Updated: Apr 7
You may have been told that there is no strategy involved in playing Three Card Poker – it’s just pure luck. Not exactly true. As always - with every single game you play in a casino - the key to winning more lies in the way you leverage your bets.
When it comes to Three Card Poker, I only want to play at a table that offers the 6th Card betting option. Most do, but not all.
The payouts shown on this page are common but can vary. For example, many casinos have lowered Flush payouts for Pair Plus wagers to 3-1 from 4-1. Double check the pay tables wherever you are so that you're fully aware of what you're getting yourself into.
The key to winning big with Three Card Poker is the PAIR PLUS wager, which returns the following:
40 - 1
30 - 1
4 - 1
1 - 1
So, as an example, a Straight Flush will pay $200 for a $5 wager. Off-strip casinos usually offer a $5 minimum, while strip casinos or larger off-strip resorts average $10-15 but can certainly go higher. Be aware of which bet qualifies you as having met the minimum. Hopefully, it’s Pair Plus, but often it’s the Ante, which returns OK money for a Three-of-a-Kind or Straight Flush but is not to your maximum advantage. If you’re feeling lucky or are extra “flush” with cash, go for it – or play elsewhere. Remember, we’re trying to leverage our bets to get the most for our money. Smaller casinos don’t quibble over how you fulfil the minimum bet requirement.
5 - 1
4 - 1
1 - 1
Some call the 6th Card wager a sucker bet, but I feel like a sucker if I don’t play it. My bacon has been saved by the 6th card more times than I can count. Minimums for the 6th Card wager can start as low as $1, but many houses require a $5 minimum. They usually cap the bet at five times the minimum. That tells me that there is added value in that wager for players, or higher minimums would be permitted.
6th Card Pay Table:
1000 - 1
200 - 1
50 - 1
25 - 1
20 - 1
10 - 1
5 - 1
More than once I've been seated with players who trash the idea of playing the 6th card, only to be dealt a 6th card hand that would have paid them well. They usually huff off in disgust at that point. Watch the "Stories" section of this site for more, and feel free to add your own.
The Progressive option has its own schedule of payouts. As far as I know, every casino with this feature requires a wager of just one dollar to activate. Place your dollar chip on the red button, which lights up when the dealer has accepted and acknowledged the wager. It is then removed from the table and only a lighted red circle indicates that you are in the running for that round. Notice the small print at the bottom of the Progressive Payout display: “Original Wager Not Returned”. They’re keeping that dollar no matter what else happens.
Progressive payouts (applies to players hand only – not 6th card):
AKQ of Spades
100% of Meter
AKQ any other suit
500 - 1
70 - 1
60 - 1
6 - 1
My preferences when I play (at a $5 minimum table):
$10 on Pair Plus, $5 on Ante, $3 on 6th Card, and $1 on the Progressive button. Total outlay: $19.
Before the game gets under way, I have a decision to make. Play “normally”, or play “blind”.
To play “normally” means I look at the three cards I am dealt, then decide whether to place a Play bet to back up my Ante wager. The Play wager must equal the Ante wager. The dealer needs a Queen or higher to qualify, or their hand is dead. If the dealer doesn’t show at least a Queen, they don’t win, nor do they pay your Play wager. It’s a push.
To play “blind” means I place the Play wager in advance, the dealer tucks my cards under or next to my chips, and I don’t look at them. This is a good move to make if you don’t trust yourself to make the right decision – to Play or to fold - after you see cards. Chances are the dealer will not qualify. To stay in with a lousy hand or to play blind is to risk your Play wager and take a chance the dealer won’t qualify, or just go ahead and toss in all your chips right away.
The dealer needs at least a Q-2-2 to stay in play, and you need at least a Q-3-2 to beat that. In which case, you’d be paid for your Ante and Play wagers, but nothing else.
With a $10 Pair Plus bet, $5 each on Ante and Play, $3 on 6th Card and $1 Progressive, if your "less than a pair" hand beats the dealer you’d win – technically – but would still be down $4 that round. You’d lose the $10 Pair Plus bet, win $5 for your Ante and $5 on your Play bet, while losing the 6th Card and Progressive bets. Total loss for the round: $4.
If the dealer had not qualified that round and you stayed in with less than a pair, they would sweep away your side bets, pay the Ante, and the Play wager would push. Total loss for the round: $14.
This is where the 6th Card option really helps. Whether you fold or not, you have a chance at redemption if, say, the dealer has any pair and one of your otherwise useless cards makes it a Three-of-a-Kind - paying you 5-1. If you have two Hearts and a Club in an otherwise useless hand and the dealer turns up a Heart flush – BAM! You also have a Heart flush with two of your Cards. Pays you 20-1. And so on.
Be aware that you’re only paid for the highest win. For example, if you land Three-of-a-Kind and a Flush with your 6th Card wager, you’ll be paid only for the flush.
To summarize, I prefer to bet heavier on Pair Plus when I can, lighter on Ante, and I always play the 6th Card and Progressive options. Some like to place a higher Ante bet, but I prefer to budget for a larger PAIR PLUS payout.
The Wizard of Odds will tell you to avoid Pair Plus, because the house edge is lower on the Ante and Play bets. Technically true, but you’ll never win any meaningful jackpots that way. Might as well stay home and play Tiddily Winks.
Feel free to add Your 2 Cents.
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