How to play Badugi poker

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Badugi! It sounds like something you’d shout as you charge a hill. Or when you call someone out in court. Or, it just might be something you’d shout when you want a game that’s playable under Florida’s $5 bet limit. Pronounced buh-doo-ghee, it’s a draw poker game, almost like the first poker game you played as a kid. For me, it was loading the cassette game into my Commodore VIC-20 and deciding whether to draw one to the flush or to hold on to my ace. It wasn’t for many years later that Texas Hold’em swept the country and I began to play poker seriously.

And now, several years after that, I’m taking another look at that old draw game that first whetted my poker appetite.

Why? Because I think it just might be a game that can thrive under our repressive state laws.

Draw poker comes in many versions, not counting all those crazy ones your buddy calls after one too many Busch Lights in the home game. Single-draw is enjoying a small resurgence, likely fueled by the popularity of video poker across the nation. But it’s best played pot-limit, and that’s just not allowed in Florida (yet).

But a triple-draw game — well, that just might have enough juice for us limit-poker junkies. With four betting rounds, there’s plenty of opportunity to build a nice pot. And while a spread-limit version would no doubt add an extra layer of strategy, it’s a game where a fixed $5 bet limit doesn’t necessarily trample on recognized betting structures like it does in Texas Hold’em or Omaha.

Deuce-to-Seven Lowball, or even Ace-to-Five Lowball, are more popular triple-draw versions, so why is it that I’m advocating badugi?

It’s just plain more fun.

Here’s the deal:

The game is played six-handed and with blinds. (That’s the one hitch that we just can’t escape yet in Florida. It’s probably best played with $3 and $5 blinds to generate action).
Each player is dealt four cards down, and cards are never exposed (that’s part of the allure of draw games. You have to make your decision purely off of betting patterns).
There’s a round of betting, followed by three draws, each followed by a round of betting. Players can draw four cards each round.

Badugi is a lowball game, so the best hand is A-2-3-4. But here’s the best twist — to have a “badugi,” those four cards all must be from a different suit. That’s right. One spade, one heart, one club, one diamond. If you double up on suits, then an opponent who does have four different suits will trump you, regardless of rank. If you have three suits, then you have what’s known as a “three-card badugi,” and again, the lower your three cards are, the better.

One more thing: Pairs are bad, too. So an A-2-3-3, four different suits, is just a really strong “three-card badugi,” and will lose to a 10-J-Q-K in four different suits.
So what does it take to get this great game going here in Florida? Just one poker room to ask the state. It’s a legitimate, published poker game, so it’s just a simple piece of paperwork faxed to Tallahassee.

But it’s going to take players before a room puts forth the effort. So get on the Badugi Bus today, and tell your poker room manager that you want three draws to squash the $5 limit!