3-Card Poker Guide: A Faster-Paced Alternative to Traditional Poker Games
Traditional live poker – like Texas hold’em cash games and tournaments – can be boring.
You can play only one table at a time. And unless you’re a bad player – a fish – you’re only going to play 15%-20% of hands you’re dealt. Basically a few hands every hour.
We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with live poker, just that sometimes we crave something faster paced. Something that takes elements of live poker and casino table games…and mashes them together.
Like 3-card poker.
True story – 3-card poker was invented by a poker player. Maybe he wanted something faster paced, too?
Anyway, if you’re a poker fan, you’re sure to like this game. It has elements of both poker and poker strategy.
However, even if you’re not a huge poker fan, you should still read our guide below and learn all about 3-card poker. Learn the rules and strategy at the very least, because you can never go wrong with knowing how to play more games.
You’ll only have more options when you hit the casino.
Let’s get to it.
Where Did 3-Card Poker Come From?
3-card poker’s pretty new compared to other casino card games. A guy named Derek Webb invented the game in 1994.
Shortly after he invented it, he started shopping it around to different casinos to see if anyone would be willing to offer it in their casino on a trial basis.
After a few rejections, Webb got a bite from a casino in Mississippi. There, Derek hustled; he helped integrate the game into the casino and train the dealers, all at no cost.
Webb later parlayed his initial success into trials with Las Vegas and Reno casinos. Between pitching his game and training staff, he was kept busy. Life was looking good.
Then he was hit by a patent infringement lawsuit from Progressive Games.
Derek then met with Joseph Lahti, the president of Shuffle Master. Lahti offered to help Webb defend the patent claims in court.
He also offered Webb $3 million for partial rights to 3-card poker – which Webb agreed to.
But there was a chance Derek could have gotten a lot more. So, he countersued Progressive Games. He claimed their lawsuit against him forced him to sell his (intellectual) property at a lower price than it’d be worth otherwise.
Progressive Games must have thought so, too. Or they didn’t want to see what a judge and jury would think. Because they settled out of court…
…and paid Derek Webb $20 million.
It sounds like we should be investing in games instead of writing about them, doesn’t it?
Anyway, that’s the short and sweet story about where 3-card poker comes from. Now let’s take a few minutes to learn how to play it.
How to Play 3-Card Poker
3-card poker is a simple game. We’ll cover how to play it, but keep in mind that each casino may do things differently.
You’ll start by placing your mandatory ante bet. How much you can bet will depend on the casino. You can also make the optional “pairs plus” bet.
If you make both bets, they don’t need to be the same size. For example, you can make a $5 ante bet and $1 pairs plus bet (or whatever limits the casino lets you bet).
After you place your bet, you’ll be dealt cards. These are the only cards you’ll get – there’s no discarding or drawing new ones.
This is important because you need to decide if your 3-card poker hand is strong enough to beat the dealer’s hand as is. And the crazy part is that you don’t know because the dealer’s hand is face down.
(Don’t worry. We share some basic advice to help you beat the dealer later on in this guide.)
You have two choices at this point; you can raise because you think your hand’s strong enough, or you can fold because you think your hand isn’t strong enough.
Fold and you’re done. The dealer automatically wins and gets to keep your ante bet.
However, if you raise, you’ll need to make another bet. Your “raise” must match your ante bet. For example, if your ante bet is $5, your raise must be $5. You’ll have $10 in total in play.
After you make your raise bet, the dealer will flip his hand over. Then both hands will be compared to see who has the strongest 3-card poker hand – you or the dealer.
Here are the three possible outcomes:
The dealer’s hand doesn’t qualify. He must have a Q-high hand or stronger to qualify.
If the dealer doesn’t qualify, you’ll get 1:1 on your ante bet. But you push on the raise bet. You’ll get your original wager bet back.
For example, if you bet $5 on the ante and raise and the dealer didn’t qualify, you’d get $10 total for the ante and $5 for the raise. You’ll get $15 total.
The dealer qualifies, but your hand is stronger. You win (and get paid on) both bets.
In this case, you’d get even money on both the ante and raise. If you bet $5 on the ante and raise – $10 total – you’d get an additional $10 for winning, which makes $20 total.
There are two exceptions. You’ll receive a higher payout for making one of the following hands:
A straight flush pays 5:1.
A three of a kind pays 4:1.
It’s also important to note exactly how you beat the dealer. 3-card poker uses a slightly different hand ranking chart to determine hand strength.
In order from strongest to weakest:
Three of a kind
You might be asking yourself why a three of a kind pays better than a straight, or why a flush pays less than a straight. This is totally backwards compared to traditional poker.
The answer’s simple – it’s much easier to make a 3-card flush than it is a 5-card flush. The same goes for a 3-card straight. But it’s still difficult to make a three of a kind, especially when you’re only given three cards to begin with.
The dealer qualifies, and his hand beats yours.
Pretty simple – here you’ll lose both your ante and raise bet.
If you made a pairs plus bet, that’s also taken care of now. It pays only if you make a pair or better. Anything less than a pair, and you lose this bet.
Here are the payouts:
A straight flush pays 40:1.
A three of a kind pays 30:1.
A straight pays 6:1.
A flush pays 4:1.
A pair pays 1:1.
Those are the common payouts. But keep in mind that they vary from casino to casino.
And that’s pretty much all there is to 3-card poker.
Once the hands have been compared and the bets paid or collected, the round is over. The cards are shuffled and you make your bet for the next round.
3-Card Poker Variations and Side Bets
There are quite a few 3-card poker variations and side bets. What’s available will depend on where you play it.
The following are the known variations and side bets and any information about them, including house edge, payouts, and where you can find it.
They call this the “Millionaire Maker.” If you make a 6-card royal flush in diamonds, you’ll go home a millionaire. A royal flush in any other suit will pay out $100,000.
All this on a $5 side bet and a whole lot of luck. You’ll find this offered at Caesars Entertainment casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. You’ll find this online, too, at Evolution Gaming live dealer games. The Caesars version has an 18.10% house edge.
This was mentioned in the last section. This pays on any pair or better hand. Some casinos also offer a mini (3-card) royal flush bonus, which pays 50:1 for a suited AKQ.
A progressive that pays on a mini royal flush in spades. These are the payouts:
Also called Face Up. The dealer reveals only one card in a head-to-head game, rather than all three. You also make an additional blind bet equal to your ante. There’s the optional pairs plus side bet, too.
If you show at least a pair, you can make an additional bet up to 3x the ante. Any other hand is only double (the ante). The blind bet’s a loser if your hand is lower than the dealer’s, a winner if it’s higher, and a push if it’s lower than a flush.
A slot variation found at William Hill. This offers a hold/nudge option. Each reel is made up of symbols showing all fifty-two cards in a deck. The goal is to line up a winning 3-card poker hand on the winning line.
Three Card 21 ‘n’ Done
New to Nevada casinos. This is part blackjack and part 3-card poker. Each round begins with placing two bets – one for your 3-card hand and another for the 21 bonus game. Then three cards are dealt to each player. These are the payouts for the 21 bonus:
A 21 (total) pays 1:1.
A pair pays 1:1.
A flush pays 3:2.
A straight pays 2:1.
A three of a kind pays 5:1.
A straight flush pays 15:1.
A 3-card royal flush pays 50:1.
A 3-card royal flush in diamonds pays 200:1.
If the dealer shows an ace, you can buy insurance. It pays 2:1 like in traditional blackjack.
And if you have a total of more than 21, you can surrender or make two additional bets. This splits your 3-card hand into three different hands.
This is (reportedly) offered at the Red Hawk Casino near Sacramento. This is a $1 side bet. This is on a ‘for one’ basis, which means you never get your original bet back, even if you win. You can win based on your own hand AND other players’ hands. This has a house edge of 38.57% to 42.53%, depending on how many players (1-6) are playing.
The Most Optimal Way to Play
There’s not a ton of strategy for 3-card poker. You only have two choices you can make:
Do I play the pairs plus bet?
Do I raise or do I fold?
That said, there are a couple of optimal decisions or plays you can make. These are choices that will reduce the house edge as much as possible.
The most optimal way to play is this:
Always raise with Q-6-4 or better. Fold everything else.
Here are a couple examples:
A-A-3 – Raise
Q-5-4 – Fold
Q-6-5 – Raise
9-4-2 – Fold
J-T-3 – Fold
J-T-9 – Raise (Because this is a 3-card straight.)
9c-4c-2c – Raise (Because this is a 3-card flush.)
This strategy reduces the house edge to 3.37%. But it can be higher depending on where you play and that casino’s payouts.
If you don’t use this strategy, the house edge will be between 7.5%-8%. That’s a big difference for failing to use such a simple strategy.
That’s it. That’s all the strategy you need.
Like we said, simple.
But that’s not all. If you’re playing live and happen to see one of the dealer’s cards, then follow this advice:
Raise if you saw a (dealer) 2 through jack.
Raise if you have Q-9-2 or better if the dealer has a queen.
Raise if you have K-9-2 or better if the dealer has a king.
Raise if you have A-9-2 or better if the dealer has an ace.
If the dealer’s sloppy enough, you can have as much as a 3.48% advantage over the house.
Last – there’s no strategy for the pairs plus bet. You either make it or you don’t. If you’re concerned about the house edge and making your money last, don’t make it. You’re better off betting 100% of your money on the ante bet.
That said, the house edge is relatively low for a side bet – around 2%-3% – which, when combined with the game’s house edge, makes this a low-risk game all around.
Playing Tri-Card Poker Online: 5 Things You Should Know
There’s nothing particularly special about playing 3-card poker online. At least, no more than any other game.
But there are a few things you might want to know.
You’ll find 3-card poker at most casinos. But because of trademark rights, you might not find it under the name 3-card poker. You might have to look for tri-card poker instead.
Stakes will vary, though you should be able to find games starting at $1 and peaking at between $250 and $500 pretty easily. The higher the stakes, the more challenging it will be for you to find a casino.
There are live dealer 3-card poker games. It’s not as widespread as live dealer blackjack or roulette, though. But one company who does distribute the game is Evolution Gaming. And they work with the following online casinos:
Their version has the Ante Bonus, which pays no matter the dealer’s hand. And they have the pair plus bonus and a six card bonus, which pays 1,000:1 on a three of a kind or better, regardless of what the dealer has.
Since this is a “poker” game, most online casinos will either prohibit you from participating in their bonus offers or handicap your bets. In short, this means you’ll need to wager more money than normal to clear their offer.
For example, if they require slots players to wager 30x their deposit plus bonus, a poker player might need to wager 5x-10x that – or about 150x-300x.
It’s important to keep that in mind before signing up because if you don’t fulfill the requirements you won’t be able to cash out until you do.
Mobile 3-card poker games are hard to come by. Players outside the US will have more luck, but only at online casinos that have an extensive mobile game selection, like Bet365.
That’s it. That’s 3-card poker.
As we said earlier, this is a simple game to learn and play. The house edge isn’t too bad either if you stick to the one move we shared and resist the temptation to play any side bets.
But no matter how you approach it, 3-card poker is a fun game to play…and a great, fast-paced alternative to traditional poker games.
Give it a shot today.
Here are some questions and answers about 3-card poker.
Can you play 3-card poker for real money?
Yes. Most online casinos will offer either 3-card or tri-card poker for real money.
Can you play 3-card poker for free?
You can. Most online casinos will let you play their games for free. Some – like Bovada and Ignition Casino – will let you play their games without having to create an account first.
Another idea is to find one of those arcade game websites that offer all sorts of free games. You just have to deal with their aggressive and invasive advertisements.
And yet another idea – search your mobile phone or tablet’s app store for a 3-card (or tri-card) poker game. Chances are you can find one. If not, then you can probably find a general casino or card game app that offers it.
Where can you find 3-card poker in Las Vegas?
Several casinos offer it. Those include:
Golden Nugget – They have a $10 minimum.
Imperial Palace – They have a $10 minimum.
Riviera – They have a $5 minimum.
Circus Circus – They have a $5 minimum.
Stratosphere – They have a $5 minimum.
Bellagio – They have a $25 minimum.
Aria – They have a $25 minimum.
Wynn – They have a $25 minimum.
Excalibur – They have a $5 minimum.
Treasure Island – They have a $5 minimum.
Some of these table minimums will change based on the season and the time of day and week. You can expect them to be higher during busier times and lower during slow times.
Where can I find a free 3-card poker game download?
Unless you pay for a premium app, you shouldn’t ever have to buy 3-card poker or pay to download it. Most casinos who offer the game AND offer a casino download will let you do so for free.
How many hands per hour can you play?
It depends on where you’re playing and if you’re playing online or live, but you can expect to play 30+ hands per hour.
What is the minimum hand in 3-card poker?
We’re not sure we understand what you’re asking. So we’ll try to cover this a couple different ways.
The minimum hand the dealer needs to “qualify” or for this hand to play is Q-high. If the dealer fails to qualify, you’ll get 1:1 on your ante bet and you’ll push on your raise bet.
The minimum hand you should play is a Q-6-4. With a Q-6-4 or better, the most optimal strategy is to raise. You should fold everything else.
Is there 3-card poker multi-player?
You can play the game with other people. That’s possible online when you play live dealer games. At some casinos, you can sit and chat with the other players.
You can do that offline, too.
However, keep in mind that general chit-chat is okay, but casinos usually frown on sharing strategy or information about your hand.
Have a question about 3-card poker? Send us an email!