Bullet Bob's Best Shot! Casino Game Strategies

Three Card Poker

Just what is it? Three Card Poker is also known as Tri Card Poker, Trey Poker and Poker Three but why all the names for the same game? Well, it all started out as a name protected casino table game called 3 Card Poker that became very popular. Then it seems that others wanted to offer the game without paying the royalties due so they just renamed it. So whether it's called 3 Card, Tri Card or just plain Tri Poker, the rules are the same, the optimal playing strategy is the same and a lot of players love it.

Table Layout Three Card Poker is two gambling games in one. You are usually allowed to play either one or both games at the same time, but some casinos will require you to play both. The two games are "ante/play", where you compete against the dealer, and "pair plus" that has different bonus payouts for hands of one pair or better. When both games are played at the same time, players may wager different amounts on each game.

The games are played with a standard 52 card deck. The cards are distributed to the dealer in groups of three by an automatic shuffling machine. The player's table layout is shown at the right. The rules are also printed on the table at each player spot, just like this: (note :) The rules listed below are FULL PAY. Always look for these!

  • Play MUST EQUAL Ante
  • Dealer Plays With QUEEN High or Better - At some casinos dealers play with a King High or Better. The result is a much higher house advantage.
  • When Dealer Does Not Play:
    1. Play Pays: PUSH
    2. Ante Pays: 1 to 1
  • When Dealer Plays:
    1. Play Pays: 1 to 1
    2. Ante Pays: 1 to 1

3 card hand values: The first thing you will probably notice from the hand rankings list below is that a straight has a higher ranking than a flush. That's simply because there are fewer ways to make a 3 card straight than a 3 card flush. As in most poker games, aces play both high and low to a straight. An ace high straight flush is the highest hand you can get and some casinos have also added a mini-royal flush to the ante bonus and pair plus pay table.

Rules - Ante/Play & Pair Plus

This game starts with the players placing bets in the "ante", "pair plus" or both spots on the table layouts. The ante and pair plus wagers can be any amount within the posted table limits. The players and the dealer all get three cards, face down. The players all look at their hands and either fold by giving their cards back and losing their ante bet, or play by placing a bet, equal to the ante, in the "play" spot on the layout. Note that even if the player folds, pair plus wagers are still paid on any pair or better.

Hand RankingsFull Pay
Pair Plus Table
Full Pay
Ante Bonus Table
Mini-Royal--
Straight Flush40 to 15 to 1
Three of a Kind30 to 14 to 1
Straight6 to 11 to 1
Flush4 to 1-
Pair1 to 1-
High Card--

The dealer then turns over his cards. If he does not have queen high or better, he doesn't "qualify" to play and pays the active players even money on their ante bets and those with a straight or better are paid the additional ante bonus shown above. These players get a "push" on their play bets. If he does have a qualifying hand, those who cannot beat it lose their antes and their play bets, but can still win the ante bonus with a straight or higher. Those who can beat the dealer win even money on their ante and play bets plus the ante bonus, if any.

Strategy - Ante/Play

In Three Card Poker ante/play, the only thing the expert player needs to know is how high his or her hand should be to produce the best possible long term results, if played. The answer to that question is Q-6-4 or higher.

High card hands between Q-6-4 through K-Q-10 are loss limit plays. These are hands with negative expectations. They will lose less if played than they will in ante forfeiture losses if they are not played. Ace high hands and better have positive expectations. The house advantage for ante/play, against the optimal strategy shown below is a comfortable 3.37%. Not too bad for the player.*

Optimal Three Card Poker Strategy

  • Always play Q-6-4 or higher
  • Never play anything lower

* Note: The house advantage percentages referred to are based on the full pay schedules shown above. Be aware that lower payouts, especially in pair plus, are used in many places that double and triple the house advantage against the player. Avoid games with a pair plus payout of only 3-1 for a flush instead of 4-1 etc. and look for full pay games.

Pair Plus "Non-Strategy" and Unequal Bets Play

Since the only decision the player has to make in pair plus is how much to bet, there is no optimal strategy involved. However, at full pay the low house advantage of 2.3% makes it about as attractive as any table poker game you can find. You can't bet five dollars and win a house here, but the payouts are very generous and you should get a pay hand of some sort about 25% of the time. This is a good game but you want to remember that the win/loss swings are much more volatile in pair plus than in ante/play.

Poker HandAB1AB2AB3PP1PP2PP3PP4
Straight Flush55440404040
Three of a Kind43330253030
Straight1116656
Flush4443
Pair1111
House Advantage3.37%3.61%3.83%2.3%3.5%5.6%7.3%
AB = Ante Bonus, PP = Pair Plus

Most places allow you to make unequal bets on the two games. A conservative bet would be two units on ante/play and one unit on pair plus, or equal bets. A more aggressive approach is to place more on pair plus than on ante/play. Many good players prefer to keep their pair plus to ante play ratio on the conservative side and try to get a little ahead before they get aggressive and load up on the pair plus.

6 Card Bonus

The 6 card bonus side bet is an optional wager that gives players one more chance to win. To play, place a bet within table limits inside the 6 card bonus betting circle. Depending on the casino you may also be required to place a wager on the ante and/or pair plus betting spots. You then combine your three card hand with the dealer's three card hand to form the best five card hand. A 6 card bonus winning hand is paid regardless of the outcome on the ante/play bet. Some of the more popular pay tables are listed below and will vary by casino.

Poker HandPay Table 1Pay Table 2Pay Table 3Pay Table 4
Royal Flush1,000 to 11,000 to 11,000 to 11,000 to 1
Straight Flush200 to 1200 to 1200 to 1200 to 1
Four of a Kind100 to 1100 to 150 to 150 to 1
Full House20 to 120 to 125 to 125 to 1
Flush15 to 115 to 120 to 115 to 1
Straight9 to 110 to 110 to 110 to 1
Three of a Kind8 to 17 to 15 to 15 to 1
House Advantage6.74%8.56%10.23%15.28%
Hit frequency7.2798%7.2798%7.2798%7.2798%

Even the best pay table gives the house a larger than acceptable advantage of 6.74%, which makes the 6 card bonus side bet a bad gamble.

Progressive

The progressive side bet, developed by Shuffle Master in 2008, adds a jackpot element that is popular with many players. The rules are simple: Place a bet, within table limits, on the progressive betting sensor and play your hand as usual. If your hand is a mini-royal AKQ of spades, you win the jackpot. The pay tables below show typical payouts and house edge numbers.

Poker HandPay Table 1Pay Table 2Envy
AKQ Spades100%100%$100
AKQ Hearts/Diamonds/Clubs500 for 1500 for 1$25
Straight Flush70 for 1100 for 1
Three of a Kind60 for 190 for 1
Straight6 for 1-
Seed Amount$1,000$1,000
House Advantage22.33%22.85%
Hit Frequency3.72%.45%
Probability of top payout22,100 to 122,100 to 1
Top payout average ($1 wager)$4,000$5,000

Note that the payouts are listed as odds-for-1 which means the original wager is not returned. With a house advantage of 22% you should stay far away from this game unless the jackpot is very, very high.

Envy Bonus Payout

If you place a wager on the progressive side bet and another player seated at the table has AKQ suited (a mini-royal), you are eligible for the envy bonus payout. Here are a few rules to be aware of:

  • Players with AKQ suited are paid according to the pay table and are not eligible to receive their own envy bonus.
  • Dealer with AKQ suited does not trigger the envy bonus.
  • If you are playing multiple hands and hit a mini royal, the other hands are eligible for the envy bonus. (the hands are considered independent of each other)

Prime

Prime is an optional side bet that was invented by Derek Webb, the same man who invented three card poker. To play you must put a wager on the prime betting spot, ante/play and/or pair plus as required by the casino. If all three of your cards are the same color or your cards and the dealer's cards are all the same color, you win.

HandPay Table 1
Your three cards and the dealer's three cards
are all the same color
4 to 1
Your three card hand is the same color3 to 1
House Advantage3.62%

If your three cards are not the same color, the prime bet is lost and collected by the dealer. The ante/play and pair plus games are played out as usual.

The house advantage on prime is 3.62%... not too bad for a side bet.

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