How to Play Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker, also known as Tri Card Poker, is one of the simplest table games that is offered at both online casinos and land-based casinos across the world.

There is basically just one decision for a player to make, and the rules which influence this decision do not change from one hand to the next.  This makes it oneof the easiest table games to learn.

If you already know how to play any form of poker, you can likely learn Three Card Poker in just a few minutes. Read on to learn more about payouts and how to play.


Players start out the game by choosing between placing two types of bets. There is an ante bet and also a Pair Plus side bet which is optional. Three Card Poker is one of the few games where you can place a side bet without making the bet pertaining to the hand, which in this case is the ante. A player that makes the Pair Plus bet without putting any money on the ante will have no decision to make once receiving his three cards. If this is the case, the player will win only if they make a pair or better, which we’ll go over in further detail below.

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Once all bets and side bets have been placed, all players are then dealt three cards face up. The dealer also receives three cards, all of which are dealt face down. Players look at their cards to determine whether they will play the remainder of the hand or fold their hand and surrender their ante bet (and pair plus bet if they did not qualify). Players should raise on any hand of queen, six, four or better. This means any hand that does not include an ace, king, queen, pair, straight, flush, or straight flush should be folded.

Folding Your Hand

A fold gives the ante to the house and the hand ends for the player. A player that raises then matches the ante bet and tucks the cards under the chips on the felt.
Once all players have made their decision, the dealer will show his three cards. The dealer’s hand is then compared to the player’s hand. Players are only up against the dealer and not each other.

Dealer Qualifying Hands

The dealer must have at least a queen high to qualify. If the dealer does not qualify, the ante is paid 1:1 and the raise pushes. If the dealer qualifies, the best hand wins. If the player prevails, his ante and raise bet will be matched. One item to point out is that straights beat flushes in Three Card Poker. It is mathematically easier to make a flush than a straight when only three cards are dealt.
Ante Bonus Wins
There are three bonus hands that receive an additional payout when the ante bet is wagered. The bonus is paid regardless of whether the hand wins or loses. The video version of Three Card Poker in live casinos does not offer the ante bonus.
– Straight flush: 5-1
– Three of a kind: 4-1
– Straight: 1-1
Pair Plus Bet
The Pair Plus side bet wins on any hand of a pair or better. The bet wins, even if the hand loses to the dealer. There are also special payouts based on the strength of the hand which are outlined below.
Pair Plus Payouts
– Straight flush: 40-1
– Three of a kind: 30-1
– Straight: 6-1
– Flush: 3-1
– Any pair: 1-1

Three Card Poker Rules

– The foremost rule of 3CP to grasp is the fact that you are dealt three cards like the name implies. The factor to determine if you win or loss is how the three cards dealt are ranked.
– After placing the bets, each player gets three cards and the dealer also gets three cards. The cards can be dealt face up or face down but the former is more common.
– 3CP uses the standard 52-card deck—without the Jokers.
– The house edge of 3CP is 2.01% with the help of optimal strategy (which I will discuss later).
– There are three bet options: Ante, Pair Plus, or both.
– The Ante bet is placed against the dealer’s hand but it competes with the player’s hand.
– The Pair Plus bet pays if the player’s hand is a pair or ranked higher.

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After the cards have been dealt, you must decide to either Play or Fold if you place an Ante bet. By folding, you will lose your wager. By playing, you must place another bet of equal value to your Ante bet and place it on Play.
After each player has made his decisions, the dealer also has to “qualify.” This is done by having his cards revealed with a Queen or a card of higher ranking. If not, each player wins their Ante bet at even money (1 to 1) while the bet placed on Play is returned… this is more of a draw.
To win both Ante bet and the bet placed on Play, the dealer’s cards must include a Queen card or higher and you must beat the hand. If your hand cannot beat the dealer’s, you are down to a loss.
Unlike the Ante bet, the Pair Plus bet is not affected by the dealer’s hand; instead, you having a pair or higher determines if you lose or win… as simple as that. If you have a pair or higher, you win; if otherwise, you lose. Coupled with the optimal strategy, the house edge is 2.32%.
Some casinos (both online and offline) also feature a side wager called the Six Card Bonus bet. The bet is based on the best five card hand out of your three cards combined with the dealer’s three cards. Meanwhile, we settle the bet after the round and it is paid out based on the set paytable.
There is another side wager called the Ante Bonus. Once you have a Straight or better, you can win the bet since the dealer’s hand does not affect it. Its payout depends on the set paytable.
Even though there are occasional variations, here is the standard paytable for 3CP.
a) Ante Bonus: 1 to 1 for Straight, 4 to 1 for Three-of-a-Kind, and 5 to 1 for Straight Flush.
b) Pair Plus: 1 to 1 for Pair, 4 to 1 for Flush, 6 to 1 for Straight, 30 to 1 for Three-of-a-Kind, and 40 to 1 for Straight Flush.
c) Six Card Bonus: 7 to 1 for Three-of-a-Kind, 10 to 1 for Straight, 15 to 1 for Flush, 20 to 1 for Full House, 100 to 1 for Four-of-a-Kind, 200 to 1 for Straight Flush, and 1000 to 1 for Royal Flush.
Microgaming has a Gold Series multi-hand variant of 3CP called High Speed Poker. The game has improved paytable, table layout, and gameplay, and allows you to wager up to 5 hands against a dealer’s hand. For Ante bets, the paytable is as follows: 1 to 1 for Straight, 4 to 1 for Three-of-a-Kind, and 7 to 1 for Straight Flush. The house edge of this variant is an all-time low of 1.76%.
There is a side bet in High Speed Poker called Microgaming Bonus Bet. It pays 2 to 1 for three cards of the same color (probability: 23.53%), 6 to 1 for Flush (probability: 5.18%), and 27 to 1 for Three-of-a-Kind (probability: 0.24%). Other hands are losses and the house edge of this side wager is an all-time high of 13.41%.
Since you are dealt three cards unlike other poker games, the game ranks hands quite differently. First, there are six different hands in 3CP. High Card is the three highest cards in your hand—which can be of the same value but varying ranks—with 74.39% probability and 16,440 possible combinations.
Pair (or “a pair” to please the grammarians) is two cards of the same rank and an additional high card with 16.94% probability and 3,744 possible combinations.
Flush is three cards of the same suit with 4.96% probability and 1,096 possible combinations. Straight is three numerically abutting (or sequential) cards regardless of the suit with 3.26% probability and 720 possible combinations.
Three-of-a-Kind is three cards of the same rank with 0.24% probability and 52 possible combinations. Straight Flush is a sequence of three cards of the same suit with 0.22% probability and 48 possible combinations. Furthermore, a Three-of-a-Kind beats a Flush and a
Straight while a Straight beats a Flush. Other hands such as Four-of-a-Kind and Full House are not applicable to the standard 3CP bets since there are only three cards dealt.
In the event that your hand and the dealer’s are equal, the hand is deemed to be a push or draw and the bets are returned.

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Variations of Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker has a number of known variants, which include Ultimate Three Card Poker, Progressive Three Card Poker, and Three Card Poker Prime.

Ultimate Three Card Poker

This variant has five variations to the standard rules and has a house edge of 3.88% with optimal strategy.
– You can Play up to three times your Ante bet if you have a pair or better.
– You must place an extra bet equal to the Ante bet. This is called the Blind bet and pays according to the paytable only if your hand is abundantly strong; it commonly results in a push or loss. It pays 1 to 1 for Flush, 3 to 2 for Straight, 6 to 1 for Three-of-a-Kind, 8 to 1 for Straight Flush, and 100 to 1 for Mini-Royal (Ace, King, Queen of the same suit).
– You still have to beat the dealer to win no matter if he qualifies or not.
– The bet placed on Play pays even money.
– The dealer shows one of his three cards before you make your move.

Progressive Three Card Poker

This is just 3CP with a progressive jackpot. The jackpot usually costs $1 and pays according to the set paytable. There are three versions listed on Wizard of Odds.
Version one pays $90 for Three-of-a-Kind, $100 for Straight Flush, $500 (plus $25) for Mini-Royal, and the jackpot prize (plus $100) for Mini Royal in Spades.
(The plus figures are called Envy Bonus, which is only available if another player has a Royal Flush.)
Jackpot prize = 47.87% of the total jackpot amount + 4.52% for every $1,000 in the jackpot + 0.79% per number of other players
Version two pays $6 for Straight, $60 for Three-of-a-Kind, $70 for Straight Flush, $500 (plus $25) for Mini-Royal, and the jackpot prize (plus $100) for Mini Royal in Spades.
Jackpot prize = 54.39% of the total jackpot amount + 4.52% for every $1,000 in the jackpot + 0.79% per number of other players
Version three pays $9 for Three-of-a-Kind, $30 for Straight, $40 for Flush, $50 for Full House, $300 for Four-of-a-Kind, 10% of the jackpot prize (plus $300), and the jackpot prize (plus $1,000). Unlike others, this version is determined by your three cards and two additional cards, which the Internet has no information on.
Jackpot prize = 53.06% of the total jackpot amount + 2.92% for every $1,000 in the jackpot + 0.57% per number of other players
Note: If you win, you do not get your wager back even if it wins. Also, most experts do not support this progressive variant because of the increased house edge and how ambiguous the system is.

Three Card Poker Prime

This is more of a side bet than an actual variant but works as the latter most times. When it acts as a side bet, it is simply called the Prime. Compared to the standard 3CP…
– It pays more if you have a Straight or better
– The Play bet, instead of the Ante bet, gets pushed if the dealer does not qualify
– There is no Ante Bonus whatsoever
– The Play bet pays more if you have a Straight or better
– If your Straight or higher hand is a losing hand, a premium called the Bad Beat Bonus kicks in
– Instead of Pair Plus, there is the Pair Bonus that pays if a fourth card is a deuce
The Prime side bet pays 3 to 1 if all your cards are of the same color and 4 to 1 if both your cards and the dealer’s three cards are of the same color. This variant is uncommon and sparingly offered in some UK casinos. The house edge is 3.62%.

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What is a casino game without at least one strategy? Well, there are several strategies for this particular poker game. Let’s look at some of the most common and most profitable.

Optimal Strategy

The optimal strategy or Ante bet strategy is quite simple and straightforward.
– Simply bet on Q-6-4 or better or Fold if anything less.
– If your second-highest card is 7 or higher, bet on a Q-high hand regardless of what your third card is.
– If your second-highest card is a 6, bet on a Q-high hand in the event that your third card is a 4 or 5.
– If your second-highest card is a 6, Fold a Q-high hand in the event that your third card is a 2 or 3.
– If your second-highest card is 5 or lower, Fold a Q-high hand regardless of what your third card is.
With this strategy, the house edge of the Ante bet drops from 3.37% to 2.01% for the standard 5-4-1 paytable. It drops from 3.83% to 2.28% for 4-3-1 but rises from 4.28% to 5.26% for 3-2-1.

SFGate Tips

I stumbled upon an SFGate article about the love-hate relationship between players and 3CP. Instantly, I was glued to some of the tips…which are not strategies.
– Based on statistics, play anything higher than Q-6-4 as it will eventually wind up making you some crumbs at the very least.
– Restrict yourself from playing the Blind bet. Maths has proven it to be the worst move in 3CP. The house edge is an all-time high of 7.6%.
– Either avoid Pair Plus completely or play it sparingly.
– Bonus hands are your best bet; take them down.

Never Bet Twice the Ante

According to famous gambling columnist and author John Grochowski, you should never bet twice your Ante bet. Instead, bet three times the Ante bet if you have a pair or better. If you have Jack-7-4 or a better hand (but less than a pair), bet the exact amount of the Ante bet. Fold if your hand is less than Jack-7-4. This strategy reduces the house edge to 1.7% but is only available in Ultimate Three Card Poker. Do note that Grochowski is not the creator of this strategy.

Hole-Card Play for Ultimate Three Card Poker

In July 2012, Eliot Jacobson Ph.D.—the owner of the now-defunct website A.P. Heat—posted his hole-card strategy for Ultimate Three Card Poker on the blog. His strategy is an upgrade to Stephen How’s—the owner of DiscountGambling, which is also defunct.
After the dealer has exposed his first card (which is common because of the shuffler’s position and height), your hand must correspond with the following:
– Play 9-5-2 or better if 2
– Play 9-7-3 or better if 3
– Play 9-8-4 or better if 4
– Play 9-8-5 or better if 5
– Play 9-8-6 or better if 6
– Play 9-7-6 or better if 7
– Play 9-8-5 or better if 8
– Play 9-8-3 or better if 9
– Play T-8-3 or better if T
– Play J-8-3 or better if J
– Play Q-8-3 or better if Q
– Play K-8-3 or better if K
– Play A-8-5 or better if A
The strategy has a house edge that is “greater than 3.8807%.” Nonetheless, you can strengthen your player edge to roughly 8.94% if you can use what Jacobson calls “perfect hole-card strategy.” Caution should be taken however because he did not practice the strategy, he only tested it using a computer program. Below is the official table of this strategy; p means pair, s means suited, and o means off-suited.
If you are familiar with hole carding or hole-card strategies, you already know they are arguably the most complicated casino strategies. And the perfect hole-card strategy is no exception. Casinos now audit hole-card exposure on a regular basis but if you ever happen to meet an inexperienced dealer, this strategy would generate massive revenue.
Furthermore, here is a much simpler hole card strategy I found on the Wizard of Odds website.
– Always Play if 2 to J
– Play Q-J-5 or better if a face-card
– Play Q-9-2 or better if Q
– Play K-9-2 or better if K
– Play A-9-2 or better if A
– The house edge is 2.43% if you cannot distinguish between an Ace and a 2 to 10, so do not Play at all.
– The player advantage is 3.48% with the standard 5-4-1 Ante Bonus paytable. Other paytables are 4-3-1 (3.02%), 3-2-1 (2.57%), and 5-3-1 (3.24%).

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.

Flashing Dealer

Flashing dealer is very similar to hole carding. This unconventional strategy, unlike the hole-card play or perfect hole-card strategy, can be used in any 3CP game. It requires you to cast your gaze upon the dealer’s cards. This is made possible by the position of the shuffler and occurs more often if the dealer is right-handed.
First, you have to sit at the First Base—which is a term used for the first seat to the left of the dealer—in order to see the dealer’s card(s). Then, you have to Play according to the instructions in the aforementioned Wizard of Odds’ hole card strategy.

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