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Three Card Poker Strategy

Major update published on June 11, 2024., adding info about a new kind of Three Card game. Be sure to watch the videos of our wins playing the original game at page bottom.

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 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 prefer to play at a table that offers the 6 Card Bonus option. Most do, but not all.

The payouts shown on this page are common but may vary. For example, most casinos have lowered Flush payouts for PAIR PLUS wagers to 3-1 from 4-1, so that's what we show below. 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 when playing Three Card Poker is the PAIR PLUS wager, which returns the following:



Straight Flush

40 - 1


30 - 1


6 -1


3- 1


1 - 1

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.

Ante Bonus:



Straight Flush

5 - 1


4 - 1


1 - 1

Some call the 6 Card Bonus wager a sucker bet, but I feel like a sucker if I don’t play it. My bacon has been saved by the 6 Card Bonus more times than I can count.

Same goes with the one dollar progressive if offered. PLAY IT.

I was sitting at a TCP table at the Rio years ago when Caesar's ran it. They offered a $100,000 payoff for a SIX Card Royal (9-10-J-Q-K-A), upping that to a million bucks if the hand showed up in diamonds. A lady next to me said she refused to play any side bet, calling them rip-offs. She hit one of those hands a few minutes later. I don't recall what the suit was, but she would have won at least $100 grand. I think it was diamonds. All I remember for sure is the color drained from her face, and she darted out of there without the money she would have won if not for her stubborn ways. That's a story you don't want to tell your grandkids.

Minimums for the 6 Card Bonus 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. As always, rules may vary by casino.

Interesting observation: Generally, in TCP, a straight beats a flush, but when it comes to 6 Card Bonus payouts, a flush beats a straight, as is the case in regular poker.

6 Card Bonus Pay Table:



Royal Flush

1000 - 1

Straight Flush

200 - 1


50 - 1

Full House

25 - 1


15 - 1


10 - 1


5 - 1

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. No red light? You have no bet. Double check! Oh, and notice the small print at the bottom of the Progressive Payout display: “Original Wager Not Returned”. They’re keeping that dollar no matter what.

Progressive payouts apply to players hand only – not the 6 Card Bonus in combination with the dealer. Again, specific payouts may vary from one casino to another.



AKQ of Spades

100% of Meter

AKQ any other suit

500 - 1

Straight Flush

70 - 1


60 - 1


6 - 1

My general preferences when I play:

$5-10 on PAIR PLUS, $5-15 on ANTE, $4-5 on 6 Card Bonus, and $1 on the Progressive button. Total initial outlay: $19-30. That increases by the ANTE amount if I decide to play the hand. Remember, this is just one example.

Before the game gets fully under way, I have a decision to make - look at my cards before I bet or play “blind”.

If I look at the cards, I can decide whether I think the hand is strong enough 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. They pay ANTE but PLAY is a push.

To play “blind” means I place the PLAY wager in advance - again, the PLAY wager must equal the ANTE amount - 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 the 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. You may still win if you played the 6 Card Bonus option, so its not yet a total loss.

The dealer needs at least a Q-2-2 to 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. You will often hear other players (dealers, too) say that the general rule is to "stay in with Q-8 or higher". I usually play with any Queen led hand. But that's just me.

With a $10 PAIR PLUS bet, $5 each on ANTE and PLAY, $3 on 6 Card Bonus and $1 Progressive, if your "less than a pair" hand beats the dealers qualified hand – say an Ace-10-9 to the dealers Ace-10-8 (we see these squeakers often), you would win technically – but would still be down that round. You’d lose the $10 Pair Plus bet, win $5 for your ANTE and $5 on your PLAY bet, while losing the 6 Card Bonus and Progressive bets. Total loss for the round: $4.

4-of-a-Kind Pays 50-1 for a 6 Card Bonus Bet

Try variations on this approach and see where you land. If you had bet $10 on PAIR PLUS, ANTE, and PLAY, you would be up $6. You would lose the PAIR PLUS bet, the 6 Card Bonus & Progressive, but you would win $10 each on ANTE and PLAY. Do the math. If you find that I have made an error, please let me know. (I'm writing this late at night by candlelight using only an abacus for calculations, so I could be off a tad).

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. Another loss of $4.

With that $4 loss in mind, it really is ideal to wager a little more on ANTE than on PAIR PLUS. If you bet $5 on PAIR PLUS, then make it $10 on ANTE, and so on up the ladder. Most of the time you won't have a pair or better, so the dealer will take that bet. Quite often, you WILL beat the dealer but without a pair. In that case, with your larger ANTE bet, you will come out ahead by at least one chip. If your bank is small this can quickly add up, as you must match your ANTE if you decide to PLAY your hand.

Example: You placed $10 on PAIR PLUS, $15 on ANTE, and decide your hand is strong and you will PLAY - or you're playing "blind" and simply going for it, that requires another $15 outlay on PLAY. You have $40 riding on that round. (Not including your 6 Card Bonus wager). If you can afford to risk it, do so. If not, wager as much as you can afford to on PAIR PLUS. I want to be sure you're making the absolute best play you can for your money.

In any case, the 6 Card Bonus 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.

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, UNLESS you land the progressive jackpot, assuming there is one, or a major 6 Card Bonus hand, like a Royal or straight flush. As of this writing, in Southern Nevada, by way of example (because I play at these casinos the most), South Point does not offer the 6 Card Bonus option, and M Resort does not offer the progressive. Check your local play area and let us know what you find or of any changes you notice where you play.

Bottom line: Place the 6 Card Bonus and Progressive bets, if available, every single time! It's MUCH better to play them and not win, then to hit when you hadn't placed the wager. I have seen that happen many times. People make interesting faces and say funny words when they see they've missed a big payoff. You don't want to be one of those people, do you?

UPDATE: A growing trend in some casinos is to offer a different version of Three Card Poker than what many of us have grown accustomed to. I was told that it was created to avoid paying royalties to the originator of the game. Maybe, but there's more to it than that. Longer odds, anyone?

In this version, the Progressive bet is paid only on a hand featuring an entirely different set of two new cards dealt to the side of the dealer's original cards, together with the players three cards. The minimum bet here may be more than the $1 Progressives we're used to.

In this scenario, you might still win the regular payouts with your originally dealt cards, a 6 Card Bonus consisting of yours and the dealer's cards, and finally, you might win a Progressive pay off consisting of your originally dealt three cards and the two cards dealt to the left of the dealer's original cards.

Squares where the two side cards would be placed are highlighted in the box below. The final two cards are revealed only after every other card has been turned face up. They are drawn first but are only revealed at the end.

Alternate Three Card Poker Layout
Alternate Three Card Poker Layout

The two extra cards will be dealt into the extra spaces highlighted above.

Alternate Three Card Poker Progressive Payouts
Alternate Three Card Poker Progressive Payouts

The Progressive meter above is not like others that pay based on your original three cards. The payoffs only materialize for hands consisting of your original three cards and two extra cards dealt to the side of the dealer's three cards. The dealer's cards do not come into play.

I am NOT a fan of this game.  The payoffs can be high, but the odds are longer than ever. If you've played it, what do you think? Maybe you'll change my mind.


Below is video of a Three Card Poker "Mini Royal" win, consisting of the A-K-Q of Hearts. (Spades would have paid the top Progressive jackpot, which varies).

Let's break down the payoffs:

$10 Straight Flush wager (40-1) = $400
$1 Progressive wager (500-1) = $500
$5 6-Card Bonus wager for the 5 card straight (10-1) = $50
$5 Ante bonus (5-1) = $25

TOTAL WIN = $975

UPDATE: A few months later THIS happened. On Valentines Day, no less:

Thanks for reading and for watching.

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3-Card Poker - Play Online < Not a sponsor. Provided for practice and fun.


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