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The question that I posed last week was regarding Ultimate Texas Hold’em. It has one of the highest holds in the industry.

“Hold” is actually a rather fuzzy mathematical term, but it is a measure that casinos rely on greatly. It tries to measure how much of the player’s money the casino actually wins relative to how much the ‘drop’ is. The drop being the amount of cash that get changed into chips at a table.

The problem with this measure is that someone could walk up to a table and hand a $100 bill to the dealer, play one hand and leave. If he lost $5 the drop would be $100 and the hold would be 5 percent. If another player gave the dealer $20 and lost $5 on one hand and left, the hold would be 25 percent. But, the casinos assume that over a period of time, these things average out.

From what I have heard, the hold for Ultimate Texas Hold’em is in the 25-30 percent range. For comparison, Blackjack is usually in the low teens and might be in the single digits on a 3 to 2 table.

A number of things contribute to a high hold. One of the biggest factors is the payback of the game. But, Blackjack and UTH have very similar paybacks — right around 99.5 percent. So, this doesn’t explain the different holds between the two games.

Another major factor is human error, which is a byproduct of the strategy. Blackjack does have a fairly complex strategy. But, it is one that can be boiled down to a table that a player can memorize and even bring in to the casino with him.

UTH’s strategy is even more complex. The strategy for what to do at the 4x point is actually the easiest portion of the strategy. Yet, as I’ll explain in a moment, it is also the secret sauce for UTH. If you check at the 4x point, the strategies for what to do after the flop or after all seven cards have been dealt approach the point where very few can play it 100 percent correctly.

But, the question posed last week was not only why is the hold so high, but how does the game survive (and actually thrive) with such a high hold?

Most games that hold as high as UTH would potentially have died in its infancy. As I mentioned earlier, this comes down to UTH’s secret sauce. The human brain is a rather funny device. I remember reading years ago how a study on the brain showed that near misses on a slot machine register nearly the same chemical affect on the human brain as a win. In like fashion, I would imagine that any win registers the same affect as any other win.

So, if the player is a bit timid but winds up winning with a 1x wager, this registers the same in the brain as if he won with a 4x wager. But the player won far less in real money with the 1x wager. If you throw in a hand where the Turn and River make the hand into a big winner — that is perhaps a Low Pair becomes Quads — the player will win nicely on the Blind wager and care even less. 

But, the reality is still the same. The player won 3 units less than he could have.

I use the term “could have,” but really should have used the term “should have.” UTH has a 99.5 percent payback, but this assumes the player plays the right strategy. If he repeatedly wins 1x (or even 2x) instead of 4x, he will not achieve this 99.5 percent payback, or anything close. 

I know firsthand from watching people play that the average player plays UTH too timidly. They skip making the 4x wager when they should. After all, they can wait to see how the game turns with the Flop and go with a 2x wager if the hand improves or check and wait if it doesn’t.

But the math tells us that with certain hands, the opportunity to win 4x is a better choice than waiting and wagering 2x or waiting longer and wagering 1x or even folding. Players are willing to wager 4x on High Pairs and strong suited A-X hands, but are less inclined to do so with Lower Pairs or suited K-X hands. 

So, I present to you the proper strategy for when to wager 4x. Of all the strategy points, this is the clearest and most accurate strategy you’ll find.

• If the player is dealt any Pair except for 2’s, he should raise 4x

• If the player is dealt an Ace, he should raise 4x.

• If the player is dealt a suited K-X, where X is card of the same suit.

• If the player is dealt a suited Q-X, where X is greater than a 4.

• If the player is dealt a Suited J-X, where X is greater than a 7.

• If the player is dealt an unsuited K-X, where X is greater than a 4.

• If the player is dealt an unsuited Q-X, where X is greater than a 7.

• If the player is dealt an unsuited J-10.

With this strategy you should expect to wager 4x about 38 percent of the time.  These will not all be sure winners. But, you can expect to win about 60 percent of these hands overall. 

Obviously, the stronger your hand within this strategy, the more likely you are to win it.  And after all, Ultimate goal is to win the most money, not the most hands. 

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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