Three Card Poker: A Complete Game Guide
Three Card Poker is one of the most popular table games casinos offer. It offers a fast-paced playing style and a low house advantage. The side bonus bets have good odds compared to most other games and their respective side bonus bets.
Three Card Poker is also sometimes referred to as Tri-Card Poker. Both games are identical besides the obvious difference in name. In this guide, we're going to cover everything you need to know about Three Card Poker including rules, strategies, variations and tips. Below, you will find the list of our top picks for online casinos offering Three Card Poker games.
Best Three Card Poker Casino Sites
Benefits of Playing Three Card Poker
There are several reasons Three Card Poker is so popular. It's a fast-paced, exciting game. You will play an average of 70 hands per hour in Three Card Poker. You can expect this game to hold your attention and have a high entertainment value.
Another huge draw for players choosing Three Card Poker is the low house advantage associated with the game and its bonus. Though different payouts and variations between casinos can alter odds slightly, the house advantage can be as low as 2.2%. Though this is higher than blackjack, the universally accepted best odds table game, it is still incredibly low.
A house advantage of 2.2% means that for every $100 wagered, you are expected to get $97.80 back. Games can have big wins or losses in the beginning, so this house advantage percentage is more accurate the longer the period of time spent playing is.
One of the biggest benefits for new players is how easy Three Card Poker is to learn. The rules are incredibly simple, as is the proper strategy used to achieve optimal odds.
How to Play Three Card Poker
Three Card Poker is dealt with a single 52-card deck that is shuffled after each hand. The goal of the game is to have a higher scoring card than the dealer.
There are two wagers to be made in the main game, and an additional one or two wagers for the side bonus games. In order to participate in the main game, you have to place an ante bet on the ante spot of your position on the table. This bet must be made before the dealer announces that betting has concluded and the round starts.
Most games will use a shuffler that automatically deals 3 cards at a time that are then dealt to each player at once. Hands will be dealt face down, starting with the player directly to the dealers' left, and ending with the dealers' hand. You will then need to wait for the cards to finish being dealt out of the machine and being placed into the discard pile before touching your own cards.
You are then able to use one hand to look at your cards. Depending on the strength of your hand, you will decide if you want to play or discard your hand. In order to play, you must place another bet equal to your ante bet on the play circle in front of your hand. After all players have finished their play bet or discarded, the dealer will flip over his or her hand.
Payouts, when the hand is won, are slightly trickier. You will always be paid for your ante bet if you beat the dealer. However, you will only be paid for your play bet if the dealer has a "qualifying hand."
A qualifying hand for the dealer is a queen-high or better. If the dealer has a qualifying hand, their cards will play, and you must beat their cards in order to win. If you do, you will be paid equal money on your ante and play bets. There are a few exceptions when you will be paid extra. We will cover these a little bit later.
If the dealer has a jack-high or lower, this is a non-qualifying hand. Any hand that was not discarded by the player will beat the dealer in this circumstance, even if your cards are lower. However, you will push on your play bet and be paid for your ante bet.
In the case of a tie, most casinos will consider this a push and you will retain your bets. Some casinos alter this in both directions. Some will allow the tie to be considered a win for the player. Others will consider a tie to be a loss for the player. I would avoid the versions with a tie favoring the house. They are not unheard of in this game, and that rule variation can have a big impact on your odds.
In order to beat the dealer when they do have a qualifying hand, you must have a higher hand. The hands are ranked similar to poker, with a couple differences. The main difference is that a straight ranks higher than a flush in Three Card Poker. This is because it is more difficult to get a Three Card straight than to get a Three Card flush.
The other difference is the exclusion of hands due to only having 3 cards. Four-of-a-kind, two-pair, and a full house aren't possible, so they aren't considered in the ranking of hands. Some casinos have implemented an additional category called a mini royal. In games where this is an option, it is ranked as the highest hand. The Three Card Poker hand rankings are:
- Straight Flush
- High Card
What's Important in a Three Card Poker Site
With all online casino gambling, you need to be careful of which site you use. Though the majority of sites will be reputable, there is always a bad apple in the bunch. Look for a casino site that is licensed and regulated by a reliable gaming authority.
Another important thing to look for is good customer service options. You should look for several options to contact customer service. Many sites will also post how long it will take to receive a response. Another way to check for good customer service is to look at casino player reviews.
Banking options are another important aspect to consider when choosing an online casino.
If not, look for a method you are able to easily utilize, like no or low fee credit card deposits.
More specifically to Three Card Poker, payouts at a particular casino are important to check out. Though there are standard payouts that are usually expected, some casinos will follow a different payout structure.
There are different variations of Three Card Poker. We go into detail about all of them in the next section. After you decide which version you want to play, you will need to look for a casino that offers it. Other points to keep in mind are the extra bonus options, a mini royal category, and progressive jackpot bonuses. Some casinos offer these, while others do not.
Luckily, we have researched all of this for you. At the top of this article is our list of best online casino Three Card Poker Sites. All of these casinos will be reputable and have a good Three Card Poker game. If you don't already have a favorite casino site, try one of our picks.
Three Card Poker Variations
Macau Three Card Poker
Some Three Card Poker games are called Fortune Three Card Poker in Macau. There is also another variation called Q Poker, that is similar to Three Card Poker. The main difference is the player's option to surrender or call, rather than just fold or raise.
The Macau version of Three Card Poker has a couple differences. First, the dealer does not have a qualifying hand value. You must beat the dealer's cards regardless of their value in order to win. There is also a 5% commission taken from each winning hand. The house advantage is slightly higher in this version at 2.5%.
Ultimate Three Card Poker
Ultimate Three Card Poker is one of the more popular variations. This game plays very similarly to regular Three Card Poker other than a few exceptions. The main draw of this variation is the ability to raise your ante bet up to 3x on your play bet. This can only be done if the player has a pair or better in their hand. Otherwise the play bet must be equal to the ante bet.
This game also includes another required wager called the blind bet. This bet must be equal to your ante bet. This wager is paid according to the paytable whenever a hand value of a pair or higher is held. If you have a higher hand than the dealer, but lower than a pair, this bet will push. If you lose your hand to the dealer, you will also lose this bet.
Another difference between Three Card and Ultimate Three Card poker is related to the play bet. In Ultimate Three Card Poker, you must beat the dealer to win. The dealer having a qualifying hand of a queen-high or better is irrelevant for this bet. If you lose to the dealer on a hand in which they didn't qualify, you will still lose your play bet. You will push on your ante bet in this circumstance, just like in regular Three Card Poker.
The Ultimate Three Card variation of the side bet, called the Pairplus bonus, includes the separation of a mini royal from the straight flush category. The mini royal pays at a higher rate. In this version, the Pairplus side bonus has a house advantage of just 2.14%. This is incredibly low for an optional side bonus wager.
California Three Card Poker/Face Up Three Card Poker
As you might have guessed, this game is prevalent in California casinos. There are some significant rule changes in the game of California Three Card Poker. One difference is the elimination of both the Pairplus bonus bet and the ante additional bonus payouts. If you win a payout on your ante bet, it will be paid at even money. This is even in the circumstances when a high bonus hand is held.
Another big difference in California Three Card Poker is that one dealers' card will be dealt face-up. This helps slightly in your decision to fold or raise your hand. To compensate for this, the game has another variance; there is no qualifying hand for the dealer. You will win, lose, or push depending on your ability to beat the dealer on every hand.
The house advantage with these rule changes works out to be around 4.30%. This is higher than regular Three Card Poker odds. Some casinos will also charge a 1% commission on all winning payouts. This increases the house advantage to be even higher at these casinos.
While the face-up dealers' card can be a benefit for some players, the elimination of the Pairplus and the higher house advantage deters many from playing this version.
Three Card Prime
Three Card Prime is played almost the same as regular Three Card Poker. The main differences are the addition of bonus bets. This game offers all three of the common side bonus bets; Pairplus, Prime, and Six-Card. We will discuss each of these side bonus bets in detail later.
In addition to these bonus options, there is also a bad beat payout that costs nothing additional for the player to participate in. This extra payout is awarded when the player loses with a straight or better.
This game also features a less common rule variation which allows all ties to be considered a player win. These added features will lower the house advantage.
Three Card Brag
Most would agree that the Three Card Poker game we know today originated from a game called Three Card Brag. This is the British version of Three Card Poker. The rules follow a similar structure but have some key differences.
The main difference is the order in which hands are ranked. In Three Card Brag, a three-of-a-kind is ranked higher than a straight flush. In addition to this, the highest three-of-a-kind is 3-3-3, followed by A-A-A, K-K-K, and so on. The swap in rankings lowers the house advantage on the Pairplus and ante bonus bets.
Just like the special high hand within a three-of-a-kind, there is also a difference in the ranking of straights. In Three Card Brag, the highest straight is an A-2-3, followed by A-K-Q, K-Q-J, etc. The rest of the rankings follow traditional Three Card Poker rules.
Another difference between the two games is in the terms. Three Card Brag refers to a three-of-a-kind as a Prial. A straight is called a run, and a straight flush is called a running flush.
Side Bonus Variations
The Pairplus bet will be the most common side bonus bet you will see at Three Card Poker tables. Just like the name implies, you will receive a payout on this wager when you hold a pair or better. The Pairplus side bet offers an incredibly low house advantage compared to most other games.
Three Card Poker allows players to choose to play the Pairplus bet only, without playing in the main game at all. This is not an uncommon choice for many. The odds are similar to the main Three Card Poker game, without any decision making needed. The payouts for the Pairplus bonus payouts are typically:
- Straight Flush - 40:1
- Three-of-a-Kind - 30:1
- Straight - 6:1
- Flush - 4:1
- Pair - 1:1
This payout scale calculations show a house advantage of just 2.32%. If you can find a game that separates a mini royal from the straight flush category, you will have an even lower house advantage. This is only true if the rest of the paytable remains the same. For example, the following pay table would lower the house advantage to 2.14%:
- Mini Royal - 50:1
- Straight Flush - 40:1
- Three-of-a-Kind - 30:1
- Straight - 6:1
- Flush - 4:1
- Pair - 1:1
Keep an eye out for a change in the other payout amounts if a mini royal is added. Some casinos will alter one of the other categories in order to compensate for the additional payout of a mini royal. In this case, you will usually be receiving a much higher house advantage. For example, some casinos will only offer a 3:1 payout on a flush if they also offer the mini royal. This increases the house advantage to 7.10%! Just the one slight change can have a dramatic effect on your chances of walking away from the table a winner.
Prime Side Bet
The Prime side bet can be found in addition to the Pairplus bonus bet on some tables. Other tables will only offer the Prime bonus, without the Pairplus bonus available. The Prime bonus is paid when all three cards in your hand are the same color.
This bonus is not suit specific, just color specific. This means as long as your hand is either all red or black, you are a winner. In addition to that, if the dealer also holds the same color cards in their hand, you will be paid at a higher rate. The paytable is:
- 3 Cards of the Same Color - 3:1
- 6 Cards of the Same Color - 4:1
This calculates out to be a house advantage of 3.62%. This is higher than the Pairplus bonus odds, but still quite low in comparison to other games.
The Six-Card Bonus is yet another side bet you can find, usually in addition to the Pairplus bet. For the bonus, payouts are determined by the best five-card poker hand that can be made out of both yours and the dealer's hand. Payouts are:
- Royal Flush - 1,000:1
- Straight Flush - 200:1
- Four-of-a-Kind - 50:1
- Full House - 25:1
- Flush - 15:1
- Straight - 10:1
- Three-of-a-Kind - 5:1
This one is popular because it adds a whole different game within the main game. These payouts could have large wins. Unfortunately, the odds aren't as great as they appear. This side bonus game has a house advantage of 15.28%.
The Millionaire Maker side bonus offers just what it says; the chance to win a million dollars. It is based on the best 6-card hand made between both yours and the dealer's cards. The bet has a $5 minimum. The payouts are:
- 6-Card Super Royal in Diamonds - 200,000:1
- 6-Card Super Royal - 20,000:1
- 5-Card Royal Flush - 1,000:1
- 5-Card Straight Flush - 200:1
- Four-of-a-Kind - 50:1
- Full House - 20:1
- 5-Card Flush - 15:1
- 5-Card Straight - 10:1
- Three-of-a-Kind - 5:1
Something to keep in mind for this side bonus bet: The bonus tops out at $1,000,000 for the highest payout and $100,000 for the next. Betting more than $5 won't impact your payout unless you're winning on a 5-Card Royal or less.
The house advantage for this side bonus is about 18.10%. This is the highest of all the side bonuses discussed here. This is not a good value for your wager. However, the opportunity to walk away from the table with a million dollars is pretty exciting.
Many games will offer a progressive jackpot bonus at their Three Card Poker tables. This is a $1 side bet. The jackpot amount keeps increasing until it is won, and the amount is reset. The jackpot is won with a mini royal in spades. The payouts are:
- Mini Royal in Spades - Progressive Jackpot
- Mini Royal - $500
- Straight Flush - $100
- Three-of-a-Kind - $90
Some games will also offer a payout for a straight, but this is less common. The house advantage varies greatly on this side bonus, depending on the size of the progressive jackpot. The higher the jackpot, the lower the house advantage.
Types of Wagers Available
With all the variations of Three Card Poker, there can be several different wagers available to you. The main two that are universal to Three Card Poker are the Ante and Play bets. Unless playing the Ultimate Three Card Poker variation, the ante will be bet before you are dealt your hand and the play bet is an equal bet made after seeing your cards.
This will typically be the Pairplus bonus. Many games now offer two or more side bonuses to choose from.
A Blind bet is required in only one version of Three Card Poker; Ultimate Three Card Poker. This is a wager equal to your ante and is required for gameplay.
The final wager available in Three Card Poker is a Progressive bonus wager. This is always a one-unit bet.
Tips for Beginners
Practice, Practice, Practice
Learning to play a new casino game can be intimidating, especially in person. One of the best ways to learn a new game is to find a casino site online that offers a free-play version of that particular game. This will allow you to practice the game without having any of your money on the line. You also won't be holding up the game pace for other players.
Stick to Your Budget
If you have played Three Card Poker before, you know that it's incredibly easy to go overboard on spending in this game. It is fast-paced and highly volatile. You can go from being almost out of chips to having big chip stacks, then right back to none quickly. This makes for a tough game to budget yourself for.
If you have an amount you'd like to limit yourself to spending, set this number before you sit down at the table. Pick a specific number and stick to it. In order to more efficiently manage your bankroll, you should also set a winning limit. This is an amount that you walk away from playing with if you reach it. Effectively managing both your wins and losses will help you achieve a winning result in the long term.
Look at the Paytables
As you have seen from this article, the game of Three Card Poker has many variations. These are found in game rules, bonuses, and in payouts. The payouts listed in this article are most common. Some casinos have altered these significantly. You should avoid playing any variations where the payouts have been lowered.
Even the slightest change in pay structure can give the house a much higher advantage. A great example of this can be seen on the Pairplus bonus payouts section. An alteration from a 4:1 to a 3:1 payout on a flush changes the house advantage from 3.1% to 7.1%.
Don't be Afraid to Ask Your Dealer
When trying a new game, situations can arise that you don't fully understand. It is never a problem to ask your dealer for clarification on betting structure, game rules, etc. As long as this isn't an occurrence during every hand, and you're not slowing down the flow of the game too much, they are usually more than happy to help.
Different Betting Systems and Strategies
There is one strategy for the main Three Card Poker game that is universally accepted. This makes for an easy strategy to remember for new players. The strategy itself is very simple; raise on Q-6-4 or better. You should fold everything below a Q-6-4.
Let's break this down a bit further. In Three Card Poker, hands are ranked in order of the highest card to next highest to the lowest. For example, if both the dealer and the player have a king-high hand, the determination for the winning hand falls to the next card. If the dealer has a 9 and the player has a 10, the player wins. If both the player and dealer had a K-10, the next card would be used to determine the winner.
Going back to our strategy, this means that a Q-7-2 would be higher than the Q-6-4. In comparison, a Q-5-5 would be lower and should be folded. If this strategy is followed, the house advantage should be between 2.2% and 3.4%.
We have already covered that Three Card Poker has one of the best side bonus bets available in regard to odds of winning. The house advantage on the Pairplus bonus can fall between 2.32% - 2.14%, depending on payouts. This can be lower than the main game, which is rare. Another rarity is the ability to play the bonus only.
Many people choose to use this strategy. Playing only the pair plus eliminates the need to make difficult decisions during the game. It no longer matters if the dealer has a qualifying hand, and you no longer need to decide to fold or raise. You simply place your bet and get paid anytime you're dealt a pair or better.
Three Card Poker is an absolute blast to play. The house advantage is low enough that you usually can play for a while on your budgeted amount. If you haven't played Three Card Poker before, you definitely should give it a try.
Keep in mind the tips from this article. It's an easy game to play, but simple mistakes can cost you big money. One of the most important things to keep in mind is to pay attention to your game variations' rules and the paytables associated with that variation.
If you decide to play this game at an online casino, you should try one of our recommended casinos from the top of this article. Not only will these be reputable, high-quality online casinos, but they will also have a great Three Card Poker game.