How to Play 3-Card Poker — The Rules, Rankings, Stakes, and More
As one of the most popular casino table games, learning how to play 3-card poker could be the best thing you do this year. It’s fun, interactive, and not too difficult to learn. Even beginners can play, provided they pick up on a few strategies first.
To help you quickly get a hang of this fascinating game, we’ve come up with the ultimate guide. Today we’re going to break down the basic rules, strategies, advantages, payouts, and much more. So without further ado, let’s learn how to play 3-card poker.
What Is 3-Card Poker?
Before we can get into the rules, we first have to explain exactly what 3-card poker is. As you might already know, almost all poker games involve playing against other players.
But not 3-card poker.
In this game, you’re playing against the house, and other players’ hands don’t matter to you. It’s a variation of poker, played with a standard 52-card deck. With 3-card poker, there are four different ways to win and three ways to play. The game allows you to bet against the dealer or on the value of their 3-card hand. You can even bet against both the dealer and the value in their hand.
The object of 3-card poker is to get a 3-poker hand with a value greater than the dealers. Keep in mind that the house edge doesn’t come from taking a share of pots. The house has the edge built into the game’s odds.
3-card poker can have pretty big payouts, just as long as you make a hand of a specific value. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to play 3-card poker.
How to Play 3-Card Poker
One of the best things about 3-card poker is how simple it is and that it requires almost no setup. That’s what makes it the perfect game for online and brick-and-mortar casinos.
The first thing to know when learning how to play 3-card poker is the requirements. As we just mentioned, the setup is pretty simple, which means all you need to play is a standard 52-card deck and betting chips or tokens.
Of course, if you’re playing with us, all of these things will be provided for you.
When we break it all down, the objective of 3-card poker is simple: Make the best 3-card poker hand you can! Unlike some other, popular casino games, you won’t be exchanging or drawing any more cards. It’s just about the cards that you’ve been dealt.
That’s why we say that 3-card poker is a stud game, rather than a draw game.
Depending on the type of bet you decide to place, which we’ll get to, you’ll want to do one of two things:
- Have your hand outrank the dealer
- Hope to make a pair or better
Another key component of learning how to play 3-card poker is the rankings. Luckily, they’re pretty simple.
You need the highest poker-ranked card or cards that are in your hands to win.
One thing to keep in mind is that the 3-card poker rankings are not exactly the same as the ones in regular poker. In 5-card games, flushes outrank straights, but in 3-card poker, straights outrank flushes.
In 3-card poker, there are more possible ways to make flushes than straights. But there are also more ways to make straights than flushes compared to most other games.
So from highest to lowest, here are the rankings to know:
- Straight Flush: Three cards that have the same suit and consecutive value (e.g. K♣, Q♣, J♣)
- 3-of-a-kind: Three cards of equal value that match (e.g. 9-9-9)
- Straight: Three cards of consecutive value that match (e.g. 7-8-9)
- Flush: Three cards that have the same suit (e.g. 2♣, Q♣, 10♣)
- Pair: Two cards of matching value, with one kicker card (e.g. 2-A-A)
- High Card: Non-paired cards that have no suit matching or consecutive order between them (e.g. 7♦, 2♠, K♥)
One important thing to know about the high card hand is that any Ace combo will beat a King combo. So let’s say that you’re holding A-2-4 versus the dealer who has K-8-7. Even though the average value of the latter is higher, the first combo still has the winning hand.
In the scenario where both the dealer and the player have a first high card, and they tie, the second card will determine the winner. If even the second card is identical, it will all fall down to the third.
You should also keep in mind that two players can have a hand with the exact same ranking, like a pair. In that case, the player with the higher value of hand within that rank takes home the pot.
Another key part of knowing how to play 3-card poker is what happens when you’re comparing two hands that are of identical rank. The player with the highest ranking card has the highest ranking hand.
If you don’t have a pair or better in your hand, the highest-ranking card is considered the better hand. 3-of-a-kind beats a straight, and an Ace is always high, except when you put it in a 3-2-Ace sequence.
How to Play 3-Card Poker and Follow the Rules
Now that we’ve covered rankings, it’s time to cover the most important rules to help you learn how to play 3-card poker.
In the Pair Plus bet, you’re playing against a posted payout table. The goal of this bet is to get a pair or something better. This wager allows you to bet against your hand only, which means that you can’t play against the dealer. Even if the dealer has a better hand, you still might win and get the bet,
By placing a Pair Plus bet on the Pair Plus spot, you’re playing the hand value against the paytable.
With the Ante wager, you’re only betting against the dealer. To win, you need to get a 3-card poker hand with a value that’s higher than the dealer’s qualifying hand, which can be a Queen or better.
With the 3-card poker hand, you’ll have two options. First, if you think that the dealer’s hand is better, you can fold. But if you think that you can take them, place an amount that is equal to the Ante bet, which is on the Play spot. Of course, the best hand wins.
Pair Plus and Ante
In 3-card poker, you can place both the Pair Plus and the Ante wagers at the same time. That means that you’re playing against the dealer and the posted payout table. When you’re betting both, there are two different criteria for payouts because there are two separate pay tables.
It’s important to note that the Pair Plus and Ante wagers don’t have to be the same. Also, players get the Pair Plus payout, regardless of the dealer’s hand, and they can bet any amount within the table’s bet limits.
But the Play bet always has to be the same as the Ante wager. If you decide to place both wagers, but don’t make the Play bet, you have to forfeit both bets.
After the initial bet, it’s time to get your cards. The dealer will pass out three cards to everyone at the table and themselves. And just like in Blackjack, you’re playing against the dealer, which means that other players’ cards are irrelevant to you.
Once you get your three cards, the game is officially afoot. You either have the option of discarding your hand or playing it.
If you decide to get rid of your hand, the dealer will automatically win your initial ante. But if you want to keep playing, you have to place a Play bet. It has to be the same amount as the Ante wager that you first used.
When playing in live casinos, the chips will play after you’ve arranged your hand sequentially and have placed it face-down on the Play area. Online casinos, on the other hand, will deduct credits from your meter after making a play bet.
Winning and Cashing Out
Once the playing action is done, the player has to reveal their cards, followed immediately after by the dealer. In an online casino, all of this is done automatically as soon as all players make their fold or play decisions. As soon as all the hands are compared, each player gets to collect their winnings (or lose them).
There is a scenario in which a hand doesn’t qualify to be played, and that happens if the dealer has a Jack-high High Card or something worse. Everyone still playing will win the ante amount, but they will push with their play bet. Basically, they would just get back the chips that are in play, but they can’t win an added amount for this bet.
The dealer might even have a better hand than the player but still might not qualify. In that situation, the player still wins on the Ante, and they have to push with their Play wager, getting their chips back after that hand.
Side Bets & Payouts
Another part that plays an important role in knowing how to play 3-card poker is the bonuses. There are a few types of additional payouts or wages that you can make in the game.
Pair Plus Payout
As an optional side bet, the Pair Plus Wager allows you to bet on the value of the hand that you’ve been dealt. If your hand has a pair or better, you automatically win.
Here are the Pair Plus payouts you should know about:
- Pair is 1:1
- Flush is 3:1
- Straight is 6:1
- 3-of-a-kind is 40:1
- Mini Royal (A, K, Q) is 50:1
Keep in mind that you can only make a Pair Plus bet if you’ve also put down an Ante wager before the first deal. Also, with this bet, the only cards that are important are the ones you were dealt with initially.
If your hand qualifies for the payout, you’ll get paid according to the paytable. But if you don’t qualify, the dealer will collect your bet.
And finally, the Pair Plus bet can be a winner or loser, no matter what the outcome of your and the dealer’s hands. But the wager will be forfeited if you fold your hand, and don’t place a Play wager.
Ante Bonus Payout
If you place a Play and an Ante wager, you’ll get the Ante Bonus, as long as your hand has the following combo:
- Straight is 1:1
- 3-of-a-kind is 4:1
- Straight Flush is 5:1
You’re entitled to the Ante Bonus payout even if the dealer beats your hand. One thing to know is that you make the Ante and Pair Plus bets, but not the Play wager, you’re forfeiting both bets.
6-Card Bonus Wager
Before any cards have even been dealt, you have the choice to make a 6-Card Bonus wager. But to place, you have to already have made both the Ante and the Pair Plus wager.
Here’s how the 6-Card Bonus wager is made. We’re looking at both the dealer’s and the player’s cards. Out of the total six, the bet is based on the best five-card poker hand.
Players that have made the bet, use all six cards, to make the absolute best five-card poker hand. It doesn’t matter how many of those cards were in your or the dealer’s hand.
The 6-Card Bonus is paid out if the combination of those six cards can make 3-of-a-kind or better. If your hand qualifies, you’ll get the payout according to the paytable, which we’ll get to in a second. If your hand doesn’t qualify for a bonus payout, the dealer will collect it.
You should also know that you can win or lose the 6-Card Bonus wager, no matter the outcome of your Ante wager. What’s more, it won’t be forfeited even if you decide to fold your hand and not place a Play wager.
If you make a 6-Card Side Bet and fold, the dealer will just remove the 3-card poker wager, and put your cards under the 6-Card Bonus Wager.
6-Card Bonus Pay Table
To truly learn how to play 3-card poker like the pros, you also have to know the pay tables. Only then can you make the right, informed decisions about your wagers.
- Three-of-a-kind is 5:1
- Straight is 10:1
- Flush is 15:1
- Full House is 25:1
- Four-of-a-kind is 50:1
- Straight Flush is 200:1
- Royal Flush is 1,000:1
Now that you hopefully know how to play 3-card poker and understand the basic concept of the game, we wanted to show what typical gameplay would look like.
First, the 3-card poker round begins with every player placing their wager, either Ante, Pair Plus, or both before the cards are dealt.
Then, everyone at the table gets three cards, dealt face down, after which the dealer gets the same. After seeing their cards, players can either choose to Play or Fold. To play, you have to put down an additional Play bet, which is equal to the Ante to stay in the game.
If everyone folds, the hand is over, and the dealer collects all the wagers. A good rule of thumb is to play all hands that are greater than Q, 6, and 4 and fold anything worse. But we’ll talk more about strategy soon.
After everyone at the table has taken action, the dealer collects all forfeited or folded bets and their cards, putting them in the discard rack. The dealer will then reveal their own hand, and compare it to each player, and of course, the highest hand wins. To qualify for the round, the dealer has to have a Queen or better.
If the dealer doesn’t have a qualifying hand, they’re disqualified and the Ante wager wins 1:1, and all players get them back.
But if the dealer does qualify and has the better hand, both the Play and Ante bets lose.
In case the dealer and player tie, then the Play and Ante wagers are a Push, and they’re returned to the player.
If you made an Ante wager at the start and have a Straight or higher in your hands, you’re entitled to an Ante Bonus. You will receive it no matter the dealer’s hand.
Another scenario where the dealer’s hand doesn’t matter is the Pair Plus wager because it’s paid based on the poker value of your hand. Just keep in mind that if you place a Pair Plus bet, but don’t get to make a Play wager, you’ll forfeit that wager, as well as the Ante.
At the 3-card poker table, be it virtual or not, there are minimum and maximum bet sizes. If the minimum is $5, for example, taking part in an Ante-Play will cost a total of $10 if you make the Play bet. And if you want to do both bets, it will cost you $15.
In the game, Play and Ante chips need to have the same numeric value. But they can be different from the amount that’s been placed for the Pair Plus bet. Of course, that wager still has to be within the table’s minimum and maximum values.
The Best 3-Card Poker Strategy
Earlier on, when talking about how to play 3-card poker and the gameplay, we mentioned strategy. That’s something to consider when you sit down at the table.
The optimal strategy centers around knowing when to fold or raise various hands. Luckily, it’s a pretty straightforward concept. If you’re holding a Queen, 6, 4, or something stronger, raise your bet. If you’re not holding any of these, fold. You should never make the Play bet if the value in your hands is lower than the Q-6-4 combo.
Here’s a play-by-play to help explain it a bit better.
Look at your first highest card, and compare it to the Queen. If it’s higher than the queen, you can keep on playing, ignoring the other two cards in your hands.
If the highest card is a Queen, and the second highest is a number bigger than 6, you’re still in the game. It doesn’t matter what your third card is.
But if the second-highest card is lower than a 6, you should fold and skip the play.
The reason behind this strategy is that the Ante-bet game always gives the house a slight advantage. It’s around 2% of your total Play and Ante bets over the long term.
Of course, the strategy will vary with payouts on the Ante bonus. If a straight flush pays straight 1:1, three-of-a-kind 4:1, and 5”1, the house has the edge of 3.4% of the Ante and 2.01% of the total action.
In Pair Plus bets, small changes to the strategy will make a big difference to the dealer’s advantage. In the US, the house edge is around 7.3% and has the following payoffs:
- 1:1 on pairs
- 3:1 on flushes
- 6:1 on straights
- 30:1 on three-of-a-kind
- 40:1 on straight flushes
Making only one change, to say that flushes pay 4:1, the house’s edge drops to 2.3%. On the other hand, some casinos in Europe pay the same, except for 4:1 on flushes, 33:1 on three-of-a-kind, and 35:1 on straight flushes. In those casinos, the dealer’s advantage is 2.7%.
Playing 3-Card Poker Online
Knowing how to play-3 card poker might differ on where you’re actually learning to do it. The game is extremely popular in live casinos, and it’s the third most-played game in US casinos. The bets are bigger in games like Baccarat, as it attracts big bettors, but 3-card poker has more overall players.
With the popularity of the game sweeping the nation, it’s now being adopted by many online casinos. But there are a few differences you might notice depending on where you’re playing.
As expected, online, you’re not going to have physical chips and cards, but a visual representation. Depending on the casino, you might have a live dealer or just a visual representation of one.
Lastly, and more importantly, a random number generator will determine all hands.
With that said, at their core, both the live and online casino versions of 3-card poker are the same. The strategies, odds, and advantages will be the same, no matter where you’re playing.
Advantage Play in 3-Card Poker
Learning how to play 3-card poker and doing it in an online casino is usually much easier than it is in a brick-and-mortar one. Everything is automatic, including counting scores, dealing cards, and much more. Also, most online places will help you by sharing some tricks and tips for the game, guiding you through the process.
Of course, there’s no such luck when playing in land casinos. But they have something online casinos just can’t have. And that’s the potential edge.
In games like 3-card poker, finding a mathematical edge for your hand is almost impossible. The deck is shuffled every game, so you can’t really track the balance of low and high cards, unlike in Blackjack.
If you could see the cards of players around you, that’d be a massive help. You could be better informed when deciding whether to hold or play. But that’s why most, if not all, casinos don’t allow that practice. If you saw enough cards, you could swing the game completely in your favor.
Playing the Dealer
Since you’re playing against the house, seeing the dealer’s hand would give much better information. Seeing even one card would expose the third of their hand and could swing your strategy.
It’s common knowledge that dealers don’t really expose their cards often. But sometimes, while moving their cards from the shuffler, you can get a glimpse of a card. If that happens, and you see a high card, your strategy changes from Q-6-4.
If you see that the dealer has a queen, you need to be playing a Q-9-2 combo or better. An Ace means that your combo needs to be better than A-9-2, and a king requires a K-9-2 hand. Anything less than that, and you should fold. Just by doing that, the house’s 2% edge now becomes your 3.5% advantage.
In the US, this type of play isn’t considered cheating. All cases involving using information from seeing exposed cards are ruled in the player’s favor.
Learning the Etiquette
Another part of knowing how to play 3-card poker, or any game for that matter is the proper etiquette. But when it comes to this game, the two most important things to know are how to play your hand and how to fold.
If you want to play your hand and ante up, arrange your cards from low to high. Then, place them face-down in the play box, and then put the Play wager on top of your cards. Of course, if you’re playing online, some of these actions will happen automatically.
If you anted up, but don’t feel like playing your hand, toss your cards back toward the dealer.
Playing in a live casino or with a live dealer could also urge you to tip. And while this is customary, especially for casinos in the US, it’s completely up to you whether you decide to do it or not.
If you do want to tip your dealer, you can bet for them. You can place an additional ante in front of the ante space, which means that if you win, so does the dealer.
The History of 3-Card Poker
While traditional poker has a long and unclear history, we can’t say the same about the 3-card version. And while you might not need to know its full history to know how to play 3-card poker, we thought that it might be fun to know more about its origins.
The game was originally created in 1994 by Derek Webb and patented three years later. The inventor’s goal was to create a version of poker that could be played with the speed and brevity of other table games.
Webb wanted to focus on three specific things for this game:
- The rules were easy to understand
- The house edge was big enough so casinos would be interested in adopting it
- The payouts were sizable
And if you ask us, Webb was three for three.
The first person to adopt the game was the Vice President of Grand Casino Gulfport in Mississippi, Barry Morris. The one stipulation was that Webb would be on the floor, training dealers, and making sure everyone was playing the game correctly.
To Sum Up: How to Play 3-Card Poker
Hopefully, by now, we’ve helped you learn how to play 3-card poker. But more than that, we hope to have inspired a desire to play this ultimately easy, but rewarding game.
If you start playing but aren’t sure about the best strategy or wager, you can always check back here for help! And remember, always play responsibly, and never bet more than you can afford to lose.
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