How to Play 3 Card Poker – Complete Strategy Guide and Tips

3 Card Poker is one of the most exciting and easiest-to-learn video poker formats. The game is the brainchild of Derek Webb and was created in 1994. Since then, its popularity within online casinos has soared. We will walk you through how to play 3 Card Poker, including the rules, hand rankings, payouts, stakes, and strategy.

What is 3 Card Poker?

how to play 3 card poker

3 Card Poker is a video poker casino game. It stands out due to its simplicity and rapid gameplay, diverging from traditional poker using a three-card hand. The game pits players against the dealer, not against each other, promoting a more individual and less competitive environment.

Its charm lies in its accessibility to novices, offering an easy-to-understand format while still holding appeal for seasoned poker enthusiasts with its quick decision-making and strategic depth. 3 Card Poker’s blend of simplicity and excitement has cemented its place in physical and online casinos globally.

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3 Card Poker Rules

Objectives

In 3 Card Poker, players aim to form the strongest possible hand with just three cards, a variation from the usual five-card poker hands. This objective demands players to evaluate their hand’s potential swiftly and decide whether to challenge the dealer or fold.

The goal of the game is to beat the dealer’s hand. Unlike traditional poker, players are not competing against each other, which lends a more personal and less pressured gaming experience. A player wins by having a hand superior to the dealer’s qualifying hand, which must be Queen high or better.

If the dealer fails to qualify, typically by not having a Queen high or better, the player wins even money on Ante and keeps the Play Bet.

Hand Rankings

The hierarchy of hands in 3 Card Poker differs slightly from classic poker due to the three-card format. The hand rankings are, in descending order of value:

  • Straight Flush: A straight that are all the same suit. E.G. Ks, Qs, Js.
  • Three of a Kind: Three cards of identical rank. E.G. Jc, Js, Jh
  • Straight: Three sequential cards of different suits. E.G. 8h, 7c, 6d
  • Flush: Any three cards of the same suit, not in sequence. E.G. Kh, Th, 3h
  • Pair: Two cards of the same rank. E.G. Qd, 9c, 9h
  • High Card: When no other hand is formed, the highest card is considered. E.G. Kc, 6s, 4c

How to Play 3 Card Poker Example

To further explain how to play 3 Card Poker, we will run an example of how a hand plays out. There are multiple steps to this, but we’ve gone into great detail about the process to explain how it works. However, it’s worth noting that, at its core, it’s a very simple game, and once you’ve played a couple of hands, the process will become much easier.

Understanding the Basics

Before the game begins, players must be familiar with the basic rules, hand rankings, and the objective of beating the dealer’s hand with a better three-card hand.

Placing the Ante Bet

Ante Bet: Each player starts by placing an Ante wager. This is the initial bet to participate in the round.

Additional Betting Options

Pair Plus Bet (Optional): Players may also place a “Pair Plus” bet, a wager on whether their hand will be a pair or better. This bet is independent of the dealer’s hand.

Dealing the Cards

Dealing: After bets are placed, the dealer deals three cards to each player and themselves. The cards are dealt face down.

Evaluating Your Hand

Hand Assessment: Players look at their cards and assess their hand based on the 3 Card Poker hand rankings. This step is crucial when you learn how to play 3 card poker as it determines the next move.

To Play or Fold

Play or Fold Decision: Each player decides whether to fold or continue. If a player folds, they forfeit their Ante (and Pair Plus bet if made). If they decide to play, they must place a Play Bet equal to their Ante.

The Dealer's Hand

Dealer’s Qualification: The dealer reveals their hand. To qualify, the dealer must have a Queen high or better. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, players win even money on their Ante bet, and the Play Bet is returned.

Comparing Hands

Showdown: If the dealer qualifies, each player’s hand is compared to the dealer’s. The higher hand wins.

Payouts

Winning Payouts: If a player’s hand is better, they win even money on both the Ante and Play Bets. If the dealer’s hand is better, the player loses both bets.

Pair Plus Payouts: If a player made a Pair Plus bet, they are paid according to a separate paytable if their hand is a pair or better, regardless of the dealer’s hand.

Ending the Round

Round Conclusion: The round ends and players can play another round or leave the game.

How to Bet on 3 Card Poker

In this section, we will look at how to place a bet on 3 Card Poker. To do so, you will need an offshore casino account, and we highly recommend that you use Wild Casino, which we rate as one of the best in the industry right now. Below, we’ve included a step-by-step process of how to open an account with Wild Casino and bet on 3 Card Poker within its casino.

  1. Open an account

    At the top of the page is an orange “Join Now” button that you must click. This is going to be the start of the account creation process. Or much easier, click on the button below this step by step guide and create your account right away.
    Open an account
  2. Enter new account details

    To create an account, you need to fill in the forms on the screen. This will include your name, email, password, country, Zip code, and date of birth. You will be asked to verify your account via email, so make sure you’ve access to the address you link to the account.
    Enter new account details
  3. Deposit via the cashier

    Now that your account is live, log in and head to the cashier. Choose from any deposit options and confirm the amount you want to deposit. If you have a Wild Casino promo code, you can enter this here.
    Deposit via the cashier
  4. Enter the casino

    When you land in the casino, click the “Table Games” tab at the top of the page and scroll down to “Casino Poker” games. Click on the 3 Card Poker option. Alternatively, you can use the search function at the top to find the game.
    Enter the casino
  5. Play 3 Card Poker

    At the table, choose the amount you want to be on the Ante and Pair Plus. Once you’ve done this, you can play 3 Card Poker online.
    Play 3 Card Poker
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3 Card Poker Payouts

In 3 Card Poker, payouts vary slightly depending on the casino but generally follow a standard structure. There are two primary types of bets with different payout structures: the Ante Bet and the Pair Plus Bet.

Ante Bet Payouts

The Ante Bet is the initial bet placed before the cards are dealt. The payouts for the Ante Bet are relatively straightforward:

Hand Payout
Player wins 1 to 1
Dealer does not qualify Player wins Ante, Play Bet is returned

If the player’s hand is better than the dealer’s, they receive an even payout on their Ante Bet. If the dealer’s hand does not qualify (less than Queen high), the player wins the Ante Bet, and the Play Bet is returned without additional winnings.

Pair Plus Bet Payouts

The Pair Plus Bet is an optional bet placed at the beginning of the game. The player is betting on the strength of their own hand, irrespective of the dealer’s hand. Payouts for the Pair Plus Bet are as follows:

Hand Payout
Straight Flush 40 to 1
Three of a Kind 30 to 1
Straight 6 to 1
Flush 3 to 1
Pair 1 to 1

The payouts for the Pair Plus Bet are significantly higher, reflecting the lower probability of achieving these hands with only three cards. Players who bet on Pair Plus can win these payouts regardless of whether they win the Ante Bet or even if the dealer qualifies.

Some casinos will have bigger payouts for hands like Royal Flushes and interesting combinations like 777. These are at the casino’s discretion and not part of standard rules. If you can find either land or online casinos with additional hand rankings for this bet without the odds for the standard combinations dropping, then this will add extra value and should be encouraged.

3 Card Poker Stakes

All 3 Card Poker games come with minimum and maximum bet limits based on the casino or table you’re playing. The Ante, play, and Pair Plus are the three bets you can make. The Ante and the Play Bet sizing must be the same, the Pair Plus bet sizing can be higher if it’s in table limits.

It’s worth noting that the total amount wagered can be more than the table limit. For example, if the table limit is $100, this is concerning a single Ante bet. If you were to play a hand (+$100) and bet on the Pair Plus (+$100), the total amount staked per hand would be $300.

As mentioned, the Pair Plus can be higher. So, it’s possible to have a $100 limit table, bet $20 on each Ante and Play Bet if needed, and $100 on the Pair Plus.

Tables will also come with a minimum amount you must wager. This will vary depending on the casino you’re using, but most games start from $1 and work up from there. High table limits are considered anywhere from $200+.

How does 3 Card Poker Differ Online from Live?

For the most part, live and online 3 Card Poker are the same, especially regarding the general rules. Some games, like blackjack, vary in how the dealer plays, but with this game, they always play a Queen high hand, regardless of the casino.

The games online move much quicker than live. You can work through hundreds of hands in an hour, whereas live, it takes time to shuffle and deal with each hand, resulting in closer to 50 hands per hour. This can be reduced again in games with multiple players.

The trade-off in terms of hands per hour is player interaction. Tables can sit up to six players at a time and get lively with the right table.

Some live casinos will have promotions, such as increased payouts for hands like Royal Flushes and three-of-a-kind sevens. Jackpots can be claimed, but these are rare, with casinos instead opting for fixed payouts.

What’s the Difference Between 3 Card Poker and 3 Card Brag?

3 Card Poker and 3 Card Brag are often confused as the same game when this is not the case. The pair work similarly in that each player is given three cards, but a couple of rules differ, which changes how the game works.

If you were playing 3 Card Brag live, you would bet against other players at the table and have the ability to bluff. The online version removes this, and instead, you play against the dealer at a single table.

The other big difference is hand ranking. The best hand in 3 Card Brag is a Prial, which is three of a kind. Then, the next best is a straight flush, a straight, a flush, and so on.

The table below gives an overview of how these games differ.

Feature 3 Card Poker Online 3 Card Brag
Origin American, developed in 1994 British, with historical roots; adapted for online play
Objective Beat the dealer’s hand Achieve the best hand or win via betting mechanics
Gameplay Player against the online dealer (algorithm) Player against other online players or the system
Main Bets Ante Bet, Pair Plus Bet Ante Bet, followed by Play or Fold options
Dealer Qualification Dealer must have Queen high or better to qualify Dealer must have Queen high or better to qualify
Hand Rankings Similar to traditional poker, but for three cards Includes a ‘Prial’ (three of a kind) as the highest hand
Bluffing No bluffing element Limited bluffing element, depending on the version played
Betting Rounds Single round of betting against the dealer Varies; can include multiple rounds or simplified betting in some online versions

What is the House Edge in 3 Card Poker?

Like most video poker games, the house edge in 3 Card Poker is relatively low. Given that this isn’t just a click-and-spin game and requires human input, the key to getting the lowest house comes from applying a perfect strategy for each hand.

As a rule, it is deemed optimal if you play Q-6-4 and fold all other hands.

The house edge applied will vary based on the bet you make. The table below shows how this will work for Ante, Play, and Pair Plus bets.

Bet Type House Edge Explanation
Ante Bet Approximately 2.37% This is the edge against the Ante wager, considering the player plays with an optimal strategy.
Play Bet Approximately 2.37% The Play bet has the same house edge as the Ante bet since it’s contingent upon placing an Ante bet and follows the same strategy.
Pair Plus Bet 2.32% – 7.28% The house edge for the Pair Plus bet can vary significantly based on the paytable used by the casino. The lower percentage represents a more player-friendly paytable, while the higher percentage indicates a less favorable payout structure for players.

The key thing to note in the table is the Pair Plus bet. Using the standard payouts system as we’ve outlined, games in the US will create a house edge of 7.28% for these bets. However, even small changes can drastically reduce this edge, with some sites paying 4-1 on the flush, dropping the edge to 2.32%

In Europe, payouts work differently, reducing the house edge once again. They pay 35-1 on a straight flush, 33-1 on three of a kind, and 4-1 on flushes (all other payouts remain the same), creating an edge of just 2.7%.

The key here is to find small gains from the payouts of the Pair Plus bet. Unless the rules change, the edge for the Ante and Play Bet will be the same in all games.

3 Card Poker Strategy

One of the reasons why 3 Card Poker is so popular is because of the ease and simplicity of the game. After a couple of hands, you’re likely up to speed on the rules, and you can enjoy what is a great adaptation of regular poker games.

In this section, we want to cover strategies that you can include to make your time more profitable at the table.

Starting Hands

The easiest place to kick things off is with starting hands. Put it bluntly, you must play Q-6-4 and above and fold everything else. By doing this, you reduce the house edge to its bare minimum.

We do this for a few reasons, but the main one is that this hand is one of the lowest possible hands that allows us to win both the Ante and Play Bet. The dealer has to play any hand with a Queen as a minimum, so their lowest hand would be Q-3-2.

We play whenever our hand is Q-7 or better and K-X or better. We fold if we have any combination with Q-5 or J-X and lower.

Take into Account Bet Sizes

3 Card Poker is a fixed bet game that can quickly get expensive. Table limits are in place for the amount you bet per hand, but you must remember to multiply this by three if you’re playing the Ante, Play, and Pair Plus bet.

So, if you’ve got a table minimum of $10 to bet all three, each hand would be $30. The game comes with small wins, for the most part, and the bigger wins on the Pair Plus board can be few and far between. Given that you only win 1:1 on the Ante and Play Bets, progress can be slow and much more expensive than you anticipated.

Find the Highest Possible Payouts

This may sound like an obvious inclusion to find the biggest possible odds for your bet, but you’d be shocked at how many players play games that are not optimal in terms of payouts. It’s like if you were betting on sports where you take odds of 8-1 instead of 10-1 just because you’ve not shopped around. By doing so, you’re leaving easy money on the table and massively increasing house edge.

To highlight how this works, we’ve created a table that shows how the house edge changes based on very small fluctuations in odds for the Ante Bet. These are likely so small that most wouldn’t notice, but have a sizable difference in the casino’s upper hand against the player.

Hand Casino 1 Odds Casino 2 Odds Casino 3 Odds Casino 4 Odds Casino 5 Odds Casino 6 Odds
Straight flush 5 4 3 5 9 12.5
Three of a kind 4 3 2 3 8 10
Straight 1 1 1 1 1 1
House Edge 3.37% 3.83% 4.28% 3.61% 1.56% 0.33%

Avoid Pair Plus Bets with Mini Royal Options

Additional combinations in the Pair Plus section are generally bad regarding long-term value. They lure you in with the bigger prize up top for a mini royal, which is A-K-Q suited, and in return, you pay a higher price for every other winning combination.

They do this by slightly adjusting the price for a smaller combination. This might be a flush, straight, three-of-a-kind, or straight flush. Check out the table below to see how the numbers work.

Hand Standard Payout 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Mini Royal N/A 80 50 50 200 100 50 200
Straight flush 40 40 40 40 40 50 40 40
Three of a kind 30 25 30 30 30 30 30 30
Straight 6 6 6 5 6 6 6 6
Flush 4 3 3 4 3 3 4 3
Pair 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Nothing -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
House edge 2.23% 7.73% 7.10% 5.39% 4.38% 4.20% 2.14% 4.38%

As you can see, the table shows how the house edge shoots up based on several combinations of payouts. The only time the house edge decreases would be if the mini royal bet were added as an additional payout with the standard setup.

Of course, some players are playing for the thrill of winning big, but long term, anything other than a solid standard payout structure will cost you.

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Avoid the 6 Card Bonus

The 6 Card Bonus is a separate bet that some casinos will allow you to wager. It’s called a side bet and creates a fourth option alongside the Pair Plus, Ante, and Play Bet.

To win, you need to make three of a kind or higher, but the twist is that you get to use five of the six cards combined between you and the dealer. Some sites call the bet “3+3”, but it comes with some eye-raisin house edge numbers.

Hand Pay Structure 1 Pay Structure 2 Pay Structure 3 Pay Structure 4
Royal flush 1,000 2,000 1,000 1,000
Straight flush 200 200 200 200
Four of a kind 100 50 50 50
Full house 20 25 25 25
Flush 15 15 15 20
Straight 10 10 10 10
Three of a kind 7 5 5 5
House Edge 8.56% 14.36% 15.28% 10.22%

As you can see, the house edge for the bets depends on the payout structure for each. The higher it is, the better it is for the players, but even in the best possible case, it’s a higher house edge than any bet from the standard game. The worst case, at 15.28%, is truly shocking.

Bets like this are added to give the casino a bigger edge over games that synonymously have a low edge, like 3 Card Poker. By playing them, you chase the big wins, but long term, you’re creating a faster rate of return for the casino, which is never a good thing.

Take the time to find the highest possible pay tables across all winning combinations and stick with that game. This ensures you’ll win more often, and you’ll be more profitable as a result.

FAQs

What is the main objective in 3 Card Poker?

What is a Pair Plus bet in 3 Card Poker?

What happens if the dealer doesn’t qualify in 3 Card Poker?

What are the payouts for a Straight Flush in 3 Card Poker?

Is 3 Card Poker available in online casinos?

Are side bets worth it in 3 Card Poker?

Are the odds the same in online 3 Card Poker as in live casinos?

Can you play 3 Card Poker for free at online casinos?

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Jonathan Askew

Jonathan is a freelance writer working with Techopedia. He has been working within the gambling sector for over 15 years and has been fortunate enough to work with brands that include Gambling.com, CheekyPunter.com, BasketballInsiders.com and Betfair. He specializes in US and UK-based sports and casino content for Techopedia.