Three Card Poker Strategies

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Only a few decisions can be made by the player in the game of Three Card Poker. This limits the role of strategy to those aspects of the game which the player has some control over. For example, before the deal, the player has an option to wager on the Ante or the Pair Plus, or on both. Following the deal, the critical choice is whether to go forward by making the Play bet or to fold and surrender the Ante wager.

Without the opportunity to make typical Poker decisions, such as draw, check, raise and bluff, and with no additional betting intervals, most of the skill-dependent aspects that make traditional Poker games so complex are eliminated. Yet, there are still two ways for players to improve their chances of winning through strategy. One involves the Play bet decision, while the other focuses on the amount wagered and where it is placed.

First, it is important to keep in mind that the Dealer’s hand must “qualify” by containing at least a Queen, otherwise it automatically loses. The prospect of the Dealer failing to qualify, much like the hope of the Dealer going bust in Blackjack, leads many players to follow a strategy of always raising (making the Play bet), even with poor hands. After all, they reason, you can’t win if you are not in.

As it turns out, trying to pick up wins on unqualified hands is a poor tactic. It is rather like playing the game blindly. It is an attempt to pull off a bluff in a game where all bluffs are called. A player who stays in on ever hand inadvertently adds to the House Edge, more than doubling it, in fact, to 7.65%.

A much better strategy is to borrow an approach often used in Blackjack and mimic the dealer. That means making the Play bet only on hands that “qualify,” the ones that contain a Queen or better. When that simple rule is followed, the House edge overall becomes a bearable 3.45%.

Countless experts have examined Three Card Poker statistically. According to the results of their research, the best strategy for making the Play wager is to bet only when holding a hand of at least Q-6-4 or higher. That means hands with a King or more would certainly warrant a Play bet, as would hands with a Q-7 or higher and those with a Q-6-5, but not a Q-6-3.

Such “qualifying hands” can be expected to will lose 8.66% of all Ante bets made, but they will make up for that by winning 5.29% of all Play wagers. The House edge using this strategy falls to 3.37%, and the hands should win slightly more than a unit per wager over time. By contrast, computer analysis has indicated that hands made up of Q-6-3 or worse will lose, on average, a bit more than one unit per wager.

Because the intellectual property rights for Three Card Poker’s are owned by Shuffle Master, the company’s automated shuffling machines are used at the tables to mix the cards continuously. This renders futile any attempts to gain an advantage by counting cards. At the same time, progressive betting strategies are difficult to apply, owing to the Play requirement for winning Antes bets.

One of the most common wagering strategies, therefore is to use flat betting on the Ante wager, while applying a progression to the Pair Plus side bet. This is especially true of “slow” progressions such as Labouchere, Fibonacci, or d’Alembert, as opposed to “fat” ones like Martingale that attempt to win back all previous losses in a single wager.

From a statistical point of view, the Pair Plus bet entails much less risk than wagering on Ante and Play. Under favourable circumstances, it carries a 2.32% House Edge, which can be reduced further to 2.12% if a 50-to-1 payout is offered for a Mini-Royal. That makes Pair Plus betting comparable to wagering on Black or Red at the Roulette table, or even better in terms of payout odds, because more than even money is paid on premium hands.

Some players have referred to Pair Plus betting as “an even money wager with benefits.” The only problem is that it’s nowhere near being a coin flip. High Card only hands occur on 74.39% of all deals, so progressions can take much longer to reach their conclusion.

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