Learn to Play 3 Card Poker

Of all the poker variants, Three Card Poker might be the most fun. A bold statement, we know. But three card poker offers something that other poker varieties don’t — the possibility to take on the dealer. Unlike other poker games that are against other players, with 3 Card Poker, you’ll be playing against the house.

Because the game is easy to grasp, it is popular at online and land-based casinos across the US. It’s also fast-paced by nature, which means that you likely can fit in a few games in a short amount of time.

Despite it being simple to learn, Three Card Poker entails a small element of skill. If you want to win more consistently, you’ll need to learn the 3 Card Poker rules, house edge, optimum strategy, technicalities and all the intricacies of the poker game. To get started, read the comprehensive guide to Three Card Poker below.

How to play 3 Card Poker

You can play 3-Card Poker with a standard 52-card deck. The objective of the game is to have a hand that beats the dealer’s hand.

At the beginning of each round, you must make an ante bet. The minimum ante varies among casinos, but it’s usually around 50 cents on online gambling sites and $5 in land-based casinos.

Once you’ve made an ante bet, the dealing phase begins. Players and the dealer receive three cards each, face down. The players look at their cards and determine whether they want to play or fold.

  1. Fold (surrender) and forfeit the round and the ante wager.
  2. Make a play bet, which needs be equal to the ante bet.

If you decide to keep playing and place a bet, you’ll need to reveal your cards, followed by the dealer doing the same.

In order for dealers to play (qualify) for the standoff, they must have at least a queen high. If the dealer fails to qualify, you’ll get paid 1:1 on the ante bet and push your play bet, meaning you collect the original play stake.

If the dealer has a queen high or better, you compare your hand to the dealer’s hand. There are three possible outcomes:

  1. The dealer has a superior hand, in which case you lose both bets.
  2. You have a stronger hand than the dealer, so you get paid 1:1 on both bets.
  3. If your hand is exactly the same as the dealer’s, you tie, and the bets push.

On top of regular payouts for ante and play bets, you can get an extra payout for strong hands via bonus side bets. We’ll explain more in detail below. For now, this is everything you need to know to get started with Three Card Poker.

What are the payouts for 3 Card Poker?

Along with the two standard wagers (ante and play), there are several side bets players can make. These are not mandatory, but they definitely add a bit more fun to the game.

The most popular side bet is pair plus, and you can make it irrespective of the ante and play bets. Here is how the pair plus wager tends to pay out (mind you, though, the payout structure may vary from one casino to another):

  • Straight flush: 40 to 1
  • Three of a kind: 30 to 1
  • Straight: 6 to 1
  • Flush: 3 to 1
  • Pair: 1 to 1

As you can see, the pair plus bet gives bonus payouts for strong hands (pair or better). The great thing about this wager is that it pays out regardless of what the dealer has. You’ll make the bet at a fixed sum before cards are dealt — you can’t withdraw it or increase it later on.

On top of pair plus, some online casinos offer ante bonus payouts for the strongest hands. The payout happens regardless of the dealer’s hand and is as follows:

  • Straight flush: 5:1
  • Three of a kind: 4:1
  • Straight: 1:1

Another side bet available in Three Card Poker is the six-card bonus, which can result in huge wins, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

What is the house edge in Three Card Poker?

The house edge in 3 Card Poker depends on your cards, or, to put it differently, on whether you should play the round. For the ante bets alone, before the cards are dealt, the house edge is 3.37%. However, it declines to 2.01% against your Q-6-4 if you opt for the play bet. The pair plus wager carries a slightly higher house edge of 2.32%.

Keep in mind that these house edge figures can increase significantly if you’re using an incorrect strategy.

Is there any strategy to 3 Card Poker?

The basic Three Card Poker strategy is that you should make a play bet whenever you have Q-6-4 or better and fold if you get any combination that’s worse than this. As long as you’re playing like this, you shouldn’t lose more than the statistical house edge dictates. This also means that you should:

  • Place the play bet and continue with your hand every time your high card is an ace or a king, regardless of the other two cards.
  • Make the play bet every time your hand is Q-7 or better, regardless of the third card.

You should adjust your strategy a bit once the dealer reveals:

  • If the dealer’s high card is an ace, place the play bet only if you have a hand of A-9-2 or better. The reasoning behind this is that you need at least the same high card and a stronger second card than the average card value.
  • If the dealer’s high card is a king, only place the play bet with K-9-2 or better. The same logic applies.
  • If the dealer’s high card is a queen, you should continue with your hand only with Q-9-2 or better.

If you want to play it safe, you should probably avoid the pair plus bets, as they increase the house edge. You’ll probably nail it a couple of times, but in the long run, you’re bound to lose more than you would if you were playing the hand house-way.

As you can see, the optimum play for Three Card Poker is much easier than most other poker variants that involve several stages of decisions. Remember that regardless of your strategy and approach, the house will always win. That’s how it is with banked casino games, and no amount of skill can help you turn the edge in your favor — at least not in the long run.

The math behind the Q-6-4 strategy

As we’ve stated earlier, the optimum strategy is that you should make a play bet whenever you have a Q-6-4 or better. But why Q-6-4 and not some other hand? Here’s the mathematical reasoning behind it.

There are 22,100 hand combinations the player can get in 3-Card Poker. Once the player receives three cards, there will be 49 cards remaining in the deck, which accounts for 18,424 possible hand combinations. The dealer will receive one of those combinations.

Now, the player has two options — to fold or make a play bet. For explanation purposes, let’s assume that both the ante and play bets are worth one “unit.”

If you fold, you will lose one unit from the initial (ante) wager. If you play, you’ll have to stake two units, but you’ll also have a chance of getting back the ante wager. Then, in the standoff, one of three outcomes can occur:

  • The dealer fails to qualify — you win three units.
  • The dealer qualifies with a worse hand than you — you win four units.
  • The dealer qualifies with a better hand than you — you win zero units.

By this analysis, you have to win back at least one unit on average for the play bet to be profitable. This would reduce your net loss to one unit or less.

Now let’s apply this logic to all the 18,424 possible hand combinations. Among those hands, Q-6-4 is the lowest hand that reduces the player’s net loss to one unit or less. The estimated value for this hand is 0.993378 — slightly less than one.

Three Card Poker hand probabilities & odds

The total number of poker hands in Three Card Poker is 22,100, as follows:

  • 48 straight flushes
  • 52 three-of-a-kind
  • 720 straight
  • 1,096 flushes
  • 3,744 pair combinations
  • 16,440 high cards

Here’s the probability of getting these hand combinations after being dealt three cards:

Hand Probability
Straight flush0.0022
3-of-a-kind0.0024
Straight0.0326
Flush0.0496
Pair0.1694
High card0.7439

If you’re playing with the pair plus side bet, the average house edge increases to 7.28%, which again indicates that this isn’t a type of wager that you should try often. The probability of hitting various hands is the same as listed in the table above.

Extrapolating from that table, around 25.6% of hands are winning combinations of a pair or better.

The other side bet in Three Card Poker, the six-card bonus, combines three cards dealt to the player and the dealer. A player can use any of those six cards to form the best possible five-card poker hand.

The most alluring aspect of the six-card bonus is its payout potential. Namely, this wager offers the theoretical possibility of winning 1,000x the stake. However, it comes with a sizeable house edge of 15.28%. Here’s the table that summarizes the probability and the payout structure of the six-card bonus:

HandPaysProbability
Royal flush1,000 to 10.000009
Straight flush200 to 10.000081
Four-of-a-kind50 to 10.000720
Full house25 to 10.008153
Flush15 to 10.010108
Straight10 to 10.017763
Three-of-a-kind5 to 1 0.035963

Considering the sky-high house edge and the possible payouts, we believe that the risks far outweigh the rewards with the six-card bonus, and we would advise against it.

Difference between live vs. online Three Card Poker

Fundamentally, 3 Card Poker follows the same rules in both live and online casinos. However, there are several clear-cut differences between playing the game online and in land-based casino establishments.

The most notable one is the payout structures. Namely, in live casinos, the payouts for straights and flushes are 6:1 and 3:1, respectively. In online casinos, the payouts vary from one website to another. Some gambling sites feature the same payout structure as live casinos, while others pay 5:1 on straights and 4:1 on flushes.

Yet another distinction is the number of Three Card Poker sub-varieties available. In live casinos in Vegas and Macau, players can find varieties of Three Card Poker that aren’t available in online casinos. Some of them come with a multimillion-dollar progressive jackpot.

On the other hand, online casinos offer both live dealer and RNG-based variations of Three Card Poker.

Furthermore, the minimum ante bet differs in online and brick-and-mortar casinos. Most live casinos have a $5 minimum ante, whereas in online casinos, that limit is lower, usually around 50 cents. What’s more, land-based casinos have higher wagering limits than gambling sites, which makes them more appealing to high rollers.

Last but not least, online casinos have the upper hand when it comes to rewarding their patrons. The bonuses that gambling sites offer far surpass those of live casinos. You could get a variety of free cash bonuses, which could obviously boost your overall chances of winning.

If you’re still on the fence about whether you should play Three Card Poker online or in live casinos, read the following list of pros and cons of playing at online casinos.

Pros

  • You can get lots of bonus cash via welcome bonuses and ongoing promos.
  • You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home.
  • You don’t have to wait for an open seat.
  • There are lower minimum ante requirements than in live casinos.
  • You can make deposits using a range of banking methods.
  • Online casinos don’t have working hours, so you can play whenever you want.

Cons

  • Online casinos have lower wagering limits.
  • Variations with progressive jackpots are not available online.

Best casinos to play Three Card Poker for real money

It depends on where you’re situated. If you live in a state that hasn’t legalized online casinos, then we recommend one of the sweepstake casinos, such as:

  • Funzpoints: One of the top-tier sweepstakes casinos in the US, Funzpoints boasts an impressive assortment of games available for free and real money play. Just for joining its ranks, you’ll get 1,000 Funzpoints, but you can win extra points by spinning the Funzpoints Wheel every three hours. Of course, there are many other promos, too. Users can also partake in the jackpot draw for a chance to win $350 every day.
  • Chumba Casino: Yet another sweepstakes-based sweepstakes site, Chumba Casino has a range of slots and table games and is fully compatible with Android and iOS mobile devices. Upon registering, each player receives bonus Gold Coins and Sweeps Coins, which they can use to participate in Chumba’s games. The casino is available in all states except Washington.

If you reside in the states that have legalized online gambling, like New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania or West Virginia, here are some options to try 3 Card Poker:

  • Golden Nugget: Golden Nugget Casino is arguably one of the best online casinos in the US. Apart from a stellar brand reputation, the casino is known for its welcome bonus and ongoing promos for existing customers. Its game catalog features over 500 titles. As an added benefit, Golden Nugget offers apps for iOS and Android users.
  • SugarHouse: Owned and operated by Rush Street Gaming, SugarHouse online casino is an up-and-coming star in the NJ and PA markets. The site’s fortes include a versatile game portfolio, a diverse banking section and a roster of bonuses and promos with easy-to-clear wagering requirements. On top of this, SugarHouse also features a top-tier sportsbook with one of the best live betting platforms in the business.
  • BetMGM: With a large library of games, first-class apps and a sportsbook and poker platform, BetMGM is one of the best gambling sites in the country. A joint venture between two gambling juggernauts — MGM Resorts and GVC Holdings — BetMGM delivers cutting-edge entertainment for players of all tastes and preferences.

Clearing a deposit bonus with Three Card Poker

Depending on the online casino you decide to sign up with, you’ll receive a hefty welcome bonus. And, while these gifts are undoubtedly fantastic, they do come with a few strings attached. Namely, online casino bonuses carry wagering requirements, which represent a multiplier that stipulates how much money you need to spend on the site before being allowed to withdraw the bonus funds and any associated winnings.

However, not all casino games contribute to the completion of wagering requirements equally. In most online casinos, most slots games count 100%, whereas other games, including table games, live dealer games and specialty games, contribute much less — 0% to 20% on average. That means that you would have to spend five times more money (or more) on playing Three Card Poker in order to clear the deposit bonus. With that in mind, we recommend that you choose slots for clearing the wagering requirements.