Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker is one of the most commonly found and most popular casino poker games out there both online and in land-based casinos. The action is straightforward as well without much complication, so it’s a good table game for beginners to start with while offering competitive payout rates and easy-to-learn optimal strategies. Learn all about Three Card Poker in this tutorial and compare the best casinos to play at.

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Introduction to Three Card Poker

Most people who are familiar with poker will know the game based on the traditional five-card rankings. However, there are also three-card rankings, and you can play versions of poker with only three cards in the hands. These rankings are a bit different than what you find with five cards, and that’s something that can throw off new players.

With that having been said, the idea is still the same: The highest-ranking three card poker hands are those that are the hardest to be dealt if you were only dealt three cards at random from a standard 52-card deck. This is how the rankings for five-card hands are found as well, and that’s a pretty straightforward system to use that’s easy to follow and understand.

Three Card Poker Example

The History of Three Card Poker

The roots of this game come from three-card brag, a game of British origin that goes back to the 1500s. It’s an ancestor of modern-day, five-card poker as well, and you’ll still see other versions of brag found in Asian countries in particular due to the influence of British colonies over the past few centuries.

Brag uses a system of betting that’s somewhat similar to modern fixed-limit poker. Players are dealt only three cards, however, and the other players do not get to see any of your cards. Hand rankings are the same as three card poker, which we will elaborate on down below, and the highest hand wins the pot.

One thing that stands out in brag is that you can actually lose a tie based on the betting order, which is something you do not see in any modern variations of poker.

In 1994, a professional poker player from England named Derek Webb introduced a single-player version of brag that he called “3-card Poker” to casinos in the United Kingdom. This game evolved into the modern version of three card poker that’s played in a high percentage of casinos found all over the world, both online and land-based.

The Rules and Gameplay of Three Card Poker

To understand this game, you have to understand the somewhat unique hand rankings first. From there, you’ll learn the gameplay procedure and how the different available wagers are paid out. Additionally, there are some small variations that can increase your payout rates or otherwise affect the strategies involved in the game.

Three Card Poker Hand Rankings

The biggest mistake that players make with three card poker the most often is that they don’t realize that the order of the hand rankings is a lot different. This is because the chances of being dealt different kinds of hands falls in a different order when compared to five cards hands.

To help you out, there will often be a payout chart on the table that you’re playing with. However, that’s not always the case, so we suggest remembering the hand rankings in the following order, starting with the strongest:

  • Royal Flush – AKQ in the same suit
  • Straight Flush – Three other consecutive cards of the same suit
  • Three of a Kind – Three cards of matching rank (eg: JJJ)
  • Straight – Three cards of consecutive rank
  • Flush – Three cards of the same suit
  • Pair – Two cards of matching rank
  • High Card – Can make no hand from the above

This list is anti-intuitive, but it’s not hard to remember once you’ve played a few times while trying to commit it to memory.

Gameplay Procedure for Three Card Poker

The gameplay for three card poker usually centers around two potential bets that the player can make. These are the ante bets and the Pairplus bet. The ante bet is what the main action is centered around, and the Pairplus bet is a side wager based only on the cards that the player is dealt (regardless of how the rest of the hand goes). Because of this, we’re only going to focus on the ante bet here and look at the Pairplus bet in another section down below.

With that out of the way, here’s how the gameplay procedure works for three card poker for the ante wager:

  1. The player makes an ante bet.
  2. The dealer and the player are each dealt three cards, all of which are face-down.
  3. The player gets the option to fold or raise. Folding gives up the cards and the ante wager, and raising has the player add a second bet called the “play” bet, which is worth the same amount as the ante.
  4. The dealer’s cards are turned over, and it’s decided if the dealer qualifies. The dealer needs at least a high-card hand of Q-high or better to qualify.
  5. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, then the ante pays out at 1:1, and the play bet is simply returned to the player as a push.
  6. If the dealer does qualify, then the hands are compared based on the three card poker hand rankings listed up above.
  7. The player wins at 1:1 on the ante and play bet if he or she has the best hand. A loss loses both wagers, and a tie means both wagers are a push.
  8. Regardless of who wins and if the dealer even qualifies, the player will also receive a bonus payout for what’s called the “Ante Bonus” for a straight or higher. These wins are based on a pay table that can change from game to game.

For the Pairplus bet, it’s a much more straightforward procedure:

  1. The player makes the Pairplus bet.
  2. The cards are dealt, and the ante decision to raise or fold is played out if an ante wager was placed.
  3. If the player’s cards rank high enough based on the Pairplus pay table, then a win is awarded to the player separate for the ante or play payouts (including the Ante Bonus, if it applies).

And that’s about it. The only real variables here are the pay tables for the Pairplus and Ante Bonus wagers.

Ante Bonus Payouts

Ultimately, it’s the Ante Bonus table that determines the house advantage and the overall payout rate for the ante wager in a three card poker game. With that having been said, there are a number of different pay tables available, and they can vary quite a bit from casino to casino.

The most common Ante Bonus table is called the “1-4-5” table that pays 1x for a straight, 4x for three of a kind and 5x for a straight flush (which includes royal flushes). With perfect play, which we’ll get into in the strategy section below, this leads to a house edge of about 3.4 percent. This is found in the version of this game for many software developers like Microgaming.

However, there is a much better pay table that can be found in the three card poker game developed by Gamesys. This is a “1-8-9” payout structure instead, and that only has a house edge of about 1.6 percent instead. This is a substantial improvement over what you normally find, which means game selection is actually an important part of maximizing your overall payout rate for this wager and this game as a whole.

Pairplus Payouts

The Pairplus wager is set up to give you a multiple of your bet size provided that you get at least a pair in the three cards you’re dealt. The dealer doesn’t have to qualify to get a payout for this wager, and you don’t have to win the hand at all. In fact, the dealer’s cards are completely irrelevant on this one.

The following is the most common pay table for this wager, and you’ll find it virtually everywhere online with one exception we’ll note below:

  • Straight flush (40x)
  • Three of a kind (30x)
  • Straight (6x)
  • Flush (3x)
  • Pair (1x)

High card hands do not give a payout for the Pairplus bet. With this pay structure, the house advantage for a Pairplus bet is about 7.3 percent. This is much higher than what you should ever put your money on, so we don’t recommend playing with this side bet.

However, in the Gamesys software that we mentioned earlier for having a favorable Ante Bonus table, the Pairplus table is more favorable as well with the following layout:

  • Straight flush (40x)
  • Three of a kind (32x)
  • Straight (6x)
  • Flush (4x)
  • Pair (1x)

There’s only a house advantage of 1.9 percent with this improved table, which makes it a more viable option.

Strategy Tips for Three Card Poker

Something pretty interesting about three card poker is that it’s got one of the most straightforward and easy to learn optimal strategies of almost any table game. However, it requires that the player knows exactly how high-card hands work and are ranked and categorized in order to implement it correctly. There’s also a slight deviation for a common rule change that we want to look at as well.

The Essential Strategy for Three Card Poker

Virtually all of strategy for the ante bet comes down to the raise or fold decision. The only information you have to make your decision is the three cards in your own hand since you can’t see any cards from the dealer. As a result, it’s pretty easy to define the best possible strategy as follows:

Always raise if you have Q-6-4 high or better. Always fold if you have Q-6-3 or worse.

If you understand how high-card hands work, you’ll understand this strategy completely. However, if you aren’t completely clear on it, this is how you can sort them.

High-card hands in all kinds of poker, whether there are three cards or five, are ranked according to the highest available card. If that’s a tie, then it goes to the next highest. If that’s a tie, that process continues. As a result, the hands Q72 and Q65 both beat Q64. This example should clear things up a bit, but if you aren’t totally sure, just go back to how we’ve described the resolution of high card hands here, and it’ll clear it up for you.

We want to make one more thing clear for this strategy as well: Changes in the ante bonus pay table will not change this strategy at all.

When Ties Win for the Player: Small Variations

You’ll find in a number of online and land-based casinos that there’s an additional rule in three card poker regarding ties. This says that a tie on the ante bet will have the player win. That’s a nice rule, though it doesn’t affect much in terms of how many hands you win because ties are fairly rare in this game in general.

However, it does very slightly change the best possible strategies. In addition to all hands that are Q-6-4 high or better, you’ll also raise certain Q-6-3 hands. You will not raise all of them, however. Instead, you will only raise with them if all three of those cards are of different suits. This has to do with how it affects the odds of the dealer getting flush hands and the distribution of the proportions of lower high cards hands to hands that beat you in that situation. It’s a marginal play, but it’s easy enough to remember.

Live Dealer Three Card Poker Games

You can find live dealer three card poker tables online with different software providers, but the game that’s the most common is the one offered from Evolution Gaming. This is actually a pretty good version of the game overall compared to what you’d normally find in land-based casinos, and it’s hard to argue with their selection of side bets and other features:

  • Pairplus – The Pairplus side bet is available here with a more favorable pay table than usual, which includes a 100x top payout for a three-card royal flush.
  • Six Card Bonus Bet – If you can make a given five-card poker hand with the six cards dealt between you and the dealer, then you get a bonus payout with this side bet that you can’t really find anywhere else online. This includes a 1,000x top payout.

The standard ante bonus table is used here as well, so you’re getting at least as good of a deal as you would get with the usual online games.

Something worth noting about this game is that the social factor really adds a lot to the overall experience, especially if you have a pretty good grasp of the relevant strategies for the game as a whole. It helps to make the whole thing a lot more entertaining for a game that’s as straightforward as three card poker.


The main things to know about three card poker are that it’s an easy game to learn and that the strategies are really simple and straightforward. If you’re looking to get in on casino poker titles or table games in general, it’s not a bad one to start with by any means because it’s so easy to get into. When you add the Pairplus side bet and the Six Card Bonus that you can find in the live version, there’s plenty of side action to keep things interesting as well.


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