3 Card Poker is a casino poker game, meaning that it’s derived from classic player vs player poker, but instead the player plays against the house. The basic game is very straight forward; played with a standard 52 card deck the player places an Ante wager then the player and the dealer are each dealt 3 cards face down (online variants normally deal the player’s cards face up). The player is then allowed to look at their cards and makes a decision regarding whether to fold – throw away the dealt cards ending the round and losing the Ante wager – or Play, placing an additional wager equal to the Ante wager to continue the round.
We are currently aware of 3 Card Poker being offered by the following online casino softwares – BetSoft, Boss Media, DGS, Dragonfish, GameSys, Microgaming, Net Entertainment, OpenBet, PlayNGo, Playtech and RealTime Gaming
Three Card Poker ranks hands according to a hierarchy common to poker games which is explained below (strongest to weakest);
* Straight Flush – three numerically adjacent cards of the same suit (Example – 4, 5 and 6 of Diamonds). Where both the player and dealer hold a Straight Flush the hand with the highest card is considered the winner.
* 3 of a Kind – three cards of matching rank (Example – 7 of Hearts, Clubs and Spades). Where both the player and the dealer hold 3 of a Kind the hand with the higher rank is considered the winner.
* Straight – three numerically adjacent cards ignoring suit (Example – 9 of Clubs, 10 of Diamonds and Jack of Diamonds). Where both the player and dealer hold a Straight the hand with the highest card is considered the winner.
* Flush – three cards of the same suit (Example – Ace, 8 and Queen of Spades). Where both the player and dealer hold a Flush the hand with the highest card is considered the winner.
* Pair – two cards of matching rank with a third unmatched card (Example – 6 of Clubs and Hearts and King of Clubs). Where the player and the dealer hold a matching pair, the hand with the highest third card (also called a ‘Kicker’) wins.
* High Card – any three unmatched cards ranked as the highest card (Example – 5 of Spades, 9 of Clubs and Ace of Diamonds would be considered ‘Ace High’).
In the unusual instance where both the dealer and player have hands of matching value by the above table, the hand is considered a push and the player’s bets are returned.
How the results are decided
The results of the game are decided as follows;
1) If the dealer has a hand of Queen High or better they are considered to have ‘qualified’. If the dealer does not qualify any unfolded player hand is paid.
2) If the dealer has qualified the hands are compared are compared using the table above and the stronger hand wins.
Where the player’s hand wins the following payouts are awarded.
If the dealer does not qualify the player’s Ante bet is paid at 1 to 1 while their Play bet is returned.
If the dealer does qualify and the player’s Ante and Play bets are paid at 1 to 1.
Where the player has a hand of a Straight or stronger – regardless of whether the dealer qualifies – the player receive the following bonus on a winning Ante bet;
| ||Hand Probability||Standard||Microgaming (High Speed Poker)*||Realtime Gaming (Club World)||GameSys
|Straight Flush||0.002171945||5 to 1||7 to 1||4 to 1||9 to 1
|3 of a Kind||0.002352941||4 to 1||4 to 1||3 to 1||8 to 1
|Straight||0.032579185||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1
* Microgaming offer two 3 Card Poker Variants. Only the High Speed Poker variant offers the improved paytable.
The vast majority of Three Card Poker games also offer a side bet called ‘Pair Plus’ which is decided separately to the main hand. Some casinos will allow you to play this bet without wagering on the main bet, but most require you to wager on the Ante bets to play Pair Plus.
The Pair Plus bet is very straight forward, if the player’s hand contains a Pair or better the Pair Plus bet is paid as per the following paytable;
| ||Hand Probability||Standard Online||Dragonfish*||Realtime Gaming (Club World||GameSys||Other Offline||UK Offline||DGS
|Straight Flush||0.002171945||40 to 1||40 to 1||40 to 1||40 to 1||40 to 1||35 to 1||35 to 1
|3 of a Kind||0.002352941||30 to 1||30 to 1||25 to 1||32 to 1||30 to 1||33 to 1||20 to 1
|Straight||0.032579185||6 to 1||5 to 1||6 to 1||6 to 1||6 to 1||6 to 1||6 to 2
|Flush||0.04959276||4 to 1||4 to 1||4 to 1||4 to 1||3 to 1||4 to 1||4 to 1
|Pair||0.169411764||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1
* We do not recommend playing with any Dragonfish (888 group) casinos.
Microgaming Bonus Bet
In their multi-hand High Speed Poker variant of 3 Card Poker, Microgaming offer a unique side bet with the following paytable;
|3 of a Kind||0.002352941||27 to 1
|Flush||0.051764705||6 to 1
|3 cards of the same colour||0.235294117||2 to 1
The optimal strategy for 3 Card Poker is remarkably straight forward. In the first instance the player should not play the Pair Plus and should only take the Play bet if they hold a hand of unsuited Queen, 6, 4 or better. So if the player holds Q, 3, 5, the second highest card (5) is lower than 6 and as such the optimal strategy would be to fold. If they held Q, 6, 5 the third highest card (again a 5) is higher than a 4 so the best course of action would be to place the Play bet.
Where multiple hands can be played at the same table (online) or you can see the hands that the other players hold prior to making your decisions, the additional information about the cards that remain available to the dealer can influence the correct Fold/Play strategy. Unfortunately, unlike the correct strategy when playing a single hand, this additional information leads to a more complex decision making strategy. As such we’ve compiled a calculator to allow you to enter the additional information and produce the correct strategy;
The house edge of Three Card Poker using the standard paytable and across the full round of wagering (both Ante and Play bet) and assuming that the player plays using the optimal strategy listed above is 2.01%. If the player does not play optimally this figure will rise.
The house edge of the Pair Plus bet using the standard paytable is 2.32%. As player decisions cannot impact the Pair Plus bet this figure is constant.
For further information regarding the house edge for both the main game and the Pair Plus bet when the paytables are varied see Beating Bonuses (http://www.beatingbonuses.com/3cp.htm).
The House Edge can be reduced in the multi-hand games described above, but not substantially enough to allow for a player edge.
Below you can find a calculator to allow you to check the fairness of your wins/losses when playing 3 Card Poker.
*This fairness calculator will assume that you’ve been playing with the optimal strategy detailed above. If you have not then the calculator will NOT return accurate results.
3 Card Poker was initially developed by Derek Webb and introduced at the Jackpot, a membership only casino in Dublin in 1995. The game did well and outperformed Caribbean Stud Poker in its first two weeks. At the time the mainstream British casinos were not willing to take on a new game without the game having been proven in the larger United States market. As such Webb took the game to Las Vegas to try for a launch there. Via a combination of casinos pulling out, inadequate dealer training and insufficient promotion Three Card Poker failed to gain a foothold in the major gambling meccas of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. At that point Webb took the game to the Grand Casino in Gulfport Mississippi 1995. Webb offered the casino extensive support in launching the game, spending a lot of time training dealers and ultimately ended up supervising the games on launch day to ensure that player were aware of the new game and the dealers were dealing correctly.
In 1997, just as Three Card Poker was making a substantial impression on the market, Webb was sued by Progressive Games Inc, the owners of Caribbean Stud Poker, who claimed that Three Card Poker had infringed on their trademark. Webb believed this action was taken by Progressive Games Inc simply because Three Card Poker was challenging their game’s dominance of the proprietary table game market. Simultaneously, the company that had recently purchased Progressive Games Inc, the Mikohn Gaming Corporation, tried to purchase the rights to Three Card Poker from Webb. While the Progressive Games Inc suit was eventually thrown out of court, the involved legal costs resulted in Webb having to sell the game to Shuffle Master (now known as SHFL Entertainment) for the price of $1.75 million and an agreement to defend the litigation against Webb.
The final ruling in the case found Progressive Games Inc guilty of fraudulently creating patents to base their legal suit on, however Webb later filed a suit against Shuffle Master claiming that they had undisclosed knowledge of the Progessive Games Inc fraud prior to the purchase of Three Card Poker.
By 1998 3 Card Poker has become one of the most successful table games outside of the big four (Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat and Craps) ever to be developed having spread to the vast majority of offline casinos in the United States and UK and having gained substantial representation within the online market. With over 1000 tables in the US alone it was bringing in more than $10 million/year.
In an effort to avoid having to pay fees to the proprietary license holder of Three Card Poker, several online casino software brands have issued this game under different name. The rule, layouts and paytables all match Three Card Poker exactly it’s only the name that’s been changed. Alternative names that we are aware of are Poker Three (Playtech and DGS), Trey Poker (Net Entertainment), Fast Poker (Boss Media*), High Speed Poker (Microgaming – this is the multi-hand version of their standard Three Card Poker game), Triple Edge Poker (Betsoft), Trey Card Poker (PlayNGo) and Tri Card Poker (RealTime Gaming). Many of these name variations have disappeared in recent years due to the patent violating nature of the usage of the game regardless of the change of name.
*Boss Media are part of the GTech group of companies. This group was found to be running unfair card games in 2012 and as such we would not recommend playing with any casino using this software.
Unlike Blackjack the techniques used to gain an advantage over the game of Three Card Poker in the offline environment are not nearly so widely discussed. As detailed above, having additional information regarding the hands of other players can allow the player to successfully decrease the advantage the house has over them, but is not sufficient in of itself to allow the player to gain an advantage. For the player to obtain an edge they need to have information regarding one or more of the cards that the player or dealer will receive prior to the deal, or they need to know one or more of the cards the dealer holds prior to making the Fold/Play decision. This information is not easy to come by while remaining within the law, but can be obtained in certain situations where a dealer has been poorly trained and the player has a very sharp eye.
If this information can be obtained the payoffs for the player can be exceptionally high, with the advantage for perfect information on all three dealer cards every round combined with perfect playing strategy exceeding 30%. Compared to the 0.5-2% obtainable using Card Counting or even the 13% obtainable using Hold Carding at Blackjack, this is an extremely lucrative situation. The rarity of this scenario and the high skill level required ensure that only the most diligent of professional players are ever likely to come across this information and it should be emphasized that the risks involved in gaining less than perfect information can be substantial.
Beyond the basic figures detailed above the best source of information on how best to play with additional information can be found in James Grosjean’s ‘Exhibit CAA: Beyond Counting’. This book is widely considered the Bible for the professional player and as such is not a worthwhile investment for anyone other than a full time professional Advantage Player (not to mention it requires a professional reference to obtain).
There are several methods of legitimately gaining an advantage over the online Three Card Poker games. By and large these involve the use of promotions, bonuses and comp point systems as the games by themselves – assuming the game is functioning in a correct fashion – will not provide any additional information about the cards and shuffle after every hand.
It should be noted that online advantage play is not specific to Three Card Poker and in recent years the wagering requirements for player’s choosing to play any table game has inflated to the point that Three Card Poker is now often a sub-optimal choice for the player. For more information on beating online casinos see BeatingBonuses.com.
James Grosjean ‘Exhibit CAA: Beyond Counting’
* All ‘House Edge’ figures in this article are based on the ‘loss per unit wagered’ rather than ‘loss per initial bet’.