Graduation Day

             Last week, I alluded to the notion that Players play Ultimate Texas Hold'em more timidly than they should.  While a portion of this is probably based in the relatively complex strategy of the game, I believe the larger portion is in the decision itself.  It takes nerves of steel to put down 4 times your initial Ante wager.  Give me a High Pair or a suited A-J and I'm willing to risk it.  But what about offsuit A-8 or suited K-10.  How good are these hands?  Even if the strategy says to Play 4x, UTH allows the Player to wait for more information and then either Play 2x or wait longer.  So, why rush my decision?


            The first thing you need to remember when playing UTH is that you are playing head's up against the Dealer.  You are not playing against the other Players.  So, even if the table feels a bit crowded, you're still in a 1-on-1 situation.  As any Hold'em Player will tell you, the hands that are only so-so in a full table can become that much stronger in a head's up game.  If you're playing on a full table and need to act early, there's a good chance you're throwing your mid Pair hand.  If we rank the pocket hands in a head's up game, we find that it starts with a Pair of Aces and works its way down to a Pair of 8's as the top 7 hands.  Yes, a Pair of 8's is a better hand than a suited A-K from a mathematical standpoint.  Since there is no bluffing in UTH, this is the ONLY thing that matters. 


            Just how powerful is a Pair of 8's?  You'll win this hand 68.5% of the time and loset it only 30.5% of the time.  Is it any wonder that our strategy tells us to Play 4x.  By waiting for the Flop, what exactly are you hoping to see?  Ideally, of course, you want an 8 on the Flop.  When you get it, you're an almost sure winner, but now you only get to win 2x instead of 4x.  Worried that you might see a J-Q come up and he'll beat you with a Higher Pair.  Again, there is no strategy in UTH.  The Dealer is as likely to have a 2-3 as he is to have a J-Q.  Unlike real poker, he isn't going to fold his 2-3!


            After a Pair of 8's, the majority of the next hands (when ranked by win frequency) are of the A-X variety and a few more mid Pairs.  You'll note that I did NOT say SUITED A-X variety.  While a suited hand is, of course, stronger than a non-suited hand, the X is very important as well.  We find that an off-suit AK will win more often than a suited AJ.    The simple reality is that starting from a suited hand, you'll only get a Flush about 2-3% of the time.  The higher 2nd card will do more for you when it pairs up because it will be able to beat that many more pairs.  The power of the suited pocket cards is in the ability to bluff the other Player(s) or perhaps bully them when you have 4 cards to a Flush. 


            When all the work is done, we find that ALL Pairs, except 2's warrant a 4x Wager.  A Pair of 3's will win 52% of the time and this puts it right at the cusp of our strategy mark.  Will you kill your payback if you choose to wait on a Pair of 3's?  No.  But if that were the only hand that Players were getting hesitant on, it wouldn't be a problem.  EVERY hand with an Ace - Suited OR Offsuit warrants a 4X wager.  That's right.  Even the lowly offsuit A-2 will win 52% of the time (and tie 4+% of the time), making the 4X wager the right play.  EVERY suited hand with a King should be played 4X.  Below is the complete strategy for the 4X wager in Ultimate Texas Hold'em.

  • 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.

             Roger Snow, the Senior VP of Table and Utility Products for Bally Technologies invented UTH.  I've often heard him tell the story about how he was playing it a few years back and went in 4X on a suited King hand.  The Dealer looked at him and told him he shouldn't do that.  Roger smiled and thought to himself that he'll trust his own math guy (me!) as to the strategy.  Did I mention that a suited K-7 will win 56% of the time?


            I understand that it can be difficult to wager 4x for what is essentially a marginal hand.  However, it should be noted that some of these hands are not so marginal.  A Pair of 6's will win 63% of the time!  Depending on the blind paytable in use, UTH can have a payback well in excess of 99%.  It is virtually impossible for the average human to achieve a payback this high.  But, from observing the game, I would say most of the people give up any chance of getting this time of return on the 1st wager, which ironically is the EASIEST to master.  As I said earlier, I don't think this is a matter of the difficulty of the strategy, but rather the hesitance to make such a large wager.


            If you can master the strategy for just the 4X wager of UTH, you will have made significant progress towards a degree as an Expert Player.  Speaking of degrees, a special shout out goes to my son, Nis, who recently graduated from Rutgers University!