Ultimate Texas Hold’em was a big success

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I’ve spent the last several weeks reviewing some of the top table games of the past three decades. It would be incomplete if I didn’t cover what might be the biggest one of them all – Ultimate Texas Hold’em. 

It does not have the most tables, but I believe that it has achieved the highest monthly revenue total for its owner/inventor – Scientific Games. 

Three decades ago, if you walked into a poker room in a casino, you would’ve found mostly 7-Card Stud tables along with some Omaha Hi-Low tables. I’m sure there were some others, but these were the prominent ones.

Along came the Texas Hold’em craze. People’s favorite Hollywood stars were on television playing poker and of course, everyone wants to be just like their favorite star. Before we knew it, everyone wanted to play Texas Hold’em.

I can’t imagine that anyone reading this doesn’t know the basics of Texas Hold’em, but just for a quick recap. Each player gets two cards face down (their hole cards). The remaining five cards are community cards shared between all the players. They are dealt 3-1-1 with a round of betting before each round of cards. 

Naturally, the table game inventors had to come up with a way to bring this poker room game over to the main casino floor. The first successful game to do so was called Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker. It had a fair amount of success in the first couple of years. Then Ultimate Texas Hold’em came along.

There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from this game. You see before inventing UTH, Roger Snow had a game called Big Raise Hold’em. Let’s just say it did not do well. Rather than continuing to tinker with it and put it back out there, he threw it in the garbage and started fresh. Too many inventors keep trying to tweak their unsuccessful games instead of moving on.

We had dozens of version of UTH before we got to the current version. I probably did the math on 10 to 12 of them. I think Roger was up to Version 50 or so by the time we got to the one you know of. 

I remember it very clearly as it was about 2 a.m. on a Saturday night (East Coast time) when Roger came up with the betting structure. The earlier you bet, the more you can bet, but you get to make only one wager. The only thing I didn’t like about the betting structure is how difficult it was going to be to analyze the game.

Let’s review how Ultimate Texas Hold’em works. To begin play, each player makes an ante and blind wager . Each player and the dealer then receives two cards face down. The player can make a 4x his ante wager or check. The dealer will then reveal the first three community cards. 

If the player checked previously, he may now wager 2x or check again. If he wagered 4x, he’s done betting. 

The dealer will now reveal the final two community cards and the player who checked up until this point must make a 1x wager or fold. The final two cards are revealed at the same time for game speed. We would have loved to split these apart, but the game just got too slow.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written how a mandatory wager works against the player and an optional one works in his favor. The wagers in UTH are not like the ones in any other game. They are not independent of each other at all. Your decision to wager 4x after you see your first two cards must be balanced against the advantage of seeing an extra three cards but wagering only 2x at that point and waiting for all five cards and wagering only 1x. It is an ingenious and novel concept that in my opinion has made Ultimate Texas Hold’em true to it’s name – Ultimate.

According to my analysis, the payback of UTH is 99.5 percent with a difficult human playable strategy. I have seen others who claim that it’s true payback is as high as 99.75 percent but it would likely take a computer to play at that level. 

Yet UTH has one of the highest holds in the casino. Given the level of complexity of the strategy, it is no surprise that this would be the case. But many games with holds this high do not survive. 

What has made UTH so successful while still holding as much as it does? I’ll answer this question 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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