Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker is one of the easiest casino games to learn, and it’s become somewhat of a ‘staple’ game in most land-based, and online casinos. A relatively low house edge (when played correctly), potential for large payouts, and slower gameplay than Blackjack and Roulette help to make Three Card Poker a popular choice among players today. Online, the games proving just as popular!

How to Play Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker is incredibly simple to pick up, and the general aim of the game is to make a better Three Card Poker hand than that of the dealer. We’ll cover actual bets in just a moment, but first, let’s look at the gameplay and rules. Once the hand has begun, you will be dealt three cards, as will the dealer. You can see all three cards, instantly allowing you to determine whether you have a good hand or not.

Hand Rankings

The objective of Three Card Poker is to make poker hands – just like within Texas Hold’ Em – although as there are only three cards, some hands are excluded. Below you can see the hand rankings, from worst to best:

  • -        High card
  • -        One pair
  • -        Flush
  • -        Straight
  • -        Three of a Kind
  • -        Straight flush

Now assuming all the betting is out the way (again, more on that in just a moment), you will then go to the ‘showdown’, where the dealer will reveal his or her three cards, followed by your hand. If your hand wins, you get paid out – if the dealer wins, you lose your wager.

Now there are a couple of additional things to note, and the first is whether or not the dealer ‘qualifies’.

To be eligible to play his or her hand, a dealer must hold a hand of at least Q, 7, X. That is, they must have at LEAST Queen-high with a seven kicker. So, for instance, if the dealer had King, 3, 2, they would qualify; if they had 5, 7, 9 (not a flush), they wouldn’t qualify.

If the dealer doesn’t qualify, you automatically win, although we’ll cover that again in the section below.

Secondly, if you and the dealer share a similar hand – let’s say you have Ace, King, 5, and the dealer holds Ace, King 3, your hand would win, due to the fact the ‘5’ is higher than the dealer’s three.

Similarly, if you had a pair of threes with a 10 kicker, and the dealer had a pair of threes with a Jack kicker, he/she would win, as their jack beats your king.

Betting in Three Card Poker

There’s one main bet, and a few side bets almost every casino offers in Three Card Poker, and the first is called the Ante bet. 

Ante Bet

The ante bet is mandatory*, and acts like your main ‘hand’. Think of it like a bet on Blackjack. Once your ante bet is placed, and you finish placing any other side bets, the game will begin, and your three cards will be dealt. If your hand is garbage, and you don’t feel you can beat the dealer, you can simply throw your hand away now; you lose your ante bet, but the game ends there, and you are exposed to no further risk of loss. 

Raise Bet

If, however, you like your hand, and feel it could beat the dealer’s, you then have the option to ‘raise’ your hand, or, essentially, continue playing. The raise bet is always double the ante bet, so if you staked £5 on the ante wager, and fancied your chances, you’d need to place £10 on the raise bet. After you have made the raise bet, the dealer will then expose their hand, compare it against yours, and payout/collect losses accordingly. Now this is where things get a tiny bit trickier; there are actually three possible outcomes, and it’s not simply a case of win or lose.

  1. The first possibility is that the dealer doesn’t qualify: like mentioned earlier, this means he holds no hand, and has less than Q-7. In this case, your raise bet is returned, and your ante bet is paid out at even money.
  2. The second possibility is that the dealer qualifies, but your hand beats his. In this case, you get paid on both the raise and ante bet (at even money), except when you make a straight, three of a kind, or a straight flush. All three hands return 1:1 on the raise bet, however, your ante bet is paid out at 2:1, 4:1, and 5:1 respectively! Ok, so it’s not life-changing money, but this unique feature ensures your bankroll can grow, and gives you a chance to win a little extra!
  3. So, finally, the third possibility. Here, you decide to raise your hand, and go to showdown, only to find the dealer’s hand beats yours. In this scenario, it’s simple – you lose both your ante and raise bets, and the hand is over.

Side Betting

Now the Ante and Raise bets are key fundamentals to the Three Card Poker game, however, there’s two side bets that most casinos offer – the first of which is called ‘Pairs Plus’; in fact, Pairs Plus is offered on virtually every single Three Card Poker game on the planet, and most players choose to play this side bet, as it tends to be the main attraction of the game itself – big payouts!

Pairs Plus Bet

The Pairs Plus bet is a side bet you must place before the hand starts, and it pays out if you manage to make a pair or better in your three cards. The bet is completely independent to the dealer’s hand, so if you were to lose your ante and raise your bet, but still had a winning Pairs Plus hand, you’d be paid out regardless. The exact payout from a Pairs Plus bet differs from casino to casino, but generally you’ll find odds similar to the following:

  • -        Pair: 1:1
  • -        Flush: 4:1
  • -        Straight - 6:1
  • -        Three of a Kind: 30:1
  • -        Straight Flush: 40:1

Prime Bet

The second common bet you are likely to find is the ‘Prime’ bet. This is similar to the Pairs Plus bet, and requires you to place an additional wager that is separate from your main bet. A Prime bet pays when your cards match in colour – the suit is irrelevant. It’s fairly simple, and there are only two payouts, as seen below:

  • -        Your Three Cards the Same Colour: 3:1
  • -        Your Three Cards the Same Colour and the Dealer’s Cards the Same Colour as Yours: 4:1

Game Variations

A couple of Three Card Poker game variations exist, and the following shows some of the most common types you may encounter:

Progressive Jackpot Three Card Poker

As the name suggests, Progressive Jackpot Three Card Poker pays on a ‘mini royal flush’, usually when the suit is spades, but occasionally any suit. A mini Royal Flush is when your hand contains Queen, King, and Ace, of the same suit. You are required to place a small wager – usually £1 – as a side bet before the hand begins, and the payouts are typically as follows:

  • -        Mini Royal Flush in Spades: 75-100% of jackpot total
  • -        Straight Flush: £100
  • -        Mini Royal Flush Unsuited: £50
  • -        Three of a Kind: £50

Ultimate Three Card Poker

Ultimate Three Card Poker can also be called ‘Face Up Three Card Poker’, and this variation has a dealer revealing only one card, instead of all three, as you’d see in a conventional game. You also are only required to make your raise bet the same as your wager bet, so instead of paying 2:1, you pay 1:1.

Playing Strategy

Many strategies have been created to lower the house edge and improve chances of winning, and while Three Card Poker isn’t really a skill-based game, there are a few strategies that are worth following, as they will – over time – increase your edge, and lower the house edge.

First and foremost, you’re always recommended to fold a hand lower than Q-6-4. This obviously doesn’t apply when playing the Prime bet, and when the cards are the same colour, but in any situation when that’s not the case, you’re advised to fold the hand, and risk further financial loss.

It can be tempting to play all hands with the expectation that the dealer will fail to qualify, and have to pay you out, but this is, largely, one of the ways the casinos have the house edge. Even when they don’t qualify, you only get paid out even money on your ante bet, and remember, you’ve wagered double this on your ‘raise’ bet, so over the long run, it’s not hard to see why this is a negative play. Other than that, there’s not really any strategy, except to play your cards and hope to get lucky!

History of Three Card Poker

Most casino games (excluding video slots, and technology-based games) have a history that often dates back hundreds of years with some games, such as Craps, having roots as far back as the Roman times. Three Card Poker was devised in 1994 by Derek Webb with the idea that the game would combine both the enjoyment-factor of poker, and the fast-paced nature of casino games, like Baccarat and Blackjack. Webb spent many years thinking up the game, and was highly-critical of himself, resulting in many previous editions of the game being scrapped, to ensure his ‘dream’ was adequately presented. He also wanted a game that was easy to understand, while being affordable to play, and one that offered big payouts, for hitting the long-shot payout combinations.

To market his game, Webb formed a company called ‘Prime Table Games’, and he worked relentlessly to get his game seen in the USA and the United Kingdom. After realising he wasn’t getting anywhere, he sought advice from the National Casino Industry Forum (NCiF), who suggested to Webb that he get the game popular in the United States first and then try to break the UK market. The reason for this, Webb says, is that the UK – at the time – had gambling regulations in place that would prevent Three Card Poker from becoming an allowed game, and with no game-history or customer satisfaction levels to back up the game, it would prove virtually impossible to make the regulators adapt the rules just for one game.

After adhering to their advice, Webb managed to get Barry Morris, Vice President of the Grand Casino Gulfport in Mississippi to host the game in a casino, and Webb agreed to train all the dealers, free of charge, in return for Morris hosting the game. It’s said that Webb stood by the table, day and night, for many weeks, in order to make sure the dealers were dealing correctly, and adhering to payout tables and game rules. The game was marketed by Prime Table Games until 1999 when Shuffle Master acquired the rights to the game outside the British Isles. It took another three years before Three Card Poker would be allowed in the United Kingdom, and at the beginning of 2002, the gambling regulations within the UK were adapted so that Three Card Poker could be offered in casinos up and down the country.

Since its introduction, Three Card Poker has received critical acclaim from many gambling experts around the world, and it has fast risen to become a player favourite – both thanks to the ease at which it can be played, the enjoyable playing style, and the generous payouts offered when a player manages to make higher-value hands – including three-of-a-kind, and the straight flush.

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