Gambling Tips >Three Card Poker

How to Play Three Card Poker

By Henry Tamburin

Three Card Poker is a popular poker-based table game because of its simple game format and fast action. The game is played with a standard deck of 52 cards, and as its name implies, each player’s hand consists of only three cards.


There are two bets that you can make in Three Card Poker, the ante/play and the pair plus.  You can wager on either or both of these two independent propositions. (Note: Some casinos require that you wager on both … check the house rules.)


Play begins with each player making a wager on ante and/or pair plus.

The casino dealer will deal each player three cards face down, including himself. Each player examines their hand and then players who wagered the ante must decide whether to fold or continue to play. If a player folds, he forfeits his ante wager. If a player wants to continue to play, he must make a second bet (i.e., the play wager) equal in size to his initial ante wager. 


After all the players have either folded or decided to continue to play, the dealer will turn over his cards to determine if his hand “qualifies,” which occurs if he has at least a queen high (or better) three-card poker hand. If the dealer’s hand doesn’t qualify, each player wins even money on his ante bet and the play wager is a push (i.e., it is returned to the player). If the dealer’s hand qualifies instead, then the dealer will compare his hand against each player’s hand. If a player’s hand outranks the dealer’s, then the ante and play wagers will win even money. However, if the dealer’s hand outranks a player’s hand, the player will lose both the ante and play wagers. (If the dealer’s and players hand tie, then both bets push.) (Note: Because each hand contains only three cards, a straight ranks higher than a flush in Three Card Poker.)


Regardless of the outcome of the ante/play wager and whether the dealer qualified, a player will receive a bonus payout on his ante wager (but not the play wager) if he has a straight or higher. Payouts for the ante bonus varies; the best payout for the straight flush/three-of-a/kind/straight is 5/4/1, resulting in a house edge of 3.37% per hand. When the payout for three-of-a-kind is only 3 to 1 (instead of 4 to 1), the house edge increases slightly to 3.61% per hand.

The optimal playing strategy for theplay bet is easy to remember. You should only make the play wager if your hand contains at least a Queen-6-4 or higher. If it does, make the play wager; if not, fold.

The pair plus wager is an independent wager that is solely based on the poker rank of the player’s three card hand. If a player has a pair or higher, he wins an amount of money listed in the pay table. The best pay table pays 40-1 (straight flush), 30-1 (3-of-a-kind), 6-1 (straight), 4-1 (flush), and 1-1 (pair). The house edge with this pay table is 2.32%. If any of the payouts are reduced, the house edge increases. (Usually casinos will short the payout for the flush from 4-1 to 3-1, and that increases the house edge to 7.28%. Therefore, check the flush payout to be sure it’s 4-1.)
Bottom Line: If you play Three Card Poker, use the Q-6-4 or higher strategy to determine whether to fold or play, and avoid making the pair plus bet if the payout 3-1 for the flush is 3-1.
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He hosts the website and is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog, which contains books, strategy cards and software for video poker players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at