Because nothing like it has happened since, many younger casino gamblers simply can’t grasp what it was like when Three-Card Poker hit the floor. Prior to that groundbreaking addition in 1996, the table game pit’s selection of card games was almost entirely limited to relics like blackjack and baccarat.
Let It Ride had appeared only three years prior, but the game’s incremental development was soon outpaced by Three-Card Poker’s explosive growth. Both games adapt elements of old-school Draw and Stud Poker. But for my money, Three-Card Poker is the vastly superior option. You’ll learn why below.
1 – Anybody Can Learn How to Play In a Matter of Minutes
Just in case you haven’t been in a casino for 25 years, here’s a quick tutorial on the ins and outs of Three-Card Poker gameplay.
To begin the game, you place a mandatory ante bet of your choosing. You can also make a second optional bet called the “pair plus,” which will cash in for bigger payouts when you land premium poker hands.
From there, the dealer slides you three cards from a standard 52-card deck face down. They also get three cards, but those are kept face down from now. Next, you need to assess the strength of your three-card poker hand and decide whether it warrants a second “play” bet equal to your ante. You’ll learn how to make these decisions in the next section, so no worries there.
If you don’t like your cards, you can always fold and surrender your ante to the dealer without a fight.
By raising the stakes and making the play bet, however, you force a showdown with the dealer on the spot. Remember, you get three cards and three cards only, so no drawing to improve is allowed.
One pair, three of a kind, straights, flushes, and straight flushes are the possible hands. Beat the dealer to collect even money on your ante bet. And if you make a straight or better, you’ll get paid up to 5 to 1 in an “ante bonus.”
The pair plus side bet offers even more extra chips when you form topline hands. And most Three-Card Poker tables offer a progressive jackpot side bet (more on this to come), which is triggered by elite hands like the mini royal flush (queen/king/ace) in spades.
And just like that, you know how to play Three-Card Poker… So, why not learn how to play it like a pro?
2 – You Only Need One Simple Rule to Play Perfectly
If you want to master basic strategy to give yourself the best possible chance in blackjack, be prepared to study a color-coded chart showing 250 different decisions.
Video poker’s optimal strategy is similarly convoluted in Jacks or Better, and it only gets more complicated when you branch out to other variants.
But in Three-Card Poker, playing to perfection is as simple as memorizing a single rule:
Raise and make the play bet when you have Q/6/4 or better, and fold with Q/6/3 or worse.
In other words, Q/6/4 is the dividing line between playable hands and unplayable hands. So if you are dealt something like the Q/7/2 or the K/3/2, these hands would call for making the second Play bet.
Conversely, with marginal hands like Q/5/4 or J/10/8, the book says folding is the best play based on long-term probability.
It might seem counterintuitive, but sticking to this easy-to-follow strategy provides the best statistical odds of success. Sure, you’ll wind up raising on some weak hands that wind up losing and folding even weaker hands that manage to eke out a win. But based on expected value, the Q/6/4 threshold offers Three-Card Poker players the lowest possible house edge on the ante bet.
3 – Three-Card Poker Has a Lower House Edge
Speaking specifically, using the Q/6/4 rule brings the house edge on your ante and/or play bets down to 3.37%.
When compared to the 3.51% rate found in Let It Ride, you’ll enjoy a slight statistical advantage over the long run when choosing Three-Card Poker instead.
This comparison assumes you’ll be avoiding the pair plus side bet though. And to be fair, not many players take that approach. With payouts ranging from even money on a straight to 40 to 1 for a straight flush, most Three-Card Poker players like to put at least a buck or two on the pair plus to spice things up.
By doing so, they face a higher house edge of 7.28% which, when combined with the ante and/or play bets, gives Let It Ride the nod. Personally, I’ve learned to steer clear of the pair plus bet because you’ll only hit the higher payouts once in every 10 hands on average.
4 – You’ll Always Find a Table and Never Wait in Line
Nothing is worse than gearing up for a session at your favorite casino, only to find your game of choice is either absent or too crowded to get a seat.
Waiting in line and Las Vegas do go hand in hand on many occasions, but not when you pick Three-Card Poker. The game has spread like wildfire since its highly successful debut.
Today, you can find it at 75 different casinos in Sin City alone. Those properties range from the Strip’s iconic casinos to far-flung off-Strip “local”’s joints. But overall, 152 table installations are expressly reserved for Three-Card Poker.
Bally’s, Flamingo, and Caesars Palace top the list with seven tables each, while Harrah’s is home to five, and several other Strip venues have three or four. No matter where gamble in this town though, you’ll almost always find one Three-Card Poker game going.
Let It Ride players aren’t so lucky, as the game’s dwindling popularity has led to a steep decline over the last decade. Nowadays, the table count stands at just 41 spread out over 35 casinos. Harrah’s has four on hand, a few others spread a pair of tables, and all the rest just have a lone holdover from Let It Ride’s long lost glory days.
5 – The Game Was Invented to Please Players
The origin stories behind these two table game rivals couldn’t be more distinct.
Derek Webb was a casino game enthusiast and inventor in his native England back in 1994 when he conjured up the framework for Three-Card Poker. He then arrived in the US and pounded the pavement, visiting hundreds of small casinos nationwide to sell managers on his novel idea.
He eventually landed one small trial run, then another, before the game’s popularity ballooned to over 1,600 tables in the US alone.
Webb described Three-Card Poker’s personal importance in a 2009 interview with SF Gate:
“Success for me is defined by knowing that when people walk into a casino, mine is the game they want to play.
Really, in my profession, there’s nothing better than that.”
Meanwhile, former truck driver John Breeding didn’t set out to create a classic card game at all. He originated the first automatic shuffling machine, what we know today as the iconic Shuffle Master.
But back in the ‘90s, casinos were just beginning to combat card counters by shifting to multiple deck shoes. Knowing his machines could only shuffle one deck at a time, Breeding was in a pinch that, as he told CDC Gaming Reports, only his better half could solve.
“My wife said, ‘If you’re so smart, why don’t you invent a game that only uses one deck,’” Breeding told us in that initial meeting. So I did.”
Breeding expanded on Let It Ride’s development as a sales incentive for Shuffle Master in 1995 while speaking with the Chicago Tribune:
“It was a matter of survival. We needed more tables to put our single-deck shufflers on.”
The gambit obviously worked. But if pressed to choose between a true table game aficionado like Webb and a machine salesman like Breeding, I’m going with my fellow gambling fan.
6 – It’s All About Those Huge Progressive Jackpots Baby!
Just run a Google News search for “Three-Card Poker + progressive jackpot” and bask in the glory of life-changing six-figure scores.
Just in the last month alone, four different progressive jackpots ranging from $204,770 to $251,175 by beating the admittedly long odds. Depending on the house rules, you’ll need to land either a Mini Royal in spades, or a true royal flush (any suited 10/J/Q/K/A) using your three cards and two of the dealer’s cards.
These jackpots are obviously very rare, but they seem to trigger once a month or so in Las Vegas. So, Three-Card Poker players keep taking their chances.
Three-Card Poker legitimately altered the course of casino gambling when it rocked the table game world. Suddenly, the hybrid table game craze was off and running, and many inventors took their crack at matching Webb’s blend of simplicity and elegance.
Most of those games came and went with but a whimper, but Three-Card Poker has continued to flourish. Let It Ride is truly a worthy adversary, don’t get me wrong there, but it just can’t eclipse the impact and legacy of Three-Card Poker.
Yesterday, we broke down 6 reasons why Let It Ride is better than Three-Card Poker if you want to see the other side of the coin.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …