by John Grochowski

Texas Hold’em has been the most popular game in casino poker room for decades. Ultimate Texas Hold’em brings some of the flavor of the game to the main table games pits.

Like Texas Hold’em, Ultimate is based on seven-card stud. Unlike the poker-room version, players do not bet against each other in Ultimate. Players do not build a pot, and the house does not make money by taking a rake from each pot.

Instead, players try to beat the dealer. The game and its odds are set so the house has a mathematical edge, just like other games in the table pits. That edge is 2.2 percent of an ante or about 0.5 percent of total action once other bets are considered. Basic strategy or better players at blackjack and craps players who stick to the best bets get a better deal, but Ultimate Texas Hold’em ranks high among other games in the table pits.

The Basics of Ultimate Texas Holdem

Ultimate Texas Hold’em is played at a seven-player, blackjack-sized table. It used a single 52-card deck of cards that is shuffled for every hand.

Each player has spots for four bets: ante, blind, play and trips. Ante, blind and play all are for play against the dealer, while Trips is a separate side bet.

First Bets and Deal Round

To begin, players must make equal-sized bets on ante and blind, and have the option of making a trips bet. No further action is required on the trips bet, which is settled after all cards are dealt. The ante and blind both figure in play against the dealer, where each player has three opportunities to make one more bet to stay in the game.

When all players have made initial wagers, each player and the dealer get two cards face down.

Players may look at their two cards, then may make a play bet of three times, the ante, four times the ante, or to check, making no bet but staying in the game.

Next, the dealer turns three community cards face up. Players who checked after two cards now may make a play bet of twice their ante or check again. Players who already made a play bet may not make another.

Finally, the dealer turns two more community cards face up. Players who have checked two times may make a play bet equal to their ante. If they do not make a play bet, they must fold and lose both their ante and blind bets.

Deciding The Wagers

Each player and the dealer are credited with the best five-card hand that can be made from the two individual cards and the five community cards.

If the dealer makes a qualifying hand of a pair or better, ante, blind and play bets are all in play. If the dealer does not qualify, blind and play bets are in play, but antes push.

Winners are paid at even money on the ante and play bets. So if you’ve bet $5 on the ante and bet $20 on play at first opportunity and your hand beats the dealer, you win $5 on ante and $20 on play if the dealer qualifies, and just $20 on play if the dealer doesn’t have a pair or better.

The pay table for Ultimate Texas Hold’em can vary slightly from casino to casino

You also must beat the dealer to collect on the blind bet, which is paid according to this pay table: royal flush 500-1; straight flush 50-1; four of a kind 10-1; full house 3-1; flush 2-1; straight 1-1; other winners push. If the dealer wins, you lose your blind.

Ultimate Texas Holdem Strategy

Michael Shackelford at has devised a strategy to minimize the house edge.

  • Make the 4x raise after seeing your two cards with any pair of 3s or higher; any Ace-high hand; King-high with a 5 or higher if unsuited, or with 2, 3 or 4 in the same suit as the King; Queen-high with an 8 or higher unsuited or a 6 or 7 suited; Jack high with a 10 unsuited or an 8 or 9 suited.
  • Make the 2x raise after seeing the first three community cards with two pairs or higher. Without two pairs or better, make the raise with a hidden pair (at least one card in your face-down cards) of 3s or higher or four parts of a flush that includes a 10 or higher in your face-down cards.
  • Make the 1x raise after seeing all cards with any hidden pair or better or with fewer than 21 outs that the dealer will beat you. That means determining your best five-card hand, comparing to the five community cards, and evaluating whether 21 or more of the remaining cards will improve the community cards to make a hand better than yours.

Optional Trips Bet

The Trips bet is a wager that your final hand will include three of a kind or better. Anything less loses, so you’ll win an average of 15.3 percent of hands and lose on 84.7 percent.

Winners are paid according to a pay table. All available pay tables start at 3-1 for three of a kind and range up to 50-1 for a royal flush.

The best available version is rare, but has a house edge of just 0.9 percent. It pays 50-1 on a royal, 40-1 on a straight flush, 30-1 on four of a kind, 9-1 on a full house, 7-1 on a flush, 4-1 on a straight and 3-1 on three of a kind.

Another version that’s been spotted online drops full houses to 8-1 and flushes to 6-1 but raises straights to 5-1. That has an edge of 1.9 percent.

A fairly common pay table that looks like the first except for dropping full houses to 8-1 with no other changes gives the house a 3.4 percent edge. And if you find yourself at a table that drops four of a kind to 20-1, full houses to 7-1, flushes to 6-1 and raises straights to 5-1, the house takes a 6.2 percent edge.

It becomes a matter of let the buyer beware. The best pay tables are interesting. The lesser two are so much higher than the edge on the main game that you’re better off skipping the Trips bet.

Regardless, Ultimate Texas Hold’em gives you a table option that gives you a taste of the Hold’em experience, but which is nowhere near as complex as wagering against other players.

John Grochowski has been covering casinos and casino games for nearly 40 years. He is the author of six books and his work appears in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world.

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