Three Card Poker

This is part one of a two part series on playing 3 card poker. The second part is at the link.

How To Play Three Card Poker (Part 1)

The three card poker table at Bovada.

The three card poker table at Bovada.


The game may seem confusing at first. But it’s deceptively simple. Here’s how it works…

You’ll see three circles on the table in front of you. They’re labeled “Ante,” “Pair+,” and “Raise.”

The simplest way to play is to place a bet on the Pair+ circle. After placing your bet, three cards are dealt to you and the dealer.

Screenshots from Bovada casino, one of our top recommended casinos for years

Both hands are immediately revealed.

Following are the payout ratios for different types of hands for the Pair Plus bet:

  • Pair – 1:1
  • Flush – 4:1
  • Straight – 6:1
  • 3 of a kind – 30:1
  • Straight flush – 40:1

If you make any of the three above hands, you win. Otherwise, you lose. There’s no push against the dealer. In fact, the dealer’s hand is irrelevant. For example, if you receive a pair of fours and the dealer shows a pair of Aces, you still win the bet.

Another way to play is to place a bet on the Ante circle. Here, three cards are dealt to you face up and three are dealt to the dealer face down. You’re then forced to make a decision:

  • fold the hand
  • raise your initial bet

If you raise your bet, the dealer’s hand is revealed and the hand rankings are compared. If your hand beats the dealer’s hand, you’ll receive a payout on your ante according to the following table (your raise is doubled)

  • Straight – 1:1
  • 3 of a kind – 4:1
  • Straight flush – 5:1

bovada-three-card-poker-table-650

If you beat the dealer’s hand, and the dealer fails to qualify (i.e. show a Queen high or better), you’ll be paid on your ante (1:1) and receive back your raise (a push). That’s the case even if YOUR hand fails to qualify.

The key thing to realize is that the Ante bet and Pair+ bet are two separate wagers. That’s probably clear from the above details; as noted, you can place one bet or the other.

But you can also place both at the same time. That’s when it becomes important to see the bets as separate wagers. It’s possible to win the Ante, but lose your Pair Plus bet.

In terms of gameplay, placing both the Ante and Pair+ bets is similar to placing just the Ante bet. Once you receive your hand, you’ll need to decide whether to fold or raise. If you decide to fold, you’ll lose both bets. If you raise, the dealer’s cards are revealed and the rankings of the two hands are compared to decide the winner.

If the above sounds confusing, I recommend visiting Bovada Casino or Slots.lv. You can play 3-Card Poker for free. Both sites will give you $1,000 in “practice” money, which can be used to place the three bets described above: the Ante, the Pair Plus or both. This is a fun way to learn how to play Three Card Poker without putting a penny of your own cash at risk.

Now that we’ve covered the rules, let’s talk about basic strategy.

Basic Three Card Poker Strategy: How To Win

If there’s a single tactic you should always follow when playing 3-Card Poker, it’s this:

Always raise a hand with Q-6-4 or higher.

Or conversely, always fold a hand lower than Q-6-4.

Statistically, using this strategy gives you the best possible chance of coming out ahead over millions of hands.

That’s not to say you’re guaranteed to win over the long run. Keep in mind, every casino game, from blackjack to craps, gives the house an edge. Tri-Card Poker is no exception. That said, if you use the “Q-6-4” strategy, you’ll shave the house’s edge on the Ante bet to 3.37%.

In other words, you’ll maximize your odds.

There’s nothing you can do to shave the edge on the Pair Plus bet. After all, you don’t have the option to fold or raise. The good news is that the pay table used at Bovada Casino and Slots.lv gives the house an edge of only 2.32%. That’s low in comparison to other casinos – both online and offline.

In addition to using the “Q-6-4” strategy, it’s important to track how many hands you play during a given session. Three Card Poker moves quickly. If you’re not careful, you can burn through your bankroll in a single sitting.

To give you an idea of the game’s pace, I ran a quick experiment at Bovada Casino to see how many hands I could play within 60 seconds. Placing only the Pair Plus bet, I was able to play 19 hands. That’s 1,140 hands every hour!

Placing the Ante and Pair Plus bet slowed things down, mostly because I had to decide whether the hands met the “Q-6-4” baseline before deciding whether to fold or raise. I was only able to get through 10 hands in 60 seconds. But that’s still 600 hands in an hour.

The moral of the story is to take your time. Don’t rush through the hands. Playing Three Card Poker isn’t a race. Plus, the quicker you play, the more likely you’ll make a costly mistake.

Three Card Poker History

It started in the 16th century.

The British used to play a card game called Three Card Brag (it’s still played today). In 1994, a guy named Derek Webb created a version that is now found in practically every casino in the U.S. Called Three Card Poker, it combines the gameplay of traditional poker with the fast pace of other casino games.

Like roulette, craps, blackjack and baccarat, you can now play Three Card Poker online. You don’t have to visit a brick ‘n mortar casino. My goal here is to introduce you to the game. I’m going to explain how to play it, highlight the best online casinos that offer it and give you a few pointers for doing well.

If you’ve never played Three Card Poker – it’s often called Tri Card Poker online – don’t worry. One of its charms is its simplicity. You can learn enough to have a great time playing the game in two or three minutes.

Three Card Poker Online Vs. Playing In A Land-Based Casino

There are two major differences between playing 3-Card Poker online and playing it in a traditional casino. The first difference is in the pay tables. Land-based casinos often follow different payout ratios than online casinos.

For example, it’s not unusual to see the following tables in Las Vegas:

Online Casino Bovada Payouts For 3 Card PokerAnte Pay Table

  • Straight – 1:1
  • 3 of a kind – 4:1
  • Straight flush – 5:1

Pair Plus Pay Table (live casinos)

  • Pair – 1:1
  • Flush – 4:1
  • Straight – 5:1
  • 3 of a kind – 30:1
  • Straight flush – 40:1

Notice the difference? The payout on a Straight for a Pair Plus bet for land based casinos is 5:1 instead of 6:1 like you get at Bovada. That may not look like a big deal. But it increases the house edge on that bet from 2.32% to 5.57%. That’s more than double! The payouts are better at online casinos.

The second difference is that you can only play one hand at a time online. At a land-based casino, you can play every free spot on the table. If you’re the only person sitting at the table, you can play seven hands at once.

This isn’t a major issue. Remember, to preserve your bankroll, you’ll want to slow things down while playing Three Card Poker, not speed them up by playing multiple hands simultaneously.

How To Play Online Three Card Poker For Free

By now, you’re probably excited to try the game. I don’t blame you. Three Card Poker is simple, a lot of fun and can be just as addictive as slots.

I mentioned above that you can play the game for free at Bovada Casino and Slots.lv. You don’t even need to register an account to do so. Simply visit both sites and launch the game in “practice” mode. You’ll be given $1,000 in practice cash to play with.

You’ll eventually want to register accounts at Bovada and Slots.lv. In fact, I recommend doing so sooner rather than later, and taking advantage of their current Welcome bonuses. Use the bonuses to enjoy Three Card Poker and other casino games online while trying to win real money payouts!

Before I explain the rules, here are the gambling websites I recommend if you want to play Tri Card Poker online.

Top Online Casinos To Play Three Card Poker

Think of the most important features you want to see in an online casino: a solid reputation, bulletproof security, great bonuses, fun promotions and a huge list of games. It’s tougher than you might think to find sites that match that “wish list.” In my 10+ years of gambling online, I’ve come across three sites that I’m happy to give my stamp of approval:

  • 1. Bovada Casino – A long track record, good bonuses and a fun, safe casino environment make Bovada a long-time favorite of mine.
  • 2. Slots.lv – A huge slots bonus, great reputation and full range of exciting table games has made Slots.lv a perennial contender for the top spot.
  • 3. BetOnline Casino – Weekly poker tournaments, simple (and safe!) banking options and a 25% reload bonus on every casino deposit makes BetOnline hard to resist.

There are myriad other online casinos that offer 3-Card Poker, of course. But the three sites above are the ones I currently recommend. Between them, I never have the desire to play elsewhere.

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