Three Card Poker: How To Play

Three Card poker

You may have heard all about this stripped-down, simple and enjoyable version of poker you can play at online casinos and be wondering what the buzz is all about and how to play 3 card poker. The hot table version has become very popular with punters – purely since it brings the fun and enjoyment of standard poker yet is a bit easier strategy-wise.

When you learn how to play three card poker, you're not just learning a standard game of poker, you're actually learning two games rolled into one – you aren't just playing to win against a dealer, you're also looking to win based on how good your hand is.

So, let's take a closer look at three card poker and get you up to speed at how to play it.

Three Card Poker History

3 Card poker was a table game that was invented back in 1994 by a Derek Webb, who wanted to create a variant of the popular table game poker that matched the speeds of other table games. He wanted a game that had three important elements – the rules of the game were easy for players to grasp, the payouts were big enough so that players wanted to play and the odds were just good enough that casinos would adopt the game.

So, Three card poker was born!

Since then, 3 card poker has gone from strength to strength, gaining popularity in both online and offline casinos in the likes of las vegas, with the regulations actually changing in the UK to allow casinos to host three-card poker games in 2002.

On the whole, there is a range of reasons that make three card poker online so popular:

  • It's easier to play than normal poker.
  • The house edge isn't too bad – only between 3.37% and 2.01% depending on the cards you get.
  • You can get better with simple strategies.
  • You aren't just playing against the dealer

That's all good… but how do you actually play? Well, we'll go over the rules of Three Card Poker now!

Three Card Poker Rules

The Set-up

We'll start the 3 card poker rules section off with the setup – the game is always played with your standard deck of 52 cards and is shuffled between each deal. If you're participating in a live dealer casino, this will all be done automatically, so there's nothing to worry about here.

The three-card poker table is laid out in a special way, with spaces for your ante bet, pair-plus and a call section. You'll also usually have a little playcard next to the dealer that tells you the minimum bet and maximum bet.

The Hands And Their Ranking

The system of hand rankings in three card poker will be found to be similar to stud poker in most aspects, but the odds are a bit different with just three cards. Yep, three cards – as the name suggests. Thanks to the odds being a little bit different, the ranking of the hands are slightly different as well. An example is in three card poker, you'll find that straights are actually rarer than flushes and three of a kind beats a straight, so outrank them, whereas, in normal 5 card games, it's the opposite way round.

The ranking, from worst to best goes:

  1. Just a High card
  2. Matching Pair
  3. Flush
  4. Straight
  5. Three of a kind
  6. Straight Flush

As you can probably already guess – you can't get a full house of four of a kind – it's not possible with only 3 cards in your hand!

Betting Procedures

All games of three card poker will offer you two different ways you can play – pair plus and ante play, with some casinos offering special side bets to place to help boost your winnings. You can choose whether you want to play with pair play, ante play, any of the side bets or all of them!

With ante play, you'll start by placing a bet in the triangular section of the play area with the label ante play. If you wanted to play pair plus for that round, you put your bet down in the circular pair plus section of the play area. These bets will be placed before you have been dealt your cards. Once you've placed your bets, you're ready to roll!

The dealer will now deal you, any other players and themselves 3 cards, face down. After all of them have been dealt with the respective players, you can then take a peek at your hand.

If you've opted to only pair plus play, you have nothing else to do – you're plain sailing all the way home as you don't have any more decisions to make or wagers to place. But if you're choosing to play ante-play on the other hand, you get the choice as to whether you're going to play or fold. If you choose to play, you have to place a bet that's the same amount as your ante – this bet has to be spot on equal, it can't be any smaller or larger – exactly equal!

Etiquette when making this bet is as follows: If you're playing the pair plus wager and you've got a winning hand, or you're choosing to make the bet, you place your cards down right next to your bet. If you're choosing not to make this play bet or you haven't got a play plus win, you're going to place your cards down in front of the bet, which signals to the dealer you're folding.

To settle the ante wagers, the following happens:

If you've seen the cards you've been given and choose to fold, then the dealer simply takes your ante wager and clears up your hand. Once all of the active players have chosen whether to play or fold, the dealer will then reveal their cards. If the dealer's hand reveals a hand that is queen high or better, then the dealer plays – lower than a queen and the dealer won't play.

With the dealer playing, the ante wager now becomes live and it's now a similar game to poker, where your hand must beat the dealers. If your hand beats the dealers, it's happy days and you're paid back even money of both your ante bet and your play bet. If you lose though, you lose both of your ante and play bets to the dealer.

What happens if the dealer happens to have a jack or lower hand? Well then the dealer isn't playing and your hand doesn't have to beat the dealers hand – all ante bets are paid out at even money but the play bet isn't in action, so players get to keep them.

If both yours and dealers card rankings turn out to be the same, the round is a ‘push', and any players get to keep their ante and play bets whilst there are no payouts given.

With a pair-plus bet in three card poker, you aren't playing against the dealer and you get a payout and win if your hand has a matching pair or higher – hence the name ‘pair plus'. The pair plus wager payout and win structure for the different hands is usually as follows and is quite similar to poker:

Pair – 1 to 1

Flush – 3 to 1

Straight – 6 to 1

Three of a kind – 30 to 1

Straight flush – 40 to 1

You can also get an ante bonus wager payout when you play 3 card poker at some casinos, which will award a separate payout that you can scoop up as well as any other payouts you receive. these include:

Straight – 1 to 1

Three of a kind – 4 to 1

Straight flush – 5 to 1

Three Card Poker Tips

If you manage to play three card poker strategically, you can get the house edge down to around 3.3%. But that's only through playing with a good strategy and a solid wager!

This edge can be accidentally bumped up when you start playing a wager with side bets or a bad plan – so here are two quick tips you should remember & learn to help get those house odds as low as possible whether you're gambling on three card poker online or offline:

1 – Try to stay away from pair plus bets

When you put a pair plus bet, you can be bumping that edge up by a whopping 2.3%. Yep, you can get some nice payouts – especially that 40 to 1 payout for a straight flush – but that's there to entice you in. You're more likely to lose more than you win with these types of bet though – even if you get lucky and manage to bag one of the top payouts.

In the long term, It's a wiser idea to play in a way that minimizes the odds for the house than to worry about that time you got a really good hand and could've gotten one of the payouts.

2 – You only need to remember one combination… 

Remember when we said the strategy behind 3 card poker is incredibly simple? we weren't lying. It's not just the game that's easy to learn – so is the best plan for the game.

You only need to drill one combination of cards in your head that you can base your decisions to fold or call when playing ante, and that is Queen, 6, and 4.

If your hand is Queen, 6, 4 or higher, then call. if it's lower, then don't play. Easy peasy.

With this strategy, it's pretty easy to avoid mistakes and play a more relaxed and enjoyable game. Sure, you won't be winning every single hand, but it's a well-regarded strategy that helps.

The team here at Casimple hope you found this guide helpful – if you're looking for a mobile compatible casino or a brand new casino site to try out your brand new three card poker knowledge on, simple take a look at the relevant pages.

Good luck!


Hi, I'm Chobie

"Usually found on the poker tables, I love helping punters get the most from their casino experience by finding the best casinos to play on and deals for new players (Because who doesn't love a sweet bonus when they sign up eh?)"

Reviewer since June, 2020