Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a ShuffleMaster table game based on the popular poker game. The description and rules of the game are found online. I didn’t find a basic strategy anywhere for the game, so I devised one myself using my own analysis program.
The game is very popular, because the house edge is reasonable, and because of the trips bet pay table. Most of the post-flop decisions are fairly normal (bet when you have something, otherwise check). However, there are some situations on the flop where you need to check bottom or small pocket pairs. Conversely, there are times when you bet a draw, or a good kicker. On the river, my strategy table tells you when to call 1x with good kickers. The following strategy simulates at 2.3% house edge, close to the 2.2% optimal strategy.
Ultimate Texas Hold’em Basic Strategy
I find that people play quite differently from basic strategy. Granted, my site is the first to publish strategy for post-flop play, but I thought that people would instinctively figure it out. From what I’ve seen, people are very reluctant to raise pre-flop (4x) without a big pocket pair, or at least Ace + face. They’re very surprised to see me raise with J8s, or K5o. On the flop, people check pairs, waiting to just call on the river. Conversely, on the river, people frequently call with a bad kicker. Many of these mistakes cost 20% or more of the ante, or $1 of $5. So, to help out the fans of this game, I’m writing this basic strategy tutorial. Near-optimal play is very simple, and easy to master. With a little experience, you’ll play faster than the dealer. At a 2.2% (of the ante) house edge, the game is very cheap, since your average 4.2 unit bet reduces the house take to 0.5% of your action. It’s better than most blackjack games.
It’s very simple to make the optimal pre-flop decision. If your starting hand is equal to, or better than the hands listed in the above table, you raise 4x, and you wait to see if you win. If your starting hand isn’t good enough to raise, then just check, and wait for the flop.
The hands that are good enough to raise 4x:
- pair of 3’s or higher
- Ace + anything
- any suited King, or King and 5 or higher
- Queen and 6 suited, or Queen and 8 or higher
- Jack and 8 suited, or Jack and Ten
It’s really important to raise your 4x preflop opportunities. The “play” bet is where you make all your money
|Ante||yes||1x||-16.6%||dealer must qualify for player to win
push if dealer doesn’t qualify (and player didn’t fold)
|Blind||yes||1x||-31.5%||pays winning hand on straight or better
a.k.a. the “Rake” bet
built-in “bonus” bet pays 500x for a Royal Flush, etc.
|+45.9% of ante||This is the player advantage bet, you should always bet when indicated, to overcome the Rake|
|Trips||optional||table limits||-1.904% for standard paytable||Not bad as far as “bonus” (“sucker”) bets go.|
The table below shows a few pre-flop decision points, and the difference between raising 4x and just checking. My program comes up with the exact same EVs as The Wizard of Odds, as we’re probably doing the exact same recursive calculations. It takes me about 16 hours to calculate each of these preflop points, and it took the Wizard 2 months of compute time to calculate the EV over each of the possible starting hands (pairs, suited & offsuit combinations).
|As 2s||+0.1665||+0.3999||raise with Ace anything|
|Kh 2h||-0.0799||-0.0745||raising K2s beats checking by 0.54% of the Ante bet|
|Kh 8d||-0.0040||+0.1663||checking makes it a loser; raising 4x makes it a winner|
|Qh 8d||-0.0926||-0.0694||raising Q8o beats checking by 2.3% of the Ante bet|
|Kh 5d||-0.1511||-0.1176||raising K5o beats checking by 3.35% of the Ante bet|
Generally, you bet (2x) any pair you’ve made on the flop. The only time you’d check your pair is if the board is suited, and you have a pair, no flush draw, and your kicker is smaller than the board (it’s pretty rare). Also, you should check your small pocket pair (4’s or smaller) if the board is paired, and all the board cards are bigger than your pair. And, you should check your pocket pair if the board is suited, unless you have a flush draw, or there are smaller cards on the board, as described in the strategy table. But other than those rare cases, you’re betting 2x on any pair you make.
|2h 3d||Ah Kc 2s||-0.3492||-0.2442||bet any pair (non pocket) on an offsuit board|
|2h 3d||Ah Ac 2s||+0.3974||+0.5080||bet any pair (non pocket) on a paired board|
|2h 2c||Kc Qc 4c||-0.1657||-0.1405||bet any pair with a flush draw|
|3c 5d||3h 2h Th||-0.4781||-0.4463||bet mid or top pair on a suited board|
|6c 9c||Ad Jd 6d||-0.5031||-0.4768||bet bottom pair on a suited board w/ 6th nut kicker|
|3c 3d||7h 7d Th||-0.1361||-0.2446||check pair < fives on paired board with no board undercards|
If you’re holding high cards (like Ace, or other “nut” kickers), and you didn’t 4x raise preflop, you can still 2x bet on a paired flop according to the basic strategy table. E.g., if you’re holding an Ace, and the board is paired, you should bet 2x now. But if the board isn’t paired, even if you have AK, you can’t bet your hand.
|Ah Kd||4h 5s 9s||-0.6489||-0.6570||non-paired board, check nut kickers|
|Kh Jd||5h 5s 9s||-0.3978||-0.3927||paired board, bet 2nd and 4th nut kickers|
|Ah 6d||5h 5s 9s||-0.2430||-0.1773||paired board, bet 1st nut kicker|
Betting Straight Draws
Generally, you will only consider betting outside straight draws of JT98 or better. If the board isn’t paired or suited, then you can bet any JT98 or better draw, except the “idiot-end” (you have 98). If the board is paired, you can bet a T987 draw if your cards are T9, otherwise the first rule applies. If the board is suited, you can’t bet any straight draw unless you also have a flush draw. Also, only bet the straight draws mentioned when both your hole cards play, or your kicker is an overcard to the board.
Interestingly, you should bet a gutshot to an A-high straight when you have nut kicker. This is a combination kicker & straight draw bet, and while it doesn’t occur very frequently, it’ll probably occur to you that betting it is better than checking.
|9s Td||Jh Qs 3s||-0.0060||+0.0887||bet low end of QJT9 outside straight draw|
|9s 8d||Jh Ts 3s||-0.1644||-0.1922||check low end of JT98 outside straight draw|
|9s Td||Jh 8s 3s||-0.0076||+0.0470||bet any JT98 outside straight draw other than “idiot-end”|
|9s Td||7h 8s 3s||+0.0113||-0.0483||check any straight draw less than JT98|
|Ks Qd||Th 2h Jh||-0.2475||-0.2495||on a suited board, check all straight draws w/o flush draw|
|3d Qd||Js Th 9c||-0.3452||-0.4325||check QTJ9 unless both hole cards are higher than 9|
|Ks 3c||As Qh Td||-0.4229||-0.3918||bet a combination nut kicker and gutshot straight draw|
Betting Flush Draws
If the board isn’t paired or suited, can bet any 4th nut flush draw or better. Also, bet any 5th nut flush draw if there are any board cards smaller than your lowest card. The same goes for paired boards. Bet any 4th nut flush draw, or 5th nut draw and both your cards are higher than the board singleton.
When the board is suited, you may bet your flush draw depending on how high it is, and whether you have a kicker, pair, or other draw. If you are drawing to 2nd nut or better, you don’t need anything else to bet. If you’re drawing to 3rd nut flush, you need an board undercard, i.e., at least one card on the board is smaller than your kicker.
For lower flush draws, you need a good kicker to bet the flop. The example below shows 5th nut flush draw & 3rd nut kicker is good enough to bet. Note that failing to bet 5th nut flush draw & 2nd nut kicker will cost you almost 10% of your ante, i.e., $.50 for a $5 ante. That’s significant. As you can see, the house makes a very healthy profit on misplayed hands.
Finally, bet any pair with any flush draw.
|Qh 5d||4h 7h 9h||+0.1697||+0.2098||bet 3rd nut flush draw with any board under card|
|Qh 3d||4h 7h 9h||+0.1089||+0.1067||check 3rd nut flush draw with no board under cards|
|7h Td||Ah Kh 8h||-0.0255||-0.0082||bet 5th nut flush draw with 3rd nut kicker|
|7h Jd||Ah Kh 8h||+0.0660||+0.1546||bet 5th nut flush draw with 2nd nut kicker|
|Th 3h||8h 2h Qs||+0.1807||+0.1939||bet 5th nut flush draw & any board undercards to your smallest card|
|3h 2d||2h 8h Th||+0.1614||+0.3131||bet any pair with any flush draw|
|Th 5h||3h 3d 4h||+0.5343||+0.5437||bet 5th nut flush draw w/ overs on paired board|
Betting Combination Draws
On non-suited boards, you should bet most flush draws accompanied by open-ended straight draws.
|8h 5h||6d Kh 7h||+0.9417||+1.0705||bet flush draw & outside straight draw|
|4h 6h||5d Kh 3h||+0.9441||+0.9551||bet flush draw & outside straight draw|
|3h 6h||5d Kh 4h||+0.8933||+0.8829||check this combo draw (holding a 3)|
|8c 5h||6h Kh 7h||+0.4793||+0.4091||on suited board, check combo draws|
|Th 2s||8h 9h 7h||+4.5938||+4.5869||check 5th nut flush w/ straight draw on suited board|
|6h 5h||3h 3d 4h||+5.1212||+5.1371||on paired board, bet outside straight flush draw w/ >65 in hand|
|6h 5h||8h 8d 7h||+4.9893||+5.0284||on paired board, bet outside straight flush draw w/ >65 in hand|
Made Hand on Board
If there’s a made hand on board (straight, flush, full house, straight flush), call to play the board for a probable push.
Beating the Board
If the board isn’t a scare board as described below, call any time you beat the board (by more than just kickers). This means call if you made any pair that plays. You don’t need to worry about any gutshot boards (there are 4 cards that make a dealer straight). The following example shows you should still call with deuces against a gutshot board:
|2d 2h||8c 9c 6c 5s Ah||-2.0000||-1.9182||bet under pair on a gutshot board|
A scare flush board contains 4 cards to a flush (9 cards that make the dealer a flush), and a scare straight board contains a 4 card outside straight (8 cards make a dealer straight). If the scare board is also paired, you may call with nut kicker. Otherwise, you need at least bottom pair and 3rd nut kicker to call.
|Th 3s||8c 9c 6c 3c Ah||-2.0000||-1.9788||scare board, bet bottom pair & 4th nut kicker|
|7h 3s||8c 9c 6c 3c Ah||-2.0000||-2.0333||scare board, fold bottom pair & 5th nut kicker|
|Kh Qs||8c 9c 6c 3c Ah||-2.0000||-2.2242||scare board, fold nut kickers|
|Ah 2s||3c 9c Jc 4c 4s||-2.0000||-1.7485||bet nut kicker on paired scare board|
|2s 3h||Ks Qd Jh Tc Ts||-2.0000||-2.1242||cannot play scare board even if paired and 2nd nut board kicker|
In the first case, we have Th 3s, so we beat the board with a pair of 3’s. Our Th kicker is 4th nut (K = 1st, Q = 2nd, J = 3rd, T = 4th), so we can call. The expected value (EV) of this call is -1.9788, which is better than folding (-2 = lose ante and blind bets). Of course, we have to risk another bet to gain an additional (2-1.9788 = 2.12%) on this average losing hand. But, I find most people don’t have a problem calling the river with this hand, so I probably don’t need to convince you any further that its a good call.
In the next example, we’re holding 7h 3s, which is just one kicker level lower (we have bottom pair with 5th nut kicker). However, the hand is not good enough to call with, and we should fold it. If we call, we’re giving the casino an additional average edge of (2-2.0333 = 3.33%) on the ante. Just fold it, since the dealer just needs a flush card, or any higher pair card, or even the same pair with a better kicker.
In the last example, we have the top 2 kickers with Kh Qs against the scare board. But its still not enough, and calling is a big mistake, yielding an additional whopping (2-2.2242 = 22.42%) house edge on average for the call. For a $5 ante bet, calling gives the house an average $11 for the hand, while folding gives them only $10. I think some people might make this lay down, but few probably know how bad it is to make the call.
When the dealer can make a gutshot straight from the board, you need at least 1st and 4th nut kickers to call.
|Kd Qh||4s 5h 6d 8c 9d||-2.0000||-2.1727||check gutshot board without 1st and 4th nut kickers|
|Ad Jh||4s 5h 6d 8c 9d||-2.0000||-1.9788||bet gutshot board with 1st and 4th nut kickers|
|2d 2h||As Kc Qd Jh 9s||-2.0000||-1.8333||bet any pair against a gutshot board|
|2d 3h||As Kc Qd Jh 9s||-2.0000||-2.1242||cannot play unpaired gutshot board itself|
|2s 3h||As Qd Jh Tc Ts||-2.0000||-1.8576||play paired gutshot board with 2nd nut kicker|
Calling with Kickers
On the river, you may call with just a kicker, depending on how high it is, and what the board looks like.
No pair board
When there’s no pair on the board, you may call with 2nd nut kicker if either both your cards play, or there is no possible flush on board. If there’s a possible flush, then you need nut kicker to call. You can never just play the board. In this case, the most you can win is the 1x call bet, since you can not win the ante bet with nothing. You are hoping to push the ante if the dealer doesn’t qualify, even if he outkicks you. The payoff is good if you win, since you’ll win the 1x bet, and save the Ante and Blind.
|Jh 2c||Kc Qc 4d 8s 7h||-2.0000||-1.9101||call with 2nd nut kicker on nothing board|
|Ah 2c||Kc Qc 4d 8s 7h||-2.0000||-1.6313||call with 1st nut kicker on nothing board|
|2c 3d||Ad Kc Qs 9d 8h||-2.0000||-2.2131||cannot just play unpaired board|
|Js 2c||Ad Kd 8d 6h 5s||-2.0000||-2.0707||Can’t call 2nd nut kicker when possible flush on board|
|Js 2c||Ad Kd 8c 6h 5s||2.0000||-1.9990||Ok to call 2nd nut kicker when no possible flush on board|
|Js 9c||Ad Kd 8d 6h 5s||2.0000||-1.9657||call 2nd nut kicker against possible flush when both cards play|
One pair board
When there’s a single pair on the board, the kicker requirements are lowered, because the dealer already qualifies, and you’re getting 4:1 on your call (2*ante + blind + 1x call) vs. folding. In this case, you need only 3rd nut kicker. You can play the board when the board kicker (the 5th card) is at least 2nd nut. E.g., if the board is 6s 6h Kh Qs Jd, you can call and play the board. In this case, the 5th card is a J, and the board kicker is 2nd nut. The only higher kicker the dealer may play is an Ace. That’s the only way you’ll lose. However, note that 3rd nut board kicker is not sufficient to call. E.g., if the above case was 6s 6h Kh Qs Td, the dealer can beat you with an Ace or a Jack. The following table shows that playing the board 6s 6h Kh Qs Td is a mistake that will cost you 12.42% of the ante, which is huge.
|3d 2d||6s 6h Kh Qs Jd||-2.0000||-1.8576||paired board, play board (2nd nut kicker)|
|3d 2d||6s 6h Kh Qs Td||-2.0000||-2.1242||paired board, don’t play boad (3rd nut kicker)|
Two pair board
When there’s two pairs on board, at least 7’s up, the calling requirements of your hand is only 5th nut kicker. If the two pair on board are 6’s up or worse, you need 4th nut kicker to call. In any case, you can call to play the board when the 5th card (board kicker) is 3rd nut. (I.e., there’s only 2 kickers the dealer can have to beat the board.)
If there are trips on board, the calling requirements of your hand is only 4th nut kicker. You can play the board when its kicker is 3rd nut (there are only 2 kickers the dealer can win with). In the following examples, we see the power of the kicker. When we have 4th nut kicker, calling gains us (2 – 1.6798 = 32.02%) of the ante, which is huge. On the other hand, making the mistake of calling with 5th nut kicker would cost us 10% of the ante, which is a lot.
|Td 2d||6s 6h 6d Ks 5d||-2.0000||-1.6798||trips board, call 4th nut kicker|
|9d 2d||6s 6h 6d Ks 5d||-2.0000||-2.1000||trips board, fold 5th nut kicker|
|3d 2d||6s 6h 6d Ks Jd||-2.0000||-1.8091||trips board, play board (3rd nut kicker)|
|3d 2d||6s 6h 6d Ks Td||-2.0000||-2.1242||trips board, don’t play board (4th nut kicker)|
When there are four-of-a-kind on board, the calling requirements are reduced to 8th nut kicker, because in the unlikely case you win with 8th nut, you’ll win (ante + call + 10*blind), or 12:1 compared to folding. If you don’t have a kicker, and wish to play the board, the board kicker must be 5th nut (i.e., there are only 4 cards the dealer can have to beat you). The following examples show the numbers behind the decision.
|3d 7d||6s 6h 6d 6c 2d||-2.0000||-1.4848||quads on board, call 8th nut kicker|
|3d 5d||6s 6h 6d 6c 2d||-2.0000||-2.2182||quads on board, fold 9th nut kicker|
|3d 2d||6s 6h 6d 6c Td||-2.0000||-1.7697||quads on board, play board (5th nut kicker)|
|3d 2d||6s 6h 6d 6c 9d||-2.0000||-2.0909||quads on board, don’t play board (6th nut kicker)|
Or, you can play my older Java game. You must have Java 1.6 installed on your computer (check your version).
- The Wizard Of Odds on Ultimate Texas Hold’em. I used his overall return numbers on the ante, blind, and play bets. These numbers take weeks of compute time to grind out.
- All my posts on Ultimate Texas Hold’em
- Practical Collusion for UTH. How to get an edge by sharing card information with the table.
- My 2009 UTH Win/Loss Statement
- A Week Of Ultimate Texas Hold’em, my initial obsession with the game.