How to Play 3 Card Poker – Rules of 3 Card Poker

The game known as 3 Card poker, or tri-card poker in some online casinos, is a simple variation of poker played between a player and the dealer. Each is dealt three cards from the standard deck of 52 cards. The hand rankings of the three cards determines the winner on the main Ante bet. An additional side bet called PairPlus can also be placed in 3 Card Poker. Three card poker is a young game, invented in the 1990’s by poker pro Derek Webb as a new variation of England’s 3 Card Brag game.

Three Card Poker Basic Rules

The game of 3 Card Poker runs with two independent bets. The Ante plus the Play bet is the main bet a player makes against the dealer. The PairPlus bet is a second bet the player makes only against his own luck of cards, effectively betting that he will receive at least a pair or better.

PairPlus bets are paid separately from Ante/Play bets, even if the player loses the hand to the dealer. As long as the hand qualifies on the PairPlus, that hand wins the bet. Typical payouts on PairPlus hands are:

  • Straight Flush pays 40 to 1
  • Three of a kind pays 30 to 1
  • Straight pays 6 to 1
  • Flush pays 4 to 1
  • Pair pays 1 to 1, even money


The rules of tri-card poker are very straightforward. All bets are placed before any cards are dealt. The rules go as follows:

  1. Players start by making an Ante bet and/or an additional PairPlus bet if desired.
  2. The dealer shuffles and deals three cards each to the player and himself. The dealer’s cards remain face down. The player can pick up and look at his cards.
  3. If the player places an Ante bet, then they choose to Play or fold.
  4. When a player folds, he loses the Ante bet but can then determine the PairPlus winnings if he made both initial bets.

Playing the Hand

  1. When the player decides to play the hand, he places a raise for Play that is the same value as the Ante bet.
  2. The dealer turns his three cards face up for the showdown.
  3. If the dealer’s cards have at least a queen or higher, the dealer hand qualifies and is then compared to the player’s hand to determine the winner according to the hand rankings.

Hand Ranking For 3 Card Poker

Because of the obviously limited number of cards, only a few of the standard poker hands apply in 3 Card Poker. The high to low hand rankings for 3 Card Poker are:

  • Straight Flush
  • Three of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Pair
  • Ace high or less (single card)

Outcomes of the Showdown

When the dealer’s and player’s cards are compared, there are several outcomes that determine the payouts for each circumstance.

If the dealer doesn’t qualify with a Queen or better:

  • Ante bet: pays player even money
  • Play bet: is a push (tie), no payout

When the dealer qualifies with a Queen and the player’s hand outranks the dealer’s:

  • Ante bet: pays player even money
  • Play bet: pays player even money

When the dealer qualifies with a Queen and the player’s hand ties dealer:

  • Ante bet: is a push, no payout
  • Play bet: is a push, no payout

When the dealer qualifies with a Queen and the player’s hand loses:

  • Ante bet: loses
  • Play bet: loses

Ante Bonus

In addition to the hand ranking bets, the player can often win an Ante Bonus based on what the player’s hand ranking is. If a player holds a straight or higher hand, then he receives the Ante bonus whether his hand wins, loses or ties with the dealer’s hand. Typically, the ante bonus pays at:

  • Straight Flush: 5 to 1
  • Three of a kind: 4 to 1
  • Straight: 1 to 1

A Queen’s Strategy

Like some forms of standard poker, a good three card poker strategy involves knowing that more often than not, folding is the best choice. However, one great strategic rule of thumb will help players make their bets and their winnings go as far as they can go:

Only raise bets when holding a hand of Queen-6-4 or better – fold the rest.

With a core strategy like this, playing 3 Card Poker becomes very easy. When a player chooses a table, they place a bet on Ante and on PairPlus. The player looks at the cards he holds, determining if they follow this rule of thumb. After checking the hand, the player either plays by placing his raise on Play or folds.

The major thinking behind this strategy relates to the player’s odds of winning or showing a tie with the dealer. The queen is the lowest card needed to qualify the dealer’s hand for comparison with the player’s, giving the player at least an even qualifier with the dealer.

In addition, the Q-6-4 is the hand that mathematically gives the player a slightly better chance to win in Play than what the player might lose by folding. By contrast, Q-6-3 is the hand that gives the player a chance to lose more in Play than by folding. So, if a player has a $1 ante bet and holds a Q-6-3, raising to Play can cost the player $1.003 (more than $1 lost on the fold) if he loses. However, the $1 bet on the Q-6-4, only costs the player $0.993 (less than $1 lost by folding) if it loses. It seems like a small difference, but at higher bets, that small difference adds up.

Table Choice

Table choice is an additional means of strategy for 3 Card Poker. Choose tables based on the payout for the PairPlus Flush. If the table pays at 3 to 1, it’s a tight table. Most casinos will payout at 4 to 1 for the flush, indicating a good table to play.

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Three card poker is a popular offering at online casinos because it plays quickly as an individual versus dealer game. It’s also a skill game, but it gives players a lower element of risk than some other casino games.