How to Play Three Card Poker

Playing cards in casino, close-up
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Three card poker is an extremely popular casino table game that's easy to pick up and play if you know the basic strategy. You can find it in casinos both large and small, and it has a relatively low house edge. Here are the basic rules.

Types of Bets in Three Card Poker 

You can make two types of bets in three card poker: ante and pair plus. You can bet just one or you can bet both of them. The ante bet is a wager against the dealer, while the pair plus bet is independent of the dealer's hand. It's simply a wager on whether your three card hand will include a pair or higher. The pair plus wager loses if you have less than a pair, and it wins if you have a pair or better. It's as simple as that.

Playing the Hand 

First you'll make your bets, then you'll receive your cards. If you've made the ante bet, it's now decision time. Do you want to bet again that your hand is better than the dealer's, or do you want to fold? Folding is the equivalent of, "This hand is terrible and I can't win, so I'm out of here." You don't get to keep your initial bet, however—you lose your ante bet if you fold. If you decide to play your hand, you'll place an additional bet equal to the amount of your ante bet in the "Play" spot on the table.

The dealer will turn up his cards after all bets are made. He must have at least a queen high or better to play. Otherwise, he doesn't "qualify." All players are paid 1-to-1 odds on their ante bets and they can take back their "Play" bets.

If the dealer's hand does qualify, he'll compare his hand against that of each player to determine the winner.

From the Best Hand to the Worst

The ranks of hands in order from best to worst in three card poker are:

  • Straight flush: All three cards are of the same suit and are in sequential order, such as the five, six and seven of spades. 
  • Three of a kind: Also called "trips," this means that all your cards are the same number or face value, such as three jacks. 
  • Straight: Your three cards fall in sequential order. If you have all face cards, this means jack, queen and king. 
  • Flush: Your three cards are all of the same suit—spades, diamonds, hearts or clubs.
  • Pair: Two of your cards are the same number or face value.
  • High card: You have none of the above. The strength of your hand is the number or face value of the highest card you were dealt. 

Winning Hands 

If you win, you'll get those 1-to-1 odds on your ante and play bets. Additionally, if your hand is a straight or better, you'll get a bonus on top of the standard payout. The bonus applies to both the ante bet and the pair plus bet. The amount can depend on the house

The basic strategy is to play any hand with a queen high or better and to fold the rest.