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Are you curious about three-card poker? Learn game etiquette and winning strategies to help you play three-card poker in any setting.
Some poker players may want to enjoy a game when others aren’t available. This is when knowing how to play three-card poker can come in hand. Regular poker is played against other opponents, but three-card poker is played against the house, which means you play against the dealer’s hand.
Three-card poker is generally played using a standard 52-card deck and utilizes gambling chips. The objective of three-card poker is simple: You want to have a better hand than the dealer. There is no drawing of additional cards or substituting in three-card games, so you’ll always be looking to make a pair or better in each hand or have a higher-ranking hand than the dealer.
This guide will teach you strategies for winning and other basic rules of player etiquette in three-card poker.
3-Card Poker Rankings
As there are fewer overall cards in play, the rankings in three-card poker games are also a bit different from standard poker. Here are the three-card rankings ordered from weakest to strongest:
- High card: Like traditional poker, this term indicates that no cards in the hand match and there is no consecutive order to be found, even among suits.
- Pair: This hand contains two cards of identical value and one random card (also called a “kicker”). The cards in a pair only have to match in numerical value, not in suit.
- Flush: A flush contains three cards of the same suit (e.g., 2-5-9 of clubs).
- Straight: A straight contains three cards of consecutive value (e.g., 5-6-7 in any suit).
- Three of a kind: This hand contains three cards that match and are of equal value (e.g., 5-5-5 in any suit).
- Straight flush: This is that magic moment when you get three cards in consecutive value and in the same suit (e.g., 7-7-7 of hearts). This is a highly competitive hand in three-card poker.
One variation in this ranking system is the presence of a “mini royal.” A mini royal is an ace, king, and queen of the same suit. Players who get a mini royal win even if the dealer holds a straight flush.
A key rule to remember in three-card rankings is that high card hands are determined solely by the high card value. This means that if the player holds what looks to be the powerful hand of K-Q-9, the dealer can still win if they hold something like A-4-5 because ace is still the most high-value card in the game. Just as with regular poker, it will fall to the second card and so on to determine a winner if the player and dealer tie for the high card.
How to Play 3-Card Poker
There are several key differences in play action, betting, and dealing associated with three-card poker games compared to how these things are handled in the rules of traditional poker. The following segments break down the components of three-card poker.
There are three types of betting native to three-card poker games. The first is called “ante.” As its name implies, this poker bet must be made before any play. When you place an ante bet, it means you play your hand against the dealer’s and bet that you’ll make a higher hand. The second type of betting is called “pair plus” and indicates that you intend to make a hand that includes at least a pair or better. In a pair plus bet, the dealer’s hand becomes irrelevant to your win or loss.
In every hand of three-card poker, players must also make a “play” bet. This is an amount laid in chips on a certain part of the table once a player has decided they will play (rather than discard) their hand. The play bet often comes back to players at the end of a hand when the player beats the dealer; it is mainly used to heighten play action rather than secure additional chips in a win.
It’s important to note that all casinos come with different wagering requirements, and you may encounter three-card poker games in which a certain bet is required to begin formal play. Some casinos may leave the pair plus as an optional bet, and others may require an ante bet upon game entry.
You can easily find three-card poker games online that are computerized or handled by a live dealer. In three-card poker, every player and the dealer are given three cards face down. The first thing to remember is that if there are other players in your three-card game, their cards won’t affect you. You are only trying to beat the dealer, and that means the cards dealt to the dealer are the only ones that concern you or should motivate your play sequence.
Once you have been dealt cards, you have two choices of how to proceed in three-card poker: You can play your hand or discard it. If you elect to play your hand, you’re responsible for placing a “play” bet that must be in an amount equal to your initial ante bet. Generally speaking, a player should take an evaluative look at their cards, arrange them in sequential order, and lay them face down on the sector of the table labeled “Play.” At that time, laying your “play” chips down is expected.
If you decide to discard, the dealer will win whatever initial ante bet you placed and any pair plus bet that may be in play.
Now for the fun part of three-card poker: finding out who wins! After play bet chips have been laid, the player is expected to reveal their hand first, followed by the dealer. At this point in the game, it’s time to hope that the dealer doesn’t have a queen or better as the high card. If the dealer does, it will be compared against your hand to see whose is better. If the player has a better hand, they win the ante and play bets in action at that moment. If the dealer’s hand is better, the dealer wins the ante and play bets.
What a player really hopes for is that the dealer has a jack or lower as the high card. If so, the dealer’s hand doesn’t “play,” and the player collects the ante bet. The play bet “pushes” in this scenario, which means those chips go back to the player for use in another round but don’t come with any additional winnings.
You might wonder what happens if the dealer and the player get dealt weak hands, which certainly happens. If the dealer’s hand turns out to be better than the player’s hand but is still a jack-high or worse, the player still wins the ante bet. The player will also still get to push the play bet to the next round with no loss. For example, if the player holds a 10-9-7 and the dealer holds a J-5-3, the player wins the ante.
If a pair plus wager has been placed by the player, it’s regarded independently of the other bets on the table. This means that the player can collect the pair plus and the ante if they make a pair or better in a given hand. Likewise, a player can still win the ante and have to pay out the pair plus bet if no pair is made in the hand.
Winning Strategies for 3-Card Poker
As three-card poker tends to be a game with relatively fast rounds, strategies can increase your enjoyment of the game (and winnings!) while at the table. Traditional wisdom dictates that any hand you receive containing a Q-6-4 spread or better should be played, while everything under that should be folded or “discarded.”
This means you are betting on any pair or better. If your pair is a winner on the pair plus pay table, you want to make the same bet on the ante/play combination of bets. If you see that you don’t have a pair or better, make the play bet any time your high card is an ace or a king regardless of how high or low your other two cards are. By the same rule of thumb, if your highest card is a jack or lower, fold no matter how high your two remaining cards are.
The anticipation kicks in when you see that you have a queen for a high card and no pair or better in sight. In this scenario, your decision should be based on a close examination of your second and third cards. You should play on a queen-high hand only when your second card is a 7 or higher. If your third card is a 4 or 5, you can also safely bet on a queen-high hand wherein the second card is 6.
Never forget that the casino always enjoys a house edge, and this fact remains true in three-card poker. This slight advantage is estimated to be about 2%. Also, ante and pair plus betting percentages may vary between online casinos and brick-and-mortar casinos.
While the big payout hands in three-card poker pay less than the traditional game because there are fewer cards in play, they do occur more frequently. When you bet a pair plus, you want to look for high payoffs for straight flushes and three-of-a-kind hands. All three-card games start at 1:1 odds on a pair. Most offer a 40:1 payoff on straight flushes and a 30:1 payoff on three of a kind. If you are dealing with a casino that includes mini royals, your payoff can be anywhere between 50:1 and 200:1.
What do these numbers mean for strategy? If you understand that flushes occur more often than straights, choosing a pay table with the most favorability toward the lower ranking is wise because the probability that you will enjoy payouts from both flushes and straights is greater than the likelihood of having more hands of one or the other.
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