It’s hard to believe that 3-card poker has entertained casino patrons for over thirty years now.
The reason it’s had such incredible success is simple. In addition to being fun to play and easy to understand, the payouts are big enough to appeal to all. Those seeking big-time jackpots and those looking for smaller payouts that allow them to play longer will surely have a great time with 3-card poker.
The addition of large progressives that tie together many 3-card poker tables into one giant progressive, as well as the addition of the mini royal and six-card bonus side bets, allow what was once a game with a 40x max payout to offer life-changing jackpots.
Read on to learn more about 3-card poker in this comprehensive guide, where we cover everything from the ins and outs of the game itself to where users can play it online for real money.
More on 3-Card Poker
What Is 3-Card Poker?
Unlike regular poker, three-card poker is a variant in which players play against the dealer. You might also hear people refer to it as a carnival game, which is a subset of table games based loosely around offshoots of Pai Gow Poker and Caribbean Stud. The game has changed a bit since its introduction in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1994.
While three-card poker retains the original bets of pair plus, ante, and play, much of the action now revolves around the six-card side bet as well as the wide-area progressive.
How to Play 3-Card Poker
We’ll walk you through a typical hand of 3-card poker and describe each bet and how to play it so you have a better understanding of the game and its flow.
1. Place a Wager
3-card poker has several available wagers, but you start by making an ante wager.
If you want to throw $1 or $5 on the progressive, another $10 on the Pair Plus Bet, and another $10 on the six-card bonus, that’s up to you. But you’ll be upset if you hit a big winner and don’t play it, which is kind of the hook of all side bets.
2. Receive Three Cards
Everybody gets three cards dealt to them, but the dealer cards are face down.
In games with progressives linked to other 5-card poker-type games, the dealer may deal an additional two cards off to the side that will be used to determine the player’s 5-card progressive hand after play is completed on the three-card poker hand and any six-card bonuses.
3. Choose to Play
We now have to decide if we want to play our poker hand.
If we throw it away, we lose our ante wager. If we’re going to keep it, we must match our original bet.
According to the math, we need at least a queen, six, and four in hand to raise the play bets and stay in the game. So the optimal strategy is only to make the play wager when we have a queen high and at least a six and a four.
4. Watch the Reveal
Now, it’s time for the showdown. The dealer turns over their hand first before turning each player’s cards from the dealer’s right to left. We need to beat the dealer’s hand to win both the ante and the play bets.
5. Collect Potential Winnings
The dealer has to have at least a queen high to qualify; if not, we win on the ante wager but only push on the play bet.
Remember that in 3-card poker, a straight beats a flush. That’s because it’s easier to make a three-card hand of the same suit than to make one with three consecutive cards.
If our hand is better than the dealer’s, we win even money on both the ante bets and the play bets. If you have a straight or higher, your ante bet gets paid the ante bet bonus regardless of whether you won the hand or not.
Ante Bonus Payouts
Another way that three-card poker has changed from its original form? The ante bet bonus.
The original paytable was very straightforward: even money on a straight, four-to-one on a three-of-a-kind, and five-to-one on a straight flush. This “classic” paytable has a reasonable house edge for a carnival game of only 3.37%.
Over the years, many, many other paytables have come out for the ante bonus on 3-card poker. Some pay 50-to-1 on “mini royals,” which are straight flushes consisting of an Ace/King/Queen of the same suit, and don’t pay on straights at all. Others pay the mini royal 10-to-one and keep everything else the same, reducing the house edge down to 3.28%.
Of course, there are many other paytables out there. Try to look for either the classic or the mini royal added with everything else the same. If you can’t find these, make sure to Google the paytable to see just how bad the house edge is. Anything much over 4% means it’s probably time to play something else.
Pair Plus Payouts
While the damage to the original three-card poker game on the ante side was mostly hit-and-miss, the damage to the Pair Plus Payout has been brutal. The original paytable was:
- Straight Flush: 40-to-1
- Three-of-a-Kind: 30-to-1
- Straight: 6-to-1
- Flush: 4-to-1
- Pair: 1-to-1
You needed at least a pair to get paid even money, and you get paid regardless of the dealer’s hand. This version of the casino game had a 2.32% house advantage, but it is sadly long gone.
Finding a pair plus paytable with a Return To Player over 95% is tough, and some are much worse. Probably the most common now reduces the 3-of-a-kind to 25-to-1 and the straight to 5-to-1 for a house edge of 6.75%.
Six-Card Bonus Bet
One of the most popular changes to three-card poker over the last ten years or so has been the addition of the six-card bonus bet, which is wild since it has an astronomical house advantage.
The best five-card poker hand is made from the player’s three cards and the three cards from the dealer’s hand. The paytable is as follows:
- Royal Flush: 1000-to-1
- Straight Flush: 200-to-1
- Four-of-a-Kind: 100-to-1
- Full House: 20-to-1
- Flush: 15-to-1
- Straight: 10-to-1
- Three-of-a-Kind: 7-to-1
This is the best pay table available, and it has a house advantage of 8.5%. Some casinos pay 50-to-1 on the four-of-a-kind, raise the full house to 25-to-1, and drop the three-of-a-kind to 5-to-1, resulting in a house edge of 14.3%.
Best 3-Card Poker Tactic
Due to the nature of the game, players have little control over changing the house edge. We should back up our ante bet with the play bet when we have a queen high with at least a six-four kicker. We should pass on the play bet and fold our ante bet if we don’t have at least that good of a hand.
The other winning strategy is carefully monitoring the paytables, doing our research, and only playing on games where we can keep the house edge under 4% on the ante/play wager and not more than 7% on the pair plus bonus. Don’t even get us started on the six-card bonus.
House Edge in 3-Card Poker
The house edge on the main game where the ante wager is even money on the straight, 4-to-1 on three-of-a-kind, and 5-to-1 on a straight flush is 3.37%, which is a little more than average for a casino game. This keeps the edge low, and we only play the play wager when we have at least a queen, a six, and a four, as the math indicates.
The house edge on the pair plus bet has become far worse than it used to be, and it is hard to find paytables for less than 6% house edge. Of course, the six-card bonus is always 8% or more, so it’s challenging to justify these bets. Perhaps look online for better paytables or only play for short periods.
Where to Play 3-Card Poker
Every major casino in Las Vegas or Atlantic City has a 3-card poker table with the pair plus bet and, more than likely, the six-card bonus. Look for good payables and try your luck.
Legal online casinos are also flourishing in a few states, and more are sure to come. These online casinos have higher tax rates but much less overhead than most brick-and-mortar casinos, allowing them to offer far more games (often with a lower house edge).
Explore some of these online casino apps when you are in New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Connecticut, or Delaware. You will likely be able to find a decent paytable at one of the many online casinos available in most of these states.
Playing 3-Card Poker for Free
Suppose you’re not interested in wagering but just enjoy playing 3-card poker. In that case, you can sign up for these games in demo mode from these large online casino operators and play for free from anywhere. This move lets you learn the game and even test out betting strategies if you eventually want to switch to the real money version.
Another up-and-coming option is the so-called social casinos like High 5, Pulsz, and WOW Vegas Casino. They allow you to play for free from anywhere. You can use their regular “gold coins” to play for free, but if you buy some coin packages, you also receive “sweeps coins.” These sweepstakes-like entries allow you to play them for more sweeps coins/entries, which you can cash out for cash or gift cards. Many don’t yet offer many table games, but that is likely to change.
Playing 3-Card Poker for Real Money
When it comes time to play for real money, there are a few real money online casino operators that stand out:
BetMGM Casino offers up to a $2,500 match on your initial deposit and $50 on the house for new users who enter the BetMGM Casino bonus code NYP2500 during registration. Every dollar you wager earns you MGM Rewards points, which you can use to redeem beautiful hotel rooms, fine dining, concert tickets, and much more.
BetMGM’s 3-card poker game is a very fair “classic” pay table of 5,4,1 on the ante bonus wager with a 3.37% house edge, and the pair plus pay table is also a reasonable 4.38%.
Here’s a closer look at the paytable for 3-card poker at BetMGM Casino:
- Royal Flush: 200-to-1
- Straight Flush: 40-to-1
- Three-of-a-Kind: 30-to-1
- Straight: 6-to-1
- Flush: 3-to-1
- One Pair: 1-to-1
Caesars Palace Online Casino
Caesars Palace Online Casino also offers up to a $2,500 initial deposit match bonus and throws in 2,500 Caesar’s Rewards Points when you register with the Caesars Palace Online Casino promo code NYPCASINO2500. You can cash in these points for free rooms, comped meals, and heart-stopping experiences at any of Caesars’ 55+ casino locations around the United States.
The operator has the classic paytable for the ante bonus, but its pair plus paytable is more like the ones at land-based casinos with the same payout as BetMGM Casino but no 200-to-1 for the royal (only a straight flush payout for an Ace, King, Queen here). That improves the house’s already-high edge to 7.28%.
3-Card Poker FAQs
Here are the most common questions surrounding 3-card poker:
How old do I have to be to play 3-card poker?
It depends. Many tribal casinos and even state-run casinos allow you to gamble at 18. But Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and most major gambling hubs require you to be 21. Every state that has legalized online casinos requires you to be 21, including states like Michigan that allow some 18+ gambling at land-based casinos on tribal land.
What is the payout for 3-card poker?
There are at least half a dozen different payout tables for the ante bonus bet and more than a dozen for the pair plus bet. So, you will need to research and see what the brick-and-mortar casinos near you are offering. Or, register with any of the online casino providers to see if they offer a game worth playing.
How do I win at 3-card poker?
There are at least two bets in the main game of 3-card poker. With the ante bet, you need a better hand than the dealer. If you want to win the ante bet and the play bet, you will need the dealer to have at least a queen to open. In the pair plus bet or even the six-card bonus bet, you just have to make a hand on the paytable.