CASINO GAMES

Comparing House Edges: Blackjack Versus 3 Card Poker

By David Huber
January 25, 2024

The house edges for 3 Card Poker are typically much worse for a player than blackjack.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun playing 3 Card Poker, or that the game itself can serve as a social backdrop just like blackjack does.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the key differences between 3 Card Poker and blackjack, while also explaining the rules of the game and why the house edge for 3 Card Poker is greater than the edge the house usually enjoys when spreading blackjack games.

Blackjack v 3-Card Poker

What is 3 Card Poker? How is it Played?

Three Card Poker is a casino-style pit game where the house normally enjoys a 2%-5% edge over players – depending on the precise rules and pay tables that are offered.

To start, the player places an Ante that matches or is greater than the minimum amount allowed by the casino. Here is a sample hand of 3 Card Poker.

  • The player posts an ante of $25.
  • The player also posts an optional “Pair Plus” bet of $5.
  • The player also posts an optional “6 Card Bonus” bet of $1.
  • The player is risking a total of $31 on the upcoming hand at this point. However, the player will need to ensure that the ante amount can be wagered once more (in the case that the player chooses to proceed after seeing the cards).
  • The player then receives 3 cards face-up that are provided by the casino dealer.
  • The dealer also provides the house with a 3 card hand, but these three cards are all face-down.

Basic poker hand rankings apply to the player’s and the dealer’s respective hands. The difference is that the player only needs THREE sequenced cards to make a Straight or only THREE cards of the same suit to make a Flush or Straight Flush.

3 Card Poker: The Ante

The Ante bet in 3 Card Poker is mandatory. The hand cannot begin until the player posts the Ante, and the amount must be equal to or greater than the minimum wager amount offered by the table game host.

Similar to Caribbean Stud, the player will want to ensure that his/her stack contains, at the very least, the full Ante amount in reserve. This is because the player will be required to post the exact amount of the Ante once again in order to have any chance to win the hand.

Players CAN choose to Fold their hand once they see it (without posting another Ante equal to the original bet), but doing so will automatically forfeit the first Ante amount, and the hand will conclude.

Since the only time it makes sense for a player to fold a 3 Card Poker hand is when the player is holding Q-6-3 or worse, any Pair Plus wager will also automatically lose when a 3 Card Poker player folds a hand. On the bright side, the 6 Card Bonus bet is NOT forfeited if a player folds a hand.

So with the Ante bet explained, let’s look at a sample 3 Card Poker hand.

3 Card Poker Sample Hand (Example #1)

The player posts a $25 Ante, $5 Pair Plus Bet, and $1 6 Card Bonus Bet before any cards are dealt.

Player A: Jh-3s-2c (face up)
Dealer: x-x-x (face down)

Given proper 3 Card Poker strategy, the player will need to Fold this hand in order to reduce the house’s statistical edge. Players who decide to go forward with hands that are Q-6-3 or worse will inevitably be at a more severe odds disadvantage than they would be if folding Q-6-3 and inferior hands.

So, for our example, let’s say the player decides to Fold this hand.

Once the hand is folded by the player, the house will win the Ante bet and collect the $25 Ante in our hypothetical example. Since the player did not have One Pair or better, the $5 Pair Plus bet is also lost and collected by the casino or hosting card room.

The dealer will then turn over the house’s hand. For the sake of this sample hand, let’s say that the dealer turns over Js-4h-2s.

Now, let’s consider what would happen if you had decided to go ahead and play the hand. This means that you will have posted another $25 (the amount equal to the original Ante).

Perhaps ironically, you will WIN this hand – even though your hand clearly does not beat the dealer’s. This is because – in order to “qualify,” the dealer must have a hand with a strength of Queen-high or greater.

If the dealer does not qualify, the player will automatically WIN the hand as long as the player doesn’t fold. However, there is one important caveat. The player will only receive a 1:1 payout on the original Ante amount if the dealer doesn’t have a qualifying hand. The second Ante bet will be returned to the player when the dealer doesn’t qualify, but there will be no payout on the second Ante bet.

So in this precise hypothetical scenario, the player will win a total of $19. This is because the Pair Plus and 6 Card Bonus bets will be collected by the house.

3 Card Poker Sample Hand (Example #2)

Now let’s play another sample hand.

To begin, the player posts a $25 Ante, a $5 Pair Plus bet, along with a $1 6 Card Bonus bet.

Player: Qh-Jh-Th
Dealer: x-x-x

Congratulations! The player is guaranteed to win this hand, as there is zero chance the dealer could possibly make a three card hand that is superior to a Queen-high Straight Flush. What’s more, you’re in for a relatively large jackpot payout on your Pair Plus Bet, and are hoping that – despite the long odds – the dealer will somehow have two cards that can result in a huge jackpot payout on your 6 Card Bonus bet..

Obviously, the player is going to decide to go forward with this hand. The player will post another $25 Ante bet to continue. Now, let’s take a look at the dealer’s cards.

Player: Qh-Jh-Th
Dealer: Ah-Kh-3s

Jackpot! You’re in for the highest possible jackpot payout for your Pair Plus and 6 Card Bonus bets. This is because you placed a wager on the 6 Card Bonus bet, and the six cards that are showing can be made into a 5 Card Royal Flush hand.

The player will win a 1:1 payment on both the original Ante bet and the second Ante bet, meaning that the player will win $50 before the Pair Plus and 6 Card Bonus jackpots are paid.

Now it’s time to consult the pay tables for the Pair Plus and 6 Card Bonus jackpot bets.

If a Straight Flush pays 40:1 on the Pair Plus bet, then you will be awarded $200 for your $5 Pair Plus bet. Your winnings are now up to $250 on this specific hand.

For the Royal Flush payout on the 6 Card Bonus Bet, we’ll say that the pay table calls for a 1000:1 payout. This means you will be awarded $1,000 for the $1 bet you placed on the 6 Card Bonus! So in total, the player will have won $1,250 in profit on this single 3 Card Poker hand.

What’s more, some card rooms will offer an “Ante Bonus” for 3 card hands that contain a Flush, Straight, or higher. So it’s quite possible that the player will receive a Bonus payout on their second Ante bet when making a Straight Flush.

In all, the total risk that the player posted equals $56.

3 Card Poker Odds – Payout Tables Are Important

The overall odds (or house edge) for 3 Card Poker games are entirely dependent on the Pair Plus and 6 Card Bonus payout tables. In other words, the lower the payouts for these jackpot bets, the worse odds the player will have against the house in the long run.

Does the casino offer Ante bonuses for strong hands that the player decides to go forward with? Are the Pair Plus payouts competitive with online card rooms or are they far inferior? If 6 Card Bonus plays are allowed, how do these jackpot payouts compare to other casinos?

3 Card Poker is a Worse House Game for Players Than Blackjack

The odds for a 3 Card Poker house edge are going to be worse for players than the odds for blackjack in almost every case. Of course, a game of blackjack COULD theoretically be made to have worse odds, but the typical payouts you will find at casino blackjack games will be far superior to those of 3 Card Poker odds.

So there’s really no comparison between blackjack and 3 Card Poker in terms of current market odds. Blackjack versus three card poker will grant players a less acute house edge to compete against.

The only way to counterbalance the poor player odds of 3 Card Poker versus blackjack is to consider the time at table element. If you sit at a table in which there are a lot of players versus a heads-up blackjack table, you may be able to offset some of the per hour odds.

For example, at a typical casino, if you’re seeing 30 hands per hour in a heads-up, multi-deck blackjack game, you can enjoy better “time based” odds at a 3 Card Poker table that is only dealing 6 hands per hour. Good luck finding a 3 Card Poker table at a casino that only deals six hands per hour though.

Blackjack for Poker Players

Blackjack and poker can attract the same player marketplace at times. This is because blackjack offers relatively low house edge odds versus other casino pit games.

Beware though. Even if you’re counting cards and using a single deck, your overall expectation in a casino blackjack game will be negative unless you’re varying your bet sizes to fully exploit scenarios in which there are a bunch of high cards remaining in the single deck compared to low cards.

Card counting techniques are also severely frowned upon by hosting casinos, and could very well result in getting banned from one or more venues if you get caught varying your wager size in accordance with the remaining cards in the deck. After all, casinos can count cards, too! This is even more true today because many casinos have automatic card shufflers and dispensers that keep track of the cards via software.

3 Card Poker Playability – The Fatal Flaw

Think of 3 Card Poker as a casino-style “jackpot” pit game along the lines of Caribbean Stud.

Unless you’re at an extremely social table where less than 10 hands per hour are being dealt, it is very easy for a player to become excessively bored when playing 3 Card Poker.

Similar to Caribbean Stud, many of the hands provided to the player will need to be folded (assuming correct 3 Card Poker strategy is being used). This can cause a player to become bored with the action; all while experiencing consecutive losses against the house.

And if the player decides to go forward with hands when it is not strategically sound to do so, the house edge becomes enormous – which will inevitably result in an even lower odds expectation for the player.

This, in my opinion, is the fatal flaw of jackpot casino games like 3 Card poker and Caribbean Stud. So many of the starting hands will be folded, and the jackpot payments don’t really make much of a perceivable dent unless the player makes an extremely rare hand.

There’s not much to learn about 3 Card Poker either. Once you understand the basics of how to play, the game becomes 100% mindless.

If you’re looking to improve personal skills and involve yourself in a continuing education environment, then traditional peer to peer poker will be far more rewarding than casino games like 3 Card Poker.

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David Huber poker author
Written By.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for close to two decades: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as “dhubermex” online, David’s poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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