Tri Card Poker Online

tri card pokerBack in 1994, an employee of Shuffle Master Inc. by the name of Derek Webb created a hybrid table game which incorporated elements of two of the most popular table games of all time, blackjack, and poker. The result was Three Card Poker, a game which can be found today under the Tri Card Poker title at many reputable online casinos.

Along with Tri Card Poker, which is the name used by the Aladdin’s Gold and Bovada online casinos, you’ll also find Webb’s creation listed as 3 Card Poker, 3 Card Brag, or Poker Three. In each case, the basic game remains the same, although slight differences in payout tables and bonus bets may be included to avoid trademark infringement.

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Increasing Popularity on the Casino Floor

Tri Card Poker tableIt’s clear why Tri Card Poker has become such a success story within the world of online casino gaming. The game combines the most enjoyable aspects of two classic casino games, blackjack, and poker. By pitting the player against the dealer in a situation where one basic decision governs winning or losing, Webb emulated blackjack’s one on one format. But the inclusion of poker’s traditional hand ranking hierarchy, along with the ability to discard and draw in an effort to improve your hand while chasing big bonus payouts, is what gives Tri Card Poker its particular gusto.

When first-timers hit the floor of a land based casino, they are invariably drawn to the Tri Card Poker tables. And for good reason, as the game is simple to learn for anybody familiar with a deck of playing cards. When you consider the multitude of bonus payouts and progressive jackpot wagers available in Tri Card Poker, it’s clear why novice gamblers are drawn to the game. And more often than not, beginner’s luck makes an appearance to give the rookies their first taste of a big score, as the returns on a strong hand in Tri Card Poker can be massive when compared to the risk involved.

Online Tri Card Poker Boom

tri card online iconThe online casino revolution has also brought Tri Card Poker added exposure, as the game is perfectly suited to the fast pace and individual play offered by internet based gaming establishments. Online casino players with visions of landing a life-changing score love the game because it usually connects them to a larger progressive jackpot.

The following walkthrough is intended for players who are unfamiliar with Tri Card Poker, so the first section is intended to describe the rules, gameplay mechanics, terminology, and wagering options which make up the game. After that, you can check out a list of reputable online casinos which currently spread Tri Card Poker tables (or its similarly named offshoots), along with the major software providers powering some version of the game. Next, the strategic aspects of Tri Card Poker which can be used to increase your chances of winning while reducing the house edge will be explored.

How to Play Tri Card Poker Online


Begin with Ante

A hand of Tri Card Poker will typically begin when you place the ante bet. The ante bet can be for any amount you prefer, but for the sake of this discussion will stick to the standard $5 increment.

One thing to take note of right off of the bat is the fact that this ante bet in Tri Card Poker is not mandatory. The vast majority of table games require players to place an ante bet in order to receive a hand, but because Tri Card Poker offers a secondary betting option known as the Pair Plus bet (more on this to come), the ante is optional. However, mathematical analysis has demonstrated that players making the ante bet face a significantly lower house edge than Pair Plus bettors, so this walkthrough will work under the assumption that you’ll be playing the ante.


Optional Bet: Pair Plus

After you ante up, you’ll find a second betting circle directly nearby which will be labeled Pair Plus. This represents an optional side wager, one which entitles players to escalate payouts whenever they happen to make a hand of one pair or stronger.

You’ll find additional information on the Pair Plus bet later in the walkthrough, but essentially this bet offers players a little more reward for a little more risk. The house edge you’ll be up against when placing the Pair Plus bet stands at 7.2 percent, which is far higher than the 3.3 percent house edge incurred when betting the ante alone. However, as you’ll soon discover, the ante bet offers predominately even money payouts, while the Pair Plus can bring players greater odds on their initial wager.

While the Pair Plus bet is rated as a losing proposition over the long run, Tri Card Poker players tend to enjoy splashing a chip or two on the side bet from time to time. So for the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume that a $1 chip has been placed on the Pair Plus bet, simply to offer an explanation of the associated payouts.


Cards are Dealt

Once you have your ante and/or Pair Plus bets in place, the dealer will dole out three cards each, with your hand face up and the dealer’s cards face down. You will need to determine if your hand is strong enough to win or not based on the possible rankings there are.

The objective of Tri Card Poker is to hold a stronger hand than the dealer by the time both hands are exposed. In Tri Card Poker the standard hand hierarchy used for most poker games is slightly adjusted, due to the different difficulty levels between making certain hands using three cards rather than five or seven.


Raise or Fold

When you take a look at your three card hand, the game of Tri Card Poker truly begins. Depending on the relative strength of your holding, you can exercise one of two primary options: fold or raise. By folding, which will only occur when your three cards are ragged and unconnected, providing no hope of defeating the dealer, you will simply forfeit any bets in play.

By raising, which may also be labeled as the “Play” bet in some online casinos, you must place an additional wager which is equal to exactly the amount of your ante bet. Remember, the ante bet is optional, so unless you have anted up, you won’t have the option to raise at all, and you’ll only be playing for the Pair Plus bet.

When you like the look of your three card hand and decide to raise or play, you’ll need to place another $5 into the middle. At this point, the dealer will expose their own three cards and compare the two hands to determine a winner. If the dealer produces a superior three card hand, according to the rankings listed above, you’ll lose both the ante and raise bets. If the dealer produces the exact same hand as you, ante and raise bets will simply be returned as a push. If the dealer produces an inferior hand, your payout on the ante bet and the raise bet will be even money, but only when the dealer hand qualifies.


Getting Paid

The rules of Tri Card Poker dictate that the dealer must hold a hand of queen high or better in order to qualify. Should the dealer fail to qualify, and your hand outranks theirs, the ante bet will be paid out at even money but the raise bet will be returned as a push. In instances when the dealer holds a qualifying hand of queen high or better, and you hold a better hand, the ante bet, and the raise bet will be paid out at even money.

Understanding the Hand Rankings

The hand rankings for Tri Card Poker are described below in ascending order of strength:

three card poker hand rankings

  • Mini royal flush* A K Q of the same suit

*The mini royal flush is not available in all online casinos

Astute observers will notice that the list above is ordered differently than the poker hand rankings you might be accustomed to, and that’s for good reason. In a traditional poker game, that is, one which uses five or seven card hands flushes always outrank straights and three of a kind. However, in Tri Card Poker, a flush is actually easier to make using just three cards, while straights and three of a kind are relative rarities.

Broken down on a mathematical level, Tri Card Poker offers 52 available combinations by which players can make three of a kind, which is actually right up there with the straight flush (48 combinations) in terms of difficulty. The odds of landing a straight flush or three of a kind on three cards are less than 1 percent, but holding a straight (3.2 percent) or a flush (4.9 percent) occurs much more often.

In the example described above, let’s consider a hand in which you receive the A K 9. You’ve placed the $5 ante and then the $5 raise after looking at your cards. The dealer turns up the K Q 5, and your ace high beats their king high. In this case, the dealer has qualified, you have won, and the payout will be $5 on both the ante and the raise bets for a $10 total win.

Pair Plus Payouts

When you have the Pair Plus bet in play, you can earn payouts on your hand even when it happens to lose against the dealer. In essence, you’re simply betting that your three cards will form one pair or better, and when they do, you’ll receive a payout which escalates based on the exact strength of your holding. You’ll find a few slightly different versions depending on which online casino you’ve chose, but the standard payouts for the Pair Plus side bet are listed below in descending order of strength:

Hand Payout
Straight Flush 40 : 1
Three of a Kind 30 : 1
Straight 6 : 1
Flush 4 : 1
One Pair 1 : 1

As an example, let’s consider a hand in which you receive the 9 9 9 as your three card hand while the dealer shows down the lowly 7 3 2. With the $5 ante bet in place, along with a $5 raise bet and a $1 on the Pair Plus, here’s how to calculate your winnings. First, you’ve earned $5 at even money on your ante bet, but the $5 raise bet will be returned as a push because the dealer’s seven high doesn’t qualify. Then, because you have $1 wagered on the Pair Plus, your three of a kind would return a payout of 30 to 1, or $30.

Details about the Pair Plus Bet

betting optionsOne thing to remember about the Pair Plus side bet is that the payout table shown above has been adjusted by some online casinos. The table is shown above, which follows a 1 / 4 / 6 / 30 / 40 structure, offers players a low house edge of just 2.32 percent. But many online casinos have tweaked the payout table to follow a 1 / 3 / 6 / 30 / 40 structure, effectively reducing the payout on flushes from 4 to 1 to 3 to 1. By doing so, these online casinos have increased your house edge to a much larger 7.28 percent.

A number of online casinos out there also include a Pair Plus payout of 80 to 1 for making a mini royal flush or the A K Q all in the same suit. This may seem like an added bonus for players, but in reality, the standard 1 / 3 / 6 / 25 / 40 / 80 payout structure for most mini royal Tri Card Poker games increases the house edge to 7.73 percent.

As you can see, part of the fun found in Tri Card Poker comes from the diverse range of wagering options made available to players. Many players swear by the Pair Plus bet, despite the math which proves this to be erroneous while other players abstain from the side bet entirely. Some players enjoy skipping the ante bet and limiting their play to Pair Plus wagers. However, for the most part, you should be sticking to a standard system of betting the ante, avoiding the Pair Plus, and making the raise bet when you hold an appropriately strong hand.

Ante Bonus Additional Payouts

One reason why players tend to prefer the ante bet, even with being optional, is that Tri Card Poker contains an additional payout structure known as the Ante Bonus. Basically, when you make a straight or better, the Ante Bonus offers additional payouts for doing so, even when your hand happens to rank as the loser against the dealer. This bad beat insurance simply gives you another way to win even when your big hand happens to be trumped by the dealer’s monster.

As always, a few different versions of the Ante Bonus pay table can be found, but the standard Ante Bonus payouts for Tri Card Poker are listed below in descending order of strength:

Hand Payout
Straight Flush 5 : 1
Flush 4 : 1
Straight 1 : 1

Should you happen to land a flush, only to watch in horror as the dealer reveals a straight flush, the Ante Bonus ensures that you’ll still win $20 on your $5 ante bet at the 4 to 1 odds listed above.

3 Card PokerFinally, many Tri Card Poker tables will also include a separate betting area labeled “Six Card Bonus.” As the name suggests, this bet pays out on occasions when your three cards can combine with the dealer’s three cards to create strong six-card poker hands. The Six Card Bonus is widely viewed as a sucker bet because of the inordinately high house edge it carries, so this side wager should always be avoided by savvy players.

Best Casinos to Play Tri Card Poker Online

For a list of reputable online casinos currently operating worldwide which run Tri Card Poker games, see below:

Major software providers currently powering a version of Tri Card Poker within their platforms can be found below:

Tri Card Poker Online Strategy

Even with the wealth of betting options and payout tables describe in the preceding sections, Online Tri Card Poker offers players an easily mastered strategy.

Queen-Six-Four Strategy

Player folding iconWhen playing Tri Card Poker the player will produce a winning hand 44.91 percent of deals while the dealer will turn a winner at a 55.03 percent rate, and the remaining hands will be pushed. Gambling experts have crunched the numbers, and by doing so, a basic threshold of hand strength for Tri Card Poker has been identified: Q 6 4.

In other words, whenever you hold a hand which ranks higher than Q 6 4, you should always make the raise bet. On occasions when your hand ranks lower than Q 6 4, you should always opt to fold out. The reasoning behind this strategy is that Q 6 4 represents the minimum hand strength needed to overcome the dealer’s random three card hand.

Fans of Texas Hold’em will recognize this concept, as in that game the Q 7 has been identified as the exact middle in terms of hand strength out of 169 possible non-equivalent starting hands. In other words, Q 7 will beat right around 50 percent of random hands, and it will lose to roughly 50 percent.

In order to play Tri Card Poker optimally, simply following the Q 6 4 maxim will leave you on the right side of variance over the long run. To use the system, simply judge your three cards in order of rank. If you have anything higher than a Q in your hand, it should be raised. If your hand contains no cards higher than a Q, pairs, and other pat hands aside, of course, it should be folded. For hands ranked at exactly Q high, you use the same process on your second highest card, so if it’s a 7 or higher you should raise, and if it’s a 5 or lower you should fold.

According to the casino game math and probability experts at Wizard of Odds, an alternative strategy employed by many Tri Card Poker regulars is to simply follow the dealer’s qualification guidelines. Using this strategy, players simply raise on all queen highs and fold all lesser hands. But mathematical analysis has shown this strategy to be a little less efficient than the strict Q 6 4 cut off.

No Side Bet Action

Another key strategy tip for Tri Card Poker involves having the discipline to avoid certain side bets. The Six Card Bonus bet should always be avoided, as it was only created to entice uninformed players while increasing the house edge. When it comes to the Pair Plus bet, this side wager should also be avoided, but if you can’t resist tossing a couple chips there every so often, just make sure that you do so sparingly, without making it a habit.