3-Card Poker gains a following

Apr 13, 2004 3:01 AM

A relatively new table game has started to generate a following of players. It’s called Three Card Poker, and it combines the head-to-head excitement of blackjack, where player goes against the dealer, and Caribbean Stud, in which players are paid for attaining a minimum hand.

Three years ago, there were virtually no tables in Nevada. Last year, there were 172 3-Card Poker tables, which generated more than \$121 million in revenue.

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, here’s how it works:

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 himself 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

Stanley Ko, in his excellent booklet Mastering the Game of Three Card Poker, mathematically computed an optimum playing strategy. He recommends making the Play wager only if you hold a Queen-6-4 hand or better.

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!