It’s no great secret that proprietary table games come and go at a fairly brisk rate. Casino operators seem more than willing to try new game concepts in the pit, and are just as willing to quietly drop them if they don’t catch on quickly with the consumer.
In a dynamic such as this, it’s rare for a proprietary game to last months, let alone a year. All of which makes the ongoing success of Shuffle Master’s Three Card Poker game that much more unique, considering it was first introduced in 1995 and still continues to attract an active and diverse player base. At last count, there are 1,600 Three Card Poker games in casinos across the globe, according to Shuffle Master, the game’s supplier.
“When Derek Webb invented Three Card Poker 20 years ago, there were not a lot of specialty table games in the marketplace,” said Roger Snow, senior vice president of table and utility products for Scientific Games, the parent company of Shuffle Master. “You had Caribbean Stud and Let it Ride and that was it. Three Card Poker beat them all, and ended up becoming the most successful proprietary game in the history of the industry.”
Why has Three Card Poker preserved where so many others have failed? According to Snow, it’s because the game is “so damned simple to play. You are essentially playing a three card poker game against the dealer. You and the dealer both get three cards. Whoever ends up with the higher hand wins. Even if you are a novice poker player, it is pretty easy to pick out a poker hand in three cards. Three Card Poker really hits the big part of the bell curve for table games players.”
According to Shuffle Master product literature, Three Card Poker actually features three ways to play and four ways to win. Three Card Poker lets players bet against the dealer, bet on the value of their own cards, or bet on both. To play against the dealer, players make an ante wager. After looking at their cards, they may fold or place an equal play wager to stay in the game.
If a player’s hand beats the dealer’s qualifying hand of a queen-high or better, he or she will win both wagers. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, players win the ante wager and their play wager pushes.
To play their hand value only, the player may bet the Pair Plus wager, which wins if the hand contains a pair or better. To play both the ante and the Pair Plus, players must make a play wager if they have placed the ante, or they forfeit the ante.
With premium hands of a straight or higher, players win an ante bonus payout even if the dealer doesn’t qualify, or even if they lose to the dealer.
“I give Derek all the credit in the world for creating Three Card Poker… we do not want to monkey with the primary game because it is just that good,” Snow said. “It is today what blackjack was 20 years ago—a gateway table game that is so simple it appeals to all demographics; young and old, male and female, high rollers and low-stakes gamblers.”
Where Shuffle Master has taken Three Card Poker to the next level is through the integration of enticing and exciting side bets into the game. “Our company has done a very good job over the years experimenting with different additions to the game,” Snow said. “Three Card Poker is a mathematically gifted game in that respect. Pair Plus is the primary side bet on the game…any pair wins. It wins about 25 percent of the time, which is perfect for a side bet. And the hardest hands to hit are still not that hard. A straight flush is once every 600 hands or so. It is relatively easy to get compared to a five card poker hand.”
The latest side bet integrated into Three Card Poker is the 6 Card Bonus, which, when played, pays off for the best five card poker hand created from a combination of the six cards dealt to the player and the dealer. “Three of a kind or better wins,” Snow said. “Again, this has great hit frequency, great suspense, and it is not that hard to hit a premium hand.”
Shuffle Master has also created a progressive side bet for Three Card Poker. To begin each round, players make their standard Three Card Poker wagers and the optional $1 progressive wager. If a player gets an ace-king-queen in spades, it triggers the progressive jackpot. Hands containing an ace-king-queen suited, three-of-a-kind, and straights trigger a flat payout. If a player makes the progressive wager and their hand does not qualify for payouts, they may still win the Envy Bonus payout if at least one player has ace-king-queen suited. A player cannot win Envy bonuses for his or her own hand or the dealer’s.
Going forward, expect additional side bet experimentation with the Three Card Poker format. “We never say, ‘well, it is finished, we are done modifying Three Card Poker,’” Snow said. “I am sure that if we keep thinking, we will come up with something else to make the game even more popular.”
Indeed, a brain session devoted to finding ways to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Three Card Poker led to the latest chapter in the game’s evolution, as the centerpiece to a new tournament called Shuffle Master Classic.
“We were discussing ways to celebrate the anniversary and started to think of things that would appeal to players,” Snow said. “Well, players always like free money, so we came up with a big, national Three Card Poker tournament with a $250,000 prize pool.”
The Shuffle Master Classic Three Card Poker National Championship event gives Shuffle Master proprietary table games players at sponsoring casinos a chance to win a free trip to Las Vegas to compete in a $250,000 national tournament. To qualify, players must hit the “classic” hand on one of the Shuffle Master proprietary table qualifying games during regular game play in June. The National Championship will take place September 28 at The Venetian in Las Vegas, with the top seven players splitting the $250,000 prize pool.
“So you may be playing Ultimate Texas Hold’em and you hit the qualifying classic hand and,bam!, you get a golden ticket, a trip to Las Vegas, free accommodations, free entry into the tournament—free is the operative word here—and you will play and we are giving away $250,000,” Snow said. “So at the worst, you get a free trip to Las Vegas. At the best, you also get to go home with some money.”
The response to this national tournament has been robust thus far. According to Snow, Scientific Games was expecting 50 casinos to sponsor the event. As of early April, 65 properties have committed to the contest.
“Our hope is that people like it, win some money, and go back to their casino and talk it up, and the casino asks how can we do it again next year?” Snow said. “We want to grow this. What the World Series of Poker has done for poker, we hope Shuffle Master Classic will do for proprietary table games.”