Yes, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is complex

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I have spent the last couple of columns talking about Ultimate Texas Hold’em. This week, I’ll complete the trifecta and wrap up the conversation. 

This is a lot of time to spend on one game. But the game is the most popular one out there at the moment and is rather complicated. I consider it to have, by far, the most complex strategy of any game in the casino.

Games like Blackjack and Video Poker do have somewhat complex strategies, but they can be memorized with a little practice, and even simplified a bit without much cost to the player. I know of no ‘perfect strategy’ for UTH that can even be put into English. Even what I call my Expert Strategy is very difficult to fully memorize and it deviates from a perfect strategy by about 0.25 percent in payback.

In my last column, I discussed the strategy that should be utilized after seeing just your first two cards, otherwise known as the 4x strategy. This is the easiest of the strategy decisions to memorize and is also the most important. If you do what you are supposed to do at that point, you don’t have to worry nearly as often about what to do after the Flop or the Turn/River cards.

Today, I’m going to jump to the final decision point. What to do after you’ve seen your whole hand and you haven’t wagered so far. Your choice is to make a wager equal to your ante or to fold. When faced with this type of decision, you are frequently playing defense. Your hand is not so strong, but you will be folding two units (ante and blind) if you fold, so it will not happen all that often.

Let’s cover some of the math behind this decision. If you win, you will be paid even money for your play wager. As your hand is likely on the weak side, you can expect to push the blind. 

Similarly, since your hand will often not be strong, you will frequently win with the dealer not qualifying, meaning the ante will push as well.

So, at most you will win five units back and frequently you will win only four. This means that you need to have a win rate of between 20 and 25 percent to make the 1x wager worthwhile. In this range, you will still overall lose money, but you will lose less than if you were to fold.

Part of what makes the strategy so complex for UTH is that the player and dealer share community cards. As a result, we can’t simply say that if the player has two pair he should make the wager because that two pair might be completely in the community cards and the player might be holding a 2 and 3, with the final community card a 4. The dealer is nearly a sure winner at that point.

So, let’s try to lay it out for you. If the player has a Straight or better, even if it consists totally of community cards, he should not fold. You might lose some of these hands, but the odds of just maintaining the tie is worthy of not folding.

If the player has a Three of a Kind or a two pair which uses at least one of his cards to make (i.e. it is not fully comprised of community cards), he should make the 1x wager. If the Trips/two pair is made up completely of community cards, then the player must count how many of the remaining cards can beat him.

You don’t need a calculator to figure this out. You just need to quickly run through the ranks of cards relative to the kickers in his own hand to figure out if there are 24 or more remaining cards in the deck that the dealer can have to beat him. If so, fold.

If the player has a pair that was not comprised completely of community cards, then he should make the 1x wager if the community cards do not contain a 4-Card Straight or a 4-Card Flush. If the community cards make a 4-Card Straight or a 4-Card Flush, then he should only make the wager if his pair is greater than the lowest ranked community card.

If the community cards make both a 4-Card Straight and a 4-Card Flush (it may be a 4-Card Straight Flush, but does not have to be), then he should only make the wager if his pair is greater than the rank of the third-highest ranked community card.

If the community cards have the pair or the player’s hand is less than a pair (meaning the community cards also do not contain a pair), the player must go back to counting cards. If the total number of cards that can beat the player is 25 or more, then he folds in the case of a community card pair.

In the case of no pair, this number drops to 23 or more, which reflects the fact that the dealer will not qualify frequently.

Before you all throw up your hands and go play Three Card Poker instead, take a deep breath and realize that this is not nearly as bad as it sounds.

For the most part, if your pocket cards improves your hand beyond that of a kicker, you make the 1x wager. If the community cards make the hand and you are relying on kickers to win, then you need to figure out how many cards that the dealer can have that can beat you.

If you learn the earlier strategies properly, you should only be facing the 1x decision about 40 percent of the time and you will make the wager nearly 65 percent of the time. 

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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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