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Three-card Brag

Three-card Brag is an old British card game, dated back to the 16th century. Brag is considered to be a predecessor of Poker, especially of its variation Draw. Basic rules are very similar to Poker, however a few modifications or specialties can be found.

In Brag each player is obliged to put an ante bet in the pot. On the beginning of the game each player is dealt three cards face down, i.e. hidden from the sight of the opponents. Then the first round of betting follows with the player sitting on the dealer’s left hand. Each player has the choice of betting or folding. So far it has been the same as in classic Poker.

Betting in Brag

The system of betting in Brag differs from usual Poker games. If any player bets, the next player in the order must bet at least the same amount (or raise), if he or she wants to stay in the game, while the money that has been already put in the pot are disregarded. That is why it is not enough to call only (as in classic Poker), if there has been a round of betting. It will be clearer from the following example.

The example of betting in Brag. There are four players in the game. The first player bets 100 chips, the second player bets 100 chips as well, the third player throws-in and finally the fourth player bets 100 chips too. If the first player wants to stay in the game, he or she must bet again at least 100 chips. In usual Poker games it would now be possible to show down and evaluate the outcome of the game.

The betting continues in this fashion until there are only two players left. Now any of the players may double the bet and see his or her opponent. The player with stronger hand wins the whole pot. In there is a tie, the player, who doubled the bet to see his or her opponent, loses. Shuffling is a specialty as well. The cards are usually not shuffled, just put on the bottom of the deck.

Brag Hands & Rankings

Brag hands are similar to those in classic Poker. Ordered from the strongest to the weakest they are the following: Three of a Kind also known as Prial (Pair Royal), Straight Flush (or Running Flush), Straight (Run), Flush, Pair and High Card. Brag hands, including the probabilities to obtain them, are shown in the table below.

Table 1 – Brag Hand Rankings
Brag Hands from the Strongest to the WeakestHand ExampleProbability of Getting the Hand
Prial (Pair Royal) / Three of a Kind0.24%
Straight Flush / Running Flush0.22%
Straight / Run3.26%
High Card73.38%

Evaluation of Hand’s Strength

It is common in Poker that the hands are ranked according to the probability – the lower the probability, the higher the rank. It is alike in Brag with a single exception. A careful reader may have noticed (in the table above) that Prial is stronger than Straight Flush, despite it is more difficult (that is less probable) to get Straight Flush than Prial (or Three of a Kind). It is simply a matter of rules, perhaps because Brag is a three-card game.

Thanks to the three cards there are also these differences in Brag: a well-known and strong Poker hand – Full House (Three of a Kind + Pair) – drops out and Straight is stronger than Flush, since with the three cards it is harder (less likely) to get Straight than Flush; it is vice versa in classic Poker.

Another curiosity or deviation from the poker rules that we are used to, is that the strongest Three of a Kind or Prial is 3-3-3. Thus it is even stronger than three aces A-A-A. Afterwards the rankings are classic: three aces are stronger than three kings etc. Also, very similarly "the three" can be used to create the strongest Straight Flush or Straight: A-2-3 is stronger than Q-K-A, that is stronger than  J-Q-K etc. (see the illustration below). Again it is just a 3-card Brag!

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As for Flushes, Pairs and High Cards the hands are ranked as in classic Poker; "the three" plays no role any longer.

Betting Blind Rule

The players of Brag may be betting blind, that is without looking at their cards. Some special rules apply here. The player who bets blind is designated as a blind player (or a blind man), while the player who looks at his or her cards is considered to be an open player. The betting costs of the blind player are half compared to the open player – or in other words – the open player must bet twice the amount as the blind player. There is a rule in place that the open player cannot see the blind player – more precisely – until the blind player decides to look at his or her hand, whereupon he or she becomes an open player and can be seen.

If all players fold to the blind player, the pot remains, everyone must re-ante, the blind player keeps their hand + is dealt an additional/new hand. The player who holds two blind hands may at any time look at one of them and decide whether to keep it or throw it away. If he or she decides to keep it, the second hand (the blind hand) must be thrown away and from now on he or she becomes an open player. If the player throws away the hand he or she has just looked at, he or she keeps the other hand and remains a blind player. Finally, if all other players fold to a blind player with two hands, he or she must throw away one of them without looking at the cards.

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