Although this table game uses the hand rankings and general concept of poker, it lacks the subtlety and skill of variations like Texas hold’em and seven card stud, where the players compete directly with one another. In fact, three card poker is even simpler to play than blackjack, in which the player must learn the optimal decision for each set of hands in relation to the dealer’s up card. Three card poker involves only three decisions:
- Is it worth playing due to the payout structure?
- Should I bet the Pair Plus?
- Do I fold or play my hand?
Let’s start with the first question. While roughly similar, there are several different payout structures on the ante bet, which vary from casino to casino. Fortunately, the difference in house edge in almost all of these structures is less than 1%. When choosing where to play, your best option will be a table that pays 5 to 1 on a straight flush and 4 to 1 on three of a kind, although 3 to 1 isn’t much worse. You should be aware, however, that there are some casinos that do not pay a bonus on the ante when the player makes a straight, improving the house edge. If possible, avoid three card poker at these casinos, even if a special payout for a Mini Royal Flush is offered.
The next decision you need to make is whether or not to play the Pair Plus circle. A friend of mine once told me a story about how his father had won a lot of money using the ‘strategy’ of betting on the Pair Plus, as if this were some sort of expert move. On the contrary, the Pair Plus is often seen as a sucker bet, as it serves merely to increase the house edge, though the prospect of a big payday on a straight flush is certainly enticing. The most common pay structure, in which a flush pays 3 to 1, is actually the least favorable to the player. In general, play at places that offer 4 to 1 odds on a flush and 6 to 1 on a straight; the other hands are rare enough that slight variations in the payout do not much matter.
If you’ve decided to play in the game at all, you must then choose to fold or play your hand each round. Fortunately, this is probably the easiest decision of all: bet the Play if your hand is Q-6-4 or better and fold if it is lower. In other words, play any hand that contains a king, any hand that contains a queen and a seven or better, and any hand that contains a queen, a six, and a four or better. This hand is the ‘cutoff’ point for where the player begins to lose less than he would lose by folding. Using this strategy and betting the Pair Plus would give the house an edge of a little over 5%, which is higher than blackjack and some bets on the craps table but not too bad when compared with many of the other bets in the casino.