3 Card Poker Strategy

After my trip to Las Vegas I realized that I played 3 card poker more than any other table game.  This isn’t normal for me as I usually mix games up, but it’s how the trip went.  I thought I would offer my strategy versus optimal stategy from Wizard of Odds.  I don’t consider my strategy optimal or perfect because I haven’t done the math to prove whether or not it is optimal.


How Top Play

The game is simple.  First the players bet on the Ante and/or Pair Plus areas.  Using a deck of 52 cards 3 cards are then dealt, face down, to each player.  After the cards are dealt the players may look at their cards.  If the player likes their cards and wants to play they put another bet in the Play circle.  After all of the players bet the dealer turns over their cards.

In order to win the dealer must “qualify” with at least a Queen.  If the dealer qualifies they can then win if they have a better hand than the player.  The player wins by having a better hand than the dealer.  The amount of the win depends on the winning players cards.

So if you play your hand you are betting 3 units.  If you fold your hand you lose 2 units.

Hand Ranking

3 Card Poker hands rank slightly different than regular poker.  Here’s the order from best hand down.

Mini Royal (flush)
Straight Flush
3 Of A Kind
High Card

Note:  Not all casinos pay out for Mini Royal Flushes .


If you win there are multiple ways to be paid, which is what makes the game fun.  Pair Plus is the top circle and where the big money is paid, so let’s start there.

Pair Plus Payout
Pair:  Even money
Flush:  3-1
Straight:  6-1
3 of a kind:  30-1
Straight Flush:  40-1
Mini Royal:  50-1 (If available)
No Pair:  Losing bet

Ante and Play pay the same odds
Straight:  Even Monday
3 of a Kind:  4-1
Straight Flush:  5-1
All other hands:  Even money

I usually try to gamble with optimal strategy.  This is why I stick with Jacks or Better video poker.  It has the most simple strategy.  When it comes to 3 card poker optimal strategy goes out the door and I become passive aggressive.

Optimal Strategy

My number one reference, Wizard of Odds, says that you should play any hand equal to or better than Queen – Six – Four.  “In any poker based game hands are scored first according to the highest card, then the second, and then the third, and so on if there are more. So a queen/7/3 would beat queen/6/4. The queens tie so the second highest cards are used to break the tie, and a 7 beats a 6. The third card does not matter in this case because the hand was resolved by the second card.”

ECG Strategy

I have two different strategies depending on how many people are at the table.  The more players at a 3 card poker table the better the odds are for the player since more cards are in play before the dealer gets their cards.

If there is less than 5 of the 7 hands in play (I’ll sometimes play 2 hands at a time to get more cards in circulation) I typically only play hands Queen – Ten or better.  The third card doesn’t matter.  This is a little more conservative than optimal strategy.

If the table is playing 5 or more hands I will look at my cards after everyone else looks at their cards.  If everyone else plays I will play 95% of the time.  If this occurs sometimes I’ll just play blind.  This is much more aggressive.

**UPDATE If there table has only 3 or 4 spots taken I’ll usually play two hands.  The more cards on the players side of the table seems to increase the player hands while giving the dealer lesser hands.  This isn’t statistically based, but it seems to often be the case.


I like 3 card poker when I don’t really want to pay attention to the game but want to gamble.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m often a social gambler.  When I want to hang with friends, drink, chit chat and people watch I tend to sit and play 3 card poker.  Because of the big payouts there’s a reason for the excitement.  A $5 game can turn into a $200+ win.  I tend to play higher stakes, but the math is the same.

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Las Vegas Writer, Marketer, Consultant. I love Vegas and everything about it. When in Vegas do 3 things: eat, drink & gamble.
Author: Marc
Las Vegas Writer, Marketer, Consultant. I love Vegas and everything about it. When in Vegas do 3 things: eat, drink & gamble.

7 thoughts on “3 Card Poker Strategy

  1. Do you bet the pairs plus bet or do you consider it a sucker bet? Just curious. I don’t play 3CP, but was previously aware of the Q-6-4 strategy.

  2. While that’s usually the place for a sucker bet in most games, I think that is the only reason to play 3 card poker. Usually the sucker bets don’t pay much or happen often enough. In 3 card poker the good paying hands see to show up fairly regularly.


  3. Do any of the casinos in AC offer 4-1 for a flush? The casinos in West Virginia and Michigan do. Seems kind of chintzy to short pay on a hand that comes up a lot.

  4. Ted – I haven’t seen a short pay on 3 card poker in Atlantic City yet. If it works elsewhere, I’m sure it will come to Atlantic City. See the shrinking full pay video poker pay tables as an example.

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