Three Card Poker

By Henry Tamburin  What is Three Card Poker? The object of the game is to hope your three-card poker hand…

  • By Henry Tamburin 

What is Three Card Poker?

The object of the game is to hope your three-card poker hand beats the dealer’s three-card poker hand (the classic “you against the dealer”).

Or, if you do not want to bet against the dealer, you can bet instead that your three-card hand will be at least a pair or higher.

Three Card Poker Basic Rules

The game is played on a blackjack size table using a single deck of cards. Prior to the cards being dealt by the dealer you must decide whether you want to bet against the dealer’s hand or bet that your hand will be at least a pair or higher.

You also have the option of betting both ways – against the dealer and against the pay schedule.

If you want to compete against the dealer’s hand you must make a bet on the Ante.

If instead you want to bet that your three-card hand will be at least a pair or higher, then you would wager on the Pair Plus.

The betting spots for making these wagers are located directly in front of each player.

Example: Betting on the Ante

Let’s assume that you wager on the Ante. Here’s what happens next. The dealer will deal each player and himself three cards face down.

You pick up your cards, look at them, and decide whether you want to stay in the game or fold.

If you want to stay, you must make another equal wager in the Play betting spot.

If you decide instead to fold, you would place your cards face down on the layout toward the dealer. If you fold, the dealer will remove your cards and you lose your Ante bet.

After every player has decided whether to fold or Play, the dealer will face his cards and check whether it contains at least a queen or higher. 

If it does the dealer’s hand is said to “qualify” and he will then face each player’s hand that decided to stay in the game.

If your hand has a higher poker rank than the dealer’s hand, you win your Ante and Play wagers at even money (if you bet $5, you will win $5). If instead the dealer’s hand beats the player’s hand, the player’s Ante and Play wagers are lost.

StepActionSide Bet Option
1. AntePlace your BetPair Plus Side Bet
2. Deal 3 cards are dealt to player and 3 to dealerFind out if you won Pair Plus bet
3. Stay or FoldDetermine which is the smartest move based on your cards. (If you fold, you lose your bet here.)
4. RevealDealer shows cards.
5. Win or Weep!Strongest hand wins. Possible push if you tie.6 Card Bonus pays out if the two hands make a win.

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Additional rules

What if the dealer’s hand doesn’t qualify? This occurs if the dealer’s hand does not have at least a queen or higher.

When this occurs, the dealer will automatically pay each player who stayed in the game (i.e. wagered on the Play) even money on the Ante wager and return the Play wager to the player (it’s a push).

Bonus Payout Schedule

Players who make an Ante wager are also eligible for a bonus payout that will be paid regardless of whether the dealer qualifies or whether your hand beats the dealer’s hand.

The latter point is not trivial. Many players are turned off to Caribbean Stud Poker because if the dealer doesn’t qualify they get nothing for having a premium hand. This is not the case with Three Card Poker.

If you have a straight, three-of-a-kind or a straight flush you will automatically be paid a bonus according to the following schedule:

Ante Bonus

Hand

Payout

Likelihood

Straight Flush

5 to 1

0.22%

Three-of-a-Kind

4 to 1

0.24%

Straight

1 to 1


3.26%

Pair Plus Side Bet

If you don’t want to compete against the dealer’s hand, your other betting option is to wager on the Pair Plus. You win if your three-card hand contains at least a pair or higher.

The higher the poker rank, the greater the payout. You lose the Pair Plus bet if you end up with less than a pair. A typical payout schedule for Pair Plus is:

Pair Plus Payouts

Hand

Payout

Straight Flush

40 to 1

Three -of-a-Kind

30 to 1

Straight

6 to 1

Flush

3 to 1

Pair

1 to 1

As mentioned earlier you could wager on both the Ante and Pair Plus from the get-go (in fact in some gaming jurisdictions, you must wager on both). If you play both, you can bet different amounts.

However, keep in mind this rule. If you decide to fold your hand, you would not only lose your Ante wager but also your Pair Plus wager if you made it as well.

That seems like a bummer but actually it’s not because if you had a pair or higher and thus eligible for the Pair Plus payout you should not fold these hands.

6 Card Bonus

As a kind of super-side bet, online casinos are offering the 6 card bonus. The payouts speak for themselves:

HandPayout Where to play
Royal Flush1000:1BetMGM
Straight Flush200:1Golden Nugget
Four of a Kind50:1PartyCasino
Full House25:1Hard Rock
Flush20:1888
Straight10:1Borgata
Get the biggest payouts with online poker.

Of course your odds go down with side bets, but not as tremendously as you might fear.

Here’s your theoretical Return to Player percentage for all three options when you play online:

  • Ante bet: 96.63%
  • Pair Plus bet: 95.51%
  • 6 Card Bonus bet: 91.44%

Best Strategy for Three Card Poker

The only playing decision involved in Three Card Poker is whether or not to make the Play wager or to fold.

A simple basic playing strategy is to just mimic the dealer. That is make the Play wager if your hand contains a queen or higher, otherwise fold.

Stanley Ko in his excellent booklet Mastering the Game of Three Card Poker mathematically computed a more optimum playing strategy. He recommends making the Play wager only if you hold a Queen-6-4 hand or better. Since it’s not that difficult to memorize Q-6-4, I’d suggest using Ko’s optimized strategy.

The casino’s edge for the Pair Plus is 7.27%, and for the Ante wager it’s 3.37% based on the initial bet. (But, again, odds are better online…see the section above.)

Note: Some land-based casinos pay 4-1 for the flush on the Pair Plus and the house edge is lowered to 2.32%. 

Compared to the similar Caribbean Stud Poker and Let it Ride poker games, Three Card Poker is a better gamble.


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About the Author

Henry Tamburin has been a respected casino gambling writer for the past 50 years. He is the author of 888’s Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide and was editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter. You can get free bonus money just for registering with 888 online casino.