3 Card Poker Rules and Strategy

3 Card Poker
John P.

3 Card PokerIn keeping with my ongoing theme of posting casino games, I present for your entertainment the classic 3 Card Poker! (Don’t forget we’ve also got Blackjack and Roulette.)

3 Card Poker (or tri-card poker as it’s also called) is an American version of a British game called Brag. This game originated over three hundred years ago as a game known as Primero, a fast-moving betting game using only three cards. As the game evolved, it became known as Post-and-Pair and then again as Brag. This game made it to the States as Casino Brag and Brit-Brag, but eventually evolved again into the game we now know as 3 Card Poker.

The game is comprised of two different components and here is how they are played…

Ante and Play

For ante-and-play, the player places an ante bet before receiving cards. The player is then dealt cards and after seeing them, can choose to fold the cards and lose the ante, or continue playing and raise by placing a bet equal to the ante bet.

When continuing to play, there are three possible outcomes:

  • The dealer does not ‘qualify’. To qualify, the dealer must have a hand of a queen high or better. If the dealer does not qualify, the ante bet is paid out even money, but the play bet is simply returned.
  • If the dealer does qualify, the player wins if his hand is of higher value than the dealer’s, and gets paid out even money on both his ante and play bets.
  • If the dealer’s hand is of higher value, the dealer takes the Ante and Play bets.

In real casinos rules vary on what happens when the hands are of exactly equal value: some give the player their money back, others pay even money on the bet. So seek out the tables with the most favorable rules.

In our game below keep in mind that if you choose to continue your bet is automatically doubled. So if you have a crappy hand make sure and fold to avoid the larger wager.

Pair Plus

Pair plus is a simple bet on the cards with a payout for all hands of a pair or better. Below are the probabilities associated with various combinations of cards:

Probabilities – Three Card Poker
Ways to draw 3 cards out of 52 = 22100
Hand Combinations Percentage
Straight flush 48 0.22%
Three of a kind 52 0.24%
Straight 720 3.26%
Flush 1096 4.96%
Pair 3744 16.94%
High card 9720 43.98%
None 6720 30.41%

The payouts associated with the various winning combinations also vary among casinos, so again its imperative to seek out the ones where you have the greatest likelihood of winning. In the game we have below, it offers the most favorable odds (payout table 1), but if you were to play at a table with any of the lesser payouts you’d quickly learn that the difference is enormous.

Even a 2.3% advantage to the house is huge, so the Pairs Plus bet is not a very good one. In fact, 3 card poker is not a very good casino game at all as far as odds are concerned.

Payoff Tables for Pairplus
Hand Payout #1 Payout #2 Payout #3 Payout #4 Payout #5 Payout #6
Straight flush 40 to 1 40 to 1 35 to 1 50 to 1 40 to 1 40 to 1
Three of a kind 30 to 1 25 to 1 25 to 1 30 to 1 30 to 1 30 to 1
Straight 6 to 1 6 to 1 6 to 1 6 to 1 5 to 1 6 to 1
Flush 4 to 1 4 to 1 4 to 1 3 to 1 4 to 1 3 to 1
Pair 1 to 1 1 to 1 1 to 1 1 to 1 1 to 1 1 to 1
House advantage 2.32% 3.49% 4.58% 5.10% 5.57% 7.28%

The Game


  1. Catbert says

    Ah, Johnny…you’re a man after my own heart! As you know, I was in Vegas a few weeks back and this is my absolute favorite game! Why? It can be played in any state of inebriation! So of course, I was playing it at several casinos over the week I was there. Best night: I hit 2 straight flushes in four hands. I was betting heavy on top and left the table up several G. Of course, they took it back over the next several days, but what the heck….they always do!

  2. says


    I wouldn’t say that I play much, but when I do play it is exclusively in casinos. I do not play any online casinos.

    I view gambling as an expensive entertainment option. I am not going to be able to change my lifestyle by gambling, so really it’s just for the excitement that accompanies the experience of going to the casino. All of the flashing lights, free drinks, and people in every emotional state from exuberant to dejected.

    So, having said all that, I rarely gamble more than $200 in a single day. In Vegas I don’t think I’ve ever lost more than $500 in a single trip. By comparison I usually stay at the Venetian (~$300 per night), watch $100 per ticket shows, and eat expensive meals. So, hopefully this demonstrates that I treat gambling money as discretionary. I spend far more on the buffets, shopping and Cirque du Soleil!


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