Three Card Poker is a casino poker variant introduced by Derek Webb and Prime Table Games in 1994. He wanted to invent an easy-to-learn and fast-paced poker game with a twist.
The game would feature a big enough house edge to appeal to casinos, yet it would also be low enough to appeal to players. Over 25 years later, Three Card Poker is among the most popular casino table games at both land-based and online casinos.
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The Layman’s Description of Three Card Poker
The basics of Three Card Poker are straightforward to understand. It’s a card game that is somewhat similar to both regular Poker, Blackjack, and Caribbean Stud, in which each player places one or more bets in front of them before the players and the dealer get three cards each.
The players assess their hands and decide whether to bet or fold. If they choose to bet, they compare their hands with the dealer. Of course, you win if your hand is better than the dealer, right? Well, that’s not entirely true.
The dealer’s hand must qualify to play. That is to say, the dealer must have at least a queen high to play. The Play bet is a push if the dealer doesn’t have a qualifying hand. However, the original ante bet pays back 1 to 1. If the player made such wagers, they could also cash in on their side bets. Because players only have three cards, this dramatically changes the hand rankings. The Three Card Poker hand rankings are:
- Straight Flush
- Three of a Kind
- High Card
Types of Three Card Poker Bets
When you take a seat at A Three Card Poker table, you will see a few different betting circles on the table. However, let’s focus on the two main bets for the time being. The two main bets to start the game are the ante bet, and the Pairs Plus bet.
While you must pay the ante, Pairs Plus is optional. If you decide to wager on Pairs Plus, you’re betting that your Three Card hand will be a pair or better. The Pairs Plus bet has nothing to do with the dealer’s hand. If your hand qualifies as a winner, you are paid out according to the strength of your three-card hand. Pairs Plus pays out as follows.
|Pair Plus Payout Scale|
|Straight Flush||40 to 1|
|Three of a Kind||30 to 1|
|Straight||5 to 1|
|Flush||4 to 1|
|Pair||1 to 1|
As for the ante? It’s a mandatory bet that you make to commence the round. When you get your cards, you can either fold or make a “Play” bet equal to the ante. You lose your staked ante if you fold. However, the dealer pays you according to the payout table if you make the Play bet and win.
If you’ve ever played Caribbean Stud, you may have been frustrated by receiving a lousy push when you had a big hand the dealer failed to qualify. Whether you beat the dealer, you have a shot at the Ante Bonus if your hand is straight or better. Again, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose the hand. Trips or better get paid out according to the table below.
|Ante Bonus Payout Scale|
|Straight Flush||5 to 1|
|Three of a Kind||4 to 1|
|Straight||1 to 1|
So, if your straight to the eight loses to the dealer’s nine-high straight, You’d lose your ante and Play bet, but you’d win the ante bonus.
A Sample Hand
Let’s play a couple of imaginary hands to give you a sense of how a hand of Three Card Poker can play out. We’ll stick with making the ante bet and the subsequent Play bet. So, you’re seated at the Three Card Poker table, and you place the ante $10 and ignore the other bets.
You get a pair of kings and an ace to go with it, and the only decision you need to make is whether to fold or play. In this case, the Play bet is in order, so you make it. You will now compare hands with the dealer. On this hand, the dealer barely qualified with Queen, Jack, and a 2. So you get paid 1 to 1 on your ante and play bet.
Now, let’s play out a similar scenario. You place your $10 ante and get a 5, 6, 7—a straight. You make your Place wager, and all cards are revealed. The stomach pains quickly set in as the dealer shows a Jack-high straight. But wait, even though you lost your $10 ante and $10 play bet, you still get something back because your straight automatically pays out 1 to 1 according to the Ante Bonus Payout Scale.
It’s time to pay close attention. You have placed the ante in that same 5, 6, 7 straight as you had before. You rightfully make the Play bet only to find out the dealer’s hand didn’t qualify. What does this mean for your ante and Play wagers? If the dealer doesn’t qualify, the Play wagers are returned, but your initial ante bet is paid out at 1 to 1. So, in this case, you’d get your $10 Play bet back, plus your ante bet would return $20. You’d still walk away with a $10 profit. But wait!! You also had a straight few chips to the pile.
Betting Pairs Plus
It’s time to mix it up by reintroducing the Pairs Plus bet. You place your $10 ante and a $10 Pairs Plus wager. The dealer serves you an ace, king, and a three. Naturally, you make the play bet and beat the dealer’s King-high. That nets you a $40 return for beating the dealer, but you lost the $10 Pair Plus bet.
Next, you place your $10 ante and the $10 Pairs Plus bet and look down to find you’re holding a pair of twos and a nine. You’ve already won the Pairs Plus bet, and you should feel confident that your hand will beat the dealer.
You make the play bet only to find out the dealer has a pair of threes. Ouch! You lose the $10 ante and the $10 Play bet, but the Pair Plus bet pays out, even taking a bit of the sting away. Remember, Pairs Plus doesn’t involve the dealer’s hand at all. Just the payout scale.
Three Card Poker: Basic Strategy
You have one decision to make once you have your cards. Will you make the Play bet, or will you fold? This first part is the only part of the game you can control, so it’s crucial to make the right decisions. Here is where a basic strategy comes into play. You don’t have to follow this strategy, but it will go a long way toward minimizing losses.
The internet with rife with in-depth Three Card Poker guides, and you should check some of them out. But for now, following these rules will make you a better player. Spoiler alert! There’s not a lot to remember.
One effective basic strategy dictates that you fold anything under a Queen – 6 – 4. Of course, it’s a different story if they are suited. If you have a Queen – 6 – 4 or better, you can proceed with the Play bet. A Queen – 7 would also barely qualify for a Play bet no matter what the third card is. So, the only decision you need to consider is whether to play or fold. Use this small window of opportunity to employ your primary strategy. If it’s better than Q- 6 -4, play it. If not, fold them up.
More Sample Hands
You place your $10 ante and $10 Pairs Plus bet, and you’re given an unsuited J, 10, 3 for your troubles. The basic strategy says we need to fold. You forfeit the ante, and your Pairs Plus bet for a $20 loss. You make the same bets, and you are rewarded with an unsuited 7, 8, 9.
That’s straight, which means you have won your Pairs Plus bet for a 5 to 1 payout. You have also cashed in on the Ante Bonus for a 1 to 1 payout, and you still haven’t seen the dealer’s cards. So even if you lose to the dealer, you’re walking away from the hand with a profit.
In a more boring hand, you a lowly Q, 8, 7. While your Pairs Plus bet just went up in flames, the hand still meets the minimum threshold for making a Play bet which you do. To your indifference, the dealer doesn’t qualify, which means getting your Play bet back and a 1 to 1 payout on the ante.
The Six-Card Bonus Bet
By now, you should have a good grasp of the basic concepts of Three Card Poker. But don’t go rushing to the table just yet. There is still one last type of optional bet to talk about, called the Six-Card Bonus bet. You make this bet at the beginning of the round as you ante and place the optional Pairs Plus bet.
With the Six-Card Bonus bet, you combine your three cards with the dealer’s three cards giving you six cards to make the best poker hand. That is to say; you need the six cards to combine for at least Three of a Kind to win a Six-Card Bonus bet. The following Six-Card Bonus payout scale explains it.
|Six-Card Bonus Bet Payout Scale|
|Royal Flush||1,000 to 1|
|Straight Flush||200 to 1|
|Four of a Kind||50 to 1|
|Full House||25 to 1|
|Flush||20 to 1|
|Straight||10 to 1|
|Three of a Kind||5 to 1|
Getting Maximum Betting Action out of Three Card Poker
You know how to play Three Card Poker, and you are familiar with the basic strategy. You also understand the different types of bets. It's time to run through a couple of hands in which we'll incorporate the ante/Play bet, Pairs Plus, and the Six-Card Bonus. You place your $10 ante and then put $10 on each on Pairs Plus and the Six-Card Bonus. You've got a total of $30 invested, and you've been dealt a pair of 6s with a ten kicker. Nothing suited.
First, let's look at our Pairs Plus bet, which happens to be a winner. Those 6s are paying off already by guaranteeing you at least get a $20 return. You won't know how the Six-Card Bonus turns out until the end, so it's time to make your only decision by jumping on that Play bet. Unfortunately, the dealer turns over an unsuited A, J, 6.
With the win over a qualified dealer hand, the Ante and Play bets are paid 1 to 1. With the Pairs Plus win, you have now received a total return of $60. The only thing left is the Six-Card Bonus bet. When you combine the dealer's A, J, 6 with your two 6s and that 10 kicker, you end up with trip threes suitable for an additional return of $60.
There are ten tales of misery for every feel-good gambling story you hear. So let's turn the tables a bit. You shell out $10 on the ante, Pairs Plus, and the Six-Card Bonus bet. Why not? It worked out so well the last hand. Plus, you got the same pair of 6s with the 10 kicker. So again, you take stock of your Pairs Plus bet, which has netted a $20 return. Then, of course, you place the Play bet.
The dealer turns over a pair of 7s with a 10. His pair beats your pair, which means you lose your ante and Play wagers. A loss of $20. Now it's time to settle the Six-Card Bonus bet. Two lousy pairs are the best you can muster on the Six-Card Bonus hand. Unfortunately, that doesn't cut it so that you can add another $10 to the loss column. Tough hand! Don’t worry about it; this game moves so fast that you'll almost immediately forget about it.
Should You Wager on the Pairs Plus and the Six-Card Bonus?
If you want to concentrate on learning the basics of Three Card Poker, you should consider forgetting about Pairs Plus and the Six-Card Bonus bet when you play your first few hands. Instead, you can add a Pairs Plus bet into the mix when you get it. Then you can try adding the Six-Card Bonus a few hands later.
So, are these good bets to make? Are they sucker bets? The Pairs Plus bet will likely pay out more often than the Six-Card Bonus; however, those win amounts will be smaller on average. Compared to some bonus bets in other casino poker games, the bonus bets in Three Card Poker look pretty good. The truth is that most players bet the Pairs Plus, and it works for them. Still, this choice is totally up to you.
Play Three Card Poker Free Online
If you have read this far and are interested in trying Three Card Poker, don’t play for real money. Instead, play for free at one of the many sites that offer free Three Card Poker. You can learn the ropes at your own pace while risking no real money. Just play money. That means you can make those expected rookie mistakes, and you’ll chalk them up to experience.
Three Card Poker: Final Thoughts
You should consider learning Three Card Poker if you like up-tempo casino poker games that offer betting options. Sure, the house edge is slightly higher than some other games, but it is still palatable enough to draw players.
It’s just what Derek Webb envisioned when he invented the game. Webb was also successful with his plan to create a game that was easy to learn. Three Card Poker is very learner-friendly. You only have one decision to make. So how hard can it be? Especially if you follow the basic strategy.
Not to forget, most online casinos have guides on how to play poker, so if you are interested in learning more, you can always read our reviews for BetMGM, Fanduel, DraftKings, or Caesars.
Can I play Three Card Poker at all online casinos?
No. Not all online casinos offer Three Card Poker. Because this game is owned by Scientific Gaming, you’ll only find Three Card Poker at online casinos that feature Scientific Gaming games. However, some software developers have released their own versions with slightly different names. In short, not all online casinos have Three Card Poker, but a lot of them at least offer a version of it.
Are there any progressive bets in Three Card Poker?
Like many other casino table games, some versions of Three Card Poker feature a progressive jackpot. You place the bet at the same time as you place your other starting bets. It usually takes a Royal Flush to win, although lesser hands sometimes win a small portion.
Can I skip the ante and just place a Pairs Plus or Six-Card Bonus bet?
No. The ante is mandatory and must be paid before you get your cards. Only the Pairs Plus, Six-Card Bonus, and any progressive side pots are optional.
Why is the payout for a Straight Flush only 40 to 1 on the Pairs Plus pay scale and 1,000 to 1 with the Six-Card Bonus?
This is because the odds are so different with the two hands. You’re only dealing with three cards in a Pairs Plus bet while you’re dealing with six cards in the Six-Card Bonus bet.