3-card poker is worth revisiting

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I came across something on Facebook this week about Three Card Poker. It asked, “What is your favorite strategy?” This is a question I think is better asked of Black Friday.

I know I always look at the ads in the paper on Thanksgiving Day and then plot out which ones are the best to go after on Friday, taking into account the quality of the sale and the likelihood of not having to run people over (or get run over!) to get the item. What type of question is this to ask about a casino game?

Naturally, I responded with a link to a column I wrote for GamingToday about four years ago. I was a bit surprised to learn this was the last time I wrote about Three Card Poker.

That column covered the entire strategy for the game and I will do so again today.

Play Q-6-4 or better: I’m tempted to end the column right here. That’s it. There is the entire strategy for Three Card Poker.

This is not my “favorite” strategy (well, okay it is that, too), but it is the only one you should play if you are not playing in any sort of tournament.

Some may say you play Queen or better. There are not a lot of hands between Queen High and Queen-6-4 High. Also, the impact is admittedly not that big between the two. But, is it really that hard to remember three cards?

This strategy provides you with a 97.98% payback. Any other strategy will provide you with something less than that.

Three Card Poker is somewhat unique in that it is very hard to play a very bad strategy. There really are only two possibilities. Fold every hand (well, that would be silly) or play.

Playing every hand will nearly double the house advantage (if I recall correctly). But this will still leave you in the 96% range. Folding every hand will – well, do I really need to answer this one?

Bad strategy in video poker, blackjack, Ultimate Texas Hold’em could easily leave you playing a game at 92 or 93%. But, just because Three Card Poker is more forgiving, doesn’t mean you should hand money to the house.

The aforementioned games are much harder to learn. I can’t sum up the strategy to any of those games in essentially four words unless I say “learn the right strategy.” But that is only useful for a quick lesson.

How do I know Q-6-4 is the right strategy? Because I wrote a computer program that looked at every possible Player hand and compared it to all possible Dealer hands (over 407 million combinations).

For each of the 22,100 Player hands, there are 18,424 possible Dealer hands. When the Player gets a Q-6-4, he will win the Ante & Play (Dealer will qualify) 305 times, win the Ante only (Dealer will not qualify) 5,758 times, tie 26 times and lose 12,335 times.

He will wager 36,848 units (18,424 times 2) and have 18,546 returned to him. His net loss will be 18,302. If he folds this hand, his net loss will be 18,424. So, it is an ugly hand, but he is still better off Playing.

In contrast, if he plays Q-6-3, he will win 271 with the Dealer qualifying, 5,747 with the Dealer not qualifying, tie 26 and lose 12,380. Not very different results, but his net loss will be 18,471 vs. 18,424 if he Folds. Thus, it is better if he folds.

Years ago, I was playing Three Card Poker with my wife when the lady next to her tried to explain her “favorite” strategy to us. The lady said she usually plays Queen High, but sometimes you can win by playing Jack High.

It took all of my wife’s strength to not say to the woman, “Do you have any idea who my husband is?” I’m happy to help all Players even when I’m in a casino, but it is not worth the ensuing argument to try and explain it on the spot to a Player.

Simply put, you can never beat the Dealer by playing a Jack High hand. At best, the Dealer can beat himself by not qualifying. This will net you a single unit for a two unit wager. In essence you will be betting 2 units to win 1 for something that has a roughly 30% chance of occurring. This is not good odds.

If you play a J-10-8, you will win 5,277 times with the Dealer not qualifying and lose the remaining 13,147. Your net loss will be 21,017, which is well above the 18,424 if you fold.

The good news is it really doesn’t get any worse than this. While there is some slight variation in how often the Dealer will not qualify, depending on the Player’s exact hand, playing a 5-4-2 will net you similar results as a J-10-8.

It might be your “favorite” strategy, but it is a wrong one. We’re not talking ice cream flavors here. There is a right and wrong strategy. Well, there is generally one right strategy and a whole lot of wrong.

This past summer, I updated my booklet Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker. It now includes the more common Pair Plus paytable and is expanded to cover the very popular 6-Card Bonus side bet that is found on about half of the Three Card Poker tables that are out there.

It lists for $5.95, but for GT readers, it is available for $5 (postage and handling included) through the holidays. You can send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV89133.

Buy his book now!

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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