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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Three Card Poker Revisited

15 September 2004

Derek J. Webb, a professional poker play from England, invented a casino table game called Three Card Poker about five years ago. The game was a smash hit when it was originally introduced in casinos in Mississippi. From there it spread to Las Vegas and soon thereafter gaming jurisdictions around the country, including Illinois.

It has become a staple of table game inventories at casinos in the Chicago area, including Northwest Indiana, and appears to be one poker "hybrid" that'll be around for a long time. Its popularity has even increased with the poker resurgence that is sweeping the nation thanks to the cable TV shows.

Three Card Poker is fun, and the house edge is no more than 2.32 percent, which makes it a good game to play from a mathematical standpoint. Other poker hybrids pack a much higher house advantage. For example, in a recent statistical report from the Illinois Gaming Board, the 16 Caribbean Stud tables in place at Illinois casinos earned 27.83 percent of the total money bet by players, while the 14 Three Card Poker tables pulled a more tolerable 19.31 percent.

It's played at a blackjack-style table 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 the table. There are three wagering spots at each player position: Ante, play, and a circle called "pairs plus", which is an optional wager.

Play starts by everyone placing an ante bet. The amount depends on the table minimum. You'll be lucky to find a five-dollar game in the Chicago area, although I have seen it offered. After you are dealt your three cards and the dealer gives the signal, you look at what you're holding and decide whether you should "fold" and surrender your ante bet, or stay in the game by making an additional play wager equal to your ante.

When everyone has 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 both bets.

The ante also has a bonus payoff schedule attached to it. If you are dealt a straight, the bonus is even money. Three-of-a-kind pays a 4 to 1 bonus, and a straight flush pays 5 to 1.

There is a qualifying rule for the dealer to be eligible to play his hand, just as there is in Caribbean Stud. If the dealer does not have at least a queen high or better hand, players win their ante bets but play bets are a push. That's the bad news. The good news is that the bonus payout schedule is not affected by the dealer qualifying rule. You are paid an ante bonus even if the dealer's hand beats your hand. You are paid an ante bonus even if the dealer doesn't qualify.

Pairs Plus is strictly optional. It's a separate wager that you can elect to make even without placing an ante bet. It can be the only bet you make on any particular hand. Payouts are based upon a fixed schedule. You don't have to beat the dealer to win your bet and neither does the dealer have to qualify. The dealer's hand has no bearing on the outcome of your pairs plus bet.

In order to win the pairs plus wager you have to have been dealt at least a pair. If not, you lose. 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.

The game has a certain excitement and appeal to it. Strategy is pretty much a no-brainer. Just mimic the dealer. That is, make a play wager if you've been dealt queen high or better. Fold if you don't. This strategy keeps the house edge to a bare minimum.

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