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Three's Company: The A, B, C's of Three-Card Poker

hree-card poker is a casino table game on the rise in Las Vegas and cyberspace everywhere. It’s a fast-paced, easy-to-play game based on achieving different poker hands. Here’s how the action goes:

Step 1: You choose how much to bet on Ante (the middle circle on the betting area of the table) and/or on the Pair Plus bet (the top circle on the betting area of the table).

Step 2: After the hand is dealt you must decide whether you want to Play your three-card holding or Fold. If you choose Play, a bet equal to the amount of your ante is added (automatically if you are playing online) in the Play spot on the layout. You can think of the extra amount as a raise, thus choosing Play is similar to a limit raise in ordinary poker.

Should you Play or Fold? That is the key question. Well, it turns out this decision is, like the game, very simple; and it is based upon pure mathematical expectation. Using basic strategy, you should Play any hand that is Q-6-4 or higher and Fold Q-6-3 or lower. For example, Play Q-7-2 and Fold Q-6-2.

Does this strategy seem too loose? Intuitively, it might because you will lose more queen high hands than you will win. But we must think about this strategy as we do when we play blackjack. Using blackjack basic strategy, we hit 15 when the dealer shows a nine. We will lose more hands than we will win by hitting that 15, but it is better for our long-term expectation to hit (rather than stand) with 15 when facing a seven through ace. Similarly, choosing Play when we are dealt a hand such as Q-7-2 will provide a better long-term expectation than clicking on Fold.

Three Card Poker Hand Rankings
Straight Flush: Three cards of the same suit in sequence
Three-of-a-kind: Three cards of the same rank
Straight: Three cards in sequence, but not in the same suit
Flush: Three cards of the same suit, but not in sequence
Pair: Two cards of the same rank.
High Card: Highest single card

Notes: Aces play both high and low in a straight.
In three-card poker a straight is higher than a flush since the probability of being dealt a flush is higher when only three cards are dealt.

Playing A Hand

If the dealer’s hand is not queen high or better, the dealer fails to qualify and the hand is over. The Ante Bonus and Pair Plus bonuses are paid and your Play bet is returned to you with double your Ante. For example, let’s say you place a $10 bet on the Ante and another $10 bet on the Pair Plus. Let’s also assume you are dealt a straight. You would Play (as opposed to Fold), and another $10 bet would automatically be placed for you bringing your total investment to $30. Now, the dealer reveals his hand. Let’s say it is Js-5h-3c. The dealer’s hand doesn’t qualify (remember, he needs at least queen high). So, your $10 Play bet is returned to you, along with double your Ante bet, for a total of $30. In addition, because you were dealt a straight, the Ante Bonus is paid at 1:1 ($10) and the Pair Plus bet is paid out at the bonus rate of 6:1 ($70 which includes your initial outlay).

If the dealer’s hand qualifies (he has queen high or better), his holding is compared to your hand and the following occurs:
•If the dealer’s hand is higher than yours: you lose both your Ante and your Play bets.
•If the dealer’s hand is lower than yours: you receive a 1:1 payout on your Ante bet and your Play bet.
•If there is an absolute tie (e.g., A-K-6 to A-K-6): you get your Ante and Play bets are returned.

Bonuses are paid according to these typical Ante Bonus and Pair Plus tables:

Ante Bonus (Typical Payout Table)
When your hand qualifies for one of the Ante Bonus hand rankings listed below, you are paid regardless of the outcome of the initial Ante bet.

Straight Flush - 5:1
Three of a Kind - 5:1
Straight - 1:1

Pair Plus (Typical Payout Table)
When your hand qualifies for one of the Pair Plus hand rankings listed below, you are paid regardless of the outcome of the initial Ante bet.

Straight Flush - 40:1
Three of a Kind - 30:1
Straight - 6:1
Flush - 4:1
Pair - 1:1

From a serious gamer point of view, I view any strong house advantage game (three-card poker holds between 3.24 percent and 3.8 percent depending on rules and payouts) as unbeatable in the long run. Therefore, when betting serious money I recommend poker and sports betting. But three-card poker is a fun and relaxing game to play recreationally.
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