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If imitation is the highest form of flattery, there is little doubt the two most successful games in the table games industry are Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

A discussion of which one is better, however, is a bit like trying to decide who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman?

Three Card Poker has more tables and has made more lifetime revenue (I believe). But, it was also created earlier in table game history, when there was far less competition. By the time UTH came along, not only were there several successful table games, but there was already a successful Texas Hold’em table (Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker).

But the question posed was not which one was more successful, but which is better? This is, of course, highly subjective. But if anyone is asking for my vote, it is Ultimate that would win the fight at this point.

Many inventors have tried to copy aspects of both games. Three Card Poker has a simplistic betting structure. You make an initial wager, you see your whole hand, you make another wager or Fold. Copying this is probably not the flattery part. That comes in when inventors try to mimic the Fold, Play and qualifying probabilities. Not just in the ballpark, but right down to the nearest percent.

This is what makes Three Card Poker so successful. You fold about 30% of the time and the dealer qualifies about 30% of the time. That must be the winning combination! The games that followed it showed this was not what made TCP so successful. I think what made TCP successful was its simplicity at a time when simplicity was in demand.

Ultimate Texas Hold’em has way more moving parts than Three Card Poker. You still make an initial wager, but it is actually two initial wagers (Ante/Blind). You still have dealer qualifying. But, the wagering system is completely different. You get a part of your hand and can wager 4x or check. Or you can wait to get more of your hand and wager 2x or check. Or you can see your entire hand and wager 1x or Fold. In some regards, UTH still copied Three Card Poker. In theory, you could never bet 4x or 2x and just wait until you have your entire hand and make a 1x or Fold decision just like Three Card Poker.

The difference is UTH has that blind wager, which is what generates most of the house advantage. If you just sit and play the 1x/Fold decision, you’ll win the same number of hands but you’ll win far less money than you could by making proper 4x/2x decisions. And this is what puts the word ultimate into Texas Hold’em poker! The number of hands you win or lose changes only with a portion of the strategy (the 1x/Fold decision). The amount you win requires knowledge of the complete strategy.

As the person who developed the math for the game, I’m about to give you one of the top secrets of the game. The strategy for the 1x/Fold decision is messy and complex. Games that share community cards with the dealer always gets messy. You can’t define your hand strictly by the rank of your hand as you need to take into account what part of the hand comes from you!

You could have Trip Aces as a hand, but this might be Three Aces on the board (community cards), while you hold a 2 and a 3 and the other two community cards could be 5 and 6. Your odds of winning this hand are near zero! If, however, the Trip Aces includes an Ace from your 2 cards, your odds of winning the hand go way up!

The strategy for the 2x/Check decision is actually even messier! You have the same problem of community cards, but now you still have two more cards to be drawn! You’ve got partial Straights and Flushes to contend with. It’s not pretty.

Now for the secret. The 4x/Check strategy is by far the easiest of the three. Also, you should be betting 4x about 45% of the time, which means if you follow the strategy, you’ll have to worry about 2x and 1x decisions far less often. I realize it is a tough decision to make as wagering 4x your Ante can be a lot of money. But, if you want to maximize your payback, I strongly suggest you try to adhere to this strategy. Here goes:

• Pair 3’s or Better

• Any Ace

• Suited KX

• Suited QX, where X is a 5 or better

• Suited JX, where X is an 8 or better

• Unsuited KX, where X is 5 or better

• Unsuited QX, where X is 8 or better

• Unsuited J10

That’s it. Eight strategy points that can be relatively easily memorized.

With any strategy like this, there are some “no brainers” (suited AK, High Pair) and some that are more marginal. If you’re going to play a bit timid, at least keep it to the more marginal hands. But this will also require learning the 2x Strategy (which is very complex) as you’ll need to know when your hand has improved enough to make the 2X wager. You don’t want to give away your potential 4x wins to be only 1x wins! I’ll cover this a bit more next week.

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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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