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Last Updated: July 2, 2017
Learn Three Card Poker with Michael Shackleford
Michael Shackleford: Hi, I’m Mike Shackleford with the Wizard of Odds website and you are going to learn about Three Card Poker. I am joined by Angela Wyman, my student, and Lamone, who is a real Three Card Poker dealer here in Las Vegas.
Three Card Poker is one of the successful, new games in the casino. It’s been a big financial success, it’s been around for a long time, it’s made it all over the world, and I’m going to teach you the rules of the game and how to play it according to proper strategy. Ready?
Angela Wyman: Ready.
Michael: Let’s just jump right in with some hands. The dealer is going to start by giving us three cards. Okay, Angela, let’s see what you got. You have a king high.
I’m going to explain the strategy in a minute, but take it on faith for now that the odds favor raising. Your choices are either to raise or fold so you want to make a raise exactly equal to your ante bet and just put it behind it. I have a ten high; this is a lousy hand, the odds favor folding.
Lamone: Thanks for playing.
Michael: Now the dealer is going to turn over her hand and she needs a queen high to qualify. The dealer does qualify. Now it’s the highest hand wins. Now it was close, but the dealer wins. It goes to the five kicker beats you. So you lost that one, but let’s try again. Okay, let’s see what you got, Angela.
Angela: A king again.
Michael: A king high again so make a raise again. I have also a king high so I’m going to raise and now it’s up to Lamone. Now Lamone, the dealer needs at least a queen high to qualify. Because she doesn’t qualify, we’re going to win our ante-bet and the raise is going to push.
Michael: Pay the ante, push the raise.
Lamone: Pay or push.
Angela: Thank you.
Michael: Let’s try another one.
Lamone: Good luck.
Question 1 - [02:37]
Angela: Now may I touch my cards as soon as she puts them down or do I have to wait until hers are dealt?
Michael: You should wait until she’s done because in a real casino, they’ll bite your head off if you look at the cards too early.
Angela: Okay. I don’t want that.
Michael: Wait until she is done.
Angela: No head biting. [laughs]
Michael: All right. So you have an ace high. The odds favor raising and I’ll use this opportunity to tell you exactly what the strategy is. You want to raise if you have a queen, six, four hand, or better. This obviously better, ace high is better than a queen high so you make the raise bet.
Angela: All right. Okay.
Michael: I have an eight high; this is awful so I then fold.
Angela: [laughs]. Things for free. Should this be strategy called, “This is awful?”
Michael: Okay. Much like last hand, the dealer does not qualify so you win even money on the ante and the raise is a push.
Michael: Okay, let’s see what you got. Nice, a straight. Let’s take this opportunity to review the hand order in Three Card Poker, which is different than conventional poker. It starts with just three singletons like king high, ace high, then a pair, then a flush, then a straight, then a three of a kind, and then a straight flush.
Now, notice that a straight beats a flush. With three cards, it’s tougher to get a straight than a flush therefore the straight outranks the flush. You have a straight, obviously, you’re going to raise that and let’s see what I have.
I have a flush; almost a straight flush that’s also definitely raise worthy. The dealer qualifies with a pair, but we both win.
Michael: Now this is another good opportunity to explain the ante bonus. In addition to winning the ante and the raise, if you have a straight or better, you also get a bonus and for this bonus, you don’t even need to beat the dealer.
The bonus for a straight is one time your ante bet, the same amount. For three of a kind, it’s four times your ante bet, and for a straight flush, it’s five times your ante bet.
Question 2 - [05:16]
Angela: And I didn’t have to do anything additional to get that?
Michael: Right. You didn’t even have to beat the dealer, and by the way, that’s a frequently made dealer error is if you have a straight and lose, lots of times a dealer will incorrectly take all your money. You should still lose the ante in the raise, but you still get the ante bonus. So keep an eye out to make sure the dealers play that correctly.
Angela: All right.
Michael: Okay, let’s try a new hand.
Angela: Good heads up. [laughs]
Michael: All right. Let’s see what you got.
Angela: Nothing. I don’t have at a queen six or –
Michael: Right, so you fold. I’ve got a pair of nines; any pair is raise worthy. My pair beats the dealer’s pair so I win.
Michael: Okay, let’s bet another hand.
Angela: All right, let’s do it.
Lamone: Good luck.
Michael: Okay, let’s see what you got. Wow, three of a kind. Nice.
Angela: That’s a good one.
Lamone: You should have pair plus.
Question 3 - [06:37]
Angela: Pair plus? What’s the pair plus?
Michael: Now, I have to respectively disagree with the dealer here, but the pair plus is a side bet that would have paid 30 to one on a three of a kind, had you made the pair plus bet. It may sound like a lot, but you don’t see a three of a kind very often.
On average with the usual pay table that goes 1-3-6-30-40, the house advantage on the pair plus is 7.28%. That’s a lot more than the base game so repeat after me, side
Michael: So that’s way you didn’t make it.
Angela: All right.
Michael: I guarantee you in a situation in a real casino, the dealer is going to lecture you for not making that bet, but the dealer’s wrong. If you want to lose less, avoid the side bet.
Angela: All right.
Michael: So you obviously raise that. Let’s see what I got. I got a pair of aces that’s definitely raise worthy.
Lamone: Okay, let’s see what I have. I have a flush.
Michael: Okay, so I lose.
Lamone: You have a pair of ace, so you lose.
Michael: And let’s make sure the dealer pays you correctly.
Lamone: Four of a kind.
Michael: Three of a kind.
Lamone: Even money plus four for the ante bonus.
Michael: Right. Again, the ante bonus pays based just on the value on your own hand; you don’t need to beat the dealer. It pays one times exactly the ante bet on a straight, four times for a 3 of a kind, and five times for a straight flush. Got it?
Angela: I got it. I like that one.
Lamone: Good luck.
Michael: Let’s see what you got. Wow, the wheel. You’re hot tonight. Okay, make that raise bet for sure. What do you know? This is the lowest hand that you should raise on. Remember, queen 6- 4, or higher, you raise.
What a bad beat, the dealer has a higher straight, but you’re still going to win something.
Lamone: Queen high loses to straight. You have a straight, but it’s a lower straight. You lose your original bet and this one, but you get the ante bonus.
Michael: Correct. Again, always watch for that. If you have a straight or better even if the dealer beats you, you still get that ante bonus.
Michael: Okay, let’s see what you got. What are going to do with that?
Angela: I’m going to fold it.
Angela: It’s queen 6-3 and it needed it to be queen 6-4.
Michael: Right. That is the best hand you would fold on. Now I have a little confession to make, I have a king high here and normally the strategy would say to raise, but when Lamone was dealing the cards, she showed me that one of her cards is in ace. Therefore, I know that I’m going to lose. So, why throw money away on a raise when I know I’m going to lose? So, I’m going to deviate from basic strategy and throw away a sore loser. And let’s see if I was right. There’s that ace. So, once in a while you’ll get a dealer that when she deals herself with her own hand, it exposes her bottom card.
That’s what’s known amongst professional gamblers as a flashing dealer. And if you have a dealer that exposes one of her cards, then you follow a different strategy that’s available on my website. I won’t muddy the waters by explaining it now. But, if you get a leader that consistently exposes one of her cards and you follow the flashing dealer strategy, the player will have a 3.4, 8% advantage.
Angela: All that from just a little bit of a flash?
Michael: Assuming that it doesn’t bother you ethically to use that information and it doesn’t bother me.
Angela: It doesn’t bother me at all.
Michael: Okay. Do you have any questions about three-card-poker, Angela?
Question 4 - [11:24]
Angela: Well, are there any side bets associated with it? And if so, do they follow your usual thoughts on that?
Michael: Yes, they do. Limone already reprimanded you earlier incorrectly for not making the pair plus bet. Since that is optional, I consider that a side bet and not an essential component of the game. So, always say no to the pair plus bet. And the game maker has been adding a lot of other side bets to the game, progressive ones and ones based on all the players cards combined with the dealer’s cards. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing, always say no to side bets in any game.
Angela: All right. Always say no.
Michael: Yes. Always say no. Any other questions, Angela?
Question 5 - [12:07]
Angela: Definitely. So, if we go out to the real casino and I play your strategy, what are my odds on this game?
Michael: I forgot to tell you before. The house advantage in this game is 3.37%. Meaning that for every dollar you bet on the Ante, you can expect to lose 3.37 cents. Now, the element of risk which is how much you can expect to lose compared to the Ante and the possible raise bet is 2.01%. 2% is not bad for a new game. However, you could do a lot better in the traditional games like Blackjack and Craps if you play them correctly.
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about three-card-poker. The correct strategy in three-card-poker is really simple raised with Queens 64 or better and outweighs the side bets. That’s all you really need to know. But, there’s a whole host of other information about three-card-poker including all the side bets and variance of the Ante bonus pay table on my website wizardofodds.com