In a divide between poker games and poker-based table games, Three Card Poker falls on the poker-based side.

  • You're not playing against other players.
  • The house edge doesn't come from taking a share of pots. 

You're playing against the dealer or a pay table. Other players' hands don't matter to you, and the house has an edge built into the game’s odds.

That's not unusual. Caribbean Stud Poker was the trailblazer for poker-based games. Let It Ride, Four Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold'em, Mississippi Stud Poker and more have since followed.

Three Card Poker is played both online and in live casinos. 

  • Online, you'll find it in a menu of games. 
  • Live in the U.S., it's in table games pits right alongside blackjack, craps, and roulette. 
  • In European casinos, you may find it either in the pits or in card rooms.

Assuming you make a hand of a specific value, Three Card Poker can have pretty big payouts! It’s also a straightforward and easy game to learn. 

So, read on to find more about this popular casino table game and exactly how to win at Three Card Poker!

Table of Contents

Three Card Poker: How to Play

This section will cover everything you need to know for how to play Three Card Poker at a casino, including how to win at Three Card Poker.

 

3 Card Poker

THREE CARD POKER REQUIREMENTS

In live casinos, this game is played with one 52-card deck and betting chips. Automatic shuffling machines are often in action, with one deck shuffling while another is in play.

Online, Three Card Poker most often has virtual representations of cards and playing chips. There is also a credit meter to show how much you have available for wagering. 
Some casinos use streaming video of a live dealer instead of virtual cards.

THREE CARD POKER OBJECTIVE

How to beat Three Card Poker is simple: You want to make the best three-card poker hand possible! There’s no exchanging or drawing more cards like “hits” like in Blackjack. It’s merely about the cards you’re initially dealt.

That makes it a "stud" poker-based game rather than "draw" poker.

Depending on how you choose to bet, you’ll either want to (1) hope to make a pair or better; and/or (2) have your hand outrank the dealer.  

Player VS Dealer

THREE CARD POKER RANKINGS

Three Card Poker hand rankings are simple: You want the highest poker-ranked card(s) in your hand to win! Do note that Three Card Poker rankings are slightly different from regular poker.

  • In Three Card Poker, straights outrank flushes.
  • In five-card games, flushes outrank straights.

There are more possible ways to make flushes than straights in Three Card Poker. Also, there are more ways to make straights than flushes in most other games.

Here they are ranked from best to worst:

  • Straight Flush: Three cards of consecutive value and in the same suit (i.e., Kc-Qc-Jc)
  • 3 of a Kind: Three cards that match of equal value (i.e., 8-8-8)
  • Straight: Three cards of consecutive value (i.e., 6-7-8)
  • Flush: Three cards of the same suit (i.e., Ad-9d-3d)
  • Pair: Two matching cards of equal
  • Value, plus one “kicker” (i.e., A-A-4)
  • High Card: Non-paired cards with no consecutive order or suit matching between the cards (i.e., Qc-6s-4d)

Note that for a high card hand, any A-X-X hand will beat a K-X-X hand; in other words, even if you have A-3-4, you’ll still beat a holding of K-Q-9, even though the average value of the K-9-8 might be higher. Additionally, note that if the first high card is “tied” in a high card hand, then the second card will determine the winner, and so on.

Also, notice that even if two players have a hand of the same poker hand ranking (i.e., a pair), the player of the higher value of hand within that rank will win (i.e., A-A-2 beats 2-2-A, as one as a pair of Aces and the other only has a pair of 2s).

How to Play: Three Card Poker Rules

  1. Betting: There are two betting options in Three Card Poker:
     
    • Ante-Play: Where you’ll be playing your hand against the dealer’s, trying to make the highest-ranking poker hand.
       
    • Pair Plus: Where you’ll aim to make a hand of a pair or better with your hand. (The dealer’s hand is irrelevant for this bet.)
       
    • NOTE: Different casinos have different betting requirements. Some require you to put forward an ante if you want to play a hand, with the Pair Plus bet being optional. Other casinos allow you the choice to play with the Ante or the Pair Plus.
       
  2. Dealing: Three cards are then dealt face-down to each player in the hand and the dealer. Like blackjack, as mentioned earlier, you’re trying to beat the dealer if you use the “ante-play” betting option. The other players’ cards are irrelevant to whether you win or lose.
     
  3. Playing Action: After the players receive their cards, it is then their turn to act. They either have the option of “playing” their hand or discarding it.
     
    • If the player discards their hand, the dealer wins the player’s initial ante. 
       
    • If the player wants to keep playing, they must place forward a "Play” bet. The play bet amount must match the ante that the player initially used. Typically, in live casinos, these chips will play after a player arranges his hand sequentially and then places these cards face-down in the area marked “play.” 
       
    • You touch or click on an icon in online casinos to make a play bet, and credits are deducted from your meter.
       
  4. Winning and Payouts: The next step of the hand is for the dealer to reveal player cards, followed by their own. Online, this is done automatically once all play or fold decisions are complete. Then hands are compared, and any appropriate monies are collected or paid out:
     
    • If the dealer has a Jack-high High Card hand or worse, the hand doesn’t qualify to be “played.” All players still in the hand will win the amount of the “ante” bet but will push with their “play” bet. So, they simply collect back the chip(s) originally in play but don’t win an additional amount for this wager.

      Even if the dealer’s hand is better than the player’s hand, the player wins on the ante if the dealer doesn't qualify. At the same time, they’ll “push” with their Play wager and get their chips back after the hand. (Say the dealer has J-4-3 and the player has T-9-7 and played. The player will win the amount of their ante for the hand.)
       
    • Suppose the dealer has a Queen-high High Card hand or better. Their hand “plays” and ranks compared to the player’s hand. If the player’s hand is better, the player wins the amount equivalent to both their ante and play bets. If the dealer’s hand wins, the player’s money from these betting actions is collected accordingly. 

Casinos typically offer Ante Bonus payouts, too, if you make one of the strongest of hands. These payouts on straights or better are part of the ante-play portion of the game and require no additional wagering. 

Payouts for the Ante Bonus might look something like this but are subject to different payout structures:

  • Straight: 1 to 1
  • Three-of-a-Kind: 4 to 1 (or 2 to 1 or 3 to 1)
  • Straight Flush: 5 to 1 (or 3 to 1 or 4 to 1)
  • The most common pay table is 5-1 on straight flushes, 4-1 on three-of-a-kind and 1-1 on straights. But don't be surprised if you see reduced payouts.

Three Card Poker Rules: Pair Plus Payouts

Pair Plus Payouts

The Pair Plus wager acts independently of ante-play. Players win with any pair or better or lose the bet if dealt a High Card hand. The dealer's hand does not affect the outcome of Pair Plus hands. 

  • You don't have to beat the dealer. 
  • Winners are paid according to a pay table posted on the table or online on the screen.  

Though these can differ from casino-to-casino and place-to-place, here are the standard Three Card Poker odds used for Pair Plus payouts typically used in America, along with select payout variations used:

  • Pair: 1 to 1
  • Flush: 3 to 1 (or 4 to 1)
  • Straight: 6 to 1 (or 5 to 1)
  • Three-of-a-Kind: 30 to 1 (or 25 to 1)
  • Straight Flush: 40 to 1 

The most common version uses the payoffs that are not in parentheses. Some casinos add a bigger payout at the top. They’ll separate a "mini royal" of Ace-King-Queen of the same suit from other straight flushes. Mini royals usually pay 50-1 though they have been spotted at 100-1.

Three Card Poker Rules: Stakes

There are minimum and maximum bet sizes at Three Card Poker Tables. If it’s a $5 minimum table, though, “playing” a hand of ante-play will cost $10 total if you make the play bet: $5 for the ante wager and $5 for the play wager if you decide to keep and play your hand against the dealer. If you also bet $5 on Pair Plus, your total risk is $15.

When played, the ante and play chips must always be of the same numeric value. But they can differ from the amount used for the Pair Plus wager. 

Note that the Pair Plus wager must still be within the minimum and maximum table stake values.

Three Card Poker Strategy and House Edge

Optimal strategy for Three Card Poker indicates you should do the following – 

  • Play all hands of a value of Q-6-4 or better, including all pairs
  • And fold everything else

This ante-bet game will always give the house a slight edge of around 2% of your total of ante and play bets over the long term. You don't make the play bet on every hand. So, another way to look at the house edge is 3.4% of the ante. 

Strategy and House Edge

That varies with payouts on the ante bonus. If straight flushes pay 5-1, three-of-a-kind 4-1 and straights 1-1. That leaves house edges of 2.01% of total action or 3.4% of ante. 

If ante bonuses are only 3-1 on straight flushes, 2-1 on three of a mind and 1-1 on straights, house edges on ante-play increase to 2.6% of total wagers or 4.3% of antes.

In Pair Plus, small changes make significant differences in the house edge.

In the most common version in the United States, the house edge is 7.28%, with the following payoffs – 

  • 40-1 on straight flushes
  • 30-1 on three of a kind
  • 6-1 on straights
  • 3-1 on flushes 
  • 1-1 on pairs

If only one change is made, with flushes paying 4-1, the edge drops to 2.32%. A version sometimes seen in Europe pays 35-1 on straight flushes, 33-1 on three of a kind, 6-1 on straights, 4-1 on flushes and 1-1 on pairs. That house edge is 2.7% edge.

Three Card Poker: Etiquette

Regarding etiquette in Three Card Poker, there are three things to note:

  • Playing your hand: If you want not just to ante up but also play your hand, arrange your cards from low to high, place them horizontally face-down in the “play” box, and then place your “play” wager on top of your cards.
     
  • Folding your hand: If you anted-up but don’t want to “play” your hand, you can toss your cards forwards towards the dealer.
     
  • Tipping: It’s customary to tip dealers when you win. While the amount and frequency you tip are up to you, 10% is usually acceptable. (Remember that you can use $1 chips if you’re playing with $5 chips.) After a hand, to tip your dealer, place it to the right of any of the betting circles: Pair Plus, Ante, or Play.

    Alternatively, you can bet for the dealer. In the United States, this form of tipping is the most common. Place an additional ante directly in front of your ante space. Then if you win, so does the dealer.

House Rules: Every Casino Is Different

It’s essential to shed light on some rule differences from one casino to the next:

  • Number of Simultaneous Hands for One Player: Some casinos only allow players to play one hand at a time. Others allow one player to play multiple hands at once (across the different betting sections at the same table).

Every Casino Is Different

  • Sharing Your Hole Cards: Most casinos have a strict ONE player per hand policy. You may not show other players your hand. Other places allow players to share their hole cards and help each other decide on how to play their hand(s).
     
  • Which Bet MUST Be Placed: Some places require putting forward an ante chip to play a Three Card Poker hand, leaving the Pair Plus as an optional wager. In other casinos, you can bet ante-play, Pair Plus or both. You don't have to be ante-play to bet Pair Plus. 

Advantage Play: Three Card Poker

Opportunities to swing the mathematical edge in your favour are rare in Three Card Poker live games. 

Cards are shuffled for every hand. 

So, you can't track the balance of remaining high and low cards as in blackjack card counting. 

If you can see other players' cards, it can help you decide on the play bet. So, most casinos don't allow sharing that information. It could change the game if you see enough player cards. 
You could easily determine if there is a higher or lower proportion of Queens or higher available to the dealer. 

Seeing a dealer card gives you much more valuable information. Any card exposed is a third of the dealer’s hand. And even one exposed card can swing your strategy.

Dealers don't expose cards often. 

  • But it occasionally happens when they move their three cards from the shuffler to their spot. 
  • Sometimes, the dealer lifts the cards high enough to see the bottom card.

When the dealer exposes a high card, the best ante-play strategy moves from playing with Queen-6-4 or better to this:

  • If you see a dealer Queen, play with Queen-9-2 or better and fold with less.
  • If you see a dealer King, play with King-9-2 or better and fold with less.
  • If you see a dealer Ace, play with Ace-9-2 or better and fold with less.

That turns the 2.0% house edge on ante-play to a 3.5% player edge.

Such play is not regarded as cheating, at least in the United States. In cases involving blackjack and other games, courts have repeatedly ruled that players may use all information from exposed cards. Such rulings have never gone against players.

Cheating or not, these plays are not possible online. No dealer cards are exposed before betting ends. So, there is no extra information to use to your advantage.

Three Card Poker Online

Three Card Poker is a popular table game in live casinos. In the United States, it's the third most played game in the table pits, trailing only blackjack and craps. More money is wagered on baccarat, which attracts big bettors, but Three Card Poker has more players.

Naturally enough, online casinos have picked up on the popularity, and Three Card Poker has become a standard offering.

Here are the main differences between live and online games – 

  • Instead of physical cards and chips, virtual representations are used. 
  • Some casinos use streams of live dealers distributing cards, but usually, virtual cards appear on the screen.
  • A random number generator determines hands.

But at its core, Three Card Poker is the same in live and online games. The odds, house edges and strategies are the same online as in live casinos.

Three Card Poker Summary

We hope that this guide has helped explain how to play 3 Card Poker and win! It’s undoubtedly an easy table game to learn and an enjoyable one to play.

Remember all the different betting options available. And be sure to research what the House Rules are for the Three Card Poker game you’re playing. 

Good luck!

 

*Credits for main photo in this article belongs to Eran Alergant

 

For our web story about 3 card poker

 
About the Author
By
Matthew Cluff is a poker player who specialises in 6-Max No Limit Hold’em games. He also periodically provides online poker content for various sites.
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