Three-Card Poker is quite an easy game to learn and play. It has some similarities to Blackjack, such as everyone at the table playing directly against the dealer, who controls the Banker hand.
Three-Card Poker is certainly related to card games in the Poker family, such as Draw and Stud, at least in terms of how hands rank. However, it differs from most Poker variations in that there are no cards drawn and no bluffing. What’s more, only one round of betting takes place after the ante.
The goal of Three-Card Poker is to obtain a hand that ranks higher than the Banker hand held by the dealer; the better the player’s hand the bigger the payout. Most versions of Three-Card Poker also include a side bet called “Pair Plus,” which allows the player to win a payout, even if the Banker hand cannot be beat.
A hand of Three-Card Poker begins with players making their Ante bets in the appropriate spots in front of their respective betting positions. The minimum amount of the Ante should be indicated on a table placard showing the Table Limits and/or House Rules. Players are also allowed to wager more than the minimum Ante, up to the table’s maximum.
Before the cards are dealt, players also have the opportunity to make the optional “Pair Plus” wager. This side bet on the player’s hand pays a bonus depending on the rank of three cards received. Any pair pays even money (1-to-1 odds), a flush yields 3-to-1, a straight returns 6-to-1, three of a kind is worth 30-to-1, and a straight flush pays 40-to-1.
Note that the order of the hand rankings for payouts differs somewhat from standard Poker rules. In Three-Card Poker, straights are ranked higher than flushes because when only three cards are in play the odds of a straight being dealt are actually lower than those of a flush.
The amount staked on the Pair Plus bet can be any amount, as long as it is within the table’s limits. This wager is made by placing chips on the spot provided, most often located at the top of the betting column nearest the dealer.
As soon as all of the bets have been made, three cards are dealt face down to each player as well as three to the “Bank.” Players may then look at their own cards to decide if they may have a potential winner. Of course, sharing hand information between players is not allowed.
Next, the players have the opportunity to play or fold. Those who fold lose their Ante. Those who wish to compete against the Banker hand must indicate so by making a second bet equal to the Ante in the “Play” spot on the table layout. This spot is typically located between the Ante and Pair Plus betting spots.
Once all of the Play bets have been made, the dealer reveals the three cards in the Banker hand. If the dealer’s hand does not contain at least a Queen or better, it does not “qualify.” All remaining players receive even money for their Ante bets and their Play bets are returned as a “push.” Note that in a few casinos, players are paid even money for all of their active wagers, including the Play bet, whenever the Bank fails to qualify.
When the Banker hand contains at least a Queen or better, the players must reveal their hands, one by one, and compare them against the Bank in a “showdown.” Hands that beat the Banker hand receive even money for the Play bet as well as the Ante bet. Those hands that rank lower than the Banker hand lose both bets. In most casinos, if a tie occurs, the player’s cards win, but some venues declare a “push” and the bets are returned with no winner declared.
The Pairs Plus side bets are paid off in the course of the showdown. Payouts are made as indicated by the ranking noted earlier. It is not necessary for the player to beat the Banker hand to win on this bet. It is strictly a wager on whether the three cards received will rank as high as a pair or better. All hands ranking lower than a pair are losers.
Many casinos pay an Ante Bonus, too, when a premium hand is received. It requires no additional wager and rewards any player holding a straight, three-of-a-kind or a straight flush, no matter whether the player’s hand beats the Banker hand or not.
A pay schedule posted at the table will show how much these hands are worth, most frequently 5-to-1 or 4-to-1 for a straight flush, 4-to-1 or 3-to-1 for three of a kind, and an additional even money payment for a straight. It is worth noting that a pair or better is dealt to only about 25% of all hands on average, making Pair Plus a rather high risk bet.