The Ultimate Guide to 3 Card Poker Strategy

  • Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Ready to brush up your skills on 3 Card Poker? You’ve come to the right place. Whilst it’s a fairly easy game to play, it may take some time to master.

In this guide, we’ll be explaining all there is to know about the game. First off, you need to develop a basic 3 card poker strategy, understand the odds to beat the house and everything else in between.

cards, layout, chips

History of Poker

Let’s start off this guide with a bit of history lesson. How did poker evolve into the game we all enjoy playing nowadays? Legend has it that the origins of the game date back to over 1,000 years ago, as it spread across different continents, traditions, and cultures.

It is widely believed that the first forms of the game were found in China, due to the fact that the Chinese Emperor enjoyed playing a domino-card game. Other believe that poker is very similar to the ancient, 16th century Persian card game, As Nas.

In the 17th century, more traces of the game were found in different parts of Europe. In fact, many people also agree the poker is the predecessor of the French game, Poque and the German version, Pochen. Both of these followed the same rules of the Spanish version Primero, which was played with 3 cards that were dealt to each player. This version of poker was also centered around the concept of bluffing – where players placed high bets on poor cards to win the game.

Eventually, Poque arrived in Norther America, particularly in New Orleans and on the riverboats that passed through the Mississippi. At this point, the English in these areas changed the French word of the game to Poker. Soon enough, it evolved into the game we’re familiar with nowadays – a game that is played with a standard 52-card deck, where 5 cards are dealt to each player.

3 Card Poker

Now that you got some insight into the game, it’s time to delve into a little bit more detail about 3 Card Poker. This version of the game was invented by Derek Webb, in 1994. Ever since it was established, it sought to become one of the most popular versions that people enjoy playing at land-based casinos.

The objective is simple. It is played with a single deck, with the exception that the odds very different from the poker variations played with 5 cards. Additionally, 3 card poker allows two different playing modes: Pair Plus and Ante-Play. We’ll be delving into more detail about the two types of variations at a later stage in this guide.

The number one rule that you have to keep in mind, is that you won’t be playing against fellow players. Instead, you’ll go head to head with the dealer. That’s why it’s important to play your cards right and to also develop a strategy to beat the house.

Unlike other casino games, 3 card poker isn’t really based on luck. Since you have to be mindful of your own cards, as well as the dealers, it does require a bit of skill. Before outlining the basic 3 card poker strategy, let’s lay down the foundations with the basics first.

Ranking the Hands

As stated in the introductory sections, whilst 3 card poker is based on stud poker (5 cards), the odds are different since we are now dealing with just 3 cards. So if the odds are different, even the ranking of hands is different. For the most part, straight bets are rarer than flushes, and will at some point outrank them. You can’t even get a full house in 3 card poker. On the other hand, the complete opposite happens in 5-card games; flushes outrank straights.

In short, here’s how hands are ranked in 3 Card Poker:

  • Straight
  • 3 of a Kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Pair
  • High Card

Ante-Play and Pair Plus

It’s now time to take a closer look at the different modes of playing. We’ll start with Ante Play and will then move on to Pair Plus.


In Ante-Play mode, you must place a bet in the triangular space outlined on the table layout. After the 3 cards are dealt, the dealer’s cards remain face down, whilst you examine your own cards. Once you make an ante bet, the next step is to either fold or call.

If you choose to fold, this means you’ve forfeited the game. Alternatively, if you choose to call, this means that you’re raising the stakes and you must place another bet that amounts to your ante-bet. Only at this stage will the dealer unveil the cards.

Pair Plus

As for Pair Plus, you must place your bet in the circular outline on the table. Like Ante-Play, the dealer will also deal 3 cards to the player and to himself and must remain face down until all cards are dealt. After all the cards are dealt, you may look at your cards.

At this stage, you don’t need to do anything else. You don’t need to place additional bets or make any other decisions. If you have a winning bet, you must leave your cards facing down next to your bet.

3 Card Poker Strategy: An Introduction

Now that you’ve understood the basics, it’s time to master the strategy. In this section of the guide, we’ll be delving into more detail about the Ante-Play Strategy, as well as the Pair Plus Strategy. But first, let’s outline a few key points about the general gameplay.

Master the Rules

This is the number one rule that should be at the top of your list of the 3 Card Poker Strategy. It’s important to understand and apply rules of both Ante-Play and Pairs Plus variations.

Choose a Reputable Casino

In short, this applies to all casino games. It’s essential to sign up to casino that is both licensed and regulated. For starters, this lessens the chances of ever having your safety and security compromised.

Additionally, you have peace of mind when it comes to actually playing the games. Any solid casino will make sure that all games are equipped with the Random Number Generator (RNG). This ensures fair game and random outcomes at all times. Blacklisted casinos will very likely offer rigged gamed, where it is very likely that you’ll lose all your money.

Check out Free Games

If you’re new to the scene, it’s a good idea to check out the various demos offered by various casinos. This will help you get a thorough explanation of both Ante-Play and Pairs Plus before you start playing for real money.

Stick to a Budget

Especially if you’re a beginner, it’s best to stick to a low budget. Some casinos offer anything from as little as $1. Once you get more confident, you can definitely place higher bets, but always make sure to adhere with responsible gaming regulations.

Play Both Ante-Play and Pairs Plus

Playing both games will help you keep a balanced track record of both wins and losses. Look at it this way, you can either benefit from a win-win situation if you lose the ante-bet. Even if the dealer wins, your loss isn’t that huge if you manage to win the Pairs Plus bet.

Ante-Play & Pairs Plus Odds and Strategies

The most important thing that you need to remember here, is to understand the odds. They play an important role in determining a win or a loss.

Ante-Play Strategy and Odds

Adopting a basic strategy is key to win a game of ante-play 3 card poker, when you have a Queen, 4, 4 o better. Always fold if it’s your hand isn’t that high. In this case, you can place bets on a pair or if you happen to have anything better. If it’s a winning bet on the Pair Plus paytable, you can actually still make the bet in the ante-play combination.

If you don’t have any of these, place your bet on your high cards – the Ace or the King. If you have a Jack, we still recommend you fold, regardless if the other cards are high. If you only have a Queen as a high card, you must make your next move based on your second and at times your third card. Here are a few key points that you need to remember:

  • Place a bet on a Queen-high, if the second highest card is 7 or higher, irrespective of the value of the third card
  • Place a bet on a Queen-high, if the second highest card is 6 and the third card is either a 4 or a 5
  • Fold a bet on a Queen-high, if the second highest card is 6 and the third card is either 2 or 3
  • Fold a bet on a Queen-high, if the second highest card is 5 or lower, irrespective of the value of the third card

Pairs Plus Strategy and Odds

In Pairs Plus, you automatically have a winning bet each time you have a pair, flush, straight, or a three of a kind flush.

Approximately, there are over 22, 100 winning combos. That amounts to roughly 25.6% wins from pairs or better. Whilst paytables differ from one casino to another, as a general rule, they start at 1-1 payoffs on a pair.

Keep in mind that in Pairs Plus, flushes tend to occur more than straights. In short, you can win more payouts on hands that occur more frequently. This means that versions that pay out 5-4 on straights and 4-1 on flushes have a lower house advantage than other games that pay 6-1 on straights and 3-1 on flushes. Here’s a closer look at the frequency of bets:

  • Mini-Royal: 1 in 5,525
  • Straight flush with mini-royal: 1 in 502
  • Straight flush without mini-royal: 1 in 460
  • 3 of a kind: 1 in 425
  • Straight: 1 in 31
  • Flush: 1 in 20
  • Pair: 1 in 6