With the main event of the World Series of Poker getting under way, everyone’s thoughts turn to Texas Hold’em.
I don’t really write about poker played in the poker room much. While there is a math component to these games as well, so much of the strategy is based on psychology I think I’d be out of my comfort zone if I strayed there too often.
But, in trying to stick with the theme of the week, I’ll delve a bit into the table game version of Texas Hold’em – Ultimate Texas Hold’em (UTH for short) which may also assist some of you in your poker room sessions.
Most people who play any form of Texas Hold’em are familiar with the worst two-card pocket hand of off-suit 2-7. The two cards are too far away from each other to make a Straight and being off-suit requires four of the community cards to be of the same suit of one of them to make a Flush.
Even then, your contribution to the Flush will be that of a relatively low card so as to be vulnerable to a higher flush. If you do match up some cards on the Flop, you’ll still likely have one of the lower pairs. Bottom line, you don’t want to see this hand often.
On the other end of the spectrum we have pocket aces. You start with a pair of aces. If the community cards wind up helping you make a flush or straight you will have the highest possible one (except for a Broadway Straight).
If the flop shows an ace, you will have a great chance to totally suck an opponent in who will feel confident in his pair of aces, not realizing you have three.
The problem is there are 169 possible pocket hands. Many people can probably tell you the five best and the five worst, but that leaves 159 you are less sure about. Would you rather have an off-suit K-2, a suited 9-10 or a pair of 7’s?
In Poker Room Texas Hold’em, the answer to this will be based part in math, part on the number of players at the table and part on who they are. In a game like UTH, the number of players is immaterial thus, who they are matters even less. All that matters is the dealer’s hand and how likely you are to beat it.
Determining the strength of a pocket hand for a game like UTH is relatively easy. We simply create a program that plays out a dealer pocket hand plus five community cards and tabulate how often the player pocket hand will win or lose against that hand.
When we do this we find the off-suit K-2 will win 48.5% of the time and push about 4.2% of the time. This leaves us losing 47.3% of the time. In other words, this hand is a so-so hand where the player wins slightly more often than he loses.
With a suited 9-10, the numbers look a little more promising. The player will win 52.5% of the time and lose 44% of the time. With a pair of 7’s, the player will win 65.8% of the time and lose 33.2% of the time. In other words, he will win two out of three hands (almost).
This is actually just a smidge below a suited A-K and just above an off-suit A-K. I’m guessing most poker room players would much rather have that off-suit A-K over a pair of 7’s, but this shows the huge difference between playing a game based only in math and one that relies greatly on out maneuvering your opponent(s).
Of the 169 two-card pocket hands, 90 result in the player being more likely to win than to lose. Keep in mind the 169 hands do not occur with equal probability. Pairs are harder to get than any other combination.
Since there is no inherent advantage to player or dealer if both players get the same number of cards, we know in the long run the player will win as often as he will lose. So, if the betting structure of UTH was that the player reviews his pocket cards and then makes a wager he would make this bet 50% of the time.
However, UTH has a unique betting structure that allows the player to wager more if he bets early, but once he bets, he is done. Thus, there are some hands the player will win more often than lose. Thus he is better off waiting to see what the flop has to say and then deciding what to do.
The player gives up the chance to bet 4x, but gains more information about the strength of his hand and can then bet 2x. While it is prudent to do this at times, it should be noted about 75% of the time the player has a hand likely to win he should go all-in at the front and bet 4x.
In the end, he should be doing this about 38% of the time. From what I hear going on in casinos, players are playing too timid more often than not. The proper strategy for UTH’s first wager is as follows:
• 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.
Also, raise 4x if:
• If the player is dealt a suited K-X, where X is a 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.
Ultimate Texas Hold’em boasts a payback of over 99%, but you have almost no chance of attaining this if you don’t at least adhere to the strategy above.
The strategy for the next two wagers is far more complex and only becomes even more muddled if you bypass the opportunities to wager 4x when you should.