Winning Strategies for 3 Card Poker

by Ken James.

Three-Card Poker is a very popular casino game in both the online line and land based casino realms.  Its popularity stems from its similarity to traditional poker, it’s fast paced and it has potential for exceptionally high payouts.  However, these attributes also make it a casino game that has astonishingly bad odds that do not favor the player. Depending on what variation of 3 Card Poker the player plays the house-edge is between 0.33% for the Ante Bet Bonus to the absurd rate of 15.28% for the 6 Card Bonus distinction. These numbers assume the player follows an optimal basic strategy.  This article discusses how a player can play with a positive expectation with the end result being that they win money.

The protocol for a playing three card poker is:

  1. Player makes an Ante and/or Pair-plus bet.
  2. The dealer gives each player three cards and himself three cards. The player may examine his own cards. The dealer's cards are dealt face down.
  3. If the player made the Ante bet, then he has must either fold or raise.
  4. If the player folds, then he forfeits his Ante wager.
  5. If the player raises, then he must make an additional Play-bet, equal exactly to his Ante bet.
  6. The dealer will turn over his cards.
  7. The dealer needs a queen high or better to qualify.
  8. If the dealer does not qualify then the player will win even money on the Ante bet and the Play bet will push.
  9. If the dealer qualifies, then the player's hand will be compared to the dealer's hand, the higher hand wins. The order of poker hands is indicated below.
  10. If the player has the higher poker hand then the Ante and Play will both pay even money.
  11. If the dealer has the higher poker hand then the Ante and Play will both lose.
  12. If the player and dealer tie then the Ante and Play bets will push.
  13. If the player made the Ante bet and has a straight or higher than the player will receive an Ante Bonus, regardless of the value of the dealer's hand.
  14. The Pair-plus bet will pay entirely based on the poker value of the player's hand.

The first step in beating any casino game is to minimize the house advantage over the player by applying a mathematically sound strategy that dose so.   Because there are so many variations of 3 Card Poker each strategy is slightly different. A good summary for each variation of 3 Card Poker is the free online 3 Card Poker Guide written by 888casino’s senior blog writer John Grochowski.  The general theme (the exact strategy will vary depending on the variation) of the guide is that optimum play orbits around making the Play wager with Queen-6-4 or better.  It is important to remember that 3 Card Poker is negative expectation game, and as with all negative expectation gambling games there is no standard mathematically rooted strategy that can overcome the house advantage over the long term. We are relying on short term positive variance to beat the game.

There are ways to attack the 3 Card Poker game for profit despite the overwhelming odds against the player.  The most complex method involves locating a dealer that exposes one, two or all three of their cards to the player.  Depending how many cards are exposed the player adjusts their strategy accordingly.  The best exposed card strategy for 3 Card Poker was developed by James Grosjean, who is the most accomplished Advantage Gambler of the current era.  These strategies are well beyond the scope of this article but they are worth mentioning because they are so powerful.

For a casual or regular non professional player there are opportunities to gain an edge while playing 3 Card Poker in both the online and land based casinos.  All of these rely on minimizing the use of your own money when playing and knowing when to stop playing.  This advice seems to adhere to the commonsense aspect of our brains, but for some reason most elements of commonsense go out the window when we log on to an online casino or walk through the doors of a land based casino.

Signing up for online casinos is the easiest way to accrue free play.  Many online casinos have some type of bonus that you get when you create a new player account.  The standard online signup bonus is a $200 No Deposit Bonus.  But occasionally there are opportunities to get additional bonuses on top of the no deposit bonus.  For example, 888casino offers an up to an $888 wheel of fortune type bonus, where the wheel spins and stops on an additional amount.

Bonus dollars from the signup’s can be used on any game in the websites catalog, in this case 3 Card Poker. Most signup and additional bonuses do have stipulations. Mainly the player must play a certain number of rounds before the dollars can be cashed out.  The player can choose to play the minimum number of hands required before cashing out, or a few hands over the minimum. These extra hands would go toward attaining more future bonuses at the online casino.

In land based casinos attaining free play is slightly more complex.  First, a player has to play for a while before they are sent any mailers for free play.  Depending on which casino comp card being utilized the offers will vary. Some casino comp programs offer match play while others offer promotional chips for you to use.  But in both cases you are minimizing how much of your own money you risk.

Using as much OPM or Other People’s Money while playing an optimal strategy gives the player the best chance for winning money from a casino. This doesn’t mean that you will get rich playing but you will win more than you lose and that is the definition of winning. This philosophy applies to both the online and land based casinos.  The number of hands that you can utilize these methods in is finite, very finite. But they do work when applied over these limited hands.  And any day you can walk out of casino with more money than you walked in with is good day.

Special thanks

Special thanks to casino gaming expert Nicholas Colon of the Alea Consulting Group for his Review of this piece. Nicholas wrote about the 2016 Blackjack Ball here