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The Rules and Strategies of Three Card Poker
by Alvin Nedrow

Three card poker is one of my favorite games in the casino, because it offers a lot of variety and options. There is not a great deal of skill required when playing three card poker, so it is easy enough for most people to learn.

When you first look at three card poker, it may seem like a rather complicated game and the first time that I ever played it, I had a very hard time understanding the rules. Once I got the rules down, I realized what a fun game three card poker really can be.

I think the best place to start in explaining three card poker is point out that you can actually make a hand with only three cards. I remember watching a guy, who was mildly intoxicated, trying to learn three card poker and he could not understand how you can make a straight with only three cards. Well, in this game you can. All you need is three cards in numerical order.

The basic hand ranking of regular poker are the same with a couple of exceptions. One exception is that you cannot make a royal flush. If you were to have ace, king, queen suited you would only have a straight flush in 3 card poker. It is still the best possible hand that you can have though. The other difference in hand rankings from regular poker is that a straight ranks higher than a flush. This is because a straight is harder to get than a flush in 3 card poker.

Interestingly enough there are three parts to three card poker. When you go to a casino and look at a 3 card poker table you will see three sections on the table for each player. The first is called "pairs plus", the second is called "ante", and the third is called "play".

Lets start out with the easiest one first. Pairs plus is a bonus game of sorts. Depending on where you are playing three card poker, you may have the choice to play only pairs plus, or only the ante and play. You can always play both at the same time.

If you are a beginner, you may want to start out with only playing pairs plus if that is an available option. When playing pairs plus, all you have to think about is how much you want to bet --- seriously that is all you have to determine. You will be dealt three cards and regardless of what the dealer has, if you have a pair or better you win. Just how much you are paid for your pair or better depends on where you are playing and the rules. The payouts are typically printed out on the felt of the table so that there is no question to the payout amount. Typically a pair will pay 1 to 1, a flush 4 to 1, three of a kind will pay 30 to 1, and so forth. As you can see, you can win a nice amount of money just by playing the pairs plus option.

Once you feel comfortable with the pairs plus option it is time to learn about qualifying. When you play the other part of the three card poker, you will place an ante in the ante spot on the table. You can ante up to the minimum or maximum of the table. Now you are dealt your three cards face down. The dealer receives three cards face down as well. You look at your cards and decide if you want to bet or fold. If you bet, your bet must be at least as much as the amount of your ante. If you choose to fold you simply lose your ante bet. If you have a decent hand, then you will want to bet.

Now the dealer reveals his or her three cards. If the dealer does not have at least a queen or higher, the dealer does not "qualify" to play. At this point the dealer will pay the active players even money on their ante bets and those with a straight or better are paid the additional ante bonus. An ante bonus will be shown on the tables felt just like the pairs plus are. If the ante bonus for a three of a kind is 4 to 1 then you will get 4 times the amount of your ante just, for your ante bet.

These players get a "push" on their play bet, which means you do not win or lose any money; you just get your bet back. If the dealer does have a qualifying hand, those who cannot beat it lose their antes and their play bets, but can still win the ante bonus with a straight or higher. Those who can beat the dealer win even money on both their ante and play bets plus the ante bonus, if any.

There is no great strategy to playing three card poker. The only basic strategy is that if you think the dealer will qualify, and then you want to be sure that you have something better than a queen high.

The other strategy that I would suggest is to always play the bonus (pairs plus) spot on the table. Even if you bet the smallest amount possible, the bonus can pay huge if you hit a good hand, like a straight. 30-to-1 are great odds even if you are only betting a single $1.

As you can see, it takes a couple of plays to learn the rules of three card poker, but once you get it down, three card poker can be great fun with potentially high payouts.

Patience is key when playing three card poker. Since you are only getting three cards it can sometimes be difficult to manage to beat the dealers qualifying hand. Take your time and be patient, and you will win some money. A typical day of playing 3 card poker for me is one where I lose 7 hands in a row and then win one, but in that one hand I make back most of my money that I lost or get slightly ahead. When I play only pairs plus, I only need to win maybe 3 out of 20 hands to break even or get ahead.

So check out some three card poker and be patient, and you will discover the fun that can be had playing 3 card poker.

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