When talking about poker, many people, especially those unfamiliar with the game, will imagine cigar chomping men sat around a cloudy table staring seriously at each other, clutching their cards and hoping to win a huge pile of chips in the middle by ‘bluffing’.
Well, the days of the Wild West are long gone, and there are many different poker variations to enjoy in todays world. In a good number of them you don’t actually face other players either, but you play against the dealer.
This is the case with 3 Card Poker, which is a much simpler version of the game that anyone can easily pick up and have some fun with. For this reason, you should find it in abundance both online and in the real world.
People like the game because it is less intense than other variations, requires less skill and knowledge, and game rounds complete much more quickly too, so it’s possible to get through a lot of hands in a short space of time.
People sometimes mistakenly refer to 3 Card Poker as 3 Card Brag, and while they are very similar in a lot of ways, they are not actually the same game.
Basic Rules of 3 Card Poker
If you are in a casino you will need to wait for a space to become available at one of the tables, and then sit down to get ready for the next game round. Don’t interrupt a round that is already being played though or you will upset people.
Online, it’s just a case of loading up the game and playing at your own pace from there. Both real world and online games will have table limits though, which you should pay attention to before you take your seat.
You will be able to see a few different betting areas where you can place your chips:
- Pair Plus
You must place an ante bet in order to be dealt in the game, but the pair plus is a side bet that you can ignore if you don’t want to play it. That bet will be explained in more detail shortly.
You don’t place any chips on the play area of the table until after your cards have been dealt, so that space should remain empty at the start.
If you think you stand a chance of winning after the deal then you need to place an amount equal to the ante in order to play the hand, so basically you double your bet. Alternatively, you can fold if you don’t like your hand, losing your ante. The dealer will usually tell you if you have a hand (they might say “Straight” or “Pair of 9s”), and if playing online the game will definitely highlight a playable hand, and might even warn you if you try to make suboptimal decisions.
If you do choose to play, then once you have added your extra chips to the table the dealer will reveal their hand and the winner will be announced and, if it is the player, they will be paid out.
The cards and chips are collected and the next game round begins.
One other important thing to understand is that the dealer has to ‘qualify’ for the play bet to be paid out. The dealer’s hand qualifies if it has a Queen high or better. The ante bet will be paid out whether they qualify or not, but the play bet will be a push if they don’t qualify, and paid out if they do, so ideally you want the dealer to have a strong enough hand to qualify, but not a strong enough hand to beat yours.
The pair plus is what’s known as a side bet, as it operates independently of the rest of the game.
This bet is placed at the same time as the ante if you want to play it, so before any cards are dealt. This is because you are betting that your hand will contain a pair, any pair, or better. Hence, pair ‘plus’.
That means the pair plus bet is over and done with as soon as your cards are dealt, and if you are indeed dealt a pair or better you will be paid out immediately. If not, that money is lost.
One interesting thing about this bet is that you can win it even if your hand goes on to lose the main game, and lose it even if your hand goes on to win the main game.
For example if you are dealt a pair of 3s and a 5 but the dealer’s hand contains a pair of 4s and a Queen, your pair plus bet wins but your hand loses since the dealer’s hand is stronger, so you lose your ante and play bets.
Equally, if you are dealt a 6, 7, K and the dealer has 7, 9, Q, your pair plus bet will lose as you don’t have a pair or better in your hand, but you do have a King high which beats the dealer’s Queen high, so your ante and play bets will win even though your pair plus bet is lost.
Of course, you could also win all of them and lose all of them in the right scenarios.
Payouts and Probabilities
Whether playing online or in the real world, the payouts for each hand will be printed on the table so that you can see them whenever you want to. The probabilities won’t be on show, although if you dig into the rules of an RNG based game they have to show the RTP by law which allows you to work out the house edge.
Before looking at the different winning odds and probabilities, you need to understand what makes a winning hand in 3 card poker.
When it comes to winning hands, you are looking at the following from weakest to strongest:
- High Card – Your highest card is higher than the dealer’s highest card (eg. Your Jack vs their 10).
- Pair – Any two cards in your hand having the same face value, but don’t have to be from the same suit (eg. 4 of hearts, 4 of spades).
- Flush – All 3 cards are of the same suit, but don’t have to be in numerical order (eg. 2 of hearts, 9 of hearts, Queen of hearts).
- Straight – All 3 cards are in numerical order, but don’t have to be from the same suit (eg. 5 of spades, 6 of diamonds, 7 of clubs).
- Three of a Kind – All 3 cards have the same face value, but don’t have to be from the same suit (eg. King of hearts, King of clubs, King of hearts).
- Straight Flush – All 3 cards are from the same suit, and are in numerical order (eg. 7 of clubs, 8 or clubs, 9 of clubs).
Notice that in 3 Card Poker, a straight is worth more than a flush, which is the opposite way around to most other poker variations. Since only 3 cards are dealt in this game it’s more difficult to get a straight than a flush which is why this reversal has happened.
Assuming your hand beats the dealer’s you are looking at the following payouts and probabilities for each hand being dealt:
|Three of a Kind||1:1||0.24%|
This assumes that the dealer’s hand qualifies though. Remember, if they don’t have Queen high or better then only your ante bet will receive the 1:1 payouts, the play bet will be a push.
The probability of any hand in particular being dealt is always the same since 3 card poker only uses a single deck that is swapped out and reshuffled after each hand, but the payouts for a pair plus bet are much juicier than those above:
|Three of a Kind||30:1|
Those odds might look appealing but remember, your chances of getting a pair or higher are much lower than your chances of simply winning a hand, so you will lose a lot of the time on this bet.
You have a little over 25% chance of being dealt a pair or better, and the majority of that comes from the probability of being dealt a pair or a flush, which only pay out 1:1 and 3:1 respectively.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the ante bonus, and this comes into play when the player wins with a very strong hand but the dealer does not qualify. It would be devastating to get a rare Straight Flush only for the dealer not to qualify, so to make the game more interesting the ante bonus pays out extra in this situation for the following bets:
|Three of a Kind||4:1|
So a winning £5 bet on the ante and a winning £5 bet on the play with the player being dealt a straight flush and the dealer not qualifying, would return £5 on the play as normal (it’s a push because the dealer didn’t qualify), but would return £30 on the ante thanks to the ante bonus.
The house edge for a game like this, where the player can make decisions and there are different bets in play, is variable.
Assuming the game is a standard one and the player is able to play at an optimal level – i.e not make poor decisions on which hands to play and which hands to fold – the house edge is 3.37% against the ante, but if you play your hand (and assuming you have at least a Q, 6, 4 which is the weakest hand you should ever play to stay optimal), the house edge reduces to 2.01%.
This takes into account all of the possible outcomes as well as the ante bonus, but not the pair plus bet.
If you place a pair plus bet as well then the house edge sits a little higher at 2.32%.
Be reminded also that the house edge can be much much higher for anyone playing sub optimally, as they might be playing hands they have very little chance of winning, or folding hands they would be better off playing statistically. Making these mistakes time after time eats away at the RTP (the opposite of the house edge) and so increases the edge of the casino.