Three Card Poker is a fairly slow-paced table game that is very simple to learn. The house edge isn’t as bad as some games (optimal strategy is around 3.4%), and it’s a good opportunity to sit down and drink for free. I’m not a huge fan of this game, yet I find myself playing it often as it’s a crowd pleaser with several of my friends. Let’s get into some basic rules.
When you sit down, you’ll make an “Ante” bet. You are then dealt three cards and the dealer is dealt three cards. You can look at your cards, but the dealer’s cards are dealt face down. You only have one decision after looking at your cards — either RAISE or FOLD. If you fold, you forfeit your ante bet. If you raise, you must place a bet equal to your ante bet in the RAISE circle on the table. The dealer will now compare cards with you. If the dealer does not have Queen-high or better, you win even money on your Ante bet, and push on your Raise bet. If the dealer does have Queen-high or better, you compare your cards to the dealer’s cards, and the highest poker hand will win (even money on both the Ante and Raise bets). If the Player and Dealer tie, it is generally a push. It is also worth noting that if the dealer “qualifies” (Queen or higher) and you are dealt a straight or better, you’ll win a premium amount on your RAISE bet (Straight (1:1), Three of a Kind (4:1), Straight Flush (5:1).
Our friends at Wizard of Odds tell us that the optimal strategy in this game is to raise with any hand of Queen-Six-Four or higher and fold any hand lower. In other words, if you have Queen-Six-Three, you should fold. We presume they use computers and robots and math to arrive at this strategy. As a result, we trust it intrinsically, and so should you. As mentioned above, the house edge is just under 3.4% if you play with this strategy and avoid the side bets.
Speaking of side bets…
There are several side bets involved in this game, the most common of which is the “Pair Plus” bet. The vast majority of players play this bet, and the dealer will also encourage you to play it. In fact, if you fail to bet it, the players at the table will look at you funny. It has almost become a given. That said, I avoid it, and here is why. The payout for Pair Plus in most casinos is as follows: Pair (1:1), Flush (3:1), Straight (6:1), 3 of a kind (30:1), and Straight Flush (40:1). The Wizard puts the house edge on this bet at over 7.2%. Not great.
You might be wondering about those people (everyone) that play both the Ante bet AND the Pair Plus bet. The house edge on the combined strategy is 5.32%. Meanwhile, I’m the guy playing the basic Ante bet sitting over here at 3.37%. I like my chances to win over theirs.
That said, I never ever ever judge people that play carnival bets. Most of them are on vacation and looking for entertainment. Go for it! Just know it’s a gamble and not as “smart” of a bet as playing the Ante bet by itself. That .002% chance of a straight flush may be worth the gamble for the joy of jumping up and down hitting 40:1 on the Pair Plus.
There are other iterations of side bets on Three Card Poker, many specific to individual casinos. The smart play is to avoid them unless you feel like a gamble.
For more information, including an explanation of the House Edge, see the Wizard of Odds 3-Card Page.