The decisions one has to make when playing Three Card Poker are quite limited in number. Before the deal, there are options to bet on the Ante, the Pair Plus, or both. After the deal, the only choice is whether to Play or fold the Ante wager. Without any drawing, checking, raising, bluffing, or additional betting intervals, most of the decisions that make traditional Poker games so skill-dependent are eliminated.
That said, there are still opportunities for players to improve their likelihood of winning by applying two types of strategies. One revolves around the Play bet decision, while the other centers on how much is wagered and on what.
To Play or Not to Play
As noted in the sections on How to Play and Three Card Poker Rules, the Banker hand automatically loses if it fails to “qualify” by containing at least a Queen. This aspect of the game has led many players to follow a strategy of always making the Play wager (raising) in the hopes that they will be able to pick up wins on some unqualified hands.
In fact, however, this is a poor tactic, tantamount to playing the game blindly or bluffing in a game that calls all bluffs. Staying in on every hand actually increases the House edge all the way up to 7.65%. A better strategy is to mimic the dealer, by making the Play wager only if the player’s hand “qualifies” by containing at least a Queen. The House edge will then be just 3.45%.
Numerous experts have studied Three Card Poker from a statistical point of view. Based upon their research, the optimum strategy for the Play wager is to make the bet and stay in only when holding a hand equivalent to Q-6-4 or better. This would include any hand with a King or higher, any hand with a Queen and a 7 or higher, and any hand with a Queen, a 6, and either a 4 or 5.
Computer analysis has shown that a hand consisting of Q-6-3 or worse will lose slightly more than one unit per wager on average, while hands of Q-6-4 will win slightly more than a unit per wager. Specifically, a hand of Q-6-4 or better will lose 8.66% of the Ante bets made, but should compensate for that by winning 5.29% on the Play wagers. The House edge using this strategy is 3.37%.
Three Card Poker’s use of a Shuffle Master machine at the table for continuous mixing of the cards makes any attempt at card counting futile. Similarly, the Play requirement to win Antes makes any form of progressive betting problematic. Flat betting is therefore quite common, and the best opportunity for applying a wagering strategy exists on the Pair Plus side bet.
Statistically, the Pair Plus wager is less risky than betting on Ante and Play. It carries a House edge of 2.32% on average, although it can be as low as 2.12% if the payout schedule includes a 50-to-1 award for a Mini-Royal and all other rates remain the same as standard. Either way, Pair Plus compares favorably to betting on Red or Black at the Roulette table because it sometimes pays more than even money. In effect, the Pair Plus wager is “an even money bet with benefits.”
For this reason, “slow” progressions such as Labouchere, Fibonacci, or d’Alembert can be employed as a Pair Plus wagering strategy, looking to yield big payouts on premium hands. However, “fast” progressions like Martingale, which seek to win back all losses in a single wager, should be avoided. The reason is because Pair Plus is not a true even-money bet. High Card hands are predominant, showing up on 74.39% of all deals.