What is 3 Card Poker?

If you have absolutely no idea what Three Card Poker is, allow us to help you out. Even if you have a little knowledge of the game – and you need to brush up before you hit the tables – you should also find this handy guide very useful.

In this guide, you will learn how to play the game. We will cover how Three Card Poker is played with a single deck, the difference in card rankings from other types of poker, the bets, odds and everything else worth knowing.

So, now it is time to grab yourself a coffee (a water or a juice will suffice) and strap in.  Comfortable? Good. Well, let us begin.

The Story so Far

Three Card Poker is a fairly new member of the poker family. It was invented in Britain by Derek Webb in 1994, who then patented the game in 1997. Webb wanted to create a game which was heavily based on poker but also had its own identity. As such, he based his idea on the fundamental aspects of stud poker but removed two cards from the deal.

The inventor wanted a player vs. dealer game which would be quick in tempo, with payouts which would attract players while simultaneously giving the house a strong enough edge to host the game. Webb eventually arrived at what we now know as Three Card Poker and probably had no idea just how far his idea would go.

To say the game has been a success would be a massive understatement. According to various studies, Three Card Poker is the third most popular table game in North America, just behind blackjack and craps (in terms of games played). Surprising? We would certainly say it is, given that many would have probably put roulette and baccarat before this fairly modern upstart.

It is easy to see why Three Card Poker continues to attract players. It is perfect for the modern age, where more and more of us want to play games which are quick and to the point. This makes perfect sense, given that an increasing number of players get their kicks at online casinos these days. Three Card Poker has translated perfectly from landbased casinos to the digital online platform, which has certainly helped its cause.

Playing 3 Card Poker

It would be a fair guess that players keep coming back to Three Card Poker as it is such an easy game to play.  The rules do not take long to learn at all but we would strongly recommend that you learn them before you buy into a game.

Much like many other poker games, Three Card is played with a single deck and on a blackjack-like table. The table has markings which look strange at first, but all make sense pretty quickly.

On the table, you will find:

  • Three card-shaped markings for the dealer’s cards
  • A circle-shaped marking for “Pair Plus”
  • A diamond-shaped marking for “Ante” bets
  • A card-shaped marking for “Play”
  • A minimum and maximum bets notification card

Hands Ranking

It is important to know that card rankings differ to standard poker rankings. As there are only three cards involved, the odds are not the same. Given that the odds are affected by using just three cards, the hand rankings have been altered to reflect this. You will notice that the payout for straights is better than for flushes, for example, and this is pretty much the other way around for a standard five-card game.

In Three-Card Poker, the following ranking applies:

  • Straight flush
  • Three of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Pair
  • High card

If you are looking for the odds of a full-house or four-of-a-kind – and those see them listed above – think about it: there are only three cards per hand! Don’t worry, we won’t mention it again.

Types of Bets

The most common bets you can make on a Three Card Poker table are Ante-play and Pair Plus. You might have the option to make alternative or side bets, but this will depend on where you play.

You can play either or both at the same time. This is completely up to you. Would you like us to tell you how both of these bets work? Of course you would. In that case, let us break them both down for you, below:


This is a bet that your hand will beat the dealer’s hand. In order to make the ante bet, a chip must be placed on the diamond-shaped marking on the table. You can also place a chip in the “Pair Plus” section if you wish to make this bet at the same time. Once all players at the table have placed their bets, the dealer will then lay three cards face down in front of each player.

Once all players have been dealt their cards, you can look at yours. From here, you must then make a decision whether to make a play bet – which is usually the same amount as the ante bet – or fold your cards. If you fold, the dealer will clear away your cards and take your ante bet.

If you decide to bet, the dealer will then reveal their cards. The game will then enter a showdown between the dealer’s hand and all others’ cards, providing the dealer has qualified.

Does the Dealer Qualify?

You see, the dealer cannot play unless their hand is strong enough.  Providing the dealer has a queen-high or better, your ante and play bets will be activated. To win, you will need to beat the dealer’s hand, in order to win at odds of 1:1 on each bet. If you lose, however, you can wave goodbye to your stakes on both and watch on as the dealer collects your chips.

The play bet only gets activated once the dealer has a queen-high or better, as we mentioned above. In this scenario, you will win the ante bet at odds of 1:1, with your stake on the play bet returned to you.

In the event of your hand and the dealer’s hand tying, this will lead to a push. You will receive your stakes for bets.

Ante-Play Bonus Bets

Bonus bets, you say? That’s right. In Three Card Poker, there is an ante bonus bet which you can also win. This bet does not involve the dealer and is paid out if you have a particularly strong hand.

For example, you can typically win bets at odds of 5:1 for a straight flush, 4:1 on any three-of-a-kind, and 1:1 on a straight.

Pair Plus

This bet is a little easier to understand at first. A player will essentially place a chip in the circular “Pair Plus” marking on the table, which is located above the diamond-shaped “Ante” marking. As you might have guessed from this bet’s title, it is won if a player gets any pair in their hand. However, the “plus” part of the bet relates to hands which are stronger than just a pair. You can potentially win up to 40-1 for a straight flush on this bet, which makes it a very popular side bet indeed.

The following odds can be won on this type of bet:

  • A pair (1:1)
  • Flush (4:1)
  • Straight (6:1)
  • Three-of-a-kind (30:1)
  • Straight flush (40:1)

So, as you can see, this type of bet can pay off pretty well if you manage to get the right hand. However, many experienced players reject this bet as they believe it is poor value for money. The house edge works out at 7.28% for pair plus, which is pretty high, given that the ante-play is 3.37%.

Given the house edge in pair plus, players will look for other ways to improve their chances of winning. There are strategies which have been devised for this game, so let’s take a look at what these are.

Settling a Tie

We covered how to play Three Card Poker above, but let’s have a little recap for the purposes of this exercise. Below, we will explain what happens in the event of a tie:

Let’s say you have made your ante bet and decided to play. You have checked your cards and believe that you have a strong enough three-card hand to win the play bet. Before the play bet is active, the dealer must have a queen or better. Without this, they fold, you win the ante bet and your hand becomes consigned to history. Depending on what cards you have, you might win the ante-play bonus bet, but the play bet is void.

Now, if the dealer does have a queen or better, they qualify to play. In order win the play bet, you must beat their hand at the showdown. The strongest hands you can hope for are typically the straight flush, three-of-a-kind, straight, flush, and a pair. In some casinos, the mini-royal may be active, but this is not always the case.

It is only fair to question what happens in the event of both your hand and the dealer’s hand lacking even a pair. According to the rules of Three Card Poker, this will come down to a tie. If the dealer and player’s high card is the same value (such as Q and Q), the tie-breaker involves moving to the second card. If the second card is a tie, then the third card will be used to settle the game.

In the event that your hands are of the same value, then the bet is a tie. You receive your stakes back and the game ends. The tie always starts with the highest cards compared first. For example:

  • If your hand is A – 10 – 5 and the dealer has K – 10 – 9, you win (ace beats king).
  • If your hand is Q – J – 3 and the dealer has K – 4 – 2, dealer wins (king beats queen).

3 Card Poker Strategies

In any game where you are playing with real money, it pays to play smart.

Three Card Poker is no different. The first step towards playing the right way is to understand how the rules work. If you are still unsure how the rules, odds, hands, and types of bets work, go right to the top of this guide and start again. Simply skimming over information is not going to prepare you for playing this game.

Once you have a grasp of these details, then, by all means, keep reading. As the old saying goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and there are many ways to fail when playing this game. Failing when playing with real money equates to losing your bankroll. It is that simple.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best Three Card Poker strategies.

Play or Fold?

The widely accepted way to play Three Card Poker is to make the play bet when you have a queen-6-4 combination or better.

Put simply, you should fold if you have anything weaker than this hand. You should be aiming to bet on at least a pair, folding unless you are in this position, at least. If you have also made the pair plus bet, you will have won. Of course, there is an exception to almost every rule. The exception here is to bet whenever your high card is an ace or king.

In this strategy, the queen-6-4 is the borderline hand. In other words, you should never bet anything below this hand. This is why it is always wise to fold if your highest card is a jack. So, without a pair, ace, or king, the high card should always be a queen. If the second card is below a 6, fold. If you have a queen-6-3, you should fold.


  • Bet on a Q-7-3
  • Bet on a Q-8-3
  • Bet on a Q-6-5
  • Fold on a Q-5-6
  • Fold on a Q-4-2
  • Fold on a Q-5-4

The House Edge

As we previously mentioned, the house edge in Three Card Poker can be pretty low, when compared to other casino and table games. This alone makes it a popular choice for players.

You may be wondering how the overall house edge is calculated, right? When working it out, that ante bonus bet we mentioned above comes into play. Wins on this bet are paid on the ante stake, meaning that the play bet is excluded here. The ante bonus is one of the better bets out there as it is paid out providing you have a strong hand.

The bonuses are paid on your ante, and the play bet does not figure into the bonuses. If you hand is good enough, you win the ante bonus even if you don’t beat the dealer. In fact, the element of risk is cut to just 2.01 percent when this bet is considered, with the house edge working out at 3.37 percent.  Bear in mind that these calculations are worked out on a table which pays 5:1 for a straight flush, 4:1 for three-of-a-kind, and 1:1 for a pair.


While the idea of playing poker with just three cards may appear strange at first, there is no doubt that the novelty wears off soon. Three Card Poker is not a game which relies on novelty, however. It is a fast-paced and exciting game which is a pleasure to play. Given that it is the third most played table game among Americans, despite being a relatively new kid on the block, this should speak volumes for its substance. The game has only been around since the late 1990’s, which makes that little nugget of information even more impressive.

As we covered in this guide, the game is played with a single 52-card deck on what looks a lot like a blackjack table. The table markings clearly set out the bets, which are remarkably straightforward. Although Three Card Poker is based on classic poker games, you play against the dealer. Always keep in mind that the hand rankings are different, given that there are only three cards per hand.

What stands out about this hugely-popular game is the low house edge and the additional side bets which can really make for a successful night of betting. The ante bonus bet, in particular, is one which players will be particularly happy to learn about.

All in all, Three Card Poker is one of the most successful table games in the world. Players seem to love the style of play and the easy nature of the game. Despite being designed as a table game – and being a pretty big draw in landbased casinos around the world – it has seamlessly transferred to the online platform.

Having run out of superlatives for Three Card Poker, surely it is time for you to try the game out for yourself?

Related Articles
Leave Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *