Razz Poker: Beautiful and ugly all at once

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Frustrated with the terrible cards you’ve been getting? Why not switch to a game where the worst hand wins?

That’s razz. And it’s addictive.

The game is played just like 7-card stud, except the player with the five worst cards rakes in the pot. And even better, straights and flushes don’t count, and aces are low, so the  wheel (5-4-3-2-A) is the nuts. And unlike in stud/8, there’s no qualifier. The player with the five worst cards in his or her hand wins.

That’s razz. And it’s frustrating.

Just ask Howard Lederer. “The Professor” famously was unable to hide his frustration with the game during a hand with eventual bracelet winner T.J. Cloutier in the 2004 World Series of Poker.

Why? Because unlike in high-only games, your hand can get worse as the hand plays out. For example, if you’re dealt A-2-3 in stud, your hand can only improve by the river. At worst, you’ll end up with ace high, 8 kicker. Now, let’s look at the same hand in razz. Starting with A-2-3 is a monster in razz. You’re 60 percent of the way to the nuts, with four cards to come. So you’re betting, raising, jamming. And then fourth street brings a king. Ouch. And fifth street brings another king. Double ouch. And you’re almost definitely folding.

Razz has long been the official game of the Ante Up Nation, and it’s long been the one I suggest to players looking to learn stud. It’s by no means an easy game, but the most important thing in stud is keeping track of the dealt cards that are no longer in play. Since flushes and straights don’t count in razz, and you’re focused mostly on low cards, it’s much easier to learn how to track cards in this game. And once you learn to track cards, you’re well on your way to becoming a solid stud player.

Here are some things to keep in mind when playing razz:

High card brings it in: Unlike in standard stud games, it’s the high card that’s forced to make the first bet, or “bring it in.” This ensures action, just like blinds in hold’em games. If the “bring-in” player is to your left and it gets folded around to you, it’s almost always correct to complete the bet when your door card is lower than his.

Every hand is a drawing hand: As illustrated before, don’t get married to that great starting hand. It rarely makes sense to give up on that hand when you draw poorly on fourth street, but it often does when you brick on fifth street as well. And if you have a high card on third street, know that’ll you have to put in at least two more bets — likely more — before you can have a strong hand.

Hands need to make sense: This is true in most forms of poker, but in razz, it’s much clearer. If an opponent completes the bet with an 8 showing, he likely is very strong underneath. So when he draws an ace on fourth street, it might have paired one of his hole cards. Good players can very easily snow poor players who don’t pay attention to this in razz.

You may be ahead, but don’t think you’re the favorite: In razz, you know where you stand almost all of the time. If your opponent draws a king, and your worst card is a 10, then you’re ahead. But she might have a better draw, so don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. But on seventh street, remember that your opponent only has three cards concealed, just like you. So she has to use at least two of her upcards. Take a close look — you may have her “board-locked” — and can raise with impunity.

— Email Scott Long at scott@anteupmagazine.com