Caribbean Stud - Rules & How to Play

Caribbean Stud is a staple at land-based and online casinos all over the world. The game is popular because it’s a cinch to learn, fast-paced, and there is very little strategy involved.

Caribbean Stud: A Fusion of Fun and Frustration

Poker’s popularity exploded during the 1990s which left casinos trying to figure out how to cash in on the trend. While opening poker rooms may have seemed like an obvious solution, poker rooms aren’t nearly as profitable as slots and casino table games. The answer came when people started inventing casino-friendly games that combined traditional poker with casino table games. Caribbean Stud was one such game that was introduced.

Even though Caribbean Stud is a relatively new game, the origins of it are up for debate. Professional poker guru David Sklansky claims that he invented the game back in 1982. Although he called his game “Casino Poker”, the similarities between the two are striking. Regardless of its roots, Caribbean Stud is now a staple at land-based and online casinos all over the world. The game is popular because it’s a cinch to learn, fast-paced, and there is very little strategy involved.

As opposed to competing against other players for a community pot like you do in traditional poker, Caribbean Stud is a house-banked game similar to Three Card Poker or Blackjack . While you still need to beat the dealer, payouts are determined by a pay scale. For example, you would receive a 5 to 1 payout on your wager if you beat the dealer with a flush. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about Caribbean Stud.

Play Caribbean Stud Online Here

The Game

Let’s first take a look at some of the basics. For now, we will concentrate on the meat and potatoes forgetting about bonus wagers and other distractions. We’ll discuss those later on. When you first sit at a Caribbean Stud table, you’ll see a couple of betting circles in front of you as well as an area for your cards. One of the two main betting areas is for your mandatory ante. The other is for the optional Play bet.

How to play Caribbean stud step by step

1 Start by placing your ante

For our purposes, we’ll make it $10

2 The dealer and all players are then issued five cards each.

The players now looks at his cards to see if he holds a good hand or not.

3 The dealer then flips one of their cards face up for all to see.

The dealers card gives the player information on how to act

4 The players examine their cards and are then forced to make their one and only decision. Fold or bet.

If the player chooses to fold, they forfeit their $10 ante and wait for the next hand. If they decide to bet, they must place twice the ante amount in the “Bet” circle.

5 The players then compare their hands to the dealer’s hand.

If the dealer’s hand beats yours, then you lose your ante and the bet. If you win, the dealer pays you according to the strength of your hand.

Example of Caribbean stud hand

  1. You find your seat at the Caribbean Stud table and pay the $10 ante.
  2. You and the dealer get five cards each. Four of the dealer’s cards are face down on the table while one is face up.
  3. You look down at your five cards to see you have a pair of Jacks with a A, 8, 2. Meanwhile, the exposed dealer card is a 6.
  4. Now it’s time to make your decision. Bet and continue, or fold and wait for the next round?
  5. Basic strategy, which will be covered further below, dictates that you would bet and see the hand through. You make the $20 bet and the rest of the dealer’s hand is revealed. He has a pair of nines, a 6, 10, and the previously displayed Jack.
  6. Your pair of Jacks beats the dealer’s pair of nines. The dealer will pay out your ante at 1 to 1, which means a $20 return. He will also pay out your winning bet according to the pay scale. Since a pair pays 1 to 1, your winning play bet nets you a total of $40 including the $20 wager amount. In all, you just made $30.

It was alluded to initially that Caribbean Stud is both fun and frustrating. One of the few rules in Caribbean Stud is that the dealer’s hand must qualify for any action. If the dealer doesn’t have an AK, he cannot play this hand. So, what does this mean? Well, this means you get paid 1 to 1 on your ante while the play bet is a push.

As an example, you have Three of a Kind and the dealer has an unsuited A, Q, 10, 6, 5. His hand doesn’t qualify, so you get paid 1 to 1 on your ante which, in our case, would net you a $20 return. But here’s the frustrating part. Even though your Three of a Kind is a strong hand that would normally pay off at 3 to 1, the play bet ends up being a push.

Can you imagine how frustrated you would be if you had a huge hand and the dealer’s hand didn’t qualify? It happens. In fact, Caribbean Stud dealers fail to qualify in about 44% of hands. Even though you would have made a $10 profit in the above scenario, it could have had a much happier ending.

Caribbean Stud Payout Table

Now that you have a bit of insight to Caribbean Stud, let’s take a look at the hand rankings and the payouts.

Caribbean Stud Hand Rankings and Payout Schedule 
Royal Flush100 to 1
Straight Flush50 to 1
Four of a Kind20 to 1
Full House7 to 1
Flush5 to 1
Straight4 to 1
Three of a Kind3 to 1
Two Pair2 to 1
Anything Else1 to 1

Remember, these payouts only apply to your play bet, not the ante. When you win, your ante is always paid out at a rate of 1 to 1. It is only your play bet that is paid out according to the schedule. So, if you ante $10 and then make a $20 play bet, a win with trips would result in the ante being paid at 1 to 1, plus the play bet being paid out at 3 to 1. You’d get a return of $20 for your ante and then $80 for the play bet for a total return of $100 on your $30 investment.

Caribbean Stud: Basic Strategy

Let’s face it; Caribbean Stud is almost entirely based on luck. You have absolutely no control over what cards you or the dealer gets. The only thing you play a part in is the play bet. You must decide whether to bet or fold. That’s all. This is the only area of the game in which your actions have consequences. It is also the only part of the game that opens the possibility of implementing strategy.

Some experienced Caribbean Stud aficionados have developed their own strategies. A quick Google search will reveal a lot of them. However, many of these strategies are based on the idea that you always raise with a pair or better. Playing an AK is a little trickier. Many Caribbean Stud fans will raise with an AK if:

The dealer’s up card is a 2 through a Queen and matches one of your cards.

  • The dealer’s face-up card is an ace or a king and you have an AK with a Queen or a Jack.
  • If the dealer’s face-up card does not match any of yours and:
    • your hand has a Queen in it
    • the dealer’s face-up card is lower than your second lowest card

Anything less than this should be folded.

Caribbean Stud House Edge and Odds

As attractive as the payouts are in Caribbean Stud, the house edge sits at about 5.2% which many would consider being a tad high. However, this advantage can be lowered if you stick to an effective strategy such as the most basic one outlined above. With no draws to take advantage of, the strength of your hand boils down to pure luck. Here are the hand rankings and your chances of getting them.

Caribbean Stud Hand Rankings and Probabilities 
Royal Flush1 in 649,351
Straight Flush1 in 72,202
Four of a Kind1 in 4,167
Full HouseI in 694
Flush1 in 526
Straight1 in 246
Three of a Kind1 in 47
Two Pair1 in 21
Pair1 in 2

Obviously, the payout rates and the true odds are two very different beasts. But this just illustrates the importance of making the best decision when it comes time to bet or fold.

Putting Basic Strategy to Practical Use

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the fundamentals, let’s walk through a few hands. You ante and the dealer dishes you a J, 10, 9, 7, 5. You fold because this is one of those hands that you should fold according to basic strategy. You forfeit $10.

The next hand brings you a pair of 10s. Strategy says that this qualifies as a betting hand so you bet the $20 no matter what the dealer’s up card is. The dealer then reveals an A, 10, 7, 4, 3. Think about how this is going to end. Yes, you have definitely beaten the dealer, but the dealer’s hand doesn’t qualify. What happens? You make $10 on the ante, but your $20 play bet is returned. Still, a $10 profit is better than no profit at all.

Now, let’s go back to that same hand right up to the moment you bet $20 on your pair of 10s. This time, the dealer’s hand is an A, K, 4, 3, 2. That’s a qualifying hand and you beat it. You make $10 on your ante for beating the dealer, plus you get a 1 to 1 payout on your $20 play bet for a total gain of $30.

That last win felt so good that you’re going to do it again. The dealer serves you up an A, K, Q, 10, 9. So close to a straight, but close doesn’t count in this game. The dealer’s up card is a 7. If you refer back to our discussion of basic strategy, we can play this hand if it meets the following requirements:

  1. The dealer’s exposed card does not match any of yours.
  2. Your hand has a Queen in it.
  3. The dealer’s face-up card is lower than your second-lowest card.

Upon closer inspection, you discover that your hand meets the criteria for a bet. You push in your $20 play bet and the dealer turns over a pair of sevens. You lose the $10 ante plus the $20 play bet. This type of situation will present itself over and over as you play more hands. You’ll win some, you’ll some, and you’ll likely push some. The important thing is that you use a set of guidelines to base your decisions on.

Despite the loss, you’re determined to win this one last hand. You plop down your $10 ante and are rewarded with an ace-high straight. What are the chances of the dealer beating that? A Flush only comes around once every 526 hands. This is a prime illustration of the type of hand you don’t think twice about playing. Naturally, you make the $20 play bet. You then look on in utter disbelief as the dealer shows you a flush.

There’s $30 down the drain. But what if it played out differently? What if the dealer had trip 7s or a pair? What about an AK? Obviously, you would have won. You would have made $10 on the ante plus another $80 on the straight for a total profit of $90. You can see how easily things can swing. Again, you made the right betting decision. You will win in this scenario far more often than you will lose. Just keep those non-qualifying dealer hands in mind.

Optional Bets in Caribbean Stud Poker

There’s no way around the ante. It is a mandatory bet. You don’t necessarily have to make the play bet, but you’re going to have to bet it quite often. The one bet that you definitely don’t have to make is the Bonus bet. This is only featured in Caribbean Stud games that have progressive jackpots. For those unfamiliar with progressives, these jackpots continuously build until they are won. Caribbean Stud progressive jackpots can easily grow into hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

To bet on the progressive jackpot, you need to place a separate progressive bet of a predetermined amount when you make your ante. For argument’s sake, the progressive bet at our table is $1. So, you place your $10 ante and a $1 Jackpot bet. You have to understand that the ante and play bets have nothing to do with the Jackpot bet. You don’t need to beat the dealer in order to win the Jackpot bet, you just need a certain minimum hand.

In most cases, a Royal Flush will win it all. However, a Straight Flush, Four of a Kind, Full House, or a Flush will usually qualify for some kind of payout. Here’s an example of a Caribbean Stud Progressive Jackpot payout table. Remember, the minimum bet amount and qualifying hands may differ depending on where you play.

Sample Progressive Jackpot Pay Table 
Royal FlushJackpot
Straight Flush10% of the Jackpot
Four of a Kind$500
Full House$100

Are Progressive Jackpots worth playing? A lot of experienced players will insist that Caribbean Stud Progressive Jackpots are a sucker bet. Let’s be honest; if you need a Flush to win $50, and the math says that getting a Flush happens just once every 526 hands, you can see why some players avoid these bets like the plague.

However, you might be justified for betting on the progressive jackpot if that jackpot is big enough. So what if the chance of getting a Royal Flush is 1 in 649,351 hands? If the jackpot is north of $650,000, then you could easily make a valid argument in favor of betting the progressive.

In the end, the decision to play progressive side pots is entirely up to you. However, if you are just learning Caribbean Stud, you are strongly advised to forget about the progressive bets until you have become comfortable with the basics of Caribbean Stud.

Putting All of This New-Found Knowledge to Work

You should now know enough about Caribbean Stud to hit the tables with confidence. But before you leave, let’s go over a couple of hands that incorporate some of the key things we’ve covered. We are sticking with the $10 ante, but the progressive jackpot is hovering around $600,000, so we’ll play that too for $1.

Your first hand is an A, K, Q, 6, 2 and the dealer is showing a Jack. The dealer’s up card doesn’t match any cards in your hand and your hand has a Queen in it. However, the dealer’s up card is higher than your second-lowest card. Sticking to the basic strategy, you fold your hand. You lose your $10 ante as well as the $1 jackpot bet.

The dealer then blesses you with three Jacks and then exposes an ace. You don’t hesitate to place the play bet. The dealer proceeds to turn the rest of his cards over revealing a pair of 10s. That’s a winner! You collect on your ante and play bets while forfeiting the $1 progressive bet.

You want to get one more hand in before you go home. You place your ante and progressive jackpot bet and the dealer sends a 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 Flush your way. What luck!! You excitedly make the play bet and the dealer flips his cards over. Oh! The humanity! The dealer’s hand failed to qualify. You make $10 on your ante, but your potential 5 to 1 Flush payout turns into a lousy push. That hand was a monster that deserved a much better fate. Hold on. As luck would have it, your Flush means that your $1 progressive jackpot bet is a winner. Things turned out alright after all.


Caribbean Stud is one of the purest forms of gambling you can partake in. The mighty gambling gods alone decide what cards show up. The only part of the game you can influence is the play bet. But this is the only decision you need to make. Bet or fold? Yes or no? Play recklessly or stick to the plan? The rest of it is sheer luck.

Even a person who has never heard of Caribbean Stud should be able to get the hang of the game after just a few hands. They might not understand the subtleties and finer points, but they will inevitably learn about some of them with each new hand. In all honesty, there are other casino poker games that give you better odds of winning, but Caribbean Stud is enjoyable and you can maximize your chances of winning if you adhere to basic strategy.


Can I play Caribbean Stud for free?

Yes. There are many sites including online casinos that let you play Caribbean Stud using play money. We highly recommend that beginners make use of free play Caribbean Stud until they are comfortable with the game. This allows them to experience the flow of the game and hone their strategy. A rookie mistake will end up being a learning experience instead of a costly error.

Can I up the amount of my play bet?

No. The only amount your play bet can be is double the ante amount. If the ante is $10, the play bet must be exactly $20.

Do I need to have a qualifying hand like the dealer does?

No. But basic strategy dictates that you fold if your hand is less than AK. What good can come out of betting anything less? In reality, the best thing that could happen is that the dealer doesn’t qualify and you win your ante bet. At worst, the dealer easily beats you and sucks up your ante and play bets.