For a game that’s extremely simple and requires very little strategy on the part of the player, Three Card Poker is amazingly fun and addictive. Maybe it’s because of the big payouts, or the fact that (for most players) it’s two games in one, but whatever the reason, it has quickly become one of the most popular, exciting games in both offline and online casinos.
The basics are the game are simple: make a better three card hand than the dealer, and you win. However, the complete rules are slightly more complex, and there is a small amount of strategy you can use to improve your odds of winning.
How a Normal Hand Plays Out
At the start of a hand, each player has the option of making two different bets; players can elect to play both, or just one of their choosing. The main bet is typically known as the Ante (or Play) bet, while the secondary game is known as Pair Plus.
So, the main game begins with a player making an ante bet. The player and dealer will both receive a three-card hand, face down. The player may examine their cards at this point.
If the player wishes to continue playing, they must make a “Raise” bet equal in size to their Ante bet. Otherwise, the player may choose to fold, forfeiting their initial Ante bet but putting no further money at risk.
Players can raise or fold after receiving their hand. In this case we’ll be raising!
After all players have decided to raise or fold, the dealer will reveal his hand. First, the dealer will check to see if his hand qualifies; a qualifying hand is any hand of queen-high or better. If the dealer does not qualify, all players still in the hand win even money on their Ante bet, and will have their Raise bets returned.
If the dealer does qualify, the dealer’s hand is compared to the player’s hand to see which is higher. Hand rankings in 3 card poker differ slightly from standard poker, and are as follows (from best to worst):
- Straight Flush
- Three of a Kind
- High Card
If the dealer beats the player, the player forfeits both the Ante and Raise bets. If the player wins against a qualifying dealer, they win even money on both their Ante and Raise bets. For very strong hands, the player may also receive an Ante bonus. This bonus should be paid whether the player wins or loses, and is usually awarded based on the following pay table:
- Straight Flush: 5-1
- Three of a Kind: 4-1
- Straight: 1-1
The Pairplus bet is almost like a separate game from the Ante bet discussed above, and may be played in addition to (or instead of) the Ante bet.
The Pairplus bet is very simple, and does not require the player to beat the dealer. It simply pays out based on the strength of the player’s hand. As you might have guessed from the name, the player will need a pair or better in order to win. Pay tables for the Pairplus bet can vary greatly, but the most common pay chart is as follows:
- Straight Flush: 40-1
- Three of a Kind: 30-1
- Straight: 5-1
- Flush: 4-1
- Pair: 1-1
Some tables may also pay out more for a “mini-royal,” which is defined as a hand made up of an ace, king and queen of the same suit.
Real Money Play
No matter where you play 3 card Poker for real money, you’ll end up playing by the same rules. However, you might see some differences in the name of the game and the bets. For trademark related reasons, many online casinos offer the game under slightly different names; the most common example of this being Tri Card Poker. Since most casino sites offer play money versions of their table games, you should be able to check them out first before you make a deposit.
Where you will find differences in online 3 card poker games is in the odds offered. Both the Ante Bonus and the Pairplus bet have many different possible pay tables, and you’ll find that some internet casinos offer better payouts than others. For instance, most major gambling operators usually offer slightly more favorable pay tables; the ante bonus is the standard 5-4-1 payout, while the Pair Plus bet offers 6-1 on straights, which is better than the 5-1 seen at many live casinos. Be on the lookout, however, for the minority of casinos which offer less than the full-pay odds. The image to the right shows the best odds you can get online. If you’re playing with worse odds, you need to move site quicksmart.
What are the Best Sites?
Many Three Card Poker tables now offer a progressive jackpot. Typically, these jackpots can be played for a $1 bet, and pay out for hands of a straight or better (or for some tables, three of a kind or better). The jackpot amount typically pays out if a player makes a “mini-royal” in spades.
Strategy is a Piece of Cake
3 Card Poker is easy to play and the optimal strategy is not hard to memorize. When making the Ante bet, you should also make the Raise bet whenever you have a hand of Q64 or better. This, of course, includes all hands of a pair or better. The Pairplus bet has no strategy to follow – you’ll just have to hope the dealer gives you the straight flush you’re waiting for!
If you follow the strategy outlined above, and the table you’re playing at has the same payouts on the Ante Bonus listed earlier, the house edge on the Ante bet is 3.37%.
The Pairplus bet is slightly trickier, as different pay tables are more common. However, given the payouts mentioned above, the house edge is 5.57%. On the other hand, a slightly better pay table – one that offers 6-1 for a straight – would lower that house edge to a much more reasonable 2.32%. The presence of an additional payout for a mini-royal can also have a slight effect on the house edge.