Learn to Play 3-Card Poker

How to Play Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker is the most popular proprietary table game in the world. Invented by game inventor Derek Webb in 1989, it's also the most profitable table game ever. It is estimated that there are close to 2,000 installations worldwide and that doesn't even include all the copycat versions put out by other companies. Three Card Poker is now owned and distributed in the United States by Shuffle Master, a subsidiary of Scientific Games, Inc.

Three Card Poker is played against the dealer. It was made to be a simple, yet fun, version of poker, using only 3 cards to make a hand instead of the normal 5 or 7 in most poker games. The only action is against the dealer. Players do not compete against each other at the table. Also, the play of one person at the table has no affect on other players at the table.

Step By Step Guide to Playing 3 Card Poker

  • 1. Prior to play all players will place the required Ante bet. On the layout above, the Ante bet is the red diamond below the Pair Plus circle.
  • 2. An optional side bet called "Pair Plus" is also available. This side bet pays, whether you win or lose the hand against the dealer, if you get a pair or better as your final hand. 99% of Three Card Poker players play this side bet.
  • 3. On some variations, although not pictured about, there will also be an optional side bet called the 6 Card Bonus. That uses the players three cards and the dealers three cards to attempt to form a 5 card poker hand using all 6 cards. This is a fun addition to Three Card Poker, but not available at all casinos.
  • 4. Three cards will be dealt to each player as well as to the dealer spot.
  • 5. Players may not touch their cards until the dealer has completed the deal and signals that picking up the cards is now ok.
  • 6. Once the dealer notifies all players that they can touch their cards, players look at their cards and have to decide if they would like to Play or Fold their hand. These are the only two options. The dealers cards have not yet been revealed, so the decision is just based on the strength of the players three cards only.
  • 7. To Play, the player must match the amount of his Ante bet and place it in the Play box. The player then put the cards right next to the play box or tucked under the chips in the play box depending on the casinos rules.
  • 8. To Fold, the player places his cards face down next to the Ante and Pair Plus bets. No additional bets are now needed and the hand is over for the player, unless there is a 6 Card Bonus bet in play. If this is the case, the cards will be kept on the table to be played the with the dealers cards later.
  • 9. Once all players have decided to Play or Fold the dealer will turn over the dealer cards. The dealer must have at least a Queen high to qualify.
  • 10. If the dealer does have at least a Queen high, then one by one starting on the dealers right, each players hand will be compared to the dealers hand. If the hand beats the dealers hand, the Ante and Play bets will pay even money. The Pair Plus will pay if the hand was a pair or better and pays odds. The odds chart is shown below.
  • 11. If the dealer did not have a Q high or better, then all Play bets will be a push and all Ante bets will win even money, even if the dealers hand is higher than the players. A non qualifying dealer hand always pushes the Ante and pays on the Play. The Pair Plus is then paid or taken based on the player hand having a pair or better.
  • 12. The players hand can qualify for one additional payout. If the hand is a straight or better, the hand qualifies for an Ante Bonus. This bonus is in addition to the even money payout on the Ante and Play for winner a hand and can still be paid if the hand was a loser, although having a straight or better makes it unlikely the hand will lose. It is possible though.
  • 13. Finally, if the game has the 6 Card Bonus side bet, the players three cards and combined with the dealers three cards to attempt to make a five card poker hand. This happens regardless of if the dealer qualified or not or if the player folded or not. There are different paytables for this bet depending on if it includes a progressive jackpot or not, but the most common paytables are shown below, with paytable 3 probably being the most common.

3 Card Poker Pay Tables

Poker Hand Pay Table 1 Pay Table 2 Pay Table 3 Pay Table 4
Royal Flush 1,000 to 1 1,000 to 1 1,000 to 1 1,000 to 1
Straight Flush 200 to 1 200 to 1 200 to 1 200 to 1
Four of a Kind 100 to 1 100 to 1 50 to 1 50 to 1
Full House 20 to 1 20 to 1 25 to 1 25 to 1
Flush 15 to 1 15 to 1 20 to 1 15 to 1
Straight 9 to 1 10 to 1 10 to 1 10 to 1
Three of a Kind 8 to 1 7 to 1 5 to 1 5 to 1
House Advantage 6.74% 8.56% 10.23% 15.28%

With a house edge on the Ante bet of only 2.01% the base game of Three Card Poker is very fair to the player. The Pair Plus bet has a house advantage of 7.28% at most casinos, which is middle of the road for side bets.

There is no chart or intricate strategy needed for optimal play in Three Card Poker. Perfect Strategy has the player play their hand if they have a Queen/Six/Four or better and fold if not. If you have a King high or higher there is no need to look at the other cards. If you have a Queen high, then compare your second highest card to the optimal six for the second card. If it's a higher than a 6, play. If it's exactly a six, compare the third card.

Not much is lost in the way of house edge if you just play any Queen high or better. There is a huge loss and huge risk in playing any hand against the dealer. The house edge on the Ante bet increases to 7.65%. It is never recommended to play Three Card Poker blind, or playing the play bet regardless of the strength of your hand.