Official 3 Card Poker Rules

3 Card Poker is not really a proper poker game; it's an American casino card game where the player tries to beat the house. It combines certain features of poker play, but players should be aware that like most casino table games, the house has a distinct advantage.

The game is played with 1-7 players around a half-circular table. In front of each seat are three betting circles, marked Ante , Play and Pair Plus .

In 3 Card Poker, you can bet one of three ways; playing against the dealer, playing hand value ( Pair Plus ) or playing both hand value and against the dealer. Let's take a look at each and figure out what is the best method to play.

First, let's look at the possible winning hands in 3 Card Poker. If you're familiar with normal poker hands, you'll see some big differences; for example, a straight beats a flush.

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Straight Flush:
8-9-10 - five cards in sequence, all of the same suit.
Three of a Kind:
8-8-8-J-10 - three cards of the same number and two unmatched cards.
3-4-5 - five cards in sequence of any suit.
6-Q-5 - five cards all of the same suit.
Three of a Kind:
8-8-J - three cards of the same number and two unmatched cards.


High Card: A-K-J – Your highest cards. This hand would beat A-K-T, because the Ace and King cancel out, and your Jack is higher than the dealer's Ten.

Note that all hands shown above are just examples, and that to be a winner, your hand must be higher than the dealer's hand; for example, if you have a pair of 9's and the dealer has a pair of 8's, you would win.

Now, let's take a look at the payout for different bets.

3 Card Poker Payout Table

  Ante Play Bet Pair Plus
Straight Flush 4-to-1 4-to-1 40-to-1
Three of a Kind 3-to-1 3-to-1 25-to-1
Straight 1-to-1 1-to-1 6-to-1
Flush 1-to-1 1-to-1 4-to-1
Pair 1-to-1 1-to-1 1-to-1
High Card 1-to-1 1-to-1 Lose


Three Ways to Play

Playing against the dealer : Place an Ante wager. Look at your three-card hand and if you don't like your cards, you can “surrender” your ante bet and wait for the next hand.

Or if you think your hand is good enough to beat the dealer, place an equal wager in the Play circle. If dealer has a Queen or better, and you beat the dealer, you win. If the dealer does not qualify with a Queen or better, the ante wins and the play wager is a push.

Hand Value Only, Not Against the Dealer: Place a wager in the Pair Plus betting circle. If your hand contains a pair or better, you win.

Playing Hand Value and Against the Dealer: Bet the Ante and Pair Plus spots. You must also make a Play wager or both your Ante and Pair Plus wagers will be forfeited.



Let's play a quick game to see how it goes. We'll go to a table where they're playing with $5 chips.

First, everyone at the table must choose to bet either Ante , Pair Plus , or both. At our table, we decide to bet Pair Plus (you'll see why later.) Two players bets Ante , and the fourth player at the table bets both the Ante and the Pair Plus spots.

The dealer gives each player, and themselves, 3 cards facedown. Each player looks at their cards and decides how to play.

We have J-7-8 (all hearts), so we have got a flush, which is more than a pair. With Pair Plus , that's all you need to worry about – as long as you have a pair or something better, you're OK. The first player who made an ante wager is going to look at her cards to decide if she thinks she can beat the dealer. Apparently she does, because she makes an equal bet on the Play spot. The second player who bet the Ante turns his cards up and says “Surrender” – he only had 4-8-2, no good cards, so the dealer takes his ante bet. The player who bet both the Pair Plus and the Ante adds a Play bet.

Now there is a showdown. You show the dealer your cards, and they show you theirs. The dealer must have a Queen or better to play! This is very important; if the dealer has a trash hand, like 3-J-6, the dealer will pay 1-to-1 on all Ante bets, push all Play bets back, and that's it, unless someone has bet and won on a Pair Plus .

However, if the dealer has a hand containing a Queen or better, then they will compare hands with each player to see who wins and loses. Let's see what happens at our table.

Remember, our cards were a flush: J-7-8 (all hearts.) Now we see everyone's cards in the showdown.

Player #1 – Q-7-4 (all diamonds)

Player #2 – K-4-Q

Dealer – A-4-5


Well, the lady who increased her Ante bet with a Play bet has a flush also, which beats the dealer's Ace-high hand. She gets paid 1-to-1 for both her bets, so she wins $10 off this hand.

The guy who surrendered obviously already lost his $5 ante bet. That's better than the guy who bet Pair Plus and Ante – he didn't make a pair, so he loses that bet automatically, and his Queen-high hand is beaten by the dealer's Ace-high hand, so he loses his Ante and Play bets. That means he just lost $15 on one hand.

Now, as for our Pair-Plus, we got a flush that pays 4-to-1, so our 5$ bet makes us $20. Compare that to the lady with the other flush who bet $10 and only made $10. This should be a clue that Pair Plus is the way to go, but we'll confirm that in a moment.

Consider the 3-of-a-kind hand. Your odds of getting three of the same cards are 2.4% - What can that tell us about which way to bet?

Let's say you had $200 dollars and could bet 100 hands of either Pair Plus (2$ bet) or Ante plus Play (1$ + 1$ bets.) In either case, we could expect to get between two and three 3-of-a-kind hands. Pair Plus pays 25-to-1 for these hands; so in the best case, we would make $150.00 off just these 3 hands. Unfortunately, we would have lost $50 overall. The Ante and Play bets pay only 3-to-1 on these hands, so if we had bet those, we would only make $18.00 off those same cards. Now, you wouldn't really have lost a whole $182.00, because you probably would have won a few smaller bets along the way, and surrendered a few times to save a dollar– but you're simply not going to do as well as betting the Pair Plus.

This example should demonstrate two things. The first is that in the long run, the house is always going to win at this game. The second is, if you choose to play 3-Card Poker , only bet on Pair Plus.


How the Casino Makes Money

Now, like almost every casino game, 3 Card Poker is a game of negative expectations. That means that over time, you will lose money to the casino.

Here's why. Let's consider the same hand we just discussed, 3-of-a-kind. The basic odds of getting dealt this hand is 2.4% or about 42-to-1 but the casino only pays us at a rate of 1-to-25. In other words, if 3 Card Poker was going to allow you to win money consistently, the payoff on that 3-of-a-kind would have to be at least 42-to-1.



Let's review. We now know how to play 3 Card Poker , and are aware that almost all casino table games are negative expectation ; that is, if we play for long enough, the house will always win.

However, we've seen that by strategically choosing which way to wager, we stand a good chance of making money in the short run. And that's the big key; we're going to try to make our money quickly in 3 Card Poker ; once we've hit one big hand, or several mid-sized ones, we probably want to walk away from the table with bulging pockets.

Otherwise, statistics tell us that we'll end up losing it all back and paying the casino for those “free” drinks.


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