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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Three Card Poker

4 April 2000

Whereas new slot machine games are constantly being introduced to casino floors and more often than not enthusiastically accepted by the gambling public, new table games are very rare. Some variations of dice games, including Pyramid Dice and a mini-version of craps, have been tried without very much success. Other games have also come and gone.

Blackjack, craps, and roulette have been the traditional table games in casinos for decades. Spin-offs of blackjack, including Spanish Blackjack and Royal Match 21, have gained some degree of acceptance. It seems that variations of the game of poker, including Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride, are the most popular new table games to be introduced in recent years.

The latest poker hybrid to hit the casinos is Three Card Poker, a game that's the brainchild of Derek J. Webb, a professional poker player from England. The game took off like wildfire in Mississippi. Some casinos in Las Vegas have also started playing it. Locally, the first Chicago-area casino to introduce Three Card Poker is the Empress Casino Hammond.

The fact that the game has outperformed its poker counterparts in Mississippi indicates that it has been given the stamp of approval by players. That's saying a lot when you consider that the vast majority of new table games that are promoted each year by their inventors at gaming conventions are rejected outright.

I had an opportunity to play a little Three Card Poker at Bally's during a recent trip to Las Vegas. As you are about to discover, playing strategy is pretty much a no-brainer, but the game nevertheless has a certain excitement and appeal to it, and with a house edge of not more than 2.32 percent, it beats the heck out some other games.

Three Card Poker is played at a blackjack-style table. There are sections to accommodate up to seven players. The game is played with a single 52-card deck. Each player plus the dealer is dealt three cards face down. The object is to beat the dealer, not the other players at your table.

There are three wagering spots in front of each player: An ante spot, a play spot, and a spot that's called pair plus. Since pair plus is an optional or independent wager, let's concentrate for now on ante and play:

If you make an ante bet you're in the game and will be dealt a three card hand. Once you look at your hand, you have the option of folding and losing your ante bet, or staying in the game by making a play bet equal to that of your ante bet. When all the players at the table have made their decisions, the dealer flips over his cards. If your hand beats the dealer's hand you are paid even money on your ante bet and even money on your play bet. If the dealer's hand beats your hand, you lose the bets. The ante bet also has a bonus payoff schedule attached to it. If you have a straight the bonus is even money, three of a kind pays an ante bonus of 4 to 1, and a straight flush returns a bonus of 5 to 1.

Here's some good news and bad news about Three Card Poker. First the bad news: Just as in Caribbean Stud, the dealer has a qualifying rule. If the dealer does not have at least a queen high or better hand, players win on their ante bets but get their play bets returned.

Now the good news. And for anybody who has been frustrated playing Caribbean Stud, this is REALLY good news: The bonus payout schedule on ante bets is not affected by the dealer qualifying rule! You are paid on an ante bonus hand even if the dealer's hand beats yours! You are paid your bonus even if the dealer doesn't qualify!

Now let's get to the pair plus wager. It's an optional wager you can make in addition to your ante bet. You can even make a pair plus bet without making an ante bet. It can be the only bet you make. Pay outs are based on a fixed schedule. You do not have to beat the dealer to win your pair plus bet, and once again, the dealer does not have to qualify. The dealer's hand has no bearing on the outcome of your pair plus bet.

If you've made a pair plus bet, simply look at your three cards. If you don't have at least a pair, you lose the bet. Any pair pays even money. A flush pays 4 to 1, a straight pays 6 to 1, three of a kind pays 30 to 1, and a straight flush pays 40 to 1.

What's the strategy? Best-selling gaming author Frank Scoblete in his book Bold Card Play: Best Strategies for Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride & Three Card Poker (Bonus Books, Inc.), recommends that you mimic the dealer. That is, make a play bet if you have a queen high or better, fold if you don't. Simple enough? This strategy keeps the house edge against you to a bare minimum.

When I played Three Card Poker at Bally's in Las Vegas I was lucky enough to catch a couple of straights. On one of them I had a pair plus bet on the layout, giving me a 6 to 1 bonus payout. I only made a pair plus bet once in a while whereas I made an ante bet on every hand.

This columnist found the game to be fun and entertaining. It's not as fast paced as blackjack, yet not as slow as Let It Ride. The greatest aspect of the game is that it doesn't have the frustrations connected with the dealer qualifying rule of Caribbean Stud. That alone makes it my poker-hybrid game of choice.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp