If you were to walk through a casino about 20 years ago, your choices would be a bit more meager than today. The casino would still be split between 'slots' and 'table games', but what you would find on each side would be vastly different from the 21st century. You will find video poker on the slot side, but not nearly as prolific as it would become. Of course, the slot side would be filled with mostly mechanical slots and video poker machines that play a single denomination and a single version of the game.
On the table game side, you'll have your choice of blackjack, Roulette and Craps and you MIGHT happen to see a Let It Ride or Caribbean Stud Poker table. Before these proprietary table games came on the scene, your only choice for a card game was blackjack. The problem with blackjack is that it is essentially an even money game. Yeah, you get to double down and split every so often, but those wagers still pay even money. So, the only way to win more than your base wager in a single deal is to WAGER more than that during the hand.
Along came Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride which changed this. Now you can play a hand and win considerably more than even money. But, Let It Ride has its quirky feature of pulling back wagers, which can make a Player feel like he's wagering $15 at a $5 table (even though he will rarely leave all 3 wagers up except when he's going to win). Caribbean Stud has the feature that the Player's larger wager will push when the Dealer doesn't qualify.
Along comes Three Card Poker with its simplicity. You make a wager and review your hand. If you like your hand, you make another equal-sized wager to trigger the showdown with the Dealer. If the Dealer doesn't qualify, it doesn't really matter which wager pushes as they are identical - AND you automatically win the other wager. You don't have to still beat the Dealer. If you get a very strong hand you get paid an Ante Bonus whether you win or lose and even if the Dealer doesn't qualify. Throw in a simple Pair Plus 'sidebet', with a relatively high hit frequency and you have the recipe for a huge winner. No game has even come close to the number of tables that Three Card Poker has.
Not a lot has changed with Three Card Poker since it was first introduced. When Derek Webb invented in the mid 1990's, he anticipated that the two wagers would be equal in importance (not necessarily in size). If a Player wanted to play only Pair Plus that was fine. If a Player want to play only Ante/Play that was fine. Of course, playing both was even better. Over the years, most, if not all casinos have turned Pair Plus into a sidebet, requiring Players to play Ante/Play every hand and Pair Plus being optional. Most likely this was due to the larger overall wager that Ante/Play brings. The other being change to Pair Plus was the lowering of its paytable so that it has a payback of about 93% instead of 97+%. It was with this change that the casinos fell in love with the game.
If there is one drawback to Three Card Poker, it is that the top payout is only 40 to 1. Now, this is still far better than anything in blackjack (barring the sidebets that would eventually be developed for it), but this was still way below Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud Poker and the rest of the 5- and 7-card poker games that will follow. To help this out a bit, a couple of minor modifications were made to add a 3-Card Royal and/or a 3-Card Royal in one particular suit to the paytable. But, with only 22,100 unique 3-card hands from a 52-card deck, there is only so high these payouts can go (usually about 100 to 1).
Along came a change a few years ago that has revolutionized Three Card Poker, if that is at all possible. If the problem is that there are only so many unique hands with three cards, add more cards. A few combinations of Player and Dealer hands were tried, but these tended to use each hand separately. Then, came the bolt of lightning. Combine all SIX cards to make ONE poker hand! Now, you are talking about more than 20 million possible hands by looking at six cards from a 52-card deck.
While most hands in this Six-Card Bonus paytable consists of the traditional five cards, the paytable allows for paying for a 6-Card Royal and even a 6-Card Royal in one particular suit, which in some cases can pay $1 MILLION for a $5 wager. The other beauty of this wager is that it does not require the Player's hand to be particularly strong on its own. Payouts start at Three of a Kind, so the Player can have pure garbage and the Dealer can provide the whole hand. Or the Player may appear to have a relatively useless 4-6-8 offsuit, but the Dealer may provide the 5 and 7. The Ante/Play decision has no bearing on the results of the Six-Card Bonus. From what I understand, about 50% of Three Card Poker tables now offer the Six-Card Bonus. It has proven to be so popular that you may find it other games that have other combinations of six cards dealt at some point during the game.
If you'd like to learn more about Three Card Poker and the Six-Card Sidebet, I recently picked up the 2nd edition of my booklet Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker from the printer. It retails for $5.95, but is available for a limited time to my blog readers for $5. Please send a check or money order to: Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.