How to Play Three-Card Poker
There are more playing options in three-card poker than five-card, even though you’re playing with fewer cards. This game includes three betting options:
- Bet or raise if you think your hand will beat the dealer’s.
- Bet that your hand will include at least one pair or better.
- Combine the two; bet that your hand will beat the dealer’s and include at one pair or better.
Three-card hands conform to the same ranking hierarchy as regular poker hands. If the dealer and player tie with a pair, flush, or straight, the high card determines the winner. Here’s how the rankings come out:
|Three-Card Poker Hands Hierarchy|
|Royal Flush||Too bad! You can’t get this hand because you only get 3 cards!|
|Straight Flush||3 consecutive cards of the same suit|
|Flush||Three cards of the same suit|
|Straight||Three cards in sequence|
|Three of a Kind||Three cards of the same rank|
|Pair||Two cards of the same rank|
Three-Card Poker Layout
The layout for three-card poker includes three betting circles arranged in front of each player on the table. Each carries a different label: the lowest is labeled Play, the middle, Ante, the top, Pair Plus.
The rules for Three Card Poker allow you to play two poker games at once, doubling the excitement! The first game is called “Beat the Dealer,” and is pretty straightforward. You make wagers that your hand will beat the dealer’s hand. Your bets for this game are placed in the Ante and Play circles. We’ll cover those in a little more detail shortly. You don’t bet against the dealer in the second game, known as “Pair Plus.” You make bets on whether your hand will include a pair or better, placing them in the Pair Plus betting circle at the top of your layout. You can play only Pair Plus if you’d like, or you can play both that game and Beat the Dealer. Pair Plus is less difficult, so let’s cover that one first.
How to Play Pair Plus
Pair Plus is simple; you make bets on the strength of your hand. The only need one pair in your hand to win. Most casinos pay off Pair Plus bets in schedule similar to the following:
|If Your Hand Is||You’ll Be Paid|
|Straight Flush||40 to 1|
|Three of a Kind||30 to 1|
|Straight||6 to 1|
|Flush||4 to 1|
|Pair||1 to 1|
|High Card||1 to 1|
How to Play Beat the Dealer
You have to place a bet first in Ante circle if you want to play Beat the Dealer. The dealer deals you three cards face down, then three face down cards of his or her own. Once the deal is done, you can look at your own cards and decide whether you want to raise your bet. If you do, place a bet equal to your Ante amount in the Play circle. If you don’t think your hand is that great, fold by placing your cards face down on the table, toward the dealer. This ends the game, and you forfeit your Ante bet.
The dealer will turn over his or her cards only after all participating players have decided to raise or fold. Similar to Caribbean Stud, the dealer’s hand must qualify for the game to continue, meaning it must include a Queen or higher, or contain at least a pair. The dealer pays out even money on your Ante and returns your Play bet if his or her hand does not qualify. If you folded, your Ante belongs to the house.
To make the most of playing three-card poker, never make a play bet unless your hand is higher than the combination of Queen-6-4. Part of the reason for this strategy is that in three-card poker, the house edge goes up to 7.7 percent if you consistently make the Play bet not matter what your hand is.
The dealer will compare his or her hand to those belonging to the players if it qualifies. If the dealer’s hand wins, you lose both your bets. If your hand beats the dealer’s, you’ll be paid even money on both your Ante and Play bets.
You’ll also be paid a bonus on your Ante if your hand contains a straight, straight flush, or three of a kind. It doesn’t matter if your hand beats the dealer’s or not, in this case. Bonuses are paid on the following schedule:
|If Your Hand Is||You’ll Be Paid|
|Straight Flush||5 to 1|
|Three of a Kind||4 to 1|
|Straight||1 to 1|
Three-Card Poker Strategy
Beat the Dealer is a riskier game than Pair Plus—it carries a higher house edge of 3.4 percent, compared to Pair Plus’s 2.3 percent. Pair Plus doesn’t need a strategy. Just make your wager and pray you get a pair!
The best strategy for Beat the Dealer is to follow the dealer’s rules! Only make a Play bet if you have a qualifying hand, such as one that includes a ranking hand or at least a Queen, King or Ace. If your hand doesn’t have any of those, it’s time to fold.