How to Play 3 Card Poker, Live or Online
This is a fast and very entertaining casino poker game that you will find with many subtle name variations. The reason for this is that the 3-card poker name has been trademarked. What casinos do is come up with a similar game and name it ‘trey card poker’ or maybe ‘tri-card poker’. While you should always check the rules, you will find that these games are the same as the one I am describing here.
This guide will show you how to play 3 card poker whether you choose to do this at a live casino or online. First of all the basic premise of dealer qualification is covered. After that I have gone through the flow of a hand from the start to finish, so you can follow the decision points and sequence of events. Finally, side bets are looked into, along with the main pros and cons of playing those.
3 Card Poker – Dealer Qualification
In this game you need to beat the dealer’s 3-card poker hand. There is one big caveat to this. The dealer needs to qualify for the comparison of hands to take place. If the dealer does not qualify, then the content of your own hand makes no difference at all – you are paid 1-to-1 on the ante bet (see below) and the ‘play’ (or ‘raise’) bet is simply returned.
For 3-card poker the minimum qualifying hand for the dealer is queen-high, any better poker hand than this also counts. Keep this in mind when you go through the sequence of the hand below, and things will make a lot more sense.
3 Card Poker – The Sequence of a Hand
The cards are shuffled and the players in the hand must post a bet called the ante to be dealt in. Live this is usually a minimum of $5, though you can play for as little as 50c per hand online. Next 3 cards are dealt to each player and to the dealer. These are dealt one at a time to each player from the dealer’s left to right. The dealer’s cards will be face-down at this point.
You now need to make the main decision in this game, which is to raise or to fold your hand. If you raise, then you’ll need to place another bet identical to your ante in the next square along on the table (this is sometimes called ‘Play’, though usually ‘Raise’). If you do this then your hand will get compared to the dealer’s hand and the winner determined if the dealer’s hand qualifies. If you fold, then you lose the ante and your cards hit the muck.
Folding is the better move for junk hands, though if you have queen-ten high or better, then the optimal strategy is to go right ahead and make the raise.
If the dealer does not qualify, your raise bet is returned and you’ll be paid 1-to-1 on your ante bet. If the dealer does qualify and your poker hand is better than the dealer’s hand, then you will be paid on the ante bet according to the following payout table:
Straight Flush: 5-to-1
These are not the best payouts. However they are on top of your 1-to-1 raise bet win, and will give you a nice bankroll boost now and again.
3 Card Poker – Side Bets
The main side bet in 3-card poker is the ‘Pairs Plus’ bet. This is such a normal part of the game that many players place this bet along with their ante as a default play. This bet is completely separate from the main dealer v player matchup, and is a bet on getting a pair or better in the 3 cards that you get dealt. You can lose the hand to the dealer and still pick up a nice win from the Pairs Plus side bet.
Here is a typical payout table for the Pairs Plus bet:
1 Pair: Pays 1-to-1
Flush: Pays 4-to-1
Straight: Pays 6-to-1
3 of a Kind: Pays 30-to-1
Straight Flush: Pays 40-to -1
Poker fans might notice that the normal payouts for a straight and a flush are reversed in this pay table compared to the usual poker hand rankings. This is correct - it is actually mathematically easier to get a flush with 3 cards than it is to get a straight.
The positives of this side bet are that you have the potential to pick up a nice win, with multiple bets on offer for 3-of-a-kind or better. The downside is that it does have a big house edge, the regular game is much more player-friendly when it comes to the cut the casino is taking from each bet. My view is that if this bet adds some excitement and interest to the game, and if you can afford the money, then why not enjoy it?