Card players have been betting on poker with three cards for hundreds of years so it was surprising when Derek Webb showed up at the British Casino Association with his version of the game in 1994 and was denied the chance to sell Three Card Poker to United Kingdom casinos. He was told to go find statistics where the game was played and make a case for its uniqueness.
Since Webb’s variation was not actually being played anywhere he flew to the United States and began pitching his idea to casino executives in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. No one would bite, even as Webb demonstrated how fast hands could be played and how the house edge was a plump 3.5%, which would put it near the top of the list of the most profitable casino games for the House. Only Barry Morris, who was running games at the Grand Casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was intrigued enough to offer Webb a three-week trial to see if it was worth investigating further.
Webb raced down to Gulfport, Mississippi to quickly train dealers and get everything set up. During the trial Webb resembled a carnival huckster lassoing players to explain rules and barking instructions to dealers to distribute the cards properly. At the end of the three weeks players were filling the Three Card Poker tables and Morris was counting his stacks of money. Shuffle Master gobbled up the rights to sell the game outside of Great Britain and Webb finally won the rights to sell Three Card Poker in the UK in 2002. It has since become one of the biggest-selling proprietary casino games of all time.
Most players familiar with the traditional version of the game usually get confused in the beginning because the ranking of the hands is different in Three Card Poker when compared to any other poker variant. The highest hand is a straight flush and it’s a better hand than a regular flush.
Upon sitting at the table a player is presented with three vertically-aligned betting spots. Before the cards are dealt, some places require players to place an Ante in the center, which is the amount that is bet against the dealer. In other casinos the player can choose not to match hands against the dealer and just bet on whether the hand will be at least one pair with the “Pairs Plus” wager. One or both bets can usually be made at most places.
After receiving three cards everyone at the table decides to either keep playing or fold. To continue, a bet equal to the ante amount must be placed in the Play Circle at the bottom of the betting spots (or in the “Call” box, depending on the design of the table felt) and when all decisions are accounted for the dealer’s hand is revealed. The dealer must have at least Queen High or “No Play” is declared which will have antes paid at even money and the Play wagers are pushed back to the player since it was a “no play”, negating action on the hand. If the dealer has a playable hand and beats the player, both the Ante and the Play bet are lost, and if the player wins, both bets are won at even money.
The Pairs Plus bet is resolved solely on the player’s hand with anything less than one pair being a loser. The true odds of receiving at least a pair are 4 to 1 and the payout will be something less than true odds. There are also “Ante Bonus” payouts for hands of 3 of a kind, flush or straight. These are simply extra rewards from the house to incentivize you to play so no additional bet is required.
You can find casinos in the United Kingdom that deal a game called Prime which includes a 3rd bet on the color of the cards. If all three are black or all three are red the payout is 3 to 1, and if they match the dealer’s colors the return is 4 to 1.
Another game-within-a-game is Six Card Bonus which is the best poker hand to be made combining the player’s trio of cards and the dealer’s three. Bonus payouts begin for 3 of a Kind and all of the free cash is simply another gift from the house since it’s independent of the player’s duel with the dealer.
Finally, “Tri Card Poker” is simply another name given to Three Card Poker by USA online casinos who do not want to pay to use the trademarked name of the game. Most operators outside of the U.S. will always refer to the name as christened by Derek Webb and pay royalties to either him or Shufflemaster to have it in their list of games.
How To Play
Most people play Three Card Poker to relax and mindlessly play against the dealer. That said, according to optimum strategy, any hand worse than Q-6-4 should always be folded. If that formula sounds like it’s too hard to follow, simply fold any hand that doesn’t have at least a queen high. Once you use that rule as a baseline for which hands to play, you’ll find that this game is fast-paced and really easy to play – just make sure that you don’t get too aggressive when it comes to the Ante bets. Always play within your budget.