p How to Play Three Card Poker

How to Play Three Card Poker

Excerpt from

The Intelligent Guide to Casino Gaming

by Sylvester Suzuki

Three Card Poker is the latest and the simplest poker-derived table game to debut in American casinos. The game is played on a small table that closely resembles a Caribbean Stud table. The only significant difference is that the three betting boxes are labeled Ante, Play, and Pair Plus. In a sense, the game is two totally independent games that can be played simultaneously. These two games, which are generally referred to as Pair Plus and Beat the Dealer, will be discussed separately.

Just as for five-card poker, the rank (strength) of a three-card poker hand is based on the frequency with which that hand will appear when randomly dealt from a standard 52-card deck. For Three Card Poker there are 22,100 possible hands. The frequencies of the hands are shown in the table below. Note that compared to five-card poker, the hand rankings are very different when only three cards are dealt.

The Rank and Frequency of Three-Card Poker Hands
Kind of Hand
Definition
Number Possible
Straight Flush
Three sequential cards of the same suit.
48
Three of a Kind
Three cards of the same rank.
52
Straight
Three sequential cards, not of the same suit.
720
Flush
Three cards of the same suit, not in sequence.
1096
Pair
Two cards of the same rank, one card of another rank.
3744
No Pair
No two cards of the same rank, cards not in sequence or of the same suit.
16,440

Three Card Poker Table Layout

Let It Ride Table Layout

Pair Plus

By placing a chip in the Pair Plus box, the player is betting that his three-card hand will include at least a pair. If his hand does not include at least a pair, the player will lose the amount in the Pair Plus box. If his hand does include at least a pair, the player receives payment based on the strength of his hand as indicated in the table.

Payout Table for Pair Plus
Hand
Description
Payout
Straight Flush
Three sequential cards of the same suit.
40 to 1
Three of a Kind
Three cards of the same rank.
30 to 1
Straight
Three sequential cards, not of the same suit.
6 to 1
Flush
Three cards of the same suit, not in sequence.
4 to 1
Pair
Two cards of the same rank, one card of another rank.
1 to 1

Note that the ranking of hands for Three Card Poker is very different than for a regular five-card game of poker. This is because in poker, the strength of a hand depends on the frequency with which a hand can be expected to appear. For this reason, in a five-card game of poker, a flush ranks higher than three of a kind. However, in Three Card Poker, a flush will appear with much greater frequency than three of a kind. Therefore, the payout table indicates that three of a kind pays 30 to 1, but a flush pays only 4 to 1. Note also that a straight ranks higher than a flush and there is no royal flush. Actually, in five-card a royal flush is nothing more than the highest possible straight flush. Perhaps casino management realized that some big payments might be avoided by not making a special category for the highest-ranking straight flush.

Beat the Dealer

A player who wishes to play Beat the Dealer does so by placing a bet in the Ante Box. The amount need not be the same as the amount that may have been placed in the Pair Plus Box. Players are free to play Pair Plus, Beat the Dealer, or both games simultaneously.

After looking at your cards, you must decide if your hand is strong enough to beat the dealer’s hand. If you think that you can beat the dealer, you must place an amount equal to your ante into the Play Box. If you are not confident that you can beat the dealer, you may fold by pushing your cards face-down to the dealer, who will pick up your cards and your ante.

After each player has acted on his hand, the dealer will turn her cards over. As in Caribbean Stud, the first step is to determine if she has a qualifying hand. All hands that are listed in the preceding table are qualifying hands. In addition, any other hand that includes at least an Ace, a King or a Queen is a qualifying hand. If the dealer does not have a qualifying hand, she will fold and make payment at the rate of $1 for every $1 in the Ante Box. She will refund, but will not make payment on any amount that was in the Play Box.

If the dealer does have a qualifying hand, each player’s hand will be turned over and compared to the dealer’s hand. If the dealer’s hand ranks higher than the player’s hand, the player will lose both his Ante and Play bets.

If the player’s hand ranks higher than the dealer’s hand, the player will be paid even money on both his Ante and Play bets. In addition, if the player has a straight, three of a kind, or straight flush, he will receive a bonus payment on the ante bet as indicated in the following table. This bonus payment will be made even if you cannot beat the dealer’s hand.

Bonus Payout Table for Beat the Dealer
Hand
Payout
Straight Flush
5 to 1
Three of a Kind
4 to 1
Straight
1 to 1

Basic Playing Strategy

For Pair Plus, there really is no playing strategy, because once the bet has been made, the game automatically plays to conclusion. The house advantage on this bet is generally estimated to be approximately 2.3%, which is considered to be quite reasonable when compared to most other table games in the casino. However, a word of warning is appropriate. Playing rules, including payout rates, may vary considerably between various casinos. Most of the changes that you will find can be expected to result in an increase in the house advantage.

For Beat the Dealer, the correct strategy is to make the Play Bet whenever your hand is strong enough to have been a qualifying hand were it in the possession of the dealer. Otherwise, fold the hand. As was indicated previously, house rules for this game may vary considerably between casinos. However, in general, the house advantage for a Pair Plus bet is usually slightly more favorable (less unfavorable) to the player than the Beat the Dealer bet.

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