How To Play Three-Card Poker (Rules & Basic Strategy)

Three-Card Poker sounds like a prison game, doesn’t it? In fact, Three-Card Poker (sometimes stylized as “3-Card Poker”) has become one of the most popular table games in Las Vegas casinos and across the U.S.

Not only is the game quite simple to learn and play, but it is relatively slow-paced (so you won’t lose as much as faster-paced games) and also great fun.

Let’s take a look at Three Card Poker rules, strategy, and payoffs.

What is Three-Card Poker?

Invented by Derek Webb in 1994, Three-Card Poker is played with a standard deck of 52 cards and is actually two games in one:

First of all, there is the Ante/Play version where players compete against a dealer for the best hand.

Second, there is the Pair Plus aspect in which players place a side bet on whether or not they will be dealt a pair or better. In most casinos, however, in order to bet the Pair Plus portion, players must also make an Ante bet.

The Three Card Poker game is not to be confused with traditional poker, which pits players against other players. Three Card Poker is a casino game that puts the player against the house.

You won’t find Three Card Poker in the poker room of a casino in most cases. You will see the game in the casino pit, however, next to games like blackjack, roulette, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Let It Ride, Pai Gow Poker, and other table games.

How to Play Three-Card Poker

On a standard Three-Card Poker table, there are three betting circles in front of each player. The top circle is labeled Pair Plus and beneath this circle are two others labeled “Ante” and “Play.”

three card poker table

Play begins with the player making an Ante wager, along with an optional Pair Plus wager, both of which must be equivalent to the table minimum. The dealer then distributes three cards face down to each player.

If a player has a bet in the Ante circle, s/he must choose to play or fold. Should the player decide to fold, then his/her ante is forfeited. If, however, the player wishes to continue, then s/he must place an additional bet in the Play circle that is equal to his/her Ante.

Once betting is finished, the dealer displays his/her three-card hand. The dealer must have a “qualifying” hand of queen-high or better, otherwise all of the players will be paid for their Ante and their Play bets will be returned to them.

If, however, the dealer’s hand does qualify, it is compared to the player’s hands to determine a winner. Obviously, if the player’s hand is better, then s/he will be paid for both his/her Ante and Play bets. If the dealer’s hand is better, the player will lose both bets. Any ties go to the player.

Three-Card Poker Hand Rankings

Since each hand consists of only three cards, the rankings differ from standard poker rankings. Three-Card Poker hand rankings are—from high to low—as follows:

  • Straight flush – three consecutive cards of the same suit
  • Three-of-a-kind – three cards of the same rank
  • Straight – three consecutive cards of mixed suits
  • Flush – three cards of the same suit
  • Pair – two cards of the same rank
  • High card

Bonuses in Three-Card Poker

If a player has a straight, three-of-a-kind, or straight flush, then s/he will be paid an Ante bonus based on the player’s ante and the table’s posted pay table. Generally, a straight bonus is 1:1, a three-of-a-kind bonus is 4:1, and a straight flush bonus is 5:1. Even if a player has a losing hand compared to the dealer, s/he will still receive his/her Ante bonus, if applicable. The house edge for this bonus is generally around 3.37%.

Ante Bonus Payouts

  • Straight Flush – 5:1
  • Three of a kind – 4:1
  • Straight – 1:1

Players can also earn Pair Plus bonuses as follows (again, the actual pay depends on the casino, but generally)

Pair Plus Bonus Payouts

  • Straight flush – 40:1
  • Three of a kind – 30:1
  • Straight – 6:1
  • Flush – 4:1
  • Pair – 1:1

Some casinos have a mini Royal hand—A, K, Q of the same suit—and the Pair Plus bet bonus for this hand is typically 80:1. For the Pair Plus bonus, the house’s edge is around 2.32% unless the casino lowers its flush bonus to 3:1. This increases the house’s edge to 7.28%.

The biggest possible payouts in Three Card Poker come from the 6-Card Bonus paytable. These payouts come from combining your hand with the dealer’s hand.

The highest payout, the Royal Flush, happens when the two combined hands form a Royal Flush.

Some casinos pay the Royal Flush bonus if any five of the six cards form a royal flush (ten through ace of all the same suit). Other casinos require that all six cards play, and the cards must combine for nine through ace of all the same suit.

Six-Card Bonus Payouts

  • Royal Flush – 1000:1
  • Straight flush – 200:1
  • Four of a kind – 50:1
  • Full House – 25:1
  • Flush – 20:1
  • Straight – 10:1
  • Three of a kind – 5:1

Three-Card Poker Strategy

Because there are only three cards, strategy for Three-Card Poker is quite simple.

If a player has a hand lower than Q, 6, 4, he should fold based on the mathematical probability of being able to beat any other random three-card hands. Anything higher than this queen-high hand with a 6-4 kicker should always result in a play wager.

Three-Card Poker is both easy and fun. Have you played this casino favorite poker game? Please share your thoughts below.

Until next time.

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