Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker is a betting game played in casinos throughout the world. Unlike most forms of poker, the player wins when they can manage to beat the house, as in Blackjack and Mini Baccarat. Accordingly, Three Card Poker tables are usually located in the blackjack pit, not in the poker room.

Unlike most games played with traditional cards, Three Card Poker is a proprietary game. It was originally marketed by ShuffleMaster, a company which made and supplied automatic card shufflers to casinos. Due to a chain of acquisitions, the game is now owned by Scientific Games. Scientific Games still licenses the rights to the Three Card Poker name, as well as selling layouts and specialized shufflers that can also be programmed to deal three-card hands for each player.

Object of Three Card Poker

The object of Three Card Poker is to hold a hand higher than that of the dealer, or walk away when they feel they are unlikely to do so.

Setup

Unlike many casino table games, Three Card Poker is played with only one standard, 52-card deck of playing cards. Happily, that means if you’re wanting to play a home game, you can use your favorite deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need chips to bet with.

Casinos spread the game on a felt table with a printed layout that facilitates the placing and payout of bets. Each player position has three betting boxes, typically laid out as shown at right. Because Three Card Poker is a proprietary game, pre-printed felt layouts are not as readily available as those found in games such as Blackjack. If you’re playing at home, you will most likely have to get creative, making a betting layout for yourself.

All players place a bet (which must be between the posted table minimums and maximums) in the Ante box on the layout. If they wish, they may also place an additional bet in the Pair Plus circle. Shuffle and deal three cards face down to each player, including the dealer.

Game play

Rank of Three Card Poker hands

Because there are only three cards involved, the hands available in Three Card Poker and their ranking differ from traditional poker. The hands are, from highest to lowest:

  1. Straight flush: Three cards of the same suit, in sequence.
  2. Three of a kind: Three cards of the same rank.
  3. Straight: Three cards in sequence.
  4. Flush: Three cards of the same suit.
  5. Pair: Two cards of the same rank, plus one unmatched card.
  6. High card: Three unmatched cards.

Competing pairs are evaluated by the rank of the pair, with the kicker (unmatched card) breaking ties. All other hands are evaluated by comparing the top-ranked card, then the second-highest, then the lowest. Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high (although A-2-3 is a valid straight).

Play of the hand

Each player picks up their cards (touching the cards is allowed in Three Card Poker) and examines their hand. They now make the only decision in the game—whether to raise (play) or fold. If the player folds, they surrender their cards to the dealer, who collects their money from the Ante and Pair Plus circles. If they raise, they place another bet, exactly the same amount as their Ante wager, on top of their cards (which are placed in the box overlapping the Play box, such that a bet placed on top of the cards ends up being in the Play box).

When all players have acted, the dealer reveals their hand. If the dealer’s hand is queen high or better, they are said to qualify. Should the dealer fail to qualify, the hand ends immediately, with each player being paid even money on their Ante bet and the Play bet pushing. (It should be noted that, so long as the player hasn’t folded, the Ante bet always pays when the dealer fails to qualify, even if the player’s hand is lower than the dealer’s.)

If the dealer qualifies, each player’s hand is compared with the dealer’s. Starting with the player to their right, and proceeding counter-clockwise around the table, the dealer reveals each player’s hand. If the player’s hand is higher than the dealer’s, they are paid even money on both the Ante and Play bets. When the dealer’s hand is higher, both bets are lost. If the dealer and player tie exactly, both bets push.

Pair Plus and Ante bonus payouts

If the player holds a high enough hand, they may get paid no matter what the dealer holds. Usually, this will happen because they made the Pair Plus bet, which operates entirely independently of the other two bets. If the player has a pair or higher, they are paid according to the hand they hold; otherwise, the bet is lost. A player holding a straight or better also receives a bonus on their Ante bet (regardless of if they played the Pair Plus bet).

Pair Plus bet and Ante bonuses are paid according to the following paytable. Note that these are typical values; some casinos may pay different rates.

Hand Pair Plus Ante bonus
Straight flush 40 to 1 5 to 1
Three of a kind 30 to 1 4 to 1
Straight 6 to 1 even money
Flush: 3 to 1
Pair even money

Three Card Poker strategy

According to Michael Shackelford of the popular Wizard of Odds gambling probabilities site, the mathematically ideal strategy for Three Card Poker is to play hands of Q-6-4 and higher and to fold hands of Q-6-3 and lower.

It should be noted that the house edge on the Pairs Plus bet is 7.28%. This is not much better than betting on a slot machine. However, to many players, the chance to catch a straight flush and win $200 on a $5 bet is too great a temptation to resist…

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Mus

Mus is a betting game for four players in partnerships. Players draw and discard until they reach a hand they’re happy with, and then the betting begins. But there’s not just one “best” hand—there’s four rounds of betting, each with wildly different criteria for how the best hand is determined, and one hand can’t be the best in all four categories!

Mus most likely originated in the Basque country, a region spanning the border between France and Spain. From there, the game spread throughout both of those countries. From Spain, Mus was carried to other Spanish-speaking countries throughout the world.

Object of Mus

The object of Mus is to be the first partnership to reach a score of 40 points. This is done by, through drawing, forming hands that compete well in a number of different categories.

Setup

Mus is traditionally played with a Spanish deck of 40 cards. To recreate such a deck from an English-style 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the 8s, 9s, and 10s. This will leave you with a 40-card deck consisting of face cards, 7s–2s, and aces in each of the four suits.

To keep score, you will need 22 counters of some kind, such as stones, beads, beans, marbles, or poker chips. These counters are kept in a pool in the center of the table. Uniquely, the value of each counter differs depending on who holds it! When a point is scored, one of the partners designated to do so draws a counter from the central pool. Upon reaching a score of five, this player returns four counters to the pool and passes the fifth to their partner. Thus, each counter this second player holds represents five points. When the second player has seven counters (representing a score of 35), they declare this and return them to the pool, putting their opponents on notice that they only need to score five more points to win.

Mus is traditionally played with a series of signals that players can use to indicate their holdings to their partner. These signals are the same for both teams. Part of the skill of the game is to figure out how to pass the signals to your partner without the opponents intercepting them. Which signals mean what, and what signals are allowed, should be discussed prior to game play.

As is usual with partnership games, partners should be seated across from one another, with an opponent on either side. The turn should alternate between partnerships as it passes around the table.

Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. The remainder of the deck becomes the stock.

Game play

Mus is most widely played “with eight aces and eight kings”. To achieve this, the 3s are considered equivalent to kings, and the 2s are considered equal to aces. They are treated exactly the same as if they were the same rank (to the point that K-3 is considered a pair). Cards otherwise rank in their usual order, with aces low.

Unlike in most games, game play is always conducted to the right.

Mus or no mus

The player to the dealer’s right goes first. They examine their hand and determine if they would like to exchange some of their cards for new ones for the stock. If they do, they say “mus”. The next player to the right must then make the same determination, and so on.

If all four players agree to a mus, then they discard one to four cards, face down, and the dealer gives them replacements from the stock. Then, another round of declaring “mus” or “no mus” takes place. (If the stock is depleted, shuffle the discards to form a new stock.) This continues until a player calls “no mus”. The game then proceeds to the betting rounds.

Betting

There are four rounds of betting, each of which has different criteria for winning. The betting rounds are always conducted in the same order, and follow the same procedure. Betting in each round begins with the player to the dealer’s right. They may make an opening bid of at least two counters, or pass. If they pass, the next player to the right has the same option, and so on. Once a player makes an opening bid, the opponent to their right may:

  • See: agree to the bid, the amount of which will be won by whoever has the best cards for the category bid on.
  • Raise: accept the opening bid and propose an increased bet.
  • Fold. decline the proposed opening bid. The side that didn’t fold immediately collects the previously-accepted bid amount, regardless of who actually has the better cards.

If all players fold to an opening bid, the “previously accepted” bid is only one counter. If all four players pass with no opening bid being made, the round is contested with a stake of one counter going to the partnership with better cards.

There is one additional, special bid called órdago. If your opponent accepts a bid of órdago, the entire game is decided by the outcome of the current round of betting. The hands are immediately revealed, and whoever has the best cards for that round wins the entire game.

It is important to note that all bids are for the partnership, not the players. You may well have an awful hand, but find yourself betting a high number of counters because you know, either through previous bidding or signals, that your partner is a lock to win the round.

After each round of betting, the players proceed to the next one. The hands are kept concealed until all four rounds are concluded (except when a bid of órdago is accepted).

The rounds

The four rounds of betting are, in order:

  • Grande: Betting on who has the highest hand. Hands are compared by their highest card. If there is a tie, the second-highest is used to break it, then the third-highest, and finally the lowest.
  • Chica: Betting on who has the lowest hand. Hands are compared the same as in Grande, but comparing by the lowest card, then second-lowest, etc.
  • Pares: Betting on who has the best pairs. Before betting, players declare, in turn, yes or no as to whether they even have any pairs. If at least one person answers yes, the betting round takes place. Unlike the previous two rounds, the player with the best combination is entitled to a bonus, in addition to the agreed-upon stake. Possible combinations, from highest to lowest, are:
    • Duples: Two pair, like K-3-4-4 or 7-7-2-2. Duples are compared by their higher pair, then their lower one. Three-counter bonus.
    • Medias: Three of a kind, with one unmatched card, like 5-5-5-Q or A-A-2-6. The rank of the three-of-a-kind is compared first, then the kicker. Two-counter bonus.
    • Par simple: One pair, like K-3-7-A or J-J-6-4. The rank of the pair is compared first, then the higher kicker, then the lower kicker. One-counter bonus.
  • Juego: Each player totals the value of their hand, with aces (including 2s) worth one, face cards (including 3s) worth ten, and all other cards worth their face value. Before betting, players declare, in turn, yes or no as to whether they have a hand worth 31 or more points. If at least one does, the hands will be compared for best juego. A hand value of 31 is the best, and entitles its holder to a 3-counter bonus if it wins. Second is a value of 32, then 40, and then in descending order down to 33 (all of which are worth a 2-counter bonus if it wins).
  • Punto: Only if nobody holds a juego is the Punto round played. This is simply betting on the highest hand value (30 being best, since 31 and above would be a juego, and 4 being worst). The holder of the best hand scores a one-counter bonus on top of the agreed-upon bet.

In any case, if two hands are exactly identical, whoever comes first in turn order wins.

Resolution

After all four rounds of betting take place, the hands are revealed and compared. Payouts on rounds where betting actually occurred (or all four players passed) are done in exactly the same order as the betting rounds (Grande, Chica, Pares, Juego/punto).

If a partnership reaches a score of 40, stop immediately—they win the game, even if one of the other rounds would have allowed their opponents to surpass them. If nobody has a score of 40 after all four rounds have been scored, the deal passes to the right and another hand is played.

 

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Twenty-Five

Twenty-Five is the national card game of Ireland. Games of Twenty-Five can found be throughout the country, in pubs and homes alike. It is best for three to nine players. Since a game only lasts until a player takes five tricks, games of Twenty-Five are fairly quick, often lasting only two or three hands.

Object of Twenty-Five

The object of Twenty-Five is to be the first player or partnership to reach a score of 25 or more. This is done by winning five tricks.

Setup

Twenty-Five is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. If you have any choice in the matter, insist on using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.You will also need something to keep score with, such as the time-honored pencil and paper, or something more modern, like a smartphone application.

Players divide into teams, depending on the number of people playing and their preferences. With an even number of players, the players may pair up in partnerships. With nine, players may wish to form three teams of three. No matter how many are playing, however, it is always a viable option for each player to play by themselves. If playing with partnerships, partners should sit across from one another, such that as the turn proceeds around the table, no players on the same team take their turns consecutively.

Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. Turn the next card (referred to here as the upcard) face up. This sets the trump suit for the hand. Set the deck stub aside; it will not take any further part in game play.

Card ranking

Twenty-Five uses an extremely unusual card ranking, which changes depending on which suit is elevated to trumps. Ordinarily, the ace is treated as though it is a one. In the red suits, the cards rank in their usual order. In the black suits, however, the order of the number cards is reversed, with the lowest number cards (the ace, 2, et al.) ranking highest! The adage players use to remember this is highest in red, lowest in black.

The order of cards is changed somewhat when a suit becomes trump. The 5 is always the highest trump, followed by the jack. The third highest trump is always the A♥, no matter what the trump suit is. This is followed by the ace of the trump suit (if the trump suit is not hearts), then the rest of the cards in their typical Twenty-Five order.

Got all that? In summary:

  • In trump suits
    • Hearts: (high) 5, J, A, K, Q, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 3, 2 (low).
    • Diamonds: (high) 5, J, A♥, A, K, Q, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 3, 2 (low).
    • Clubs, Spades: (high) 5, J, A♥, A, K, Q, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (low).
  • In non-trump suits
    • Hearts: (high) K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (low).
    • Diamonds: (high) K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low).
    • Clubs, Spades: (high) K, Q, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (low).

Game play

Robbing the trump

Before actual game play begins, the player holding the ace of trumps (i.e. not the A♥, unless hearts are trump) may rob the upcard that set the trump suit. To do this, they take the upcard and then discard any card from their hand, face down.

Of course, by robbing the trump, they are disclosing to the other players that they hold the ace of trumps. As a result, players may sometimes consider it advantageous to waive their right to rob the trump. Once a player has led to the first trick, nobody may rob the trump.

Play of the hand

Game play begins with the player to the dealer’s left leading to the first trick. Each player in turn, proceeding clockwise, plays one card to the trick. Players must either follow suit or ruff (play a trump). If a player is unable to follow suit, they may play any card. When a trump is led, the other players must play a trump, if possible, unless the only trump they hold is the 5 of trump, jack of trumps, or A♥ (i.e. the three highest trumps). If these are the only trumps a player holds, they may play any card; they are never forced to play one of the top three trumps.

The player that contributed the highest trump to the trick, or the highest card of the suit led, if no trumps were played, wins the trick. That player (or their partnership) immediately scores five points. The player that wins each trick then leads to the next one.

If nobody has scored 25 points by the end of the hand, the player to the left of the dealer shuffles and deals another hand. Game play continues until one player or team has scored 25 points. Game play stops immediately (the hand is not played out), with the player or team reaching a score of 25 being the winner.

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Rumino

Rumino is a rummy-type game of Italian origin for two to six players. Although it is played with a double deck, and uses reverse scoring (lowest score wins), at its core it plays much like Gin Rummy. The game also includes the rumino—a special type of seven-card meld that allows a player to win the game instantly.

Object of Rumino

The object of Rumino is to be the last player remaining with a score of under 100 points. Points are scored when a player has unmelded cards remaining at the end of the hand.

Setup

Rumino is played with a 108-card deck of playing cards, formed by shuffling together two decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, complete with four jokers. You also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper.

Rumino is often played for money. If you choose to do so, all players should agree to the value of one stake. Collect this amount from each player and amass it into a pool to be won by the winner of the game.

Shuffle and deal seven cards to each player. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn over the top card of the stock and place it face up next to it. This card, the upcard, is the first card in the discard pile.

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left goes first. They begin their turn by drawing a card, either the upcard or the top card of the stock. After this, they discard a card (which becomes the new upcard for the next player’s turn). The next player does the same thing on their turn.

Players are trying to form their hand into combinations of cards called melds. A meld is three or four of a kind, or three or four cards of the same suit in sequence. (Cards rank in their usual order, with aces low.) If a player holds a joker, it is wild, and can substitute for any other card in a meld. When a player forms a meld, they keep it in their hand, rather than laying it out on the table.

While a player is forming melds, they are also keeping track of their deadwood count. This is the point value of all of the cards in their hand which are not part of a meld. Aces count for one point, face cards and jokers count as ten points, and all other cards count as their face value.

Going out

When a player reaches a deadwood count of seven or less at the beginning of their turn, they may knock. Knocking must be done before a player draws to start their turn. When a player knocks, every player lays their hand face up on the table, breaking the melds out separately. Each player then has the total value of their deadwood added to their score.

If a player manages to reach a deadwood score of zero, they may go gin instead of knocking. In this case, the player going gin scores –10, while all other players score their deadwood count, as before.

Ruminos

There are two special conditions known as ruminos: seven cards of the same suit, in sequence (e.g. 7-8-9-10-J-Q-K♦) or seven of a kind. Either of these may contain jokers. When a player obtains a rumino, they reveal it, and the game ends immediately, with the player holding the rumino as the winner.

Should a player have six cards to a rumino, and a card that could be used as the needed seventh card is discarded by another player, the player holding the potential rumino may interrupt and draw it out of turn. They then reveal their newly-completed rumino and win the game, as usual.

Ending the game

If no ruminos are scored, game play continues for several hands, with players’ scores gradually increasing. When a player reaches a score of 100 or more, they drop out of the game.

If playing for money, a player may rebuy into the game by contributing more money to the pool. A player’s first rebuy is the same as the initial stake. If a player rebuys again, their second rebuy is double that amount. The third rebuy is again double the cost (four times the amount of the initial buy-in), and so on. Whenever a player rebuys, their score is reset to that of whichever opponent has the highest score under 100. A player no longer rebuy when there are only two players left in the game (i.e. whenever the third-place finisher is eliminated from the game).

Whichever player is the last remaining with a score under 100 wins the game. That player collects the entire prize pool.

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Jubilee

Jubilee is a simple Czech counting game for two to seven players. Players use cards from their hand to add to or subtract from a running total. If they can manage to make the total an exact multiple of 25, they score points. If they overshoot too far, though, they get slapped with a penalty!

Object of Jubilee

The object of Jubilee is to score the most points by making the running point total a number divisible by 25 as many times as possible.

Setup

Jubilee uses a unique 61-card deck. Starting with two decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards (with all four jokers), discard all the diamonds, as well as the hearts from one deck, and both copies of 10-J-Q-K♣. You’ll be left with a deck composed of A–K♥, A–9♣ (×2), A–K♠ (×2), ★ (×4). You also need something to keep score with, like pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal eight cards to each player. Place the rest face down in the center of the table, forming the stock.

Game play

Each card in Jubilee has a numerical value. Aces are worth the most, at fifteen. Face cards are worth ten. Jokers are worth zero. All other cards are their face value. These values are positive in clubs and spades, but negative in hearts.

The player to the dealer’s left plays one black card from their hand, face up, and states its point value, then draws a card. The next player also plays a card, adding its value to that of the card before, stating the new running point total, and draws a card to end their turn. The only restriction on play is that the point total cannot drop below zero. If a player only has hearts that would cause the total to become negative, they show their hand to the other players and skip their turn until they can play.

When a player brings the running total to a score divisible by 25 (25, 50, 75, 100, 125, etc.) they score ten points for a jubilee. If the score is divisible by 100, they score 20 points. If a player goes past a jubilee, they score –5 points. (For example, if the total is 19 and you play the 9♣, the total is now 28, so you have gone past the jubilee at 25. Likewise, if the total is 104 and you play the Q♥, the total becomes 94, and you have gone past the jubilee at 100.)

When the stock is exhausted, players continue without drawing. Game play continues until every player has exhausted their hand. Whoever has the highest score at that point wins. (The total will always end on 189 assuming the math was done correctly.)

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Pif Paf (Cacheta)

Pif Paf (pronounced with a long sound in Pif, like peef), also known as Cacheta, is a Brazilian card game that combines rummy-style game play with betting. It can be played by three to eight players. Players race to be the first to form their entire hand into melds. Whoever does that first gets to collect the pot!

Object of Pif Paf

The object of Pif Paf is to be the first player to arrange your hand into melds.

Setup

Pif Paf is played with a 104-card deck formed by shuffling two standard 52-card decks (like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards) together. You’ll also need something to bet with, such as poker chips. If desired, each chip can have a real-world cash value; if so, give each player chips equal to the amount of their buy-in. On the other hand, if you want to just play for fun, give each player an equal number of chips to start with.

Each player antes. Shuffle and deal nine cards to each player. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock.

Game play

In Pif Paf, cards rank in their usual order, with aces low.

Betting

Each hand begins with a round of betting. The player to the dealer’s left has the first opportunity to bet. Betting is conducted the same as betting in poker. Players cannot raise beyond the ante multiplied by the number of players in the game (for example, in a four-player game with a 5¢ ante, the maximum bet allowed is 20¢). Should all players but one fold, that player takes the pot by default and the hand is not actually played.

Play of the hand

After the betting round is resolved, the player to the dealer’s left goes first. They begin their turn by drawing one card from the stock. Then, they discard a card, placing it next to the stock to form the discard pile. This ends their turn. Thereafter, each player may draw either the unknown card from the top of the stock or the top card of the discard pile, as is typical in rummy games.

Players attempt to form melds as they play the game. There are two types of meld in Pif Paf. The first is the sequence, which is three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. The second is the group, which is three or more of a kind, containing exactly three suits. For example, Q♠-Q♥-Q♦ and Q♠-Q♥-Q♦-Q♦ are both groups, but Q♠-Q♦-Q♦ is not, and neither is Q♠-Q♥-Q♦-Q♣. Players keep their formed melds in their hand and do not lay them down on the table or otherwise reveal them.

If the stock is exhausted before a player goes out, simply turn over the discard pile to form a new stock without shuffling it.

If a player discards a card that is the last card another player needs to go out, they may claim that card out of turn. In the event that there are multiple players who could go out with the same card, the next player in turn order from the player that discarded it gets the right to claim it first.

A player may go out when they can form all nine of the cards from their hand into melds. They discard and then reveal their hand, broken out into melds. If all of the melds are valid, then they win the hand and collect the pot. The winner of the hand then deals the next one.

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