Three-card poker is a relatively new addition to many casinos. The game is a variation of poker with added bonus-betting opportunities and a three-card poker hand that is played against the dealer.
The goal of inventing three-card poker was to create a version of poker that is easy to learn and allows several ways for the player to win. Of course, that means there are more ways to lose, which is why casinos offer the game. The house does possess a slight advantage over players, but players do have the opportunity to use basic strategy to win.
Three-card poker, sometimes listed as 3-card poker, was created by Derek Webb of the UK in 1994. The goal was to design a version of poker that was easy for players to understand, offered a house edge for the casino, and offered payouts big enough to intrigue and attract players. That was three-card poker.
Webb tried to market the game in the United States and Great Britain under his Prime Table Games marketing company, and it was in the US that the Grand Casino Gulfport in Mississippi first agreed to offer the game on the casino floor. When more casinos began to pick up the game, Shuffle Master acquired the rights to offer the game in the UK, which happened in 2002.
There was some litigation that followed. A company called Progressive Gaming International Corporation sued for the rights to the game, but Prime Table Games showed that the other company used invalid patents and fraudulent documents in its original filings. Prime Table Games then sued Shuffle Master, alleging the latter knew of the fraud before its purchase.
In the end, three-card poker won the day, as it quickly spread to casinos around the US and UK. Not only is it found in nearly every land-based casino, it is offered by most online casinos as well due to overwhelming player demand.
The game is relatively simple. There may be numerous players at the table, but each player competes against the dealer only, similar to the game of blackjack.
The game starts with the player making an ante wager and/or a pair-plus wager. The player is dealt three cards facing down, and the dealer takes the same. The player then determines the strength of his or her hand before placing a wager, which is equal to the ante amount, which allows the hand to stand against the dealer’s hand.
If the player folds, he or she loses all bets on the table. If the player bets, however, the cards are turned over to compare to the dealer’s hand. The dealer can only play queen-high or better; if not, the player’s bet is returned. If the dealer beats the player, all bets are collected by the dealer. If the player wins, the payout is typically equal to the wager and ante.
The pair-plus bet is unique and pays differently, depending only upon the player’s hand. The player wins with these hands:
- One pair: 1-to-1 payout
- Flush: 3-to-1 payout
- Straight: 6-to-1 payout
- Three-of-a-kind: 30-to-1 payout
- Straight flush: 40-to-1 payout
There is one additional way to win on the ante bet. If the player shows the following hands, they win:
- Straight: 1-to-1 payout
- Three-of-a-kind: 4-to-1 payout
- Straight flush: 5-to-1 payout
Most game strategists suggest that players stay in a hand if they have anything greater than a Q-6-4. Since the dealer must play with a queen and any other two cards, this hand has a chance of winning, with anything less considered a losing hand. There is nearly a 70% chance that the player will receive a Q-6-4 or better in each deal.
The chance of being dealt a straight flush or three-of-a-kind hand is only 0.2%, with a straight coming in at 3.3% and flush at 5%. However, there is nearly a 17% chance of being dealt a pair and 44% chance of a high card with which to stay in play.
With no bonus bets, the house edge on the game is 3.3%, but that percentage increases if the player does not use basic strategy of participates in pair-plus bets. The pair-plus option increases the house advantage by 2.3%, but it can also payout well, so most players do it because of the excitement factor.
Players who enjoy the math component of poker appreciate the numbers of hand combinations that can pay off for the pair-plus bet in three-card poker. Out of a total of 22,100 three-card combinations, the majority of them (16,440) are losing hands in pair-plus betting. However, there are chances:
- 48 combinations for a straight flush
- 52 combinations for three-of-a-kind
- 720 combinations for a straight
- 1,096 combinations for a flush
- 3,744 combinations for a pair
Players should check the three-card poker tables online for the payoffs and choose the best one. Most online casinos offer 6:3, meaning 6-to-1 on straights and 3-to-1 on flushes. Others offer 5:4, with 5-to-1 payouts on straights and 4-to-1 on flushes, which is the better choice because flushes are more likely to occur with straights.
There is some ante-play strategy for skilled players who want the extra edge. Experts suggest the Q-6-4 combination, but it can go further. Players should bet on the Q-x-x- hand if the second card is a seven or higher, no matter the third card. If the hand is a Q-6-x, make the bet only if the third card is a 4 or 5. If the hand is Q-6-2 or Q-6-3, folding is optimal.