Three-Card Poker

How to Play Three-Card Poker

Three-Card Poker sounds like a prison game, doesn’t it? In fact, Three-Card Poker has become one of the most popular table games in casinos across the US.

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.

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 on:

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 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.

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 a wager in the Ante and/or Pair Plus circle(s) that must be equivalent to the table minimum. The dealer then distributes three cards 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 or higher, 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, is is compared to the players’ 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%.

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

  • 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 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%.

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. See, it’s that simple.

Three-Card Poker is both easy and fun. Have you played Three-Card Poker? Please share your thoughts below.

Until next time.

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About the Author
Natalie Faulk

Natalie Faulk

Natalie Faulk is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer/blogger and the author of several books. She is an avid low-stakes (for now) poker player and huge Vegas Golden Knights fan.

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