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29 September 2016
By John Grochowski
Games such as Three Card Poker and Caribbean Stud Poker attract players who would never consider going to the poker room for a session of Texas Hold’em, seven-card stud or Omaha.
The games in the table pits have poker trappings, hand rankings and borrow some terminology, but they’re nowhere near as complex as poker where you play against other players. The games where you play against the dealer or a pay table have minimal strategy or none at all, and newbies can pick it all up within a few hands.
As easy as the games are, there’s a minor point about hand rankings that seems puzzling to inexperienced table pit players.
What, they wonder, is meant by “queen or better” in Three Card Poker or “ace-king or better” in Caribbean Stud. Those are qualifying hand levels the dealer must have in order to activate the bets players make after they’ve seen their cards. If the dealer doesn’t have those hands, players who don’t fold win only on their antes, and their follow-up bets are returned to them.
Three Card Poker is the most popular of the poker-based pit games, so most of the questions I receive on the issue are about that game. Here’s one, received in the last week of August:
“What do you mean by queen or better? Does there have to be a queen, king or ace in the hand? What if I have a pair of twos but my other card is only a jack? Does only the ante count because the dealer doesn’t have a queen or higher in the hand?”
It’s all about hand rankings, and what the “or better” part of queen or better means is a hand that would outrank a queen high hand.
The ranking of hands in Three Card Poker has straight flush at the top, followed by three of a kind, straight, flush, pair and high card.
A high card hand such as Q-9-5 hand of mixed suits qualifies the dealer, because it includes a queen or higher.
A pair of 2s also qualifies the dealer, regardless of the third card, because any pair outranks a high card hand such as Q-9-5. It’s the same deal with a flush such as J-8-3 of hearts, a straight such as 7 of clubs, 6 of diamonds, 5 of spades, three 9s, or a straight flush such as 9-8-7 of spades.
None of those hands include a queen, king or jack, but all of them outrank queen-9-5 and are qualifying hands of queen or better.
I used to get that question more often from Caribbean Stud players who wondered about the ace-king provision for dealer qualifying. Does 2-2-10-5-3 of mixed suits qualify?
It does, for the same reason. Any pair outranks a high-card hand such as A-K-9-7-4 of mixed suits, so any pair falls under the “ace-king or better” umbrella.
The Caribbean Stud questions had an extra level because the qualifying hand was defined by two cards instead of one. Again that’s a matter of hand rankings, where hands with no pairs or better are defined first by their highest card, then by their second-highest card. A-K-4-3-2 of mixed suits is a higher-ranking hand than A-Q-J-10-9.
That all will seem obvious to poker-playing veterans, but you’d be surprised at how often variations on the basic question pop into my email box. Everyone starts learning somewhere, and one point for Three Card Poker players to learn is that yes, even hands with no queen, king or jack qualify if they have a pair or a higher-ranking combination.
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