The Texas Hold’em craze made two-card poker the new national pastime for a few years there, but while the WSOP and WPT have seen their popularity wane, Three Card Poker is here to stay.
And it has been since 1994, when an intrepid game designer cobbled together pieces of existing table games to create a true casino gambling classic. You’ll learn more about the history of Three Card Poker later in this page, but for now, just know that this unique game has spread from a single table placement in Mississippi to several thousand worldwide in just 25 years.
One reason for Three Card Poker’s enduring popularity, both with players and casino operators, is just how simple the game is to learn and play.
You place a single mandatory Ante bet to start off, along with an optional Pair Plus bet if you’d like to compete for bigger prizes based on an escalating pay table (1 to 1 for a pair through 40 to 1 for a straight flush). From there, the dealer slides you three cards face up on the felt, followed by three cards face down on their side of the table.
Based on the relative strength of your three-card poker hand – using a modified version of the traditional poker hand ranking heirarchy – your job is to decide between two choices: Fold or Play.
When you Fold, you obviously surrender the hand right then and there, giving up all bets without further fight. But when you make the second Play bet, which must equal that initial Ante bet, you’ll force a showdown with the dealer.
The best three-card poker hand wins, so Ace-high is good enough to ward off King-high, while King-high beats Queen-high, and so on.
Speaking of Queen-high hands, you’ll want to beat “qualifying” dealer hands of that rank (or better) to earn even money on both your Ante and Play bets. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, you’ll win even money on the Ante bet alone and the Play bet will be a push.
Oh, and one last thing about the old Queen-high… in Three Card Poker, playing perfectly doesn’t require any complicated charts or mathematical equations. Nope, you just need to remember Q-6-4 to apply an optimal basic strategy in this game.
In other words, if your starting hand is ranked at ranked Q-6-4 or higher (Q-7-2; K-3-2; etc.) you should always make the Play bet. And when holding Q-6-3 or worse (Q-5-2; J-10-8; etc.), you should always Fold and live to play another day.
That setup alone would likely have been enough to make Three Card Poker a good table game, but it’s the bonus pay tables that make it great. Pair Plus bets earn juicy bonus payouts when you land any one pair or higher, while the Ante bonus rewards only the topline hands. And if you bet on the optional Six-Card Bonus, forming premium five-card poker hands using both your cards and the dealer’s cards can return up to 1,000 to 1 on a Royal Flush.
All of that adds up to a fun-filled, and potentially quite lucrative, gambling experience that still manages to offer a relatively low house edge of only 3.50 percent.
Three Card Poker has been a staple on live casino floors for a long while now, but the best online casinos also consider the game to be an essential building block for their table game menus. You might see it listed as Tri Card Poker or 3 Card Poker, but as Shakespeare himself once said, a rose by any other name smells just as sweet.
Playing Online Three Card Poker vs. Live
For the most part, playing Three Card Poker online looks and feels much like it does in a land-based casino.
Sure, you won’t have a friendly dealer to chat with – unless you’re playing the Live Dealer version that is (more on this to come) – but the gameplay mechanics remain almost identical. You’ll click your chip denomination of choice, add it to the Ante bet area, then click “Deal” to take three cards at random from a 52-card deck.
All of the various side bets are still in play, and unless you’ve stumbled into one of the few unscrupulous online casinos still doing business, the side bet pay tables award the same standard payouts.
The main difference between online Three Card Poker and the live version is simply a heightened pace of play. Webb already designed the game to play fast, with an average of 70 hands dealt out every hour that puts Three Card Poker near the top of the pace of play rankings.
But without physical chips to manipulate, cocktail servers interrupting the action, and multiple players to a table requiring time to think and act, playing Three Card Poker online is like switching out your sports car for a drag racer.
Because the game’s basic strategy boils down that incredibly simple Q-6-4 rule mentioned above, you’ll never need more than a second or two to think things through. Combine that with a solitary gameplay experience, plus clickable chips that can be bet, calculated, and paid instantly, and a proficient player can grind out an online Three Card Poker hand every 10 seconds or so.
Pros & Cons of Playing Three Card Poker Online
With that said, whether putting in hundreds of hands per hour at the online Three Card Poker tables is your thing is a matter of personal preference.
Many players prefer the relatively slower pace found on the live casino floor because fewer hands results in reduced variance.
Put another way, the impact of that 3.50 percent house edge can be dulled a bit by playing at a more leisurely pace.
Fortunately, online casinos have no mandates on how many hands you must play over any given time. You’re perfectly free to place a bet, take your three cards, then make a cup of coffee or check your email inbox before acting on your hand.
And therein lies the beauty of playing table games with one of the top-rated online casinos. With no dealer on hand earning their pay hourly, nor other players who may not be very patient, you’ll never feel pressured to play more quickly than you prefer.
The only other drawback associated with online Three Card Poker is that some operators choose not to offer the popular 6-Card Bonus side bet. This is the longshot wager that, while unlikely, can turn $1 into $1,000 if your cards combine with the dealer’s hand to create a five-card Royal Flush.
The 6-Card Bonus bet offers other payouts too, with a 200 to 1 reward for a straight flush, 50 to 1 on four of a kind, and so on – which is why many players can’t resist splashing a $1 chip down and hoping for the best.
But the absence of this 6-Card Bonus side bet is yet another double-edged sword, because while it’s widely popular among the gambling masses, it’s also one of the worst wagers around.
If you can stomach house edge rates between 8.56 percent and 15.28 percent, depending on the pay table in use, by all means scour the internet for an online casino offering the 6-Card Bonus option. And if you’d rather avoid that temptation altogether, depositing with an online casino that removes the side bet is never an issue.
Characteristics of the Best Online Three Card Poker
The best Three Card Poker games found online utilize the standard pay tables shown below:
Best Pair Plus Pay Table (2.32 Percent House Edge)
Straight Flush 40 to 1
Three of a Kind 30 to 1
Straight 6 to 1
Flush 4 to 1
Pair 1 to 1
Best Ante Bonus Pay Table (3.37 Percent House Edge)
Straight Flush 5 to 1
Three of a Kind 4 to 1
Straight 1 to 1
Best 6-Card Bonus Pay Table (8.56 Percent House Edge)
Royal Flush 1,000 to 1
Straight Flush 200 to 1
Four of a Kind 100 to 1
Full House 20 to 1
Flush 15 to 1
Straight 10 to 1
Three of a Kind 7 to 1
If you pull up the Rules page for your favorite online casino’s Three Card Poker game and find any other pay tables than these, you can be sure the house edge will be much higher.
Some operators try to trick players on the Pair Plus side bet, for example, listing the top payout for a straight flush at 50 to 1. But while the other payouts largely remain the same, sliding the reward for a flush down from 4 to 3 more than doubles the house edge against you to 5.10 percent.
You’ll also want to look for online Three Card Poker tables that look, feel, and play the way you want them to. Everything from the card animations to the chip icons’ click-ability factor can make things fun and intuitive, or boring and difficult.
Live Dealer Online Three Card Poker
Another characteristic shared by the best online Three Card Poker providers is Live Dealer capability.
By employing human dealers to work behind genuine casino tables, while delivering physical cards players can see with their own eyes, Live Dealer online gambling is the wave of the future. Even though random number generators (RNGs) have been proven to be demonstrably fair through rigorous testing, many players out there remain wary about digital games being manipulated by the house.
And what better way to solve that dilemma than by simply filming a living, breathing professional dealer as he or she turns over actual cards?
From the player’s perspective, Live Dealer games like Three Card Poker bridge the proverbial gap between land-based and online casinos. You can still play from the comfort of your couch, but the interpersonal experience of a dealer celebrating your winners and offering condolences after a bad beat remains intact.
Types of Online Three Card Poker Bonuses
One reason online casino gambling has exploded in popularity over the years is the bonus system.
Join a new site for the first time and you’ll score a sweet Welcome Bonus, which multiplies your first deposit with a pile of free funds. Welcome Bonuses are typically awarded as percentage matches, so you’ll see something like 200 percent match (up to $1,000) when you sign up.
Thus, your initial $100 deposit would become $300 thanks to the 200 percent match.
Subsequent deposits can also be used to earn a Reload Bonus, which is simply a smaller-scale version awarding 50 percent matches for the most part. If you’re looking for a quick $100 bankroll boost, a 50 percent Reload Bonus puts $150 into your account balance.
And when you’ve put in the work to become a regular grinder, piling up Player Points – or whatever promotion your site of choice uses – will generate No Deposit Bonuses that hit your account upon reaching certain benchmarks.
Speaking of benchmarks, be sure you read the Terms and Conditions page carefully to learn about your online casino’s playthrough / rollover requirements. When you grab any of the bonus offers listed above, the extra funds will be “locked” at first, meaning you can only use them to play with – and not for withdrawals.
But after you’ve cleared the site’s specific playthrough / rollover requirement – which usually run between 20x and 30x on your combined deposit + bonus amount – the extra funds are unlocked and become available to cash out.
Three Card Poker players are in luck too, because unlike other fast-paced table games sporting a low house edge, this game contributes a generous portion of your wagers to the playthrough / rollover requirement.
Slots are the best way to clear the hurdle, as they contribute 100 percent of each bet placed to your playthrough / rollover mark. Three Card Poker and a few other table games are next up though, with an average “wagering contribution” rate of 20 percent.
History of Three Card Poker
Back in 1994, the table game pits in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos were dominated by the classics – baccarat, blackjack, craps, and roulette.
For decades before that, operators and players alike had little appetite for newfangled additions, so the status quo held firm across the gambling industry.
Until poker player Derek Webb had his say…
In the early ‘90s, a few new table games that fused existing gambling concepts to create something new were gaining steam. Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud Poker both fused elements of old-fashioned stud poker with house-banked table gaming a la blackjack.
But each game had its noticeable flaws, with Let It Ride’s four-unit starting bet scaring many newbies off, and Caribbean Stud Poker’s high house edge of 5.22 percent doing the same.
As Webb remembered more than two decades later during an interview with a casino industry trade publication, he wanted to borrow the best elements from both games to design an entirely new concept:
“I wanted to design a three-unit bet game that incorporated what I thought was the best of Caribbean Stud and the best of Let It Ride, and it was going to be naturally faster than Caribbean or Let It Ride.
But also, the design needed to make sure that we got the three bet units out more frequently than Caribbean or Let It Ride. And those two combined features meant that it could go with a lower house advantage than either of those games, and give the player a more positive experience, and at the same time, create a higher win for the operator.
So, in effect, you’re serving both sides of the table better than what was already out there.”
And just like that – with Webb mixing traditional poker gameplay, multiple-unit betting, and a pivotal player decision point – Three Card Poker was born.
The aspiring casino game inventor then spent the next few years pounding the pavement, becoming a “travelling salesman” as he put it while visiting Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno, and other gambling hotspots. By using Three Card Poker’s speedier gameplay as a hook for operators, along with an escalating pay table offering up to 40 to 1 and a lower 3.50 percent house edge to attract players, Webb succeeded in securing a handful of table installations.
By 1997, he secured a patent for Three Card Poker, and two years later industry titan Shuffle Master came calling with a lucrative offer to acquire the game’s intellectual property rights.
Within a decade of inventing Three Card Poker, a proud Webb had watched his game spread like wildfire, with several thousand table installations in the U.S. alone.
And while rival hybrid table games were largely fads, coming and going with the wind, Webb’s contribution to casino gambling has stood the test of time. Every casino that offers table games – from Sin City’s glittering resorts to small tribal casinos out in the sticks – makes sure to spread at least one Three Card Poker game around the clock.
Online casinos have also adopted Three Card Poker over the last decade, either using Webb’s patented version, or close carbon copies listed under slightly different names like Tri Card Poker or 3 Card Poker.
Real Money Three Card Poker FAQ
“Why do some online casinos decide to ditch that awesome 6-Card Bonus side bet?”
As with any decision a casino operator makes, this one boils down to preserving their own bottom line. With a topline payout of 1,000 to 1, it only takes a few blips in the probability matrix to cause major headaches for the online casino’s accountants. These aren’t massive multibillion-dollar operations like the palaces in Sin City, so most venues simply decide to mitigate their risk by avoiding the 6-Card Bonus side bet.
“My online casino has Live Dealer games, but only the classics like blackjack and roulette… so why isn’t Three Card Poker available?”
Online casinos utilize a variety of Live Dealer studio providers, and a few of the smaller ones specialize in the most popular games. If you’re looking for the Live Dealer version of Three Card Poker, check out operators that partner with industry leader Evolution Gaming to enjoy your favorite table game in style.