How to Play Poker With 3 Players


Poker is a brilliant game that can be played with a wide number of different players. You can have large tables with a dozen players, or it can simply be a head-to-head game between two players. With a different number of players comes a different dynamic and different ways of strategizing and playing the game.

playing poker 3 handed
Playing poker with 3 players is definitely possible. But before you begin you need to clarify a few things.

Playing poker with three players is fairly easy. Depending on the type you’re playing, you can have a quick and easy game, as long as you set some ground rules. The most common types of poker played with 3 players are Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and Seven-card Stud. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at how fun poker can be with three players and how you can make it work.

Choosing your type

There are many types of poker that you can play, but some are a lot more popular than others. Let’s check out the three most popular types that you’re most likely to see on a card table.

  • Texas Hold’em – This works very well for groups of all sizes and is the most common. This is where you’re dealt two hole cards with five cards placed onto the table. The person with the strongest five-card hand at the end of the betting is the winner.
  • Omaha – In Omaha, the player will receive four hole cards with three community cards being dealt straight away. Betting rounds will take place as they do in Texas Hold’em as two more community cards are revealed. The winner is then whoever has the best hand from just two of their hole cards and three community cards.
  • Seven-card Stud – In this version you get dealt three cards with one of them being faced up, the person with the lowest value card then starts the betting. There are no community cards, and the player has to find the best five-card hand from the seven cards they eventually receive.
type of poker: texas holdem
Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker type. You get dealt 2 cards and on the board are 5 community cards.

While you can choose any type of poker you want, there is a reason Texas Hold’em has become so popular. It works great for three players, is easy to deal and is quick and simple to follow. Our advice will mostly be aimed at that, and you can do your research if you’re interested in even more types.

Set the mood

With a game of three people, it’s important to know how you are going to play. Are you playing for fun, small stakes, or serious money? Is it going to be laid-back with a few beers or a serious competition? It’s important to set the scene before you get started.

A three-player game is only three sets of stakes, and therefore the winnings are unlikely to be high. It’s more likely to be a casual game where you can play multiple games in one night due to the rounds being played much quicker.

If you’re playing at home, whether casual or serious, you still want to make sure that you have the right equipment. Getting a poker felt will make playing a lot easier with high-quality playing cards and a good set of chips. A dining table is usually a good choice on which to set everything out.

Please note if you are playing 3 player cash games, then obviously it is set up a bit different than the option I described above. In a cash game, you will be playing one game, and players will continuously rebuy after they run of al the chips, or even if they are below the maximum buyin allowed. But the biggest fun when playing with friends it still is to play a sort of mini-tournament or a stingo.

playing poker with friends
Playing poker with your friends is usually for small amounts of money, games is fun and everybody is relaxed.

Poker chips

When playing with three players, you will most likely prefer to have a stripped back version of the game. Before you get going, you need to assign values to your chips. You’ll most likely have different colors that you can choose from.

In such a small game, there is an idea to not assign a monetary value to chips at all. Instead, you give each player a third of the chip count to play with. This works as players will simply play a percentage of their stack and work it out that way. The winner then gets any money that was placed into the game. This would be a winner takes all sit and go scenario. For cash games, you will still need to give a monetary value to the chips.

In professional poker tournaments, there is a fairly standardized color value with white being $1, red $5, green $25, and black $100 with other colors used for other values. In a small game, it’s unlikely you’ll have a game with enough at stake to make this worthwhile.

Instead, you can play with white chips valued at 25 cents and red at $1, with green at $2 or $5 depending on the amount being staked. The exact amounts will depend on the buy-in and the types of chips you have.

It goes without saying that this would be agreed upon before the game. As we said, in a casual game between friends, it’s sometimes easier to assign no value to the chips at all or simply have them all at the same value, such as 50 cents.

Re-buy or eliminate?

When playing poker, you have to decide what happens to someone if they lose all their chips. Giving the option to buy back in means that the game can keep going with three people, and it also promotes bigger risks if they know they can keep playing.

The other option is to have them be eliminated until the next game. As there will only be two people left in the game, it makes sense to play the elimination method as the loser won’t be frozen out for long after they’ve gone bust.

Also, in poker, you have to work out who’s getting the pot. In large groups, there are often consolation amounts for the likes of second and third.

When playing poker sit and go with 3 players, it makes sense to not do this and just let the winner take the full pot.

Scheduling blinds

The blind structure is vital to the flow and speed of the game. A small blind will encourage everyone to get involved with the hand and can lead to a slower game. A large blind forces players to be more aggressive, and therefore the game will be quicker.

In a three-player game, you have a couple of options to amend the rules slightly. You can forgo anyone needing to put in a blind or have a blind that every player has to put in to speed the game up. Another option is to not have a small blind and just have one large blind as this can speed up the game.

You can use your judgment on this, and it’s probably going to be best to start off with a blind that isn’t huge but at least forces players to think about whether they should call or fold. If you set it too low, then the blind becomes fairly meaningless.

After one player is eliminated, it’s a good idea to raise the blinds significantly.

This will promote aggressive play and speed up the game. If you’re playing with friends, you don’t want your buddy to be sat out of the game for too long.

Poker etiquette 

Even in a casual game, you want to be able to set some ground rules about what is or isn’t acceptable. If you get a player who is constantly on their phone, for example, then this can ruin the game for the other players around the table.

It’s also good to establish when breaks are going to be taken so everyone can grab a beer or have a toilet break. It’s important that everyone is one the same page about how you want to play and whether the game is more serious or more casual.

Can you play poker with 3 players?

Starting a game with three players is a lot different from starting a game with 12, which then eventually becomes three after nine players get eliminated. The reason for that is in a game that started with 12, the three remaining players will be playing with everyone else’s chips, and they will also be playing for a pot that 12 people contributed too.

Due to that, you should be prepared to make some adjustments to regular rules in terms of pot size, the assignment of chips, and also the blinds. If you’re playing a more serious game for a lot of money, then you will probably want to stick more stringently to the rules of poker.

However you intend to play, it’s important that everyone knows how the game is going to be played before you get going. You don’t want anyone to have an excuse to moan about the rules if the game isn’t going their way.

Small game poker strategies

We’ve looked at how you should set up a game of poker with three players, but what are the strategies you can use? Here are a few tips that could well give you the upper hand.

In 3handed poker, there are usually only the small blind, big blind, and button positions. This means that there is less of a chance that someone has a very strong hand, although it can still happen. It also happens a bit more often than in Heads-up games.

1. Medium strength hands

When you have a medium-strength hand that can be hard to play, it’s going to be best to check for as long as you can. These hands can then be very good at catching bluffers but shouldn’t be used to bloat the pot.

In three-player games, there is more of a temptation to bluff in order to win the blinds. Sitting back on a medium strength hand can be a great way to suck in a player who plans on bluffing, thinking their opponents have a weak hand.

2. Use your strong hands aggressively

Ace king on dry flop
Such a dry board is good to bluff on with AK. We can hit backdoor flush, backdoor straight, or simply hit top pair on turn or river.

In a small game, it pays to be aggressive, and you want to be able to make the most out of your strong hands. With a top pair or better, you will most likely be the favorite to win the hand, and you want to be able to get your rewards through the pot.

Remember, it is a lot less likely someone has two pairs, sets or straights when playing 3handed than they would in a full ring game. Therefore your top pair is a lot more valuable. But still, don’t go completely overboard with it

3. Bluff with backdoor potential

Bluffing can be more commonplace in smaller games as players will naturally be more aggressive and also want to win big blinds. It’s a good idea to bluff on the flop when your hand has the potential to be something more.

With this method, if your bluff gets called, then you still have a chance to win on later streets. If you’re bluffing with no potential, then you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. A good example is going for a bet with Ace King on Q82 rainbow flop. We can hit backdoor straight or top pair with it.

4. Be aggressive with premium hands

premium poker hand pocket kings (KK)
Don’t’ slow play with a premium hand like poker kings. You want to build the pot when ahead.

It’s always tempting when you have a great hand like pocket kings to try and sit back and suck other players in. This can work with a large group of players as there is a greater chance of another player getting a hand on the turn of the river, which they think can win.

If you have great hands, then try and build up a large pot straight away.

You need to balance this by bluffing and betting with other hands. If you’re only ever going in when you have strong hands, then you’ll quickly get found out.

5. Take the initiative

With three players, you’re almost always in the game. 2/3rds of the time, you’re going to be in the blind, and there is a good chance that the antes will be quite high. You need to be proactive instead of waiting for the good hands to come to you.

You may be the type of player who usually likes to sit tight, which can be fine for a large group but not in these settings. If you’re folding when you’re in the blind straight away, then you’ll find that your stack simply melts away until you’re forced to be desperate.

6. Take advantage of a chip lead

big stack in tournament
In 3 man Sit n Go’s as a big stack, you ca intake advantage of the desperation of others. You can afford to fold, and in some spots apply aggression to take the pot down.

If you are playing a sit n go or a tournament then being a chip lead has a big advantage. In a cash game, it’s almost negligible.

If you’re a chip leader, then you can afford to be a little more relaxed about the hands that are playing. You also want to take advantage of the desperation of others. If a player has a small chip stack, then they could well go all-in on the pre-flop with not much at all.

This is especially true if you’re not a part of the blind. Don’t be afraid to fold and let the other two battle it out. You still shouldn’t be passive, but you’re in a position where you can afford to let things go a little more than usual.

7. Go all-in on a small stack

short stack in a tournament
As a short stack your only options are usually to either fold or shove.

There are times when you’re going to have to either fold or go all-in when you’ve got a small stack, and someone else has raised. The reason for that is that there can be little value in calling when you don’t have a lot to play with.

If this is pre-flop, then you are increasing the chances of them folding. If you call and then see the flop, you only have a limited range of options.

Calling, seeing the flop, and then folding with a short stack is very damaging, and a lot of the time, it’s better to simply go all-in.

8. Cards gain strength

Your hole cards are J and 8 unsuited, and on the flop, you get a J, 2 & 5. In a small game, this pair of Jacks is stronger than in a larger game. This is important to know as you can then bet aggressively with hands that you otherwise wouldn’t.

The reason for this is very simple. If you’re playing against 11 other players, then there are 11 people who could have a stronger hand. If you’re playing against 2 people, then only 2 of them could possibly have a stronger hand. Due to this, you’ll often win hands with cards that wouldn’t be successful in a larger group.

9. Don’t get carried away

You go all-in, win the hand, and you’re buzzing. You get your next hand, and you’re still on that high. You go all-in again hoping to end the game, and suddenly you’re struggling with that small stack again as you got carried away by your success.

While you need to be aggressive, you also sometimes need to take a breath and keep playing with logic. In a fast-paced and small game, there is still time to reflect and have some patience. Don’t be afraid to sit out a hand while you catch your breath.

Final thoughts

Can you play poker with 3 players? Absolutely! Sometimes it can take a little bit of creative thinking to make the game flow easily, but the hands can be fast and enjoyable. If you’re not playing for high stakes, then you can be a little bit more flexible with the blinds, chips, and tempo.

If you ever plan on playing tournament poker, then 3-person games can give you a great experience on how to play when you get to the later stages. Different strategies are required with different levels of aggression. You don’t often get the chance to practice this properly.

When hosting a serious game, it’s a good idea to write down your rules beforehand. This is especially important if you are assigning monetary values to the chips you’re using. It can take a little bit of thought to get the right ratios to get a good flow of the game – I have a perfect post for you where I explain in detail how many chips you need for your game and what values you should assign to chips.

Casual games can be very fun, and you can make them very quickly. Not assigning chip values, not betting on the turn card, and everyone putting in a blind are examples where you can amend the normal rules of poker in order to have a simpler game. This is great for those times when a game of poker is more of a social event with your buddies rather than a high-stakes game.

3-player poker games are a huge amount of fun. All you need to do is set the rules of the game beforehand, know what type of spirit you intend to play with, and use the strategies we’ve mentioned to win! Hopefully, this guide has given you all the information you need to play poker with 3 players.

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Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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