Invented in England in the 1990s, Three Card Poker is one of the youngest poker variations. But despite its relative youth, this game has already become very popular in casinos.
One thing that makes Three Card Poker so popular is that it combines bonus payouts with strategy.
Of course, as with any strategy-based casino game, Three Card Poker leaves the potential for mistakes. And there are 5 common mistakes that many beginners make.
If you’re new to Three Card Poker or just looking to brush up on strategy, keep reading as I cover these 5 mistakes.
1. Overcomplicating Three Card Poker Strategy (or Not Using Strategy)
I’ve seen gambling authors recommend different Three Card Poker strategies designed to get the absolute maximum return.
These tips include never playing anything below king-high, or only playing hands with Q-10-x.
The pursuit of shaving off a few hundreds of a percent on the house edge is admirable. But there’s only one Three Card Poker strategy that you truly need to know on the ante bet: raise with Q-6-4.
If you make the “ante” bet (a.k.a. Ante & Play), you only want to keep hands that are Q-6-4 or better.
This helps you achieve a 3.37% house edge on the ante wager. But as I’ll explain in the next section, the house advantage is actually 2.01% when accounting for element of risk.
The reason for folding anything other than Q-6-3 is because these hands offer lower expected value (EV) than if you’d just fold and sacrifice your ante bet. Furthermore, you’re going to lose more money by making the play bet with Q-6-3.
Meanwhile, Q-6-4 gives you a strong high card and two kickers that make adding the play bet +EV.
One more thing: don’t ever play your hands blindly!
Some people play blind, where they always raise and never look at their cards. The logic here is that you might as well enjoy every hand if you’re going to sit at the table.
But I don’t find anything enjoyable about losing far more often. Playing blind leads to a 7.6% house edge, which is worse than almost every other casino game.
Considering how easy Three Card Poker strategy is, you might as well look at your cards and make fold/raise decisions based on this info.
2. Making the Pair Plus Bet over Ante Bet
Three Card Poker hands begin with you having the option to make either a Pair Plus or ante bet. Either wager is equal to half of the table’s minimum bet.
Pair Plus is a bonus wager that sees you bypass the main game. The only objective here is to be dealt a pair or better.
If you’re dealt at least a pair, then you earn a bonus payout. Anything lower results in a loss.
The ante wager is part of the main game. If you like your hand, then you can make the “play” bet to see if you have a better hand than the dealer.
Another difference between ante and Pair Plus is their pay schedule on bonus payouts. Here are the common bonus prizes for each wager:
- Straight = 1:1
- Three of a kind = 4:1
- Straight flush = 5:1
- Pair = 1:1
- Flush = 4:1
- Straight = 6:1
- Three of a kind = 30:1
- Straight flush = 40:1
Pair Plus looks like the superior bet on the surface, because the house edge is only 2.32%.
Few casino side bets come close to offering this low of a house advantage. Therefore, it’s common to see many Three Card Poker players only make the Pair Plus wager.
The ante bet carries a house edge of 3.37% (w/ strategy), which makes it seem worse than Pair Plus. But ante is actually the better wager when accounting for its “element of risk.”
Many players are familiar with the term house edge, which refers to how much money the casino wins over the long term.
Using Pair Plus as an example, the house figures to win a $2.32 profit for every $100 that players bet.
Element of risk refers to the total percentage of average bets that the house wins. In other words, element or risk not only accounts for the initial bet, but also subsequent wagers.
- I bet $5 on the ante every time.
- But 50% of the time, I wager an additional $5 on the play bet ($7.50 overall average).
- Therefore, the casinos’ take should be calculated on my $7.50 average wager.
Most players make play bets based on the strategy described before. And given that these players only bet on play when they have a good hand, this brings down the overall house advantage.
The ante bet actually has a 2.01% house edge when considering strategy and the overall sum of wagers. This 2.01% house advantage is better than the 2.32% figure for Pair Plus.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t make the Pair Plus wager. After all, it still gives you a strong chance to win in the long run.
But don’t look at ante’s 3.37% house advantage and automatically assume that it’s worse than Pair Plus.
3. Making Risky Side Bets in Hopes of Big Payouts
Some Three Card Poker games offer additional side bets beyond Pair Plus. This makes for an exciting adventure if you enjoy chasing big payouts.
But I caution you that none of these side bets are worth making if your main concern is winning.
Pair Plus is the only Three Card Poker side bet that offers a reasonable house edge.
If you’re still interested in these side bets, then here are some others found in Three Card Poker.
The name alone attracts players, because this bet gives you the chance to win $1 million.
The Millionaire Maker revolves around forming the best hand possible based on your three cards and the dealer’s cards.
You must bet at least $5 to place the Millionaire Maker wager. Here are the payouts:
- 6-card super royal in diamonds = 200,000:1
- 6-card super royal = 20,000:1
- 5-card royal flush = 1,000:1
- 5-card straight flush = 200:1
- Four of a kind = 50:1
- Full house. 20:1
- 5-card flush. 15:1
- 5-card straight. 10:1
- Three of a kind. 5:1
It’s not worth betting more than $5 on this wager, because you can’t win any more than $1 million on the top payout or $100,000 with the second-highest payout.
Be prepared to lose often, given that the Millionaire Maker’s house edge is an atrocious 18.10%.
The Prime bonus can be offered in addition to or in place of Pair Plus. This wager revolves around having three cards of the same color.
It doesn’t matter what suit your cards are, but rather that they’re a specific color. And you can earn a higher payout if the dealer’s cards are also the same color.
- 3 cards of the same color = 3:1
- 6 cards of the same color = 4:1
The house edge on Prime is 3.62%, which is good when compared to all casino side bets. However, it still doesn’t measure up to Pair Plus.
6-card Bonus Bet
The name of this wager is misleading, because it’s actually based on the best five-card poker hand you can make between yours and the dealer’s hands (six cards total).
Here are the payouts:
- Royal flush = 1,000:1
- Straight flush = 200:1
- Four of a kind = 50:1
- Full house = 25:1
- Flush = 15:1
- Straight = 10:1
- Three of a kind = 5:1
The 6-Card Bonus bet is fun, because it essentially adds another poker game on top of Three Card Poker. But the downside is that you’re also dealing with a 15.28% house edge.
Many Three Card Poker games feature a progressive jackpot, which continues growing until somebody wins. The jackpot is paid when a player gets a mini royal flush in all spades.
The fact that you only have to bet $1 makes this an attractive wager. Plus, you can win other payouts on top of the progressive jackpot.
Here’s the full pay schedule:
- Mini royal in spades = jackpot
- Mini royal = $500
- Straight flush = $100
- Three of a kind = $90
The house edge varies based on the size of the jackpot. The larger the jackpot, the lower the house edge.
You can theoretically gain +EV if you play when the progressive jackpot is big enough.
4. Using Risky Betting Systems
Some gamblers like to use betting systems in casino games with even-money payouts.
These types of games are attractive for gambling systems, because you already stand a good chance of winning on each turn. And betting strategies allow you to manipulate short-term profits.
Three Card Poker players sometimes use systems, like the Martingale, D’Alembert, Labouchere, and Paroli. This isn’t totally out of line, because the ante bet pays 44.91% of the time with good strategy.
But as with any other casino game, you won’t win long-term profits in Three Card Poker through betting strategies.
Sure, you can net big short-term wins when you get hot with a system. But a betting strategy does nothing to overcome either the Ante & Play or Pair Plus house edges.
Don’t look at gambling systems as a way to win long-term profits. Instead, simply use these as a way to spice up your Three Card Poker sessions from time to time.
5. Playing Multiple Hands to Gain an Advantage
One final mistake that Three Card Poker players make involves playing multiple hands under the guise that they’ll win more profits.
Some casinos let you play two hands at once. And players logically assume that this gives them an advantage, because they get to see more hands.
Three Card Poker expert Stanley Ko wrote about this subject in the book, Mastering Three Card Poker. And he notes that seeing the first hand gives you information on the second hand.
You can then use this info to lower the house advantage on the second hand to 3.31%.
This sounds good, but you’re actually losing money over the long term by playing two hands. Here’s the math on this:
- 1 hand x 100 hands x $10 bets x 0.0337 house edge = $33.70 in theoretical losses.
- 2 hands x 100 hands x $10 bets x 0.0331 house edge = $66.20 in theoretical losses.
This doesn’t account for the element of risk that accompanies making the play bet. But that doesn’t really matter in this case, because you’d still lose almost double the amount by playing two hands.
If you want to play simultaneous hands to get more action and entertainment, then, by all means, do so. But don’t let the small 0.06% advantage convince you that this is a good idea.
The path to winning in Three Card Poker is easy. You stand the best chance of profiting by making the ante bet, then only making the play bet if you have Q-6-4 or better.
What’s fun about Three Card Poker is that it also includes extra bets, including Pair Plus, the Millionaire Maker, Prime, 6-Card Bonus, and progressive jackpots.
But if you’re going to make these wagers, you should be fully aware that they lower your long-term chances of winning.
Pair Plus is the only side bet that gives you a reasonable chance to win.
One more pitfall to avoid is the temptation to rely on gambling systems. While these are fun for short-term purposes, they create more volatility and won’t help you win more money in the long run.
In summary, keep Three Card Poker simple if your main goal is maximizing profits.