Three Card Poker for Beginners – How to Play and Best Strategy

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Three Card Poker is a house-banked version of poker.

You might consider it a cross between poker and blackjack. Traditional poker games aren’t banked by the house; the players play against each other.

Derek Webb invented “Three Card Poker” in 1994 and patented it in 1997. The game had the advantage of easily-understood rules, big payouts, and a reasonable house edge.

Of course, games can’t really be patented—just the specific implementation of them. That’s why you’ll see Three Card Poker capitalized when played in a land-based casino, because it’s a trademark.

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It’s also why you’ll see variations of the game played under slightly different names (like Tricard Poker) at online casinos.

Shuffle Master bought the rights to the game in 1999.

It’s a fun game that most players enjoy, and it’s easy enough that you can learn to play in just a few minutes. This post contains everything you need to get started playing Three Card Poker.

How to Play Three Card Poker

The game starts when you make an ante and/or a PairPlus bet. You and the dealer each get three cards. You get to look at your cards, but the dealer’s cards are dealt face down and stay face down.

If you made an ante bet, you have the option to fold or raise. If you fold, you lose your ante bet. If you raise, then you’re making a “play” bet, which means you must put up another bet the same size as your ante.

At this point, the dealer reveals his cards. To qualify, the dealer needs a queen or better. If the dealer does NOT qualify, you get even money on your ante bet, but the play bet is considered a push. (You get that bet back with no winnings. It’s like a tie score.)

If the dealer DOES qualify, then you and the dealer compare hands. The better hand wins both the ante and the play bets. The bets pay off at even money. In the event of a tie, the action is considered a push.

Also, if you have a straight or higher, you get a bonus payout on the ante bet, even if the dealer beats your hand.

The PairPlus bet, on the other hand, pays off based on how well your hand ranks. It has nothing to do with comparing your hand with the dealer’s.

For purposes of Three Card Poker, here are the poker hand rankings, from best to worst.

  • Straight flush
  • Three of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Pair
  • Ace high (or lower)

The ante bonus and the PairPlus bet payouts are based on a pay table, in the same way that a slot machine or video poker game works. These payouts vary from casino to casino.

Here’s an example ante bonus pay table.

Straight flush3
Three of a kind2

These payouts can vary widely, though—you might find a casino that pays 10 to 1 on a straight flush. Generally, the higher the payouts are, the lower the house edge is. One hand doesn’t vary, though—the payoff for a straight is always even money.

The PairPlus pay table usually looks like this.

Straight flush40
Three of a kind30

The house edge for this bet is over 7%, by the way, so I don’t recommend ever making this bet. Some casinos, though, offer a payout for a “mini royal flush.” A mini royal flush is an A-K-Q, all of the same suit.

Depending on the specific pay table for that variation, the house edge might drop to as little as 2%-4%.

The House Edge in Three Card Poker

The house edge for a casino game is the average amount of each bet that the casino expects to win over the long run. It’s expressed as a percentage, so if you’re betting $100 per hand, a house edge of 3% means the casino expects to win $3 every time you place that bet.

The house edge for Three Card Poker varies based on the pay table for the ante plus bonus. It averages between 3% and 5%, making Three Card Poker far inferior to blackjack, which averages between 0.5% and 1%.

Also, this house edge assumes that you’re playing with optimal strategy. Of course, the only strategic decision for you to make in Three Card Poker is whether to raise. Well, and whether to take the PairPlus bet. We’ve already established that you should probably just skip the PairPlus bet, though.

Three Card Poker Strategy Tips and Advice

You should raise if you have a hand that ranks Q-6-4 or better. Otherwise, you should fold.

This does not mean that the third card in the hand must be 4 or higher, though. It means that the poker hand must be good enough to beat Q-6-4. For example, a hand made up of Q-Q-4 would beat Q-6-4. So would a hand of Q-3-3.

In fact, even a Q-J-3 or a Q-9-3 would beat a Q-6-4. When you’re doing a tiebreaker for a hand where the high card is the hand, you look at the next highest card, then the next highest card, and so on. (Of course, in Three Card Poker, there is no “and so on” because there are only three cards.)

How well you follow this strategy has a lot to do with the house edge. For example, if you just raise on every hand you got, the house edge would be close to 8%.

The further you deviate from appropriate strategy in a casino card game, the higher the house edge becomes.

Of course, all the standard advice about gambling applies to Three Card Poker, too.

You should only play with money you can afford to lose. You should always try to get comps from the casino, which means joining the players’ club and getting your play ranked. Quit if you get tired or when you’re no longer having fun.


Three Card Poker is a simple game with a reasonable house edge. It requires a little more skill than roulette, but that’s not saying much. But you get a much better house edge for that skill requirement. 3% to 4% is much better than the 5.26% you face at the roulette tables.

The basics are simple enough.

You get three cards, the dealer gets three cards, and you only compete if the dealer has a queen or higher. You have the option to fold or raise based on how good your hand is. And you have an optional side bet (the “PairPlus” bet), which is usually best skipped.

Then you just raise whenever you have a hand that will beat a Q-6-4. Otherwise, you fold.

You might find a wide variety of additional bets and wrinkles depending on which casino you’re playing in. Many times, these are related to a progressive jackpot or a bonus payout based on a hand called a “mini royal flush.”

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Three Card Poker for Beginners – How to Play and Best StrategyJanuary 25, 2019

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