There can be little doubt that Three Card Poker is the most successful of the wave of new casino games in the last decade. It is the envy of game inventors hoping to introduce anything half as successful. I think the reason it is successful is that it is true to the structure of poker yet easy to play.
A single 52-card deck is used.
The player may make either or both an Ante bet or Pairplus bet.
The dealer will deal three cards to each player and himself. The dealer's card are dealt face down.
Hand rankings are as follows, from highest to lowest:
- Straight flush
- Three of a kind
- Ace high or less
After reviewing his cards, the player who made the Ante bet must either raise or fold. If he raises, he must put out a Play wager equal to his Ante wager. If he folds, he forfeits his cards and all bets made.
The dealer will turn over his cards.
The dealer needs at least a queen high to qualify.
If the dealer does not qualify, then Ante bets will pay according to the pay table below, and Play bets will push.
If the dealer does qualify, then the player's cards will be compared to the dealer's cards, and the higher poker-value hand wins. If the player has the higher poker value, then the Ante will pay even money, and the Play bet will pay even money. If the dealer has the higher poker value, then both Ante and Play bets will lose. In the unusual event of a tie, both Ante and Play bets will push.
There is also an "Ante Bonus" for player hands of a straight or higher. The pay table for the Ante Bonus is shown below, and it pays regardless of the dealer's hand.
The Pairplus pays based only the poker value of the player's hand. The Pairplus pay table is indicated below.
Pay Table Hand Pairplus Ante Straight flush 40 to 1 5 to 1 Three of a kind 30 to 1 4 to 1 Straight 6 to 1 1 to 1 Flush 3 to 1 0 Pair 1 to 1 0 All other Loss 0
The player should raise with a hand of Q64 or higher. If you don't understand what that means, raise with any of the following:
- Any pair or higher
- King or Ace high
- Queen high, if the second highest card is a 7 or higher
- Queen high, if the second card is a 6 and the third card is a 4 or higher
Following the strategy above, the house edge on the Ante bet is 3.37%. The house edge on the Pairplus bet is 7.28%.
I get asked a lot what is the optimal ratio of Ante bet to Pairplus bet. The answer is to bet 100% of your total wager on the Ante, because of the lower house edge. However, if you do that, the dealer and every other player will rebuke you, saying that the "Pairplus is where the money is." It is true that the Pairplus offers the big payoffs, and you'll get lectured if you hit a three of a kind or better without betting the Pairplus. However, trust me that you'll come out ahead in the long run by avoiding the Pairplus. If you can't resist, at least bet as little as possible on it.
Some dealers expose one of his cards when taking them out of the shuffling machine. If you can see this card, and make proper use of the information, you will enjoy a 3.5% advantage. The proper strategy for flashing dealers is indicate in my book Gambling 102.
My companion site, WizardOfOdds.com, has lots of additional information about Three Card Poker, including different rules, pay tables, the California variant, and lots of details on the probabilities of the game.