Three Card Poker for Real Money Online

The phrase Three Card Poker refers to a group of casino tabletop poker games that share a similar set of rules. The design of casino games is a more interesting topic than you may think – the creation and spread of the game known as Three Card Poker is an example.

What Is Three Card Poker?

The name Three Card Poker can be used to describe at least four different games:

  • an early 20th-century draw poker variant played with three-card hands
  • a casino-specific version of a British card game called Brag
  • a commercial casino game owned by SHFL Entertainment
  • any of several casino-style poker variants based on the SHFL game

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Part of the confusion over the name has to do with how generic it is – technically, any poker game played with three cards could be called “three card poker.” Things get muddier when you consider that both British and American poker traditions include games with rules and names similar to the modern game. Add in the fact that many brick and mortar casino guests are familiar with the trademarked SHFL table game, and it’s easy to see why the name is a bit confusing.

Does SHFL “own” Three Card Poker? No – copyright law for games is such that it would be impossible for any designer to trademark a game’s general rules. What SHFL owns is a rulebook and a name – they can’t sue the creators of a Tri Card Poker game, for example, just because the game is played in a similar fashion.

Before we get into some specifics on the game of Three Card Poker online, a brief guide to how the game is played is in order.

How to Play

The rules I’m going to share here refer specifically to the trademarked game produced by SHFL. Thankfully, many of them also apply to knockoff versions available all over the Internet.

Three Card Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards on a betting surface designed specifically for the game.

The game asks all players to place one of two wagers before they see any cards. The two main wagers in the game are referred to as “Ante and Play” and “Pair Plus.” Bettors who want to see action can choose to Ante and Play (competing against the dealer). They can also choose to place a side bet in the Pair Plus section. This side bet has to do with the player’s hand only, independent of the dealer’s hand. Take note that only the genuine SHFL game offers the Pair Plus side wager – other versions won’t have it.

The goal of the game is simple – beat the dealer’s three-card hand. Here’s the hand hierarchy, from lowest to highest:

  1. High Card
  2. Pair
  3. Flush
  4. Straight
  5. Three of a Kind
  6. Straight Flush

The game starts with player antes – three cards are dealt to each player and to the dealer. After looking at the cards, the player can either make what is called a play bet (by wagering an amount equal to the ante) or fold. If the player makes the play bet, the dealer reveals his hand and a showdown commences.

As for the Pair Plus side wager, it pays out if the player has certain combinations in their hand. Basically, if a player holds a pair or better, they’ll win some kind of payout. For the SHFL trademarked game, payouts on the Pair Plus wager are as follows:

  • Pair – even money
  • Flush – 4 to 1
  • Straight – 6 to 1
  • Three of a Kind – 30 to 1
  • Straight Flush – 40 to 1

Three Card Poker Odds

How does this game compare to other casino poker titles? The casino’s advantage on the Ante & Play bet (according to Wizard of Odds) is 3.37%. According to the same source, the house edge on the Pair Plus side bet is 7.28%.

Compared to classic casino table games, that’s not all that exciting. Compared to blackjack and its house edge of around 0.5% (when played according to basic strategy), three card poker is practically a rip-off. Even double-zero roulette games give the house a smaller edge on even-money bets.

Even compared to other casino-style poker games, 3.37% is a disappointingly-high number. Pai Gow Poker gives the casino an edge of less than 2%. Caribbean Stud Poker, with its ~5% house edge, is a substantially better game, advantage-wise.

The truth is, Three Card Poker is not a particularly good game from the player’s perspective. But people absolutely love the game – you wouldn’t see it on every casino floor if the game weren’t profitable.

Online Three Card Poker Games

As far as playing Three Card Poker online for real money, here are two variants available at Web-based casinos that should give you a good idea of how the game works on the Internet.

Wager Works has an official license from SHFL to offer the online and mobile version of their trademark game to customers. The game as it is played at Wager Works-powered casinos is basically identical to the brick and mortar game. Wager Works follows the rules as described above.

As far as the performance and design of the game, remember that all Wager Works games are designed in Flash. That means instant play only; that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The trouble is that the Flash platform limits how much memory can be used on the game, so it doesn’t look as good as it might from a download client.

A number of other online casino game designers have released their own versions. Take a look at Realtime Gaming’s “Tri Card Poker” for an example of an online version of this title that’s pretty common at Web-based casinos. RTG powers a ton of casino sites, so it’s easy enough to find this game. RTG even uses a similar side bet system to SHFL, calling theirs “Pair+” instead of “Pair Plus.” This game is available in both instant-play and download formats; the downloadable version looks and performs better.