How to Play Three-Card Poker

by James Carter on February 19th, 2015.

Here I am playing 3-card poker at Bovada Casino.3-Card Poker features all the excitement of traditional poker, but at a much faster pace. Invented by Derek Webb in 1994, the game has slowly gained in popularity at brick-and-mortar casinos over the decades, and it is now available online at a wide array of virtual establishments.

Please note, however, that the game is often found at leading casinos such as Bovada Casino, Bet365 Casino and 32Red Casino under the name "Tri-Card Poker."

Three-Card Poker Rankings

Before you dive into the game, it's a good idea to know the hand rankings in a game of 3-Card Poker. They are listed below, from highest to lowest.

Straight Flush - This hand is comprised of three cards of the same suit (hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades) in consecutive order. An example would be a 4-5-6 of diamonds. Aces may count as high or low when determining the value of a straight. Out of 22,100 hands, it's estimated that a straight flush will occur 48 times.

Three of a Kind - To achieve this hand, a player needs three cards of the same rank.

Straight - To get a straight in this game, you'll need three cards in consecutive order. The suit of the cards may vary, and an ace may count as high or low.

Flush - A hand made up of three cards from the same suit.

Pair - This hand is comprised of two cards with the same rank. If both the dealer and player have the same value pair, then the third card in their hand (the "kicker") breaks the tie.

High Card - This is the lowest 3-card combination in the game. If a player has no other viable hand, then their highest card is compared to the dealer's hand.

Rules of 3-Card Poker

Now that you're familiar with the various hands, let's look at how Three Card Poker is played. Please note that the game uses a standard 52-card deck without jokers. Since there can be slight variations between the land-based and online versions, I'll be basing the information in this section on the details provided by Bovada (where the game is known as Tri-Card Poker).

There are two betting areas on the playing surface: Pair Plus and Ante. If you choose the Pair Plus circle, you're wagering that your three-card hand will contain a pair or better. In the Ante area, meanwhile, the player bets that his hand can beat the dealer. One or both of these options must be chosen before the cards are dealt, and the wagers do not have to be in equal amounts.

Once all bets are made, three cards are dealt to each participant. The dealer's cards are dealt face-down, while the player's cards are face-up.

Ante

If the Ante option was chosen, the player looks at their hand and decides whether to fold or raise an amount equal to their initial ante. The fold option results in the end of the hand, with the player losing his ante bet.

Assuming a raise is made, the dealer checks their hand to see if they have a queen or better. If they do not, the player immediately receives even money on their ante and the raise is returned as a push. Pair Plus payouts must also be settled prior to the end of the hand.

A dealer hand that does meet the queen-or-better qualification is turned over and compared to the player's cards, with the highest hand being declared the winner. A win by the dealer results in the player losing both their ante and raise.

A win by the player results in the ante and raise being paid at even money. In the case of a tie, there is no action on the ante or raise.

If the player's winning hand contains a straight or better, the Ante Bonus pay table goes into effect and rewards the following payout for the ante wager (but not the raise):

Straight - even money

Three of a Kind - 4 to 1

Straight Flush - 5 to 1

Pair Plus

If the player chose the Pair Plus option, they should immediately check to see if they have a pair or better. If they do, the payout at the end of the hand is as follows:

One pair - even money

Flush - 4 to 1

Straight - 6 to 1

Three of a Kind - 30 to 1

Straight Flush - 40 to 1

House Edge on 3-Card Poker

The overall house edge for the Pair Plus wager is 2.32%. This rises to 2.70% in the United Kingdom, as the straight flush payout for Pair Plus only delivers 35 to 1 instead of 40 to 1.

For the ante bonus, the house holds an average edge of 3.37%. However, this can rise to as much as 4.28% based on the payout percentage.

As the above information indicates, the astute player should choose the Pair Plus option in order to receive the best statistical chance of winning. Of course, the lower edge still means that the house has an advantage over the player. Keep this in mind before playing, and never gamble with money that you can't afford to lose.

Three-Card Poker Strategies

Since the house has an inherent advantage, there's no existing strategy that allows the player to consistently come out ahead. For this reason, I recommend choosing the method of play that provides you with the most enjoyment. Here are a few options to consider:

  1. Wager the same amount of money on both the Ante and Pair Plus options.
  2. Play both the Pair Plus and Ante options, but make one wager twice as much as the other.
  3. When deciding whether to fold or play, the most frequent suggestion is to proceed only if your hand has at least a Queen-6-4 combination. This is known as "optimal strategy."
  4. If you play at a land-based casino and happen to see one of the dealer's cards, always choose the raise option if the card is a 2 through Jack. On a dealer Queen, raise if you have at least a Q-9-2. For a King, raise with a K-9-2 or better. If the dealer shows an ace, you should raise with an A-9-2 or better. If you can find a dealer who's inexperienced or sloppy enough to provide you with consistent peeks, then you'll enjoy a 3.48% advantage over the house.

The Game of the Future?

With the rise of the Internet and social media, the attention span of the average adult has become increasingly limited. This makes 3-Card Poker an ideal game for the online generation, as it provides the same thrills as regular poker but takes far less time. While some might scoff at the idea of it becoming the casino game of the future, think about the Texas Hold'em boom and how many people saw that coming.