How to Play 3 Card Poker: Rules and Basic Strategy

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3 card poker is a popular card game played in casinos. It’s similar to a normal poker game; the only differences are: 

  • Each player is dealt three cards instead of five. 
  • It’s you versus the dealer.
  • The hands are ranked differently. 

In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know about 3 card poker: the rules, how it’s played, the best and worst hands, and a basic strategy for playing the game. As a bonus, we’ll give you an insight into the payouts you can expect. 

The rules of 3 card poker 

The rules of 3 card poker are simple and straightforward, although there might be variations depending on the casino where you’re playing. 

These are the general rules that govern 3 card poker:

1. The game is played with poker cards. 

2. Players place an ante bet before the dealer shares the cards. 

3. After the cards are dealt, players can either fold or continue and place another bet, known as the play wager or bet. 

4. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, players win their ante bets and also get back their play bet stakes.

In addition to ante and play bets, you can make additional bets such as pair plus bets. To win a pair plus bet, you need to have one of the following: 

Pair: Two cards of the same rank.  

Flush: Three cards from the same suit.  

Straight: Three cards of different suits in sequence. 

Three of a kind: Three identical cards of the same value. 

Straight flush: Three cards of the same suit in sequence. 

The outcome of a pair plus bet is solely dependent on the cards you get. As long as they fall into one of the categories above, you’ll win money. 

How 3 card poker is played 

3 card poker usually follows this procedure:

1. The cards are shuffled, and players place their bets (ante and any additional bets). 

2. A player cuts the deck of cards, and then the dealer gives three cards to every player and themselves. The cards are handed out face down. 

3. After looking at their cards, players can decide on whether to continue or fold. If they decide not to continue, they will forfeit their initial bets. 

4. If a player chooses to continue playing, they will have to place a play bet, which must be equal to their ante bet. 

5. After play bets are placed, everyone reveals their cards, including the dealer. 

5. If the dealer’s hand does not qualify, the players who didn’t fold win money on their ante bets and get back their play stake. 

6. If the dealer has a qualifying hand, the players compare their cards with the dealer’s to determine who won the round. 

7. Players whose cards are better than the dealer’s win their ante and play bets, and others lose both bets. 

3 card poker hands 

3 card poker hands refer to the possible combination of cards you can receive after the dealer deals the cards. From the best to the worst: 

Straight flush: Three cards of the same suit in consecutive order. 

Three of a kind: Three cards of identical rank. 

Straight: Three cards of different suits that are serial.  

Flush: Any three cards of the same suit. 

Pair: Two cards that have an identical number or rank. 

High card: A high card doesn’t follow a sequence or have matching suits or identical ranks. The value of the hand is determined by the card with the highest rank which the player received. 

In normal poker, a flush ranks higher than a straight, but the reverse is the case in 3 card poker. 

For a dealer to qualify for a round, they need to have at least a Queen high (a high card with a queen as the highest ranking card). 

3 card poker basic strategy 

When playing 3 card poker, the basic strategy is learning to make decisions based on the strength of the cards you received. 

Here’s a simple strategy to consider: 

  • Only place a play bet when you have a Queen high or a better hand. 
  • If your hand is less than a Queen high, it’s best to fold because your chances of winning are minimal. 

These two simple considerations can help you avoid a lot of unnecessary losses. Although folding means you’ll have to forfeit your ante bet and forgo the round, it’s better than placing a play bet and losing both. 

3 card poker payouts

Payouts for 3 card poker can often follow a standard structure but can vary slightly depending on where you play. 

Ante and play bets payout 

Player wins 1:1
Dealer does not qualify Player wins the ante, and the play bet is returned 

For example, if you bet $20 each on your ante and play bets and win the round, you will receive an additional  $40, which is equal to your original stake. 

On the other hand, if the dealer doesn’t qualify, you will receive an extra $20 for your ante bet. Your play bet will be returned. 

Ante bonus payout

Outcome Payout 
Straight 1:1
Three of a kind 4:1
Straight flush 5:1

An ante bonus is paid if a player gets a combination of cards that make up the highest-ranking hands 3 card poker.  

Pair plus payout

Outcome Payout
Pair 1:1 
Flush 3:1
Straight 6:1
Three of a kind 30:1
Straight flush 40:1

The payments for Pair plus bets increase with the rarity of the outcomes, with an opportunity to earn up to 40x of your stake. Some casinos may also have bigger payouts for special combinations, such as 777. 

3 poker stakes 

3 card poker games have minimum and maximum bet limits. The number for each varies depending on the casino you’re playing at or your table limit. 

It’s important to note that table limits refer to the maximum amount of money you can stake on one bet. For example, if you’re playing at a table with a $100 limit, you can stake $100 each on the ante, play, and pair plus bets, which total $300. 

The rule of bets being equal doesn’t apply to pair plus bets, so you can stake any amount you want as long as it’s within the table limits.   

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