The game is played with a single deck of 52 cards. Three Card Poker is actually two games in one. There is the Play/Ante game where you are playing against the dealer to see who has the highest hand. There is also the Pair Plus game where you are wagering on whether or not you will be dealt a pair or better. In most casinos you can bet on either of the games but some casinos require you to make an Ante Bet in order to bet the Pair Plus portion of the game.
The objective of the game is to beat the dealer. If your cards total higher than the dealer's cards without going over 21, you win. You are not trying to get close to 21. If your hand or the dealer's hand goes over 21, it is known as a "bust". If you bust, you automatically lose. If the dealer busts and you do not, you win. The player must act first. If the player busts, he loses regardless if the dealer busts or not.
There are three betting circles in front of each seat. The top betting circle is labeled Pair Plus where the player puts a wager on the pair plus game. Beneath that are two circles labeled Ante and Play for the base game. The game starts with the player making a wager in the Pair Plus and or Ante circle equal to the table minimum.
After all the players have made their bets the dealer will give each player a three card hand that is dealt by the Shuffle Master machine. Play begins with the first player to the dealer's left and continues clockwise around the table.
If a player has made a bet on the Ante they must make their decision to fold or play after looking at their hand. If the player folds he forfeits their Ante wager. If the players want to continue they must make an additional bet in the Play circle equal to their Ante bet.
After all the players have made their decisions, the dealer will turn over his three card hand. The dealer needs to "qualify" with a hand of Queen or higher for play to continue. If the dealer's hand does not contain a Queen or higher all players still active in the hand will be paid even money for their Ante wager and their bet on the Play will be returned to them.
If the dealer's hand does qualify then their hand is compared to the player's hand. If your hand beats the dealers hand you will be paid even money for your Ante and Play bets. If the dealer's hand beats your hand you lose both bets. In the rare event of a tie then the player wins the hand.
Because you are only dealt three cards the hand ranking are a little different than with traditional five card hands. This is because of the mathematical probabilities of making certain hands. The hands are ranked for the highest to the lowest as follows:
Straight Flush - Three cards of the same suit in sequence.
Example: 6-7-8 of spades.
Three of a Kind - Three cards of equal rank.
Straight - Three cards in sequence of mixed suits.
Flush - Three cards of the same suit.
Pair - Two cards of equal rank.
High Card - The highest card in your hand.
There is a bonus payout on the Ante bet for certain hands and the bonus does not require an additional wager. If you have a straight, three-of-a-kind or straight flush, you will be paid a bonus whether you beat the dealer or not. The bonus payout is paid based on the pay table posted at the table. The payout schedule for the Ante Bonus varies from casino to casino but not by much. For a straight flush you will be paid 5 to 1 or 4 to 1. For three of a kind you will be paid 4 to 1 or 3 to 1. For a straight you receive 1 to 1 for your Ante bet.
The pay out structure for the Ante Bonus affects the overall house edge on the Ante/Play portion of the game. A payout of 5 -4 -1 has a house edge of about 3.4 percent. While the payout of 4 - 3- 1 has a house edge of 6.8 percent.
Once you are satisfied with either your fist two cards or after hitting, you signal the dealer that you wish to stand. This is done by waving your hand over the top of your cards.
The strategy for Ante portion of Three Card Poke is very simple. You should fold if you have a hand lower than Queen – 6 -4 and you should continue and make the Play bet if you hand is higher.
To determine if your hand is better than Q-6-4 start with your first highest card and compare it to the Queen, if it is higher you play. You ignore the other two cards. If your first card is a Queen and your second card is higher than 6 you would still play regardless of the ranking of your third card. If it is lower than 6 you don't play.
The Pair Plus wager is based only on whether your three card hand has a Pair or higher. It doesn't matter if the dealer qualifies or even beats you if you have a bet on the Ante Game. If your hand has a pair or better you win. If it does not have at least a pair you will lose. On average you will be dealt a pair or better about 25 percent of the time.
The Pair Plus wager is paid based on the pay table established by the casino where you are playing. Some of the common pay tables along with their house edge are listed below.
Much of the popularity of Three Card Poker comes from the simplicity of the game. Since you are not playing against the other players a camaraderie can develop amongst the players as they root and cheer for each other to beat the dealer.