274.

Following the expert strategy, bettors should call on 262 of every 500 hands. The house edge is 5.32 percent of the ante, so the casino expects to earn $266 after 500 rounds with a $10 ante.

The optimum approach leads to calls on 265 of every 500 hands. Here, house edge is 5.27 percent of the ante. The casino therefore projects a $264 profit after 500 rounds with $10 ante.

Differences among these strategies, in number of hands called and theoretical casino win due to edge, are relatively small. It's interesting to note, though, that of the three choices, those with more hands called also have lower house advantage.

Many solid citizens ignore house advantage, knowing from experience that what they win or lose in a session of reasonable duration bears scant relation to what's predicted mathematically. And rightly so -- because the inherent fluctuations in a game overwhelm the effects of edge, even after extended play.

The alternate strategies for Caribbean Stud can be compared with fluctuations taken into account. Say you play 500 hands, each with a $10 ante. What are the chances of finishing over $250 or under $250, following the various approaches?

Calling with pairs or higher, chances are 51.8 percent of being $250 or more behind and 14.6 percent of being at least this far ahead. Expert calling, A-K-J-8-3 or higher, the likelihood is 51.2 percent of being down $250 or more and 15.2 percent of being this far up. And optimal play, calling with A-K-J-8-3 in any case and A-K with anything else when one of the other three cards matches the dealer's upcard, yields 51.1 percent chance of losing $250 or more and 15.4 percent of winning at least this much.

The enhancements wrought by more advanced decisions are small, whether projected in terms of edge or by figuring chances of moderate gains or losses during typical sessions. But the best of the three approaches is easy to learn. And besides helping you squeeze out every ounce of advantage, they afford the joy of knowing you're playing well. Nobody expressed this form of pleasure better than the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, when he wrote:

Victory is sweet, no matter how achieved,
Not so with defeat, it's worse when ill-conceived.
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.