An Introduction to Razz
Getting started with Razz
Razz is still not widely spread online, but its popularity has nonetheless grown, particularly as it is one of the key components of the increasingly popular H.O.R.S.E. tournaments. There are also cash games available for it now on PokerStars, Full Tilt and the Cereus network. Razz poker can seem a bit bewildering at first to the uninitiated, but in essence it is just seven card stud played for low. Essentially the worst hand wins, with ace always playing for low. The ‘worst’, or in razz’s case the best hand is a 5 high straight, i.e. 5-4-3-2-A also known as the “bicycle”. Flushes and straights do not count in razz, i.e. 7-6-5-4-3 is a good 3-7 low hand, which ranks above 8-6-5-4-3, but below 7-6-5-4-2. Skills that are important in other forms of poker are all relevant, though the scale of relevancy of these skills are quite different in Razz compared to say Hold’em.
How the game starts and progresses through the rounds
The opening round known as 3rd street begins by each player contributing a small amount known as the ante to the pot, for example on a Full Tilt $3/6 online game the ante is $0.50, while it’s just $0.25 on PokerStars. The player with the highest card makes the first forced opening bet known as the bring-in, if two or more players have the same high card then the one nearest clockwise to the dealer makes the bring-in. The bring-in can be anything typically from twice to four times the size of the ante, depending on the site and structure. Players can either call the bring-in or raise it, bets and raises on 3rd and 4th street are for the small bet amount ($3 in a $3/$6 game) and from 5th street on are for the big bet amount ($6 in a $3/$6 game).
Working out your razz poker hand
Working out your hand is simply done, firstly you attempt to make a hand without using more than one card from the same rank, i.e. if you have a pair of 8′s – you only use one of them. Then if you can, you pick your lowest 5 cards of unique rank. So for example if your 7 card hand was K-8-8-7-6-3-2, your final 5 card hand would be 8-7-6-3-2.
*Figuring out the winning hand in razz poker
Working out who has the best hand is done by starting from the top and working your way down, an 8 high low is superior to a 9 high for example, and in the event that both players have an 8 high low then it moves to the next card and if they in turn are the same, you move to the next card again and so forth, e.g. 8-7-6-5-3 is superior to 8-7-6-5-4 because the final card 3 is lower than 4. There are times however when you won’t have 5 unique cards, here pairs will count against you. So for example A-A-2-2-5-5-6 is inferior to K-K- Q-Q- J-T-9. , as the final hand is 6-5-2-A-A versus K-Q-J-T-9, the K high wins by virtue of not containing a pair.
The power of observation
One of the most important skills and relatively easy skills in Razz is to simply be observant. In Razz unlike Hold’em or Omaha you can actually see most of your opponent’s cards, making it much harder to bluff or be bluffed. If you can memorize the up-cards that your opponents have folded, either by being blessed with a good memory or having developed it through experience of playing Razz and other Stud poker variations then you will have a massive advantage over opponents who do not have that ability. In Hold’Em or Omaha you have a lot less directly observable information in which to make your betting decisions on. Normally the main bluffing, semi-bluffing happens on the opening round of betting i.e. 3rd street, Therefore the vast majority of the time there is little point in slow-playing, especially as the rounds progress.
Read that board
Another key skill in Razz poker is to make sure you know what the best possible hand is at every stage of the deal. Having a “board lock” or the best possible hand is a very good spot to be in*. Although there are situations where you will not want to make every available raise, you can generally play aggressively. Understanding what the best hand your opponent can have, what he is drawing to, and how your hand measures up against his holdings are key Razz skills. * Although you would not want to fold with a board lock, you are not necessarily the favorite in the hand.