Overview

3-card poker is one of the most straightforward games to learn in the casino, which makes it the perfect game for beginners. You can pick up the rules quickly and understand the strategy after just a couple of hands. One of the great things about this game is that your actions have no influence on your opponent’s hand. This means you can play your hand however you like, without the worry that you might change the outcome of another player’s hand. We will elaborate on this concept later on in the article as we teach you how to play poker

 

Unlike other forms of poker, you do not play 3-card poker against other players, but you play against the dealer. This makes it more akin to games like blackjack and baccarat than Texas Hold ’em, as it is a game where the house has an edge. However, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a fun game to play, and considering how many people play it in the casino, it’s arguably the most popular form of poker around the world.

History of 3-Card Poker

While most casino games like blackjack and roulette have a long and storied history, often dating back to the 18th/19th century, 3-card poker is a much more recent invention. It was created in 1994 by British inventor Derek Webb. He wanted to develop a poker game that played at the same speed as the other popular casino table games but that incorporated aspects of poker.

Despite being created in the UK, he was encouraged by the British Casino Association to market the game to US casinos first. The reason was that the UK had specific gambling regulations that restricted his ability to launch there. So they needed convincing before they would look into making any rule changes.

After unsuccessful pitches in Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City, Derek eventually found a casino that would host the game – the Grand Casino Gulfport in Mississippi. After Webb had personally trained the dealers to run the game, it became a massive success in the casino, and other properties started to accept the game in their establishments. After the initial boom, it was only a matter of time before the government changed the UK gambling regulations in 2002 to allow for the introduction of 3-card poker.

How to Play 3-Card Poker

One of the things that make 3-card poker so popular is its simplicity. The only thing you need to worry about when you play is your hand against the dealer’s hand – none of the other players can influence the outcome of your hand.

The aim of the game is to beat the dealer by having a better poker hand in your three cards than the dealer does in theirs. Some of you may know that in traditional poker, you need five cards to make a poker hand, not just three. The hand rankings in 3-card poker were changed as a result of this.

3-card Poker Hand Rankings

Below is a table of the 3-card poker hands ranked from best to worst. We also included the probability of those hands occurring.

 

Rank Description Probability
Straight Flush Three suited cards in sequence 0.22%
Three of a Kind Three cards of same rank 0.24%
Straight Three cards in sequence 3.26%
Flush Three suited cards 4.96%
Pair Two cards of same rank 16.94%
High Card None of the above 74.39%

As you can see, “High Card” is statistically the hand you will see most of the time.

3-Card Poker Betting Rules

Now we know the aim of the game and the hands we can make; how do we bet on it? 3-card poker has a two-part betting system. First, before the hand is dealt, you make an ante bet in the middle of your betting zone – this is your first betting decision. The dealer then deals you your three-card poker hand and their hand face down. If multiple people are playing, you’re only allowed to look at your hand, not anyone else’s.

Once you have received your hand, you need to decide whether to fold or call – this is the second betting decision. Folding means you forfeit the ante bet you’ve made, with no way to win the hand. Calling means you match the ante bet you’ve made and see if your hand beats the dealer’s hand.

A standard side bet is available in 3-card poker called “Pair Plus.” This is a separate wager on whether or not your hand will be a pair or better. The side bet pays increasingly higher returns, the stronger hand you have. It usually pays 1/1 for making a pair and up as high as 40/1 for a straight flush. The dealer’s hand has no impact on whether or not you win this bet.

An ante bonus is also awarded to players if they make a straight or better. The standard payouts for this bonus are 1/1 for a straight, 4/1 for three of a kind, and 5/1 for a straight flush. This is a bonus played out regardless of who wins the hand, so even if the dealer manages to beat you; you get to keep your bonus.

3-Card Poker Outcomes

If you decide to call your hand, you get to a showdown against the dealer to see who wins. However, 3-card poker isn’t as simple as “whoever has the best hand wins.” The dealer needs to have a qualifying hand to beat you. In the majority of casinos, this hand is queen high or better. Four different outcomes can occur in 3-card poker; these are:

  1. 1. Dealer Doesn't Qualify

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    If the dealer does not have queen high or better, you win even money on your ante bet, and your “call” bet is a push.

  2. 2. Dealer Wins

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    If the dealer has a better hand than you, you lose both your ante bet and your “call” bet.

  3. 3. Dealer Loses

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    If you have a better hand than the dealer, you win even money on both your ante bet and your “call” bet.

  4. 4. Tie

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    If you and the dealer have the same hand, your ante bet and your “call” bet are pushed.

     

    That’s all there is to it; you now know all the ins and outs of how 3-card poker works!

3-Card Poker Strategies

So, now that you have a basic understanding of how to play 3-card poker, how can you play it well? Unfortunately, being a casino game, there isn’t a way to win consistently. However, it has a low house edge compared to other games – 3.3% – as long as you play optimally. Luckily, playing optimally is incredibly simple in 3-card poker compared to some games like blackjack. So, all you need to do is follow these two simple rules, and you can play perfect 3-card poker.

Do Not Play Side Bets

As tempting as they might be – especially when you see the 40/1 return on a straight flush – you should never play any of the side bets. Doing so will increase the casino’s house edge by almost double, meaning there’s a higher chance you walk away a loser.

Avoid these bets if you’re looking to play as well as possible to make your money last. However, if you’re just looking to gamble, do whatever you think will be the most fun.

Remember One Hand Combination

The great thing about 3-card poker is that you only need to learn one-hand combinations to play optimally. Compared to the dozens of rules you need to remember for basic blackjack strategy, 3-card poker is a walk in the park.

That hand combination is Q64. Call with that hand and everything higher, and fold everything else to play perfectly.

It’s as easy as that. You’ve just learned how to play perfect 3-card poker!

Summary

3-card poker is one of the more casual games you’ll encounter in the casino due to its simple rules and easy-to-learn strategy. Every hand is independent of the other, meaning that there is no way that the way you play your hand can influence the result of another player’s. In addition, there is no known way to beat 3-card poker, so you don’t have to worry about sharps sucking the fun out of the game. It’s a lot of fun and well worth a look if you get bored of traditional poker!