Of all the dozens of poker variations you can try, three card poker is the ideal launchpad for new players, while also being a fun way for more seasoned poker veterans to kill some time. Unlike most poker games, this one is a house game, meaning it is played against the dealer, like blackjack. Also, as the name implies, it involves a hand of just three cards, so is far simpler than five or seven card poker games.
The basics of three card poker
Place an ante bet to start the game. The dealer will then deal you three cards, plus three face down for herself. Look at your cards and decide whether to play, in which case you must place a play bet equal to the ante, or fold. The dealer then reveals her cards. Assuming you have not folded, one of four results is possible:
- To qualify to play, the dealer’s hand must be at least Queen high. If it’s not, the play wager is returned and the ante pays 1-1.
- If dealer’s hand qualifies and beats the player’s hand, the player loses the ante and play bet.
- If dealer’s hand qualifies and the player’s hand beats it, the ante and play bets pay out at 1-1.
- If the hands are of identical value, it is a push on both ante and play bets.
There are a couple of possible side bets ,which we will mention in a moment, but the above is all there is to the poker card rules for this online poker variation that has become so popular with US players in recent years. No swapping or discarding cards, no additional rounds of betting, and just one decision to make.
Three card poker strategy
All that means three card poker strategy should be very simple – and that’s exactly what it is. There are a finite number of possible combinations for the player’s hand – in fact, there are 22,100. There are then 18,424 possible hands for the dealer. If you love statistical analysis, you can work through them all to calculate exactly how “good” a hand is worth playing and at which point it is a statistically safer bet to fold.
If that doesn’t sound tempting, the good news is other mathematicians have been there and done that. When you crunch the numbers, they tell you that if you have Queen-Six-Four or better, you should play. If not, you should fold. It’s really that simple, and it’s the only rule you need to remember.
Most casino experts will tell you side bets are bad bets as they usually have a higher house edge. That’s true, but it’s still worth considering the pair plus bet, if the pay table is favorable. Pair plus is a side bet that your hand will contain a pair or better. It pays, or not, regardless of whether your hand wins or loses against the dealer.
Typically, it pays even money for a pair up to 50-1 for a mini royal flush. But the numbers to check are for a straight and a flush. If these are 6-1 and 4-1 respectively, the house edge is around two percent, which is not bad. If you see 5s or 3s instead, it pushes the house edge up around five percent and is best left alone.