Three Card Poker has become a casino standard, part of the regular game mix in American gambling houses. Its popularity doesn’t challenge long time player favorites blackjack and craps, but in some states they draw more players than baccarat or even roulette.
How good is your shot to win? What is the house edge?
Those are questions that need to be answered in multiple steps, because Three Card Poker involves more than one round of betting.
The house edge can be expressed as a percentage of the ante that starts either game, or it can be expressed as a percentage of the average total wager, once subsequent bets are considered.
Some people refer to these as “house edge vs. the ante” and “house edge vs. total action.” At wizardofodds.com, Michael Shackelford refers to first as the house edge and the second as the “element of risk.”
Both figures are useful. They just tell us different things about the games.
Three Card Poker first offers two ways to play, with an ante-play option and a Pair Plus option.
It’s the ante-play portion that concerns us here, because it has multi-stage betting and a house edge that can be expressed in different ways. Pair Plus is a one-step bet with no ante vs. total action issue.
But in the ante-play portion of the game, you’re trying to beat the dealer. You open with an ante. After you see your three cards, you may either fold or stay in the hand by making an additional bet equal to your ante.
If you stay, there are three possible outcomes:
The dealer does not have a qualifying hand of a Queen or better. When that happens, your ante is paid at even money and your second bet is returned to you.
The dealer does have a Queen or better and a hand that outranks yours. You lose both ante and bet.
The dealer has a Queen or better and your hand outranks his. You win even money on both ante and bet.
In addition, you are paid an ante bonus of 5-1 if you have a straight flush, 4-1 with three of a kind or even money with a flush.
What about the house edge? If you play the basic strategy making the additional bet whenever you have Queen-6-4 or better, the edge is 3.37 percent of the ante or 2.01 percent of total action.
The house edge vs. the ante give you a baseline on the average cost per hand. If we assume a $10 ante, that average loss is 33.7 cents.
But once the second bet is factored in, your average total wager is about $16.77. The average loss remains 33.7 cents per hand, or 2.01 percent of your total action.
A couple of things of note: Players need to understand that the ante isn’t the end of the bet. If you ante $10, you’re not a $10 player. You’re nearly a $17 player.
And the 2.01 percent house edge on total action gives us a good comparison to other games. It’s not quite as good as the 1.52 percent edge on placing 6 or 8 in craps, but better than the 5.26 at most double-zero roulette bets.
An interesting case is single-zero roulette. The 2.7 percent edge is lower than Three Card Poker’s house edge on the ante, but higher than the edge on total action. For equivalent-sized total wagers, such as a $10 ante leading to nearly $17 total in Three Card Poker vs. $17 worth of bets in single-zero roulette, your average outcome will be better in Three Card Poker.