Just a few months ago, I wrote about how I thought Ultimate Texas Hold'em has the perfect betting structure. This past Saturday night, I had an opportunity to see this in action. My wife and I had the opportunity to see the new variety show at the Wynn called Showstoppers. Good Show. I definitely recommend it, but I would suggest looking for discount tickets! After the show, we stopped to watch an Ultimate Texas Hold'em table game in action. It was a $15 table, which is not for the feint of heart. You have to be ready to wager $75-$100 per hand including the Ante, Blind, Trips and Play wagers.
In one hand, I saw everything that makes this game the blockbuster it is. First there was a Player who had a marginal 4x hand. He had a King-8 offsuit. The Player will win this hand about 54% of the time and lost it about 42.5% of the time. The Player clearly did not have a strong grasp of the game. Not because he didn't know the strategy, but because he didn't know the rules. After seeing his first two cards, he attempted to make a Play wager that was only 1x his Ante. I have to be honest, I don't know how you sit down with hundreds of dollars at risk and have not only little idea of the strategy, but little knowledge of the basics of the game!
The Dealer told the Player that he could not bet 1x at this point. He asked the Player to show him the cards. Upon seeing the K-8, the Dealer told the Player that this hand was worth the wager, but only 3x and not 4x! At this point, I was ready to smack my head against the table (or maybe the Dealer's). There is no hand in UTH that would make you want to bet 3x instead of 4x. Being able to bet 4x is an advantage to the Player. By betting only 3x, you're giving some of this back to the house. While there are some hands that betting 3x is better than waiting for the Flop, there are none that you are better off betting 3x over 4x. The right play was to bet 4x and this Player cost himself some potential payback.
Lesson number 1 is to not listen to the Dealers. I'm sure many are knowledgeable at some basic games like Blackjack or games that have simple strategy like Three Card Poker. But why would you think that the Dealer knows the strategy for UTH. I developed the only known strategy for the game. I haven't had a chance to yet complete my booklet, so the likelihood that the Dealer really knows the right strategy is very slim. Lesson number 2 is to at least know the RULES of the game you are playing. I didn't notice if the table had instruction cards for the game, but here in Las Vegas, the tables frequently do. Read them before you play.
The story doesn't end there. From what I've told you so far, it would explain why the game holds so much for the casino, but it doesn't necessarily explain why the game is so popular DESPITE holding so well for the casino. We have to move to our second player for that. He had an even stronger hand. A-10 offsuit. Again, not a massive hand, but this one will win 59% of the time vs. losing 38% of the time. I watched as he chose not to make a 4x wager at all. I guess only a pair of bullets will do. The flop came - J - 5 - 3. No real help. But now he decided to make a 2x Wager. But he did so, while shaking his head, as if he wasn't too happy about doing it. He had the top card. There was little chance of a Straight or Flush on the board. The hand still wasn't great, but it wasn't bad.
Along comes the turn and the river. The 5 paired up and an 8. He shook his head further. I didn't understand why. Sure, he didn't pull an Ace or a 10, but he still had the top kicker and the Dealer had now automatically qualified because the board had a Pair. Realistically, there were 11 outs for the Dealer. The Dealer would have to have a J, 8 , 5 or 3 to beat the Player. On a very rough calculation we can go with 11 outs times 2 Dealer Cards which gives us 22 out of 45 remaining cards. The Player was in a 50/50 position at this point, if we allow for pocket pairs too. Again, not exactly where you want to be, but you could be doing a lot worse.
I don't remember the exact cards the Dealer had, but I do know he didn't have a J, 8, 5 or 3 or a pocket pair. The Player won. He won $15 for the Ante and $30 on the Play. The Blind pushed. He won $45. He was as happy as can be!
At that very moment, my thoughts on UTH's betting structure were completely confirmed. The Player made a wrong decision, he cost himself money. He should have won $75, but won only $45. He was happy as a clam. A few months ago, I likened this to a Player playing blackjack who doesn't double down when he should and is still happy that he wins the hand for $10 instead of winning $20. The only difference is that in blackjack, an opportunity to double down occurs about 5-10% of the time. In UTH, the opportunity to bet 4x occurs around 50% of the time. This means if you chicken out of all but the top hands, you'll be doing the wrong thing 25-40% of the time. This is going to cost you big bucks over time.
The 'ultimate' irony is that you'll probably be as happy as can be while doing it!