Mastering 3-card

Dec 9, 2003 5:21 AM

As much as I love video poker, I have to admit that any time I find out about a new game, it gets my attention. It doesn’t matter if I see it firsthand, if I read an article about it, or even get a glimpse of it on some chat board.

Every new game is a new challenge. My mind starts rolling on the best ways to analyze the game, see if some angle was missed somewhere along the line. On the one hand, I enjoy the thrill of gambling. On the other, I love even more the thrill of a mathematical challenge.

Three Card Poker is hardly a new game, although relative to many others found in the casino, it is. It’s been on my radar screen for five or six years.

Even before I took up gaming analysis full time, I had wanted to analyze this game. Three Card Poker was the next logical game to write about. It fit into the "Expert Strategy" books my dad had written. I could’ve taken the short cut approach to this. My dad had done the original mathematical analysis for Three Card Poker. He had worked closely with the inventor, Derek Webb, to get it approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. All the files, detailed analysis and original report were sitting downstairs in a box. But, what would be the challenge in that?

So, I started from scratch. I wrote brand new programs to analyze the game, determine overall payback, develop the strategy and to get a better feel for what to expect from Three Card Poker.

Three Card Poker is comprised of two independent bets. The player may play either or both in any amount, without going over the house limit. To understand this aspect, look at the table layout for each player.

On the top is the Pair-Plus bet (circle) which pays solely on the three cards dealt to the player. The table below shows the paytable for Pair-Plus:

*this includes the return of the original bet

The paytable above includes the return of the original Pair-Plus Bet. The house advantage on Pair-Plus is a fair 2.32 percent.

On the bottom is the Ante (diamond) and Play (rectangle) proposition, which puts the player’s three-card hand in competition with the dealer’s three-card hand. After seeing his cards, the player, who had put an Ante up, may either fold, or call for a showdown against the dealer’s hand by placing a bet (equal to the Ante) in the Play box. If the dealer does not have at least a Queen High in his hand, the player wins and is paid 1-1 on the Ante. If the dealer has a Queen High or better hand, but does not beat the player’s hand, the player is paid 1-1 on both the Ante and Play wagers. If the dealer’s hand beats the player’s hand, the player loses both the Ante and Play bets.

Nonetheless, the player is awarded "guaranteed" bonuses on the Ante bet, regardless of what ensues in the competition. The table below shows these payouts:




Straight Flush


Three of a Kind




The payback does NOT include the original Ante OR Play Bet, as these will be won or lost based on the direct competition with the Dealer’s hand. The overall house advantage is 2.02 percent for those who opt for the Ante/Play feature.

Strategy for Three Card Poker is rather simple. For Pair-Plus, the only decision is whether or not you’re going to play. No decisions are required beyond that. For Ante-Play, the only choice is whether to ”˜Play’ or ”˜Fold’ after seeing your Three Cards. Computer analysis shows that the proper play is to Fold on any hand less than Q-6-4. Any hand better than or equal to Q-6-4 warrants a Play.

The strategy is that simple. If you’d like to learn more about Three Card Poker, we recommend our new booklet, Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker. You’ll learn more about how the strategy was developed and what to expect when you play. As a loyal reader of my column in Gaming Today, you can order it directly from us at a discount. Send $3.95 (regular price is $4.95) which includes shipping and handling to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas (recently updated for 2003!), Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker and the Brand New, Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at, or drop Elliot an e-mail at [email protected]