Poker: Caribbean rush

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CARIBBEAN stud is the latest craze in Las Vegas. It is a new gambling game based on poker, played at a special table like blackjack. The punters love it, as a more direct and exciting experience of poker compared with poker on slot machines. The casinos love it, too, because it is such a good game for the house.

The extra attraction offered by Caribbean stud is a lottery-style jackpot for a royal straight flush. A special 'drop slot' is set into the table in front of each player, to make this bet.

The basic rules are simple. The game is in two parts, an ante and a bet, with a decision in between, which is what makes the game exciting. To start with, each player makes an opening bet, of a dollar or five dollars, or any amount he chooses, which is the ante, and is dealt five cards. The dealer also receives five cards and turns over his top card, which gives the players a slight clue to his hand. All this is done by a mechanical dealing device, which looks weird in its endless robot-like precision, but prevents cheating. Now comes the decision. If a player decides his hand is too weak to bet, he folds, losing simply his ante. If he decides to 'call' the dealer, he has to make a further bet, by wagering double his ante on the hand. The dealer turns over his cards, and the higher hand wins in the usual way.

( ) ante square

( ) bet square

There is one rider, however. Unless the dealer's hand is Ace-King high or better, his hand is deemed not 'qualified' and the bets do not go: players simply win even money for their antes, and their bets are returned. If the dealer's hand qualifies, all the hands are shown down as in normal poker. Players are paid even money for their bets, with better odds for good hands, eg 3-1 for trips, 4-1 for a straight, 5-1 for a flush and 7-1 for a full house.

The key question, obviously, is what to play on (necessitating a bet of double your ante) and what to fold (surrendering your ante). According to statistical analysis of Caribbean stud, the correct strategy is to bet your hand if you hold any any pair or better; and to fold all non-pair hands unless they are A-K high and also contain a dealer up-card. The odds are then 2.7 per cent against the player, which is the same as European roulette, though most punters play much worse.

The progressive jackpot offered at Caribbean stud is an optional side bet, at a dollar a time, for catching a royal straight flush. The amount of the jackpot can be seen on a little meter at the table, flashing up the running total from all the Caribbean stud tables around the casino.

Given that a royal straight flush is dealt out only once in 649,740 hands, you have to ask yourself if it's really worth it to gamble your buck if the jackpot stands at only around dollars 100,000. True casino gamblers, who are not, by definition, true poker players, don't stop to worry about such niceties.