How to Play Caribbean Hold’em

Caribbean Holdem Logo

Texas Hold’em has often been referred to as the Cadillac of Poker, and if that’s true, Caribbean Hold’em is definitely a hybrid model. The game combines the two card hands and use of five community cards that makes Texas Hold’em such a challenge, while incorporating the one on one elements of other table games like blackjack and baccarat.

The result is an action packed game that comes at you fast and furious, but one that also requires strategic analysis and card sense to make the proper decision on each hand. For a visual look at what Caribbean Hold’em is all about, take a look at Bovada Casino’s game page to see how the game functions at a legitimate online casino.

Caribbean Hold’em is one of the three Caribbean inspired table games that have captivated the attention of gaming enthusiasts around the world during the last decade. By pitting the player against the house, in the form of a lone dealer, the game resembles blackjack in many ways, but from the first time a flop falls, you’ll definitely know you’re playing Hold’em.

But instead of taking your chances against eight other opponents at a proper poker table, not to mention the card sharks and pros waiting to devour your chip stack if you make a mistake, Caribbean Hold’em offers limited betting (and thus limited risk), along with only one opponent to beat in the dealer.

Fans of Caribbean Hold’em also love the prospect of placing a small side bet on the progressive jackpot, hoping to turn a measly $1 into thousands more just by completing a huge hand like a straight flush or Royal Flush.

The idea that you can bet small and win big forms much of this game’s appeal, because even when you don’t dabble on the progressive jackpot, your basic ante bet can reap large returns when you make big hands against the dealer’s qualifying hand.

To learn more about the game play and mechanics involved in a session of Caribbean Hold’em, look no further. This detailed primer was designed to turn novices into know it alls in just a few minutes, by walking you through example hands and covering all of the possible scenarios you may encounter along the way.

Finally, once you’ve brushed up on the rules of the game, you’ll find a strategy section containing useful tips for players trying to decrease the house edge and play the game profitably.

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How to Play

When you begin a game of Caribbean Hold’em, you’ll probably feel like you’re sitting at a blackjack table at first. The layout is very similar, as you’ll see betting squares in front of your area, along with spaces for your hand, the dealer’s hand, and the community cards.

The game begins when you place a mandatory ante bet, and this can be any amount you choose depending on your bankroll limitations. Many players enjoy Caribbean Hold’em for just $1 per hand, while others like to bump the action up to $5 or $10 per hand or even more. After you’ve made the ante wager, an action performed by simply clicking the chip amounts you’d like to bet, clicking deal will cause the dealer to distribute two cards face up to form your hand, and two cards face down to form their own hand. Finally, the dealer will place three cards face up in the middle of the table, and just like traditional Texas Hold’em, these crucial community cards are known as the flop.

The objective of Caribbean Hold’em is to form the best five card poker hand, by combining either one or both of your two hole cards with the community cards on board. For example, if you ante up and are dealt an ace and king, while the flop comes down queen jack ten, this five card combination gives you the Broadway straight. A more likely scenario, however, would see you receive something like a queen and ten, with one more ten arriving on the flop. In this case, you’ve made a pair of tens at minimum, with the chance to improve your hand on the arrival of the next two community cards.

Caribbean Holdem

Those two cards can only hit the felt on certain conditions though, and this forms the basis of Caribbean Hold’em as a game of skill. After you ante up and take a look at your two hole cards, along with the flop, the time has come to make a choice: you can either fold (when your two cards fail to connect with the flop) while surrendering your ante bet, or you can call and see the next two community cards. In order to call, you must place an additional wager equal to exactly twice the amount of your ante bet.

So, if you’ve decided on an ante bet of $5, and you like the look of your hand after the flop, calling to play the hand out will cost you $10 more for a total wager of $15. On the other hand, if your hole cards are marginal and you’d rather move on to the next hand, folding and surrendering simply costs you the ante bet.

You’ll be calling more often than folding in this game (see the strategy section below for guidelines on how to make this decision correctly), and when you do, the dealer will place two more cards face up along with the flop. At this point the hand is fully dealt, and your best five card poker hand is compared with the dealers to determine the winner. The standard poker hand hierarchy is in place, so one pair beats ace high, two pair beats one pair, three of a kind beats two pair, and so on.

The dealer’s hand must rank at a pair of fours or better to qualify in Caribbean Hold’em. Knowing what makes a qualifying hand is essential in this game, because your call bet and the associated bonus is only paid out when you beat a qualifying dealer hand.

For example, when you make a flush but the dealer only produces a pair of threes or any hand lower than a pair of fours, your ante bet will be paid out at 1 to 1, but the additional call bet is simply returned to you as a push. In this scenario, you would have also been entitled to the 2 to 1 bonus payout on your ante bet for making a flush, but because the dealer did not qualify, your ante bet would be paid at 1 to 1 instead.

When your hand beats the dealer’s non-qualifying hand, ante bets are always paid out at 1 to 1, but ante bets can produce bonus payouts when you make big hands against a dealer’s qualifying hand. The table below illustrates the bonus payouts for Caribbean Hold’em:

Hand Rank Description Raise Odds
Royal Flush A, K, Q, J, 10 of same suit 100:1
Straight Flush 5 cards of the same suit in sequence 20:1
4 of a Kind 4 cards of same rank 10:1
Full House 3 of a Kind, plus a pair 3:1
Flush 5 cards of same suit 2:1
Straight 5 cards in sequence, mixed suits 1:1
3 of a Kind 3 cards of same rank 1:1
Two pair 2 pairs of different rank 1:1
One pair 1 pair (2 cards) of same rank 1:1
High card 3 cards of same rank 1:1

Proper Strategy

As is true with most table games, one of the biggest strategic elements you can rely on is basic discipline. You’ll undoubtedly want to try out the progressive jackpot side bet, especially with a running banner displaying the jackpot amount as it inches higher. And while these bets can be a fun diversion on occasion, winning at Caribbean Hold’em requires you to avoid this bet whenever possible.

The house edge for this game is one of the lowest around at just 2.16 percent, which places it alongside blackjack and baccarat as among the most favorable on the casino floor.

However, by siphoning off $1 per hand on the progressive jackpot bet, you’re significantly increasing the house edge while reducing your overall profitability over the long run. One industry expert has calculated that players need a jackpot amount over $200,000 to make this side bet a break-even play.

Other than that, you’ll stay on the right side of variance simply by making the most logical choice given the five cards exposed on the felt. By comparing your two hole cards to the flop, and assessing the relative strength of your holding, you should be able to fold when situations are unfavorable to you.

Players who lose consistently at Caribbean Hold’em simply play every hand they’re dealt while refusing to fold, but statistical analysis has shown that winning players are folding around 19 percent of their hands. This means roughly one hand out of every five you see should be folded. The key is deciding which four hands to keep.

One useful resource to play around with while preparing for a Caribbean Hold’em session is this hand strength calculator. By plugging in any two card hand you’re interested in, along with various three card flops, the tool will spit back accurate data on your expected value should you choose to fold or to call. After an hour or so using this calculator, you’ll likely see your innate card sense suddenly improve, because you’ll encounter situations that you’ve played before.