There aren’t a lot of subtleties to Three Card Poker.
It’s easy to play and the basic strategy for the ante-play portion of the game is simple: Bet when you have Queen-6-4 or better and fold when you don’t.
The Pair Plus option requires no strategy at all. You win anytime your three cards include a pair or better.
Still, there are components of the game new players miss until they encounter, as in the nice surprise reader Kara received.
“I was playing ante-play but not Pair Plus because it had a pay table I read was bad,” she wrote via email. “The player next to me could see my cards, and when I was dealt 9, 10 and Jack of clubs, he said, ‘See? You should have been on the Pair Plus.’
“I have to admit, a 40-1 pay would have looked really nice about then. I was kind of regretting my decision before the dealer gave me two green $25 chips next to my$10 ante. I also won $10 on ante and $10 on play for beating the dealer.
“I asked the dealer what the $50 was for, and he said, ‘It’s your ante bonus.’ It seems your ante, but not your play bet, is paid 5-1 if you have a straight flush, 4-1 if you have three of a kind and 1-1 if you have a straight.
“I think this was the fourth time I played and I’d never had that happen. Maybe it did on straights and I just didn’t notice, but this was my first straight flush. I felt a LOT better about not betting Pair Plus when I got that bonus.”
Derek Webb built the ante bonus into the game when he invented Three Card Poker in the 1990s. The 5-4-1 pay table described by Kara is Webb’s original and is still commonly used today. Those bonus pays are included in calculations that show ante-play has a house edge of 3.37 percent of the ante and an element of risk — or house edge against total action — of 2.01 percent.
Other ante bonus pay tables are available, and it’s up to casinos that license the game from Scientific Games. Scientific Games acquired the rights when it bought Shuffle Master, which previously had purchased Three Card Poker from Webb’s Prime Table Games.
One I’ve seen at the tables reduces the straight flush bonus to 4-1, three of a kind to 3-1 and leaves the straight at 4-1. That increases the ante-play house edge to 3.83 percent of the ante or 2.28 percent of total action.
At wizardofodds.com, Michael Shackelford lists a version that pays 3-1 on straight flushes, 2-1 on three of a kind and 1-1 on straights, for edges of 4.28 percent of the ante or 2.56 percent of total action. On another, the only change from the original 5-4-1 is to reduce three of a kind to 3-1, leaving edges of 3.61 and 2.16 percent.
Even on the weakest version, the element of risk of 2.56 percent leaves ante-play among the friendlier table games. Basic strategy players get a better deal at blackjack and there are lower edges on baccarat and craps. But that 2.56 is lower than the edges at roulette, Let It Ride or the weaker bets at craps.
Straight flushes occur on only .21 percent of hands, three of a kind on .23 and straights on 3.3 percent, so you don’t get the bonuses often. But as Kara has learned, when the bonuses come, they brighten your session.
Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).