California Three Card Poker is a form of Three Card Poker played primarily in some casinos in the Los Angeles area. Most of the rules of California Three Card Poker are the same as in the traditional game, but there are a few changes that make the game unique.
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The game starts the same way. Dealing from a regular 52-card deck, the dealer gives each player a three-card hand, face down. The dealer then deals himself a three-card hand as well. However, unlike in regular Three Card Poker, one of these cards is dealt face up, thus giving the player some information about how they should play their hand.
If the player chooses to fold, the ante bet is lost, and the hand is over for that player. If the player wishes to continue instead, they must make a “raise” bet equal to the size of the original ante bet. After all players have made their choices, the dealer reveals his hand.
Hands in California Three Card Poker are ranked as follows (the same as in the normal game):
- Straight Flush
- Three of a Kind
- High Card
However, the payoffs in California Three Card Poker are a little more complex than in the standard Three Card Poker game. Just as in the original Three Card Poker, the dealer qualifies with a hand of queen-high or better. This can lead to several different outcomes:
The player wins, and the dealer qualified. Both the ante and raise bets pay even money.
The player wins, and the dealer did not qualify. Only the ante bet is paid, while the raise bet is a push.
The player loses, but the dealer did not qualify. Both the ante and raise bets push.
The player loses, and the dealer qualified. Both the ante and raise bets lose.
In addition to the different payouts, California Three Card Poker does not give ante bonuses for any hand.
California 3 Card Poker Strategy
Strategy for California Three Card Poker is a little different than the regular Three Card Poker Strategy. Of course, if you have a pair or better, you should still raise every time. However, with a high-card hand, your decision will be impacted greatly by the card the dealer has revealed.
If you have a hand of A92 or better, you should always raise; with 875 or less, you should always fold. If you hold a king, queen, or jack-high hand, you’ll usually choose to raise if your high-card is higher than the dealer’s, or if the dealer’s card matches your highest card but you also have other relatively high cards. With ten-high, you’ll only want to raise against very low dealer cards, or with the best ten-highs, such as hands that also include a nine or an eight. With nine-high, raising is very rarely the right play, and simply folding all nine-high hands won’t do significantly worse than the optimal strategy.
If you follow optimal strategy, the house edge in California Three Card Poker is about 4.3%. If your casino follows the traditional rule of having the player win the ante bet when the dealer fails to qualify even if the dealer would have won the hand, then that house edge drops to just 1.8%, giving it one of the lower house edges around.
Despite the rule changes, California Three Card Poker plays similarly to the original Three Card Poker game, and has about the same advantage for the casino. If you prefer games where the player must use a little more strategy to win, California Three Card Poker might be an alternative game that you’d enjoy.