Three Card Poker Gambling Strategy

Three Card Poker is a reasonably popular poker-based game, but it’s not a true poker game, because you play against the dealer, not the other players. In some respects, it’s more like a blackjack game with poker trappings. But it’s popular because it’s reasonably easy to play, it’s fast-paced and fun, and the house edge is relatively low–in the 2% to 4% range.

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How to Play Three Card Poker

three-card-pokerThree Card Poker could be considered two separate games played at the same time and in the same place. One game is Ante/Play, and the other game is Pair Plus.

Both games use standard poker hand rankings. But it also has a couple of exceptions. For one thing, a straight beats a flush in Three Card Poker. And a three of a kind beats both a straight and a flush.

How to Play Ante/Play

Ante/Play is the version of Three Card Poker where you try to beat the dealer’s hand. It’s similar to blackjack, but the winner is determined by the cards’ poker hand ranking, instead of using a point system to try to get close to 21 without going over.

In the Ante/Play game, you place an ante, and then you’re dealt a three card poker hand. If you like the hand, you can place another bet, the “Play” bet, which is the same size as your ante bet. If you fold, you lose your ante.

The dealer turns over her cards after all the players have looked at their cards and decided whether to bet or fold. The dealer needs a pair of queens or better to qualify.

If the dealer doesn’t qualify, ante bets are paid off at even money.

Play bets are returned but not paid off in this situation.

If the dealer has a hand with queens or better, aka a hand that “qualifies,” then the dealer’s hand is compared to each player’s hand. Winning hands get even payouts on both their ante and their play bets.

A straight flush, three of a kind, or straight qualifies for a bonus payout on the ante bet only. This bonus payout gets paid even if the player loses to the dealer.

A straight flush qualifies for a bonus payout of 5 to 1 on the ante bet.

A three of a kind qualifies for a bonus payout of 4 to 1 on the ante bet.

A straight qualifies for a bonus payout of 1 to 1 on the ante bet.

How to Play Pair Plus

Pair Plus is the version of Three Card Poker that pays out based on the strength of your hand. You don’t have to compare your hand to the dealer’s hand to win–if you get a high enough hand, you get a payoff, period.

Pair Plus is a non-competitive game that’s similar to slot machines, but it’s even more similar to video poker, since the payoffs are determined by the strength of a poker hand.

The typical payouts for the Pair Plus game look like this:

Hand Payout
Straight flush 40 to 1
Three of a kind 30 to 1
Straight 6 to 1
Flush 4 to 1
Pair 1 to 1

Playing Both

If you’re playing both options (Ante/Play and Pair Plus), and you fold your ante bet, you’re also folding your Pair Plus bet. But if you had a hand that was good enough to win any kind of payout on the Pair Plus bet, you’d never want to fold that hand in an Ante/Play situation either.

How to Win at Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker is not primarily a game of skill. But you do have a decision to make, and that’s whether or not to fold your hand. Luckily, the strategy for deciding this is simplicity itself.

Fold any hand lower than Q-6-4.

That’s the correct strategy for three card poker, and if you follow that strategy, the house edge is 3.37%. If you deviate from that strategy, the house edge could be higher.

Since it’s a negative expectation game with a house edge for the casino, the answer to the question, “How do you win at Three Card Poker?” is equally simple.

Get lucky.

If you just stick with the Pair Plus option though, you can reduce the house edge even further. If you only play Pair Plus, you don’t have to make any decisions or think at all, and the house edge is only 2.32%.