Optimal strategy for 3-Card Poker

Jun 23, 2009 5:04 PM
by GT Staff |

Simple rules for winning consistently

About 10 years ago, three card poker hit the casino floors in Nevada. Since then, the game has grown to become one of the top five table games in the pit, behind stalwarts blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat.

It isn’t easy for a new table game to succeed in commercial casinos, as evidenced by the dozens of other games that have come and gone during the same time span.

But Three Card Poker had several features working in its favor: it’s surprisingly simple to learn, decisions can be made quickly and effortlessly and the action combines the head-to-head excitement of blackjack, where players go against the dealer, and Caribbean Stud, in which players are paid for attaining a minimum hand.

While the game has become popular in Nevada as well as other casino jurisdictions, little has been written about basic strategy or a winning system.

But only recently, GamingToday was provided a simple, winning system that would take just a few moments to master.

Before discussing the basic strategy, it would be helpful to review the basics of how the game is played.

The game is played with a standard deck of 52 cards on a blackjack-style table. Both the player and dealer get three cards face down.

There are actually two "objects" to the game. The first is to hope your poker hand beats the dealer’s poker hand. The other object, which is also a separate bet, is that your three-card hand will be a least a pair or higher.

Prior to the deal, you must determine which bet or bets you want to make.

If you want to compete against the dealer’s hand you make a bet on the Ante spot. If instead you want to bet that your three-card hand will be at least a pair or higher, then you would wager on the Pair Plus box. The betting spots for making these wagers are located directly in front of each player. 

If you decide to play against the dealer and bet the ante, the play begins with the dealer giving you and him three cards face down. You pick up your cards, look at them, and decide whether you want to stay in the game or fold. If you want to stay, you must make another equal bet in the "Play" betting spot. If you decide instead to fold, you would place your cards face down on the layout toward the dealer, and you forfeit your ante bet.

After all the players have decided to play or fold, the dealer will look at his cards. If the dealer has a queen or higher, then his hand "qualifies" and play will continue against the remaining players.

If the dealer doesn’t have a queen or higher, he will automatically pay each player who stayed in the game (i.e. wagered on the Play) even money on the Ante wager and return the Play wager to the player (it’s a push).

When the dealer’s hand qualifies but your hand has a higher poker rank than his, you win your Ante and Play wagers at even money. If instead the dealer’s hand beats your hand, you lose both your Ante and Play wagers.

If you don’t want to compete against the dealer’s hand, your other betting option is to bet on the Pair Plus. You win if your three-card hand contains at least a pair or higher. The higher the poker rank, the greater the payout. You lose the Pair Plus bet if you end up with less than a pair. These are paid regardless of the dealer’s hand:

Straight Flush 40 to 1

Three-of-a-Kind 30 to 1

Straight 6 to 1

Flush 4 to 1

Pair 1 to 1

The casinos’ edge for the Pair Plus is 2.3 percent and for the Ante wager it’s 3.4 percent based on the initial bet, or 2.0 and 2.3 percent respectively based on the total money bet.

Compared to the similar Caribbean Stud Poker and Let it Ride poker games, Three Card Poker is actually a better deal for the player. Of course, it always helps to be lucky, regardless of the house advantage!

Now on to what constitutes basic strategy. Obviously, you need to know whether you should play on, after seeing your cards.

Just like in Texas Hold’em poker, the prized information is knowing which are the best starting hands, based on their statistical chances of winning.

According to mathematic studies on the subject, it’s been determined that the minimum starting hand for Three Card Poker is Queen-6-4.

Thus any hand ranked lower than Q-6-4 should be folded. And, of course, any hand ranked higher should be played.

Like all good rules, the simple ones are the best. And, according to the math experts, just follow this rule, let the odds take over and you should be a winner over time.

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