Three Card Poker
In the grand scheme of things, Three Card Poker is a very new arrival to the pit in casinos, the world over. It was first spread in Mississippi Casinos back in the nineties, and subsequently made its way to Las Vegas, and has now travelled across the pond to casinos UK-wide. It is a descendant of Primero and Brag, games which have been played on British shores for hundreds of years.
According to Derek Webb, the creator of Three Card Poker, the game owes its popularity to its simplicity, fast pace and the opportunity for large payouts – while the standard payout is at even money, several bonuses and side bets offer much greater potential reward. The Poker Boom of the 2000s also likely played a part to boost in the game’s status along the way.
Anyone who is familiar with poker should be able to jump straight into the action, but there are some key differences and strategic considerations to give a new player the best chance of leaving a winner.
How to play
Three Card Poker is a table game, where the player plays against the house. It is played with one deck only, which is shuffled between each hand. Several players may play against the dealer, and each player is dealt his or her own hand.
The objective of the game is simple – a player is victorious when his hand is stronger than the dealers, or when the dealer does not qualify. Hand strength is determined with a ranking similar to other varieties of poker but is adjusted to account for the smaller number of cards.
The weakest hands are high card hands, which a player will be dealt about three quarters of the time. One sixth of the time, a player will be dealt a pair, which is the next strongest hand. A flush, which is three cards of the same suit, beats a pair. In contrast to Texas Hold Em and most other poker variants, a straight is stronger than a flush, and so comes next in the hand ranking. Should a player be dealt three cards of the same rank, he has three of a kind, which beats a straight. The rarest and strongest possible hand, which is dealt about once in every five hundred hands, is the straight flush, three suited cards in sequence.
Following the betting sequence, which is made up of two rounds, hands are flipped up and the punters’ fates are decided. Play goes by thick and fast, and it is normal to play up to 70 hands of three card poker per hour.
In order to be dealt a hand, a player must ante up. The ante is an obligatory bet that is placed before any hands are dealt. Following the ante, each player at the table can examine his holding.
Based on the strength of his or her hand, a player has two choices: to fold his hand, surrendering the ante to then house, or to place a play bet and continue. A play bet is equal in size to the ante bet, and buys a player the right to show down his hand against the dealer’s.
Once a play bet has been placed, cards are flipped face up and a victor is decided. Should the player’s hand be strongest, he will win the pot versus the dealer. If the dealer’s hand is strongest, the player loses his wager. The house must only match the play bet when the dealer qualifies with a hand of Queen high or stronger – this means that if the player wins versus a dealer hand of jack high or worse, only the ante bet is matched by the house. Ties are possible although rare, and result in all bets made being returned to the bettor.
Whether or not a player’s hand is better than the dealer’s, many casinos offer a high-hand bonus which is sized based on the ante. To qualify, a player must make a straight or better. Payouts vary considerably, but the most common structure is to pay out 5 to 1 on a straight flush, 4 to 1 on three of a kind, and even money on a straight. Astute players should seek out these tables, as this bet is a freeroll, meaning the player risks no extra money, but has a chance to rack up a bigger win.
Poker players are renowned for their ingenuity in creating ways to kick up the action a notch, and in that regard, Three Card Poker play has followed suit. Most venues allow for further betting in addition to the ante and the play bet. A Pair Plus bet is the most common augmentation to the game. This bet is similar to the ante bonus in that the dealer’s hand is not relevant – it is a straight bet on the strength of the player’s hand. If the player makes a pair, it pays out even money. Players with luck on their side can earn payouts as big as 40 to 1 for making a straight flush. Certain venues’ largesse extends to offering as much as 80 to 1 on a Mini Royal, which is Ace-King-Queen of the same suit.
Further side bets have sprung up – a common one is called Prime. It ignores all hand ranking and suits, and is based solely on the colour of the cards. Should all three of the player’s cards be black (spades and clubs) or red (hearts and diamonds), it pays three to one. If the dealer’s cards continue the trend, with all six cards being the same colour, it pays out at four one.
The final common side bet is the Six Card Bonus. This is based on the strongest five card poker hand which can be made from the player’s three cards and the dealer’s three cards. The top five card poker hands are combinatorially less common than their three card poker equivalent, so a royal flush often pays out upwards of 100 to 1 on the six card bonus.
Playing strategically optimal Three Card Poker is extremely straightforward! All a player need do is place a play bet on all hands of Queen, Six, Four and stronger, and fold any hands weaker than that. That advice alone is enough to see a player winning the maximum possible versus the house.
Strategic players can revel in the relatively low house edge in Three Card Poker – it stands at about 3% on the ante and play bets. Pair Plus bets net slightly more for the house, with a 7% edge, but of offer the opportunity for massive payouts when they hit! In general, all side bets will have a slightly lower expectation than the core ante and play bet. The Prime bet plays out frequently, and has higher expectation than the majority, and so it is the best option for players who prefer to wager more than one way.
Several casinos will offer an optional progressive jackpot – often with a collection of £1 per hand. As with all jackpots, they are normally losing money in the long term, but if they get to a certain size, may be well worth a flutter! Keep your eye on the progressive until it gets so big that you can no longer turn down the chance.
Where to play in the UK
Three card poker has had tremendous success across the UK, and is now sits alongside Blackjack, Roulette and Baccarat as the most widely-available table games. Whatever city you are in, you will find somewhere to take on the house at Three Card Poker!