With only three cards in each hand, Three Card Poker is an easy game to learn and play. It resembles Blackjack in that each player is dealt a hand to compete directly against the Dealer, who holds the Banker hand. Although called a form of poker, this game is unlike Draw or Stud because there are no draws and no bluffing. Also, only one round of betting occurs after the ante.
The object of Three Card Poker is to beat the Dealer by obtaining a hand of a higher rank. In terms of payouts, the better the hand the bigger the “Ante Bonus” received. The game also includes a side bet called “Pair Plus,” which allows the player to win with a pair or higher, even if the Banker hand wins the showdown.
After all initial bets have been placed, three cards are dealt to each player as well as three face down for the Banker hand. Players then look at their hands and decide whether they wish to compete against the Banker hand or fold and forfeit their bets. Those who decide to challenge the Banker hand must make an additional wager equal to the Ante in the “Play” spot on the table layout, usually found between the Ante and Pair Plus betting positions.
Because each casino may have a slightly different interpretation of Three Card Poker rules, players should confirm the actual payout schedules, betting limits and other aspects of the game as described in the House Rules. All of the descriptions that follow can be expected to reflect the rules used at the vast majority of Three Card Poker tables, beginning with the ranking of all six possible hands from highest to lowest, along with the treatment of ties and the bonuses paid for Pair Plus wagers.
1. Straight Flush – The highest ranking Three Card Poker hand is three cards in sequence, all of the same suit. Examples are the 8-7-6 of hearts or Q-J-10 of clubs. Aces may be used high or low, such as 3-2-A of spades or A-K-Q of diamonds. Ties are won by the hand with the highest valued card, except the 3 is highest rather than the Ace in a straight flush of 3-2-A. The Ante Bonus for a straight flush is usually 5-to-1, but it can be 4-to-1 or even as low as 3-to-1, depending on the casino; the Pair Plus bet pays 40-to-1.
2. Three of a Kind – Also referred to as a set, trio, triplets or trips, the second best Three Card Poker hand is three cards of equal value, such as J-J-J or 5-5-5. Ties are settled by the rank of the three cards. The Ante Bonus for this hand is typically 4-to-1, although it can be 3-to-1 or as low as 2-to-1; the Pair Plus wager will pay 30-to-1.
3. Straight – Three unsuited cards in sequence is called a straight or “run.” An example is the 9-8-7 of different suits. Aces count as high or low, just as they do for a straight flush. Ties are decided by the highest valued card in the hand, with the 3 counting highest in a 3-2-A straight. The Ante Bonus for this hand is always even money, 1-to-1; the Pair Plus payout is 6-to-1.
4. Flush – In standard poker, a flush beats a straight, but no so in Three Card Poker. This hand features three non-sequential cards of the same suit, such as the J-8-3 of spades or the K-6-2 of diamonds. Aces are always counted as high. Ties are settled by the highest valued card in the hand; if the highest cards are of equal value, then the second highest card determines the winner or the third card if both of the top two cards are identical. Although no Ante Bonus is paid for a flush, a successful Pair Plus wager yields 3-to-1.
5. Pair – This hand contains two cards of the same value along with a third card of another value, also known as the “Kicker.” Examples are Q-Q–9 or J-8-8. Ties are decided by the value of the paired cards; if the pairs are equal, the tie is won by the higher valued of the unpaired Kickers. No Ante Bonus is awarded for a pair, but the Pair Plus bet earns even money.
6. High Card – Any hand containing three non-sequential cards of different values and suits is referred to as a high card hand or “nothing.” Examples are A-8-5 or 9-7-3 of different suits. Aces are always counted as high. Exactly the same as for straights, ties are settled by the highest valued card in the hand. If the highest cards are of equal value, then the second highest card determines the winner, else the third card if both of the top two cards are equal. A high card hand receives no Ante Bonus and it loses on the Pair Plus bet.
Apart from the ranking of hands, a number of other rules are quite common at Three Card Poker tables. Here are seven that player might expect to come across just about everywhere Three Card Poker is played.
Ante Bonus Eligibility – Only hands backed by both Ante and Play bets are eligible for the Ante Bonus.
Ante Wager Forfeit – If the player elects not make the Play bet, the Ante is lost, regardless of whatever cards the Banker hand may hold.
Pair Plus Wager – This bet is settled separately from the Ante and Play wagers. Whether or not the player’s hand wins, the Pair Plus bonus is still paid for a pair or better.
Payouts – Successful Ante and Play bets are paid out at even money. Ante Bonuses and Pair Plus winnings are paid out according to the payout schedule set forth by the House Rules.
Play Bet Limit – The bet made on Play must be equal to the initial wager made on Ante, neither more nor less.
Play Both Bets – Some casinos offer a special option, which is the equivalent of a single bet covering both the Ante and Pair Plus. However, in order to win on either the Ante or Pair Plus, the player must make the Play wager; otherwise, all bets are forfeited.
Qualifying – At most Three Card Poker tables, the Banker Hand must contain at least a Queen or better for the showdown to take place. When the dealer fails to qualify, the initial Ante wager earns even money and the Play bet is refunded. This applies only to the wagers of active players who have not folded.