3 Card Poker is gaining rapidly in popularity and you'll now find at least one table in most major casinos in Vegas. It's actually much more difficult to explain than it is to actually play so if this overview doesn't help I recommend doing what I did - watch a table for awhile and you'll grasp it pretty quickly.
Basically you get three cards with no draw and you have to make the best poker hand out of those three cards. Possible combinations include straight flush (three sequential cards of the same suit), three of a kind (three queens for example), straight (three sequential cards of any suit), flush (three cards of the same suit), a pair (two queens for example), or lacking any of that you can still win if you have the higher cards than the dealer.
There are actually two games in one on a 3-Card Poker table - Pair Plus and Ante and Play. In Pair Plus you are betting only on your hand, not competing against anyone else at the table or the dealer. If you get a pair or better you get a payoff according to the following table:
- Straight Flush: 40:1
- Three of a Kind: 30:1
- Straight: 6:1
- Flush: 4:1 (most Vegas casinos only pay 3:1)
- Pair: 1:1
Note that unlike regular poker or video poker, in 3 Card Poker a straight pays higher than a flush.
In Ante and Play you are betting that your hand will be better than the dealers but are not competing against anyone else at the table. You place an Ante bet, view your cards, and then if you decide you have a decent shot at it, you place a bet in the Play area equal to your Ante bet (so if you bet $5 on Ante you bet another $5 to play). If you get lousy cards and don't want to go forward you can fold but you lose your Ante bet and your Pair Plus bet if you made one.
At that point the dealer's hand is revealed - he or she must have at least a single queen for the bet to count and if not your Ante and Play bets are returned. If you beat the dealer's hand you get a 1 to 1 payoff but there is a bonus for a really good winning hand:
- Straight Flush: 5:1
- Three of a Kind: 4:1
- Straight: 1:1
On the table you'll see three betting areas - the Ante, the Play, and the Pair Plus. You can play only the Pair Plus or only the Ante or both. Place your chips in the areas you want to bet in.
Your three cards are dealt. If you only played Pair Plus it doesn't matter what the dealer has - you get paid according to the first table above if you had at least a pair. If you don't, you lose your bet.
If you played the Ante bet you must then either fold and lose the Ante bet or match the Ante bet by placing the same amount on the Play area. The dealer's hand is revealed and payouts happen accordingly.
Each hand consists of one fresh 52-card deck.
The great fun of this game is the possibility of winning large payouts on any given hand. Get a straight on a $15 bet ($5 on the ante, play, and pair-plus wagers) and you will win $45 total. Hit a straight flush and you win $230!
There are several variations on the game:
3 Card Bonus or Progressive
The game works exactly the same as a regular 3 Card game except that there is an additional "bonus" bet available that can win you all or part of a progressive jackpot. The buy-in varies but is usually an additional $1.
At most tables, if you get the A-K-Q of spades, you win 100% of a progressive jackpot that builds as time goes by. If you get the A-K-Q of any other suit, you win 10% of the jackpot. For instance, if the jackpot is up to $7,000 and you hit the "mini-royal" in spades you win all $7,000. If you hit that mini-royal in any other suit you would win $700. This is in addition to the regular payouts you get on your ante and pair-plus wagers.
There are additional payouts for other big hands like a regular straight flush (70-1 is most common), three of a kind (60-1 is most common), and straights (6-1 is most common).
These bonus tables often also have what's called an "Envy" payout, where you get paid if someone else gets one of those big hands. I was at a table once where someone hit the A-K-Q of spades and I got paid $100 for my $1 bet. The sad news: that person wasn't playing the bonus and didn't win the jackpot. Argh!!
5 or 6 Card Bonus
Again, the main game is played exactly the same as the regular version but there is an additional "bonus" bet that can win you additional payouts by combining your cards with the dealer's cards to create the best 5 or 6 card poker hand. The buy-in varies but is usually an additional $5.
At most tables, you start earning extra dough by getting at least a three of a kind between the six cards (yours and the dealer's). So if you have a pair of sevens, for instance, and the dealer has another seven you win on your bonus bet. The payouts vary from table to table but these are the most common:
- Three of a Kind (ie: 7-7-7) - 5:1
- 5 Card Straight (ie: 5-6-7-8-9 of different suits) - 10:1
- 5 Card Flush (ie: 2-5-9-J-Q of hearts) - 20:1
- Full House (ie: 8-8-8-10-10) - 25:1
- Four of a Kind (ie: 9-9-9-9) - 50:1
- 5 Card Straight Flush (ie: 6-7-8-9-10 of spades) - 200:1
- Royal Flush (ie: 10-J-Q-K-A of any suit) - 1,000:1
Note that unlike the pair plus wagers, here a flush pays more than a straight.
Some tables also have a Super Royal payout, which means that between your cards and the dealer's you have to get the 9-10-J-K-Q-A of a suit. 6 Card tables at Caesars Entertainment casinos have this as a possibility and if you get those cards in diamonds you win $1 million. Get them in any other suit and you win $100,000.