Sadly, casinos do not offer games of skill. They are a business. To survive, they must have the odds tipped in their favor. On gaming floors, lady luck has the final say. So, there, the closest you can get to winning money by playing a poker-like game is at a 3 Card Poker table. It is by far the most popular casino-poker variant and the most successful proprietary table game ever. If you do not know what a casino-poker variant is, think of it as a cross between blackjack and poker. They are table games designed to offer attractive payouts and get played at fast speeds.
3 Card Poker is the invention of UK native Derek Webb, who came up with the game in 1994. Due to British Casino Association rules, he was unable to sell his product to UK casinos. That caused him to relocate to the US, where he created a mock-up table and tried to hawk 3 Card Poker to venues in gambling meccas. After drawing blank stares from top establishments, he eventually found a home for it in Mississippi casinos. From then on, the game began to pick up steam and made its way all across the US. In 2002, UK regulation changed, and 3 Card Poker also got featured in its country of origin.
Where to Play
As mentioned, 3 Card Poker is a proprietary game. For a casino to feature it, it has to purchase a license. In the US, Shuffle Master owns the rights to it, a subsidiary of Scientific Games.
Scientific Games is a massive corporation with headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia. It has close to 10,000 employees and owns WMS and Bally Technologies. According to their estimates, there are over 2,000 installations of 3 Card Poker worldwide, not including multiple knock-off versions.
Due to its proprietary nature, naturally, it is not as well-established as blackjack or baccarat. However, most premier gaming establishments do carry it. In Las Vegas, you can find it at Strip casinos such as Caesars Palace, The MGM Grand, the Excalibur, the Bellagio, Harrah’s, the Wynn, the Tropicana, the Venetian, and many others. You can even enjoy it at Off-Strip locales such as Santa Fe Station, Fiesta Henderson, and Boulder Station.
In Atlantic City, the Tropicana offers low-limit 3 Card Poker tables, and so does the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The game is also available at all of Caesars Entertainment properties in New Jersey, and all of them offer extra side-wagering options. Any casino with a diverse gaming floor is likely to host this game. If you enter a brand property, you will likely stumble upon it.
You can also play real money 3 Card Poker online. Thousands of online casinos offer it both in software and the live dealer format. Know that you are more likely to locate platforms that let you play against a computer algorithm than a real person.
How to Play
3 Card Poker is a straightforward game. You play it with the standard 52-deck and against a dealer. To announce your desire to receive cards from the dealer, you have to make an ante bet. It signifies that you wish to participate in the round and get a three-card hand. There is a side-bet option called a pair plus wager, which is optional. When you make this bet, you are not playing against the dealer’s hand, as his cards are irrelevant. You win it only if you have a pair or better.
After you make your ante bet and the optional pair plus one, you get three cards face down. You then get to review your hand. Based on its strength, you can opt to raise by making a play bet. If you fold, you will lose your ante bet. If you do decide to make a play bet, its value must be equal to your ante. A play bet signals that you want your cards to face-off against the dealer’s hand. In such a scenario, the dealer needs a queen or higher in his hand to qualify for this face-off. If he does not have such a card, you win your ante bet. The play wager is a push. If he has a queen or higher, then your hand goes up-against his, and the person with the stronger one wins the round. We explain the hand rankings below.
3 Card Poker Hands
Note that the hand rankings in this game are slightly different than traditional poker due to obvious limitations. In value, from high to low, the system utilized here is as follows:
- Straight flush – three cards in succession by their rank of the same suit.
- Three of a kind – three cards of the same rank.
- Straight – three different suited-cards in a sequence.
- Flush – three cards of the same suit.
- A pair – two cards of the same rank.
- High card.
If you and the dealer have the same high card, a winner gets determined by comparing the second-highest cards in your hands. If those are identical, you weigh up the values of the last cards in your hands.
Some 3 Card Poker tables may also feature a Mini Royal, which is the highest straight flush.
Your payout will depend on your hand and what bet you have made. If you have made an ante wager and a pair plus one, and you have gotten a straight flush, the ante wager will payout 5 to 1, while the pair plus one will give a prize worth 40 to 1. You win even money by beating the dealer’s hand.
It is crucial to check the pay structure at the table you are playing. Not every venue uses the same one. Furthermore, many may advertise a table as a 3 Card Poker one. However, it may utilize a rule and payout structure more akin to one of its variations, such as Macau, Ultimate, Prime, California, or 3 Card Brag. These all have tweaks in terms of rules and payouts. Some even let you bet on progressive jackpot prizes.
In all honesty, there is not a lot of advantage play available in this game. One practice that all players implement is to bet whenever they have a hand consisting of a queen-6-4 and fold everything else. They do this because in such a case, the win probability jumps above 50%. Naturally, before you get to look at your cards, you have to make an ante bet. So, overall, the casino still has the edge.
Another option worth exploring is to not play the dealer’s cards at all. Focus only on the pair plus wager. Do not even consider the play bet. By doing so, you are eliminating the need to consider difficult decisions. All you need is a pair or better to win. You are playing a mini-game, which can have a lower house edge than the main one. Consider it.
To Wrap Up
As discussed, the odds of 3 Card Poker differ from casino to casino and bet to bet. It is essential to study the rules and the payout structure at your table before laying down any money. The house edge is dramatically affected depending on what combination of the two gets implemented. It can vary from 2% to 8%. So, be careful.
That said, if you like blackjack, you should love 3 Card Poker. On average, if you are going up against an experienced dealer, you could be playing around 70 hands per hour. So, it is a pretty fast-paced game. The payouts are also decent, and the house edge is reasonable. Some tables may offer allure bets such as the Millionaire Maker side bonus, which can provide you a prize of a cool million dollars. Nevertheless, stay away from those as the odds are astronomical.
If you are having a hard time grasping the 3 Card Poker ruleset, it is best to pop open an online casino that features it in its software form and test it out via demo-play. Most of the time, these sites will not require that you register to test-run their games.
About the Author
Shelly Schiff is a prominent iGaming expert with eleven years of experience under her belt. She has made her bones writing for countless online casino websites but is best known for her work at OnlineUnitedStatesCasinos.com. Shelly is a slot maven but also has a lot of love for table games. In her leisure time, she enjoys watching TV shows and listening to old rock music.