Ultimate Texas Hold’em

Ultimate Texas Holdem logoAs one of the world’s foremost authorities on casino table game design, Roger Snow is no stranger to inventing hits, so it’s no surprise that Snow was responsible for Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

Joining other classic Snow created products like Four Card Poker, Dragon Bonus Baccarat, and Crazy 4 Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is perhaps the most popular game in Snow’s ever expanding portfolio.

The original trademark application for Ultimate Texas Hold’em was filed by Snow in 2009, but a U.S. Patent application for the game dates back to 2005. In any case, Snow was working for Shuffle Master Inc. at the time, leading the company’s game design division as it released classic table games like Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Blackjack Switch, and Casino War.

Shuffle Master eventually became SHFL Entertainment under a restructuring, and the new entity was acquired by rival Bally Technologies in 2013 in a $1.3 billion merger. The following year, Bally Technologies was purchased by casino gaming conglomerate Scientific Games, in a deal worth $5.1 billion.

Through it all, Snow was considered an invaluable asset in terms of intellectual property creation, and today he holds the position of Senior Vice President for Scientific Games.

Created During Poker Boom

Ultimate Texas Hold’em, which was created at the height of the “poker boom” of 2003 through 2006, represents Snow’s ingenious attempt to transform traditional Texas Hold’em into a proper table game. By preserving the essential structure of Texas Hold’em – which challenges players to combine two “hole” cards with five “community” cards to create the best possible five card poker hand – Snow was able to capture the game’s central appeal without making too many adjustments.

He even managed to retain the “flop,” “turn,” and “river” structure, or the three card, one card, one card reveal of the community cards, along with the paramount element of all poker games: raising. In Ultimate Texas Hold’em, players make the forced Ante bet required by nearly all table games, but based on your own two-card starting hand, you may make a sizable raise, or wait to see the first three community cards. After gaining more information, you can still decide to raise, but the amount must be smaller, or you can stand pat again to see another community card.

In this way, Snow was able to create an exciting, entertaining, and interactive gambling experience, one based on the player’s card sense and ability to assess situations, along with a little luck. In short, he transformed Texas Hold’em into a table game, making history in the process by inventing one of the most popular table games ever devised.

Making its Debut

Ultimate Texas Hold’em made its debut at the 2005 Global Gaming Expo, before securing a slate of debut installations in Las Vegas and around the U.S. From there, the rest was history as they say, with players flocking to the tables in record numbers. Over the last decade the game has spread throughout the worldwide casino industry, and if you step inside a casino of any size or scale in the U.S., it’s a good bet that you’ll find at least one Ultimate Texas Hold’em table in operation.

Befitting such a popular game, new players continue to discover Ultimate Texas Hold’em every day, so this page was written to provide a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know. We’ll begin by explaining the rules and gameplay procedures, including available wagers, player actions, and pay tables. Next up is a guide to locating tables near you, before we conclude with an in-depth discussion on proper strategy, understanding the odds, and how to play your cards correctly in order to minimize the house edge. For more questions and answers about Ultimate Texas Hold’em check out the FAQ page.

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Rules and How to Play

Game Overview

Ultimate Texas Hold’em utilizes a standard 52 card deck of playing cards, and all cards hold their traditional poker values, so 2s are the lowest rank and Aces are the highest.

A single deck is used and reshuffled upon the completion of each hand, rather than a multiple deck shoe.

The objective of the game is to combine two hole cards with five community cards to form the highest ranking five card poker hand. For readers who haven’t found a flush or tallied two pairs in a long while, take a look below for the traditional poker hand hierarchy.

Texas Hold’em Hand Rankings

HAND DESCRIPTION
Royal Flush Broadway straight (A K Q J 10) in the same suit
Straight Flush Five consecutive cards (9 8 7 6 5) in the same suit
Four of a Kind Four of same card (Q Q Q Q A)
Full House Three of a kind + one pair (Q Q Q A A)
Flush Five cards in the same suit (2h 6h 9h Kh Ah)
Straight Five consecutive cards (6 5 4 3 2)
Three of a Kind Three of same card (Q Q Q 2 A)
Two Pair Two pairs of the same card (Q Q A A 2)
One Paid One pair of the same card (Q Q 4 3 2)
High Card No pair, highest card is rank of hand (A K 4 3 2)

You’ll be competing against the dealer in an effort to complete the best five card poker hand.

Playing Ultimate Texas Hold’em

Starting the Game

The game begins when players put up two mandatory wagers: the Ante bet and the Blind bet. At this time, you may also put up an optional wager known as the Trips side bet (which will be explained in detail after the base game rules description).

Moving forward through the rest of this section, we’ll rely on a running example hand as a way of showing you how certain gameplay elements work from the player’s perspective. So to start off, let’s imagine that we’ve wagered $5 apiece on the Ante bet and Blind bet, along with $5 more on the Trips side bet.

Dealer Hands Out the Pocket Cards

When all players have placed their base game bets and/or side bets, the dealer will proceed to deliver two cards face down to each player, along with two cards face down to themselves.

You can take a peek at your own hand of course, but no sharing of hole card information between players will be permitted.

In the running example hand, we’ve been dealt the As Ks to begin. At a regular Texas Hold’em table this hand is known as “big slick” and it’s considered to be a monster, and in the Ultimate version it’s still quite strong.

First Round of Betting: Check or Raise

After examining your hole cards, the game’s first player decision point takes place: Check or Raise.

  • CHECKING: you simply stand firm and keep your original Ante bet in place, while continuing on to see the first three community cards (also known as the “flop”).
  • RAISING: you elect to make an additional Play bet which must equal either three times (3x) or four times (4x) the amount of your original Ante bet.

For the running example hand, we like the look of our suited ace king, and we have plenty of potential to improve over the next five cards. So we’ll go ahead and make the maximum Play bet of 4x, or $20 ($5 Ante x 4 = $20). If we held inferior cards, however, the decision here would be to check and see the flop for free (see the strategy section below to find out exactly how to make this crucial decision).

The Flop: Three Community Cards

When each player has either checked or raised, the dealer will take the next three cards from the deck and slide them face up across the felt. This represents the flop, and these community cards can be used in any combination (using either one or both of your hole cards) to create a five card poker hand.

Returning to the running example hand, the dealer has flopped the Kh 7s 4s. We’ve paired our king to make one pair, and we also have four spades to a flush.

Second Round of Betting

After the flop, all players who have previously raised are finished with their actions and simply stand on hold until the showdown. Players who have checked, on the other hand, face a similar decision: Check or Raise.

At this point, however, if you elect to raise, the Play bet must equal twice (2x) the amount of your initial Ante bet.

In the running example hand we’ve already made the Play bet for 4x, so we have no player action to make.

The Turn and River Cards are Shown

With all player actions completed, the dealer will produce two more cards from the top of the deck and place them face up alongside the flop. These community cards represent the “turn” and “river” in Texas Hold’em, and they complete the community board used by players and the dealer to form their final five card poker hands.

Our running example hand has the board completed with the 10d and the 2s, creating a final board of the Kh 10d 7s 4s 2s. Using our As Ks along with the other three spades, we have completed a five card flush.

Final Round of Betting: Fold or Play

At this point, players who used the check option twice already must face a final decision: Fold or Play.

  • FOLDING: you simply give up on the hand and surrender your cards to the dealer, along with your Ante and Blind bets.
  • PLAYING: you must put up the Play bet, but this time, it must be the same amount as your Ante bet, and not more. Making the final Play bet entitles you to show your hand down against the dealer’s hand.

In the running example hand we’re finished with player actions, so we wait for the showdown to take place.

Players Reveal Their Hands

When all players left with decisions to make have either folded or played, the dealer will then reveal their own two-card starting hand and form the best possible five-card poker hand.

For the dealer’s hand, they need to hold at least one pair (2s or better) in order to “qualify” and show their hand down. Dealer qualification is important because when the dealer doesn’t showdown, only certain bets will be paid out – so when you have a good hand, you’re hoping to see the dealer qualify. Conversely, when you hold a losing hand, you’ll be wanting to see the dealer produce a non-qualifying hand.

Dealer Qualifying Hands

Here’s how the dealer qualification process plays out in Ultimate Texas Hold’em:

  • When the dealer does qualify, and you beat the dealer, you’ll win even money on the Ante and Play bets, and you’ll win the pay table (more on this in a minute) result on the Blind bet.
  • When the dealer doesn’t qualify, and you beat the dealer, you’ll win even money on the Play bet, the Ante bet will be returned as a push, and the Blind bet will be paid out according to the paytable.
  • When the dealer does qualify, and the dealer beats you, you’ll lose each of your bets (Ante, Blind, and Play).
  • When the dealer doesn’t qualify, and the dealer beats you, you’ll lose your Blind and Play bets, but your Ante bet will be returned as a push.
  • No matter if the dealer qualifies or not when your hand ties the dealer’s hand exactly, all bets will be returned as a push.

This can all seem a bit complicated through the written word, but in reality, the dealer qualification system will become second nature in no time while playing Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

Winning the Round

Essentially, when you win against a qualifying dealer hand, you’ll win on all bets. But when you beat a non-qualifying dealer hand, you’ll have the Ante returned as a push instead.

Conversely, when you lose against a qualifying dealer hand, you’ll lose on all bets. But when you lose to a non-qualifying dealer hand, you’ll get the Ante bet returned as a push.

Getting Paid: Ante, Play, & Blind Bets

While both the Ante bet and the Play bet are paid out at even money, or 1 to 1 on your wager, the Blind bet uses an escalating pay table to award big payouts for big hands. The pay table used to settle the Blind bet can be reviewed below:

Ultimate Texas Hold’em Blind Bet Pay Table

HAND PAYS
Royal Flush 500 to 1
Straight Flush 50 to 1
Four of a Kind 10 to 1
Full House 3 to 1
Flush 3 to 2
Straight 1 to 1
All Other Push

As you can see, this Blind bet pay table is where the true excitement of Ultimate Texas Hold’em is born. When you happen to land poker’s supreme hand, connecting for a royal flush, you’ll win 500 to 1 on your Blind bet. From there monster hands like straight flushes and four of a kind payout premium rates, while the other hands still earn an added bonus. You’ll need a straight or better to earn a slice of this pay table, though.

Even better, when you beat the dealer’s hand, you can’t lose on the Blind bet – as any hand lower than a straight results in a push rather than a loss.

We can use the running example hand to see how this process works in real time. We’ve made a flush with As Ks on the Kh 10d 7s 4s 2s board, while the dealer turns over  Qh 10c. The dealer pairs their 10 to make one pair of 10s, which rates as a qualifying hand.

We win even money on the Ante and Play bets, for a profit of $5 on the $5 Ante and $20 on the $20 Play bet raise. For the Blind bet, our flush is good for a 3 to 2 payout on our $5 wager, so we add another $7.50 to the profit margin. All told, on the base game we wagered $30 during the running example hand ($5 Ante + $5 Blind + $20 Play = $30), and we scooped up $32.50 in total profit.

Trips Side Bet

That does it for the base game, but what about that optional Trips side bet described earlier. This bet is paid out using a modified version of the Blind bet pay table, but as the name suggests, players need only three of a kind (or “trips” in poker parlance) in order to earn a payout.

Ultimate Texas Hold’em Trips Side Bet Pay Table

HAND PAYS
Royal Flush 50 to 1
Straight Flush 40 to 1
Four of a Kind 30 to 1
Full House 9 to 1
Flush 7 to 1
Straight 4 to 1
Three of a Kind 3 to 1
All Other Loss

For the running example hand, we put up $5 on the Trips side bet and completed a flush, good for 7 to 1 on our money. That means $35 more in profit, making a tidy sum on a single hand of Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

Make sure to read through to the end of the strategy section below, as you’ll find an important reminder about the alternative paytables some casinos use for the Trips side bet. Unless you see the 50-40-30-9-7-4-3 alignment shown above, you’ll be sacrificing precious equity in terms of the house edge against you on this wager.

Progressive Jackpots

In addition to the base game and Trips side bet, most casinos also incorporate a progressive jackpot element in Ultimate Texas Hold’em, offering many thousands of dollars when players make the royal flush using only the flop, or based on their best six card poker hand.

The many progressive jackpots tied to this game are too wide ranging and diverse to describe here, so be sure to check with your dealer for house rules on Ultimate Texas Hold’em jackpots.

Practice Playing Ultimate Texas Hold’em

Finally, if you’d like to put what you just learned into practice, take a whirl on this free to play Ultimate Texas Hold’em simulator provided by the Wizard of Odds.

You can play the game exactly as it goes down in the casino, using real chips and all the available wagers. Even better, the game will alert you when you’re making the wrong play, based on the optimal strategy designed by the Wizard himself, casino game analyst Michael Shackleford. This gives you a great opportunity to work on your game and perfect your plays before putting up a single dollar of your hard earned money at the casinos.

Best Places to Play Ultimate Texas Hold’em

Recommended iconAs one of the most popular hybrid table games ever invented, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is essentially a universal game at this point, one found in most casinos as a standard offering akin to blackjack and roulette.

The game can be found in small tribal gaming establishments like the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or major casino resorts like the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada. The mid-size national chain of Hollywood brand casino properties also carries Ultimate Texas Hold’em, and the game truly has become a staple on gaming floors everywhere.

When in doubt, simply call ahead or search the Table Games section on the website for your favorite casino to see whether or not they spread Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

To help narrow things down, courtesy of Caesars / Harrah’s handy Table Game Finder tool, we were able to compile a thorough list of every Caesars owned casino venue in North America which currently carries Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

Casinos You Can Find Ultimate Texas Hold’em At

The list below contains city and state information as well, so if you live outside of the gambling meccas in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, simply perform a CTRL+F search for your area to find the Ultimate Texas Hold’em locations nearest you:

VENUE CITY STATE/PROVINCE
Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Las Vegas Nevada
Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino Atlantic City New Jersey
Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino Atlantic City New Jersey
Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino Las Vegas Nevada
Caesars Windsor Hotel & Casino Windsor Ontario (Canada)
Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Las Vegas Nevada
Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack Chester Pennsylvania
Harrah’s Joliet Chicago Hotel & Casino Joliet Illinois
Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe Nevada
Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Las Vegas Nevada
Harrah’s Laughlin Hotel & Casino Laughlin Nevada
Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel & Casino New Orleans Louisiana
Harrah’s N. Kansas City Hotel & Casino N. Kansas City Missouri
Harrah’s Phoenix Ak Chin Hotel & Casino Phoenix Arizona
Harrah’s Resort AC Hotel & Casino Atlantic City New Jersey
Harrah’s Southern California Valley Center California
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe Lake Tahoe Nevada
Horseshoe Baltimore Casino Baltimore Maryland
Horseshoe Council Bluffs Casino Council Bluffs Iowa
Horseshoe Hammond Casino Hammond Indiana
Horseshoe Southern Indiana Casino Elizabeth Indiana
Horseshoe Tunica Hotel & Casino Tunica Resorts Mississippi
Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Las Vegas Nevada
Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Las Vegas Nevada
Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino Las Vegas Nevada
The Cromwell Las Vegas Nevada
The LINQ Las Vegas Nevada

Of course, this list features only Caesars owned casino venues, as they are the only gaming corporation to create a dedicated table game finder as of yet. This means that the list is by no means comprehensive, so you can expect to find dozens of non Caesars properties nationwide which carry Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

Other Casinos That Offer the Game

Among the MGM family of casinos, for example, Mandalay Bay and the Luxor both have several tables running at all times. You can also find the game in many casinos in Downtown Las Vegas, in addition to the numerous “off Strip” properties located in and around Sin City.

This game has spread like wildfire in only a few years, and it continues growing at a rapid rate, so you should be able to find Ultimate Texas Hold’em games without too much trouble.

If you’re looking to enjoy the game outside of the brick and mortar casino setting, an announcement made by Scientific Games – owner of Bally Technologies and the rights to Ultimate Texas Hold’em – should signal good news down the road.

Taking the Game Online

In January of 2016, the company announced a partnership with Evolution Gaming, which specializes in producing cutting edge Live Dealer online casino gaming. The website maintained by Evolution Gaming has a landing page for its Ultimate Texas Hold’em product, which connects online players to a living, breathing dealers running a genuine table game through live stream technology.

According to Tom Wood, who serves as Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Scientific Games, Ultimate Texas Hold’em stood out among the crowded table game landscape as a true classic:

“There was a time when a dozen different Hold’em games were being offered by casinos, but only this one emerged from the pack as the dominant game at land based casinos around the world. With its scalability and pace, we are confident that it will be an excellent game in the Live Casino environment, and we are excited to see Evolution with its industry leading platform being the provider to make it happen.”

Todd Haushalter, CPO of Evolution Gaming, echoed those sentiments while describing the company’s new product:

“We are excited about furthering our partnership with Scientific Games. Being able to exclusively offer our partners the most popular Hold’em game in the world helps us further cement our leadership position in the live casino space. Building up our specialty game offering which also includes Caribbean Stud and Three Card Poker is part of our strategy to make the transition from land based to online seamless for players.”

The launch of Live Dealer based Ultimate Texas Hold’em is slated to hit online casinos in “summer of 2016,” so search for platforms which are powered by Evolution Gaming technology to find the virtual version of your favorite game.

Strategic Considerations for Ultimate Texas Hold’em

Betting Strategy iconWhen it comes to assessing the strategic import of any casino game, the best place to begin is with none other than the Wizard of Odds himself.

Shackleford has devoted his professional life to calculating the odds and probabilities associated with every wager and decision offered by hundreds of casino games, and the same holds true for Ultimate Texas Hold’em. Here at his main Wizard page for the game, you’ll find a detailed analysis of every step of a hand, including when and how to make the all-important check/raise decisions. You should also be familiar with all of the poker terms that are used when playing.

Ultimate Texas Hold’em Basic Strategy

For a deep dive into the math behind Shackleford’s strategy, be sure to pore through his charts and tables to see exactly how he came to his conclusions. But for a cliff notes version of the optimal Ultimate Texas Hold’em strategy, take a look below:

4x PLAY BET

You should always make the maximum 4x Play bet raise when holding the following two-card starting hands:

  • Any pair
  • An Ace with any other card (A 2 through A K); suited or unsuited
  • K 5 through K Q; suited or unsuited
  • K 2 through K 4; suited only
  • Q 8 through Q J; suited or unsuited
  • Q 6 and Q 7; suited only
  • J 10; suited or unsuited
  • J 8 and J9; suited only

You should always check when holding any other two-card starting hand; suited or unsuited.

2x Play Bet

After seeing the flop, you should always make the 2x Play bet raise when holding the following five-card poker hands:

  • Two pairs or better
  • Any pocket pair except for 2 2
  • Any one pair hand which uses one hole card combined with one community card
  • Any four cards to a flush

You should always check when holding any other hand.

1x Play Bet

For the final Play bet strategy, see Shackleford’s “outs calculator” section for a clever way to add up the cards the dealer can use to beat you, before proceeding to either fold or make the 1x Play bet.

As for the house edge rate, you’ll be up against a 2.185 percent house edge when playing Ultimate Texas Hold’em. This is actually quite a bit lower than similarly structured poker style hybrid table games, with Three Card Poker running at a 3.37 percent house edge, and Heads Up Hold’em at 2.36 percent.

Strategically speaking, you’re not sacrificing anything in the way of long-term equity by playing this particular table game over the alternative.

And even the Trips side bet is a relative bargain, offering a house edge of just 0.90 percent – making it one of the most player-friendly options of any optional side bet.

However, this low house edge is only found on pay tables using the 50-40-30-9-7-4-3 Trips side bet pay table scheme mentioned in the Rules and How to Play section.

Trips Side Bet Alternative Pay Tables and House Edge

If you spot an Ultimate Texas Hold’em table using any of the pay table schemes shown below, consider the inflated house edge rates before placing a chip on the Trips side bet.

PAY TABLE HOUSE EDGE
50-40-30-8-6-5-3 1.90 Percent
50-40-30-8-7-4-3 3.49 Percent
50-40-20-7-6-5-3 6.18 Percent

As you can see, slight adjustments to just one or two payouts on these pay tables can double, triple, or even multiply the house edge on Trips side bets by six times. If you’re a player concerned with implementing the proper strategy, the best play is to avoid any Trips side bet on tables using the two worst pay tables.

At 1.90 percent house edge, the 50-40-30-8-6-5-3 scale is still quite reasonable, so you don’t have to pass up the extra action when you find these tables.