Three Card Poker
- Cards and Initial Bets
- Ante and Play
- Pair Plus®
- Other Three Card Poker Sites and Software
Three Card Poker was invented in England in the mid 1990's by Derek Webb. It was originally called Casino Brag, since it was inspired by 3-card Brag, adapted to create a casino game in which players bet against the house rather than against each other. The name Three Card Poker was adopted when this game was introduced to America; it is sometimes also known as Tri Poker. The game was initially marketed to casinos by Derek Webb's organisation Prime Table Games, but in 1999 the rights to the game were acquired by Shuffle Master, later renamed SHFL Entertainment, Inc. In 2012 SHFL took steps to emphasise their ownership of the game by registering the name of the 'Pair Plus' side bet as a service mark (trade mark).
An older game, also called Three Card Poker, is described in several 20th century American card game books. This was a Draw Poker game played with three-card rather than five-card hands, where players bet against each other in normal poker style.
Cards and Initial Bets
The modern casino game of Three Card Poker is played with a 52-card pack at a special table on which the cards are dealt and bets placed. There are two bet types available.
- Ante and Play - a bet that the player's hand will beat the dealer's
- Pair Plus® - a bet on the quality of the player's hand, paid independently of what the dealer is dealt.
Before the deal, in order to receive cards each player must place an Ante bet, and in addition may place a Pair Plus® bet.
The ranking of hands for Three Card Poker from lowest to highest is:
- High Card - three cards of different ranks, not consecutive and not all the same suit, such as Q-J-9. When comparing two such hands, the highest cards are compared first; if they are equal the middle cards are compared and finally the lowest cards. For example K-4-2 beats Q-10-9, which beats Q-10-7.
- Pair - two cards of equal rank and one of a different rank, such as 6-6-Q. When comparing two hands with a pair, the rank of the pair decides; if both hands have the equal pairs, the hand with the better odd card ("kicker") wins.
- Flush - three cards of the same suit. These are compared in the same way as "high card" hands.
- Straight - three consecutive cards of mixed suits. Between two straights the one with the higher ranked cards wins. Ace can count high or low: A-K-Q is the highest type of straight and 3-2-A is the lowest. 2-A-K is not a straight.
- Three of a Kind - three cards of the same rank, higher ranks beating lower ranks.
- Straight Flush - three consecutive cards of the same suit. These are compared in the same way as straights, ace counting high or low.
Note that there is no ranking among suits. Hands that have the same combination and equally high cards, differing only in suit, are tied.
Ante and Play
Three cards are dealt to each player who has placed an ante bet and three cards to the dealer. After viewing his three cards the player must decide to either:
- make a play bet, placing an additional amount equal to the ante bet, or
- fold, losing the ante bet.
Following this decision, the dealer's hand is revealed and there is a showdown.
- If the dealer does not have Queen high or better, the ante bet is paid even money and the play bet is returned.
- If the dealer does have Queen high or better and the player's hand beats the dealer's hand the ante bet and play bet are paid even money.
- If the dealer does have Queen high or better and the player's hand is equal to the dealer's hand the player's ante and play bets are returned.
- If the dealer does have Queen high or better and the player's hand is worse than the dealer's hand the ante and play bet are lost.
An additional bonus is also payed on the ante bet irrespective of dealer's hand or outcome of the hand if the player holds a strong hand
- Even money for a straight
- 4 to 1 for three of a kind
- 5 to 1 for a straight flush
The name of this special side bet, which has been a part of the game since its invention in the 1990's, was registered as a trade mark of SHFL Entertainment, Inc. in 2012.
The result of a Pair Plus® bet depends only on the three cards dealt to the player - the dealer's cards are irrelevant. The Pair Plus® bet is lost if the player does not hold a pair or better. Winning hands are paid as follows:
- Even money for a pair
- 4 to 1 for a flush
- 6 to 1 for a straight
- 30 to 1 for three of a kind
- 40 to 1 for a straight flush
A winning Pair Plus® hand is paid out even if the player folds, though in fact this situation rarely occurs, since with any such hand the correct strategy is to place a Play bet.
Many online casino software providers have taken to calling this game by different names, presumably in an effort to avoid paying licensing fees for offering Three Card Poker. Some names that are currently in use are Poker Three, Trey Poker, Fast Poker, High Speed Poker, Triple Edge Poker, Trey Card Poker and Tri Card Poker.
Optimal Strategy and House Edge
The optimal strategy for Three Card Poker is far more straightforward that many other casino card games. The player should not place the Pair Plus® wager and should place the Play wager with any hand of Q, 6, 4 or better.
According to the Three Card Poker Guide at The Pogg, the house edge when playing Three Card Poker using optimal strategy is 2.01% where the game offers the standard paytable detailed above. If you decide to place a Pair Plus® bet, the House Edge is 2.32% if the paytable detailed above is used.
In some places a player is allowed to place only a Pair Plus® bet without placing an Ante. It is to the player's disadvantage to exercise this option.
Some casinos both on- and offline have started to vary the paytables for the Ante and Play bet. Where this is the case the house edge will vary accordingly.
There is significant variation in the paytables being offered for the Pair Plus® bet both on- and offline. In general these variations have a detrimental impact on the House Edge.
Other Three Card Poker Sites and Software
The Three Card Poker Guide at The Pogg provides rules, analysis, advice and odds calculators.
Bob Maxwell's vidpoker.com includes a useful page on Three Card Poker rules and strategy.
Steve Cross has written a page on Three Card Poker.
Wizard of Odds offers a free Three Card Poker game that can be played online in a browser.