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Poker played with three cards dates back to the origins of the game of poker. As a result it's as unclear as the origins of poker, but includes the 16th century British card game of Brag. Rules for three card poker are included in Hoyle's Rules of Games (Second Revised Edition) from 1983 along with a hi-low variant.
Three card poker (TCP) is a poker variant played in casinos. In common with other such games it can also be played in other formats, such as in online gambling on the internet. It is the most profitable proprietary table game ever when measured by win generated for casinos or by revenue generated for the rights owners.
The casino variant of Three Card Poker was first "invented" by Derek Webb in 1994. He had a vision for a game that combined the excitement of poker and the speed of regular casino games. It was important to Webb that he got the mix of three important factors for any casino game correct; the game rules were easy to understand, the payouts were large enough to attract players and the house edge was enough that casino owners would be interested in adapting the game.
Webb established a marketing entity called Prime Table Games. in an attempt to market the game in both the USA and Great Britain. The British Casino Association, now known as the National Casino Industry Forum (NCiF) suggested that Webb gained some experience in the US first, since the United Kingdom had regulation against such a table game and his application was not strong enough to convince regulators to make significant changes to their rules and regulations for a new game.
The first man to adapt the game was Vice President of Grand Casino Gulfport (Mississippi), Barry Morris, after Webb had unsuccessful sales pitches with casino owners in Reno, Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Webb sealed the deal with Morris after agreeing to train the dealers in his casino at no extra cost. Webb stood by the tables for hours daily, enticed punters to play and taught them the rules whilst making sure the dealers were dealing the game correctly. 
Prime Table Games continued marketing Three Card Poker until 1999, when Shuffle Master acquired the rights to the game outside the British Isles. United Kingdom gambling regulations were changed to allow the introduction of Three Card Poker in 2002.
The sale of Three Card Poker to Shuffle Master by Prime Table Games was prompted by litigation by a predecessor company of Progressive Gaming International Corporation (PGIC). Shuffle Master agreed to defend that litigation as part of the 1999 Three Card Poker purchase. Subsequently in 2007, in United States Federal Court in Jackson, Mississippi, Prime Table Games proved that the 1999 PGIC litigation was based on fraudulent and invalid patents. Further, Prime Table Games filed suit against Shuffle Master in 2008 in the same court alleging in part that Shuffle Master had undisclosed knowledge of the PGIC fraud prior to the 1999 Three Card Poker purchase.
Three Card Poker incorporates two modes of play. The Ante and Play wagers play in competition on the player hand against the dealer hand. The Pair Plus®  wager is paid on a pay scale basis that the player hand will be a pair or better. In most casinos both the Ante and the Pair Plus are optional, but there are some casinos in which the Ante is mandatory. After all Ante and Pair Plus wagers are placed, three cards are dealt to each player and the dealer. Players that have placed the Ante wager have a choice to either fold or continue in the game by placing a Play wager equal to the Ante. Hands are then exposed and wagers resolved. The dealer hand must be Queen high or better for the dealer hand to play.
If the dealer does not play then there is no action on Play wagers and Ante wagers are paid 1 to 1. If the dealer does play the dealer and player hands are compared. If the player hand loses both the Ante and Play wagers lose. If the player hand wins both the Ante and Play wagers are paid 1 to 1. If the hands are tied then there is no action on the Ante and Play wagers.
An additional feature is the Ante Bonus, which is paid to the Ante wager for a straight or better. The Ante Bonus is paid on a pay scale and is paid regardless of whether the dealer plays and regardless of whether the dealer or the player has the best hand.
The Pair Plus wager loses if the player has less than a pair and wins with a pair or better. The payoff applies regardless of the dealer hand as the Pair Plus wager is not in competition against the dealer hand.
|Hand Ranks of Three Card Poker|
|Straight flush||Three suited cards in sequence||48||0.22%|
|Three of a kind||Three cards of same rank||52||0.24%|
|Straight||Three cards in sequence||720||3.26%|
|Flush||Three suited cards||1,096||4.96%|
|Pair||Two cards of same rank||3,744||16.94%|
|High card||None of the above||16,440||74.39%|
Probability of Queen high or better is 69.59%
House advantages vary according to the pay scale used:
|Pair Plus||United Kingdom||Other||Other|
|Straight flush||35 to 1||40 to 1||40 to 1|
|Three of a kind||33 to 1||30 to 1||30 to 1|
|Straight||6 to 1||6 to 1||6 to 1|
|Flush||4 to 1||4 to 1||3 to 1|
|Pair||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1|
Ante and Play house advantage assumes the player plays optimum strategy against the dealer which is to make the Play wager with a Queen-6-4 or better. There is less pay scale variation on the Ante Bonus than on the Pair Plus with following being by far the most common.
|Straight Flush||5 x 1|
|Three of a kind||4 x 1|
|Straight||1 x 1|
|Ante and Play|
|House advantage||2.01% as a percentage of total Ante and Play wager|
|House advantage||3.37% as a percentage of Ante wager only|
There are two ways of expressing the against dealer hand house advantage. If the house advantage is expressed as a percentage of the Ante wager only (at 3.37%) this could encourage players to erroneously think that the house advantage on the Play wager is 0.00%, and so think that the Play wager should always be made. Consequently it is better for players to understand the concept of house advantage on the total combined wager in the against dealer mode, being 2.01%.
Optimum player strategy against the dealer is to make the Play wager with Queen-6-4 or better. However the simple strategy of Queen high or better produces a very similar result. As with all negative expectation gambling games there is no legitimate strategy that can overcome the house advantage. Therefore the player should play the strategy that provides the most enjoyment. The most common wager strategies are to play Ante and Pair Plus wagers for equal amounts, or for one of the Ante and Pair Plus wagers to be double the amount of the other one of the Ante and Pair Plus wagers.
Prime Table Games has added a wager called Prime in United Kingdom casinos and the game is known as Prime Three Card Poker. The Prime wager is optionally placed before cards are dealt and pays on the color of the player cards. If all three cards are the same color the payoff is 3 to 1. However when included with the dealer hand if all six cards are the same color then the payoff is increased to 4 to 1. The house advantage on this wager is 3.62%.
Another variation is 'six card bonus', in which the players are given a payout based on the best five-card poker hand that can be made using any combination of the player's three cards and the dealer's three cards. Payoff ranges from 5 to 1 for three of a kind to 1000 to 1 for royal flush. Payoffs are paid regardless of whether the pair plus or ante bets pay. This variation was played at Caesars Entertainment owned properties in Atlantic City and Biloxi in November 2010.
Prime Table Games has licensed Three Card Poker use by certain internet casinos that do not access United States players, though a software provider, Wager Works. These internet casinos are identifiable by reference to Prime Table Games on these sites.
The majority of internet use of Three Card Poker, including all United States use, has not been licensed. Certain internet casinos have used other game names, but the game is still the same. Players are not informed by these internet casinos that Three Card Poker is a proprietary game and that these internet casinos use the game without permission of and without payment to the game inventor or the game rights owners.