Three Card Poker

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A few weeks ago, I said that I would start a series of articles on table games. This week would be a good week to get started. I’m going to discuss Three Card Poker, which means I could make this my shortest article ever. QUEEN – SIX – FOUR. I’m done.

Okay, I’ll keep on going because just saying queen-six-4our (Q-6-4 for short) still leaves some questions. Is this the best hand I fold or the worst hand I play?

Three Card Poker was invented in the mid-late 1990s. This was back in the dark ages of proprietary table games. There had been success with Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride, but casinos weren’t really looking for more. Little by little, the game made some inroads and reached about 50 tables when Shuffle Master purchased the game in the majority of the world. In the ensuing 10 years, Shuffle Master has turned Three Card Poker into the most successful proprietary table game of all time. There are over 1,500 tables in the world and there is barely a casino without at least one.

Three Card Poker broke new ground in several areas. It was a head-to-head game that didn’t have a side bet. Instead, the side bet (Pair Plus) was made a full wager and not only optional, but it could be the ONLY wager a player could make.

Thus, Three Card Poker became two games in one – Pair Plus against the paytable and Ante/Play against the dealer.

To begin play, the player makes one or both of the wagers and receives three cards which he is free to look at. If the player has made the Ante wager, he must now either make another wager equal in size (the player wager) or fold, forfeiting his Ante. If he plays, his hand goes head-to-head against a dealer hand, also of three cards.

If the dealer does not have at least a queen high, then his hand does not qualify and the play wager pushes and the Ante wager is paid even money. There is also an Ante Bonus that the player will win regardless of the dealer hand if the player’s hand is a straight or better.

For the paytable half of the game, the player gets paid if he is dealt a pair or better. There are various paytables in use and over the years some progressive paytables have cropped up as well. I can’t cover them all here, but the most common one you should be looking for pays 40, 30, 6, 3 and 1 (all “to 1” as opposed to “for 1”) for a straight flush, trips, straight, flush and a pair.

By now, you may have noticed that in Three Card Poker, a straight outranks a flush. For Pair Plus, there are no decisions to be made. The payback will vary depending on the paytable, but the one mentioned here pays a decent 97.68%.

In Ante/Play, my very vocal – QUEEN-SIX-FOUR comes into play. If you have at least a Q-6-4 then you play, otherwise you fold. Don’t think this makes this beacon hand a winner in the long run. It just means that you’ll lose less by playing than by folding with this hand over time. You’ll need to get a K-10 or so to get to a hand you can expect to win with. Using this strategy, you’ll find that you fold about 32.5% of the time. The payback for Ante/Play is 97.98%. While there are games that offer higher paybacks, most of these would require far more complex strategies than Three Card Poker.

Three Card Poker offers a fair payback and a very social atmosphere all while not taxing your brain too hard to play properly.

If you decide to simplify the strategy even further – to just queen high, you won’t hurt yourself too badly. However, I CANNOT stress enough the importance of avoiding a strategy where you never fold. If you decide to play with a jack high hand, you have NO WAY of beating the dealer except by him not qualifying. So, you’ll be wagering 2 units to win 1 unit about one-third of the time. This is a recipe for disaster. Sticking to the Q-6-4 strategy should definitely be your goal in this game.

 

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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