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Overview of Razz Poker

Razz is quite possibly the least played of the most well-known poker variants. Serving as the “R” in H.O.R.S.E., players usually stumbled upon Razz for the first time while playing in a mixed game tournament format.

As players are starting to venture out more and more from No Limit Texas Hold ‘em to other forms of poker, Razz has been picking up some steam as some of the biggest names in poker continue to win the Razz only events at the World Series of Poker.

For a lot of players, Razz seems fairly straightforward in theory. That is until they play it for the first time and realize there is more to it than meets the eye. A little bit of strategy can go a long way though.

Understanding Razz

Before diving into some of the basic strategies of Razz, it is important that we understand the game. If you’re totally new to the game and are unsure about the rules and format, we invite you to check out our Rules of Razz Poker section before going too much further, that was you have a full understanding of how the game is played.

If you’ve made your way past that part, however, you should have a fairly good understanding of how the game is played. A quick refresher couldn’t hurt though…

  • Razz follows the same rule set of Seven Card Stud in terms of structure and betting.
  • The lowest possible hand is the winning hand.
  • It is a fixed limit game.
  • Ace is low.
  • There are 8 players max to a table.

Basic Strategy

Razz can be a very tricky game. Whereas in Texas Hold ‘em a beginner can get lucky and beat a table full of pros, that will almost never happen in Razz.

Experience in Razz is huge. But we all have to start somewhere, right?

Specialty GamesMemory

Something that is very important in Razz, and we touched on it a little bit more in-depth in our Guide to Seven Card Stud is the need to remember cards.

On the surface it might sound rather trivial, but when you’re trying to put players on a hand, it’s imperative to remember what face up cards were folded so that you know which cards your opponent CANNOT have.

The more you play stud games the more you get used to committing those cards to memory during hands.

New players should try to keep track of all the cards ranked eight or lower that have been exposed. There are times when knowing that nines, tens, and jacks are dead would be helpful, but those may be for more advanced stages of Razz.

Since beginners are generally only going to play three-card eights or better, it’s safe to ignore those high cards in the beginning.

The point is, knowing which cards are dead, combined with the board of all opponents that stay in the hand past third street, combined with a player’s own hand, will make certain decisions on later streets easier to make.

Either a player’s cards are live, or they’re not. Also, memorizing the exposed cards is an easy skill to practice when not in the hand and provides a way to keep a player’s focus on the table.

Specialty GamesThree-Card Eights

A good rule of thumb for players just starting out in Razz is to approach the game as if you are playing just the 8 or Better version of 7 Card Stud 8 or Better and let your game grow from there. Meaning, if a hand doesn’t consist of three unique cards ranked eight or lower, it should generally be folded.

This is especially true in lower limit Razz cash games and smaller buy-in Razz tournaments where it is rare that a hand worse than an eight-high wins the pot.


An Important Note:

Not all three-card eights are created equal. For example, a holding of (8x 3x)2x is stronger than a holding of (2x 3x)8x. This example perfectly illustrates a key aspect of Razz, you’re playing your opponent’s up card just as much as you’re playing your hand.


Not all three-card eights are created equal. For example, a holding of (8x 3x)2x is stronger than a holding of (2x 3x)8x. This example perfectly illustrates a key aspect of Razz, you’re playing your opponent’s up card just as much as you’re playing your hand.

While in the example we see that both hands, if all cards were face up, would be equal.

In this instance, however, the hand with the 2x showing APPEARS to be stronger than the hand with the 8 showing.

That is very important to take in. You know at best that the hand with the 8x up has a three-card eight. The hand with the 2x up, however, couple potentially be anything from a three-card eight or better, and needs to be respected as such.

Although both hands have the same value altogether, a 2x showing rather than an 8x looks much stronger.

Razz is very much a game of strong boards. The stronger a player’s up cards are, the more pressure he can apply to his opponent.

A three-card eight with the 8x exposed is much weaker than a three-card eight with the 8x hidden.

If the 8x is exposed, opponents will know for a certainty on fifth street that the player can’t have anything better than a made eight. This may encourage opponents to draw (to a seven, for example) when they might otherwise fold.

Keep in mind that when we say a “strong” hand, we, in fact, mean the lower type hands. The best hand you can be dealt in Razz is (2x 3x)Ax.

Typically, when you’re dealt a three-card eight you’re going to complete the bring-in or when you’re in position put in a three-bet.

The moral of the story, is that for beginning Razz players, you’re going to want to stick to three-card eights.

Be aware of your opponents doing the same, however. The last thing you want to do is run your 8-7 low into an 8-6 low and lose a ton of chips.

Specialty GamesPosition

As you know, in stud games your position can change from street to street.

In Razz, you can really take advantage of your position when your opponent is dealt a bad card. Fourth street is big in Razz because it can drastically change the complexion and direction of the hand.

If you and your opponent are both playing three-card eights and fourth street brings you another low card while bringing your opponent a King, you’re going to want to fire a bet.

Your opponent is now working with a King-low until at least sixth street.

What makes your opponent’s board so important is that let’s say in that same instance, the low card you receive on fourth street pairs one of your hole cards.

Your opponent was dealt a King so it’s safe to fire a bet because you are still SHOWING an eight-low versus your opponent’s King-low.

They have no way of knowing that you paired one of your down cards so a bet will get through every time.

Specialty GamesAggression

Aggression and pressure are paramount in poker. You always want to force your opponents to make tough decisions at the poker table.

Razz is a game where certain situations will always call for you to be aggressive.

We already showed in the above example that getting aggressive when your opponent catches bad is usually a must.

You are always playing your up cards versus your opponent’s up cards. So if the deal is not favorable to them don’t hesitate to make them pay.

Specialty GamesPlaying the Player

Beginner Razz players are for the most part tight. Not only are they mainly going to be sticking to three-card eights, but they are going to be aggressively playing the strongest of the low hands. In theory, everyone will be playing the hands that way.

It’s important to point it out, however, because knowing when your fairly strong eight-low is beat will save you a lot of money.

If your opponent hardly plays any hands is playing a hand very aggressively towards you he’s letting you know that his hand is strong. Even if you are drawing to a strong hand yourself it pays to be cautious.

Chances are against a tight player that fires on every street if you are going to table an 8-7 or an 8-6 low you are most likely going to be on the losing end.

Specialty GamesTraps

In Razz, there a lot of starting hand combinations that look enticing but should really be passed on, especially for beginning players.

A hand that gets a lot of players into trouble when first starting out is (Ax 2x)Kx.

A lot of players see the Ax and 2x in the hole and are enticed by having the two lowest cards in the deck.

The problem here is that they also have the worst card in the deck in the King. What you have to understand about a hand like this is that you will be holding a King-low until at least sixth street.

Unless your opponent is showing a pair or a worse King-low, you are in terrible shape.

Remember when we said not all hands that contain the same cards are equal? Here is a good chance to make that point again.

If the cards showing are fairly weak and it folds around to you and you’re holding (Kx 2x)Ax, it is safe to put in a raise.

It’s about what you’re REPRESENTING in Razz most of the time.

As long as you’re in position and the action and up cards of your opponents dictates it, it is safe to go ahead and raise here.

Specialty GamesWhen Your Opponent Checks

Player tendencies in poker often times matter more than the cards. Luckily for us, in Razz we can see both out in the open at the same time.

Often times, and this mainly applies to beginners, a check can be very telling.

When your opponent is aggressive, raising with their low up card or betting or raising on Fourth street, pay close attention to when they check.

So many times a beginning player will be aggressive with their three or four-card eight low and then check on the next street when another low card comes.

Often times this is indicative of having paired one of their low cards.

This would be a good time for you to fire a bet if, and only if, your board makes you look strong.

It’s rare that they would be checking in the hopes of putting in a check-raise since giving someone the opportunity to receive a free card in Razz is one that not many people will pass up unless their hand is already made or your board is looking very weak.

Specialty GamesPatience

Razz can be a very frustrating game. The strength of hands can change from street to street and you will find that you are left wanting to pull your hair out sometimes.

You could be dealt (2x 3x)Ax-4x and then brick out the rest of the way and lose to a Nine-low and it will drive you absolutely insane.

With that in mind, it’s important that you do not overplay your hands until you actually make one. You can have an amazing hand in your first three or four cards, but you need at least five to make a hand so don’t get ahead of yourself. That Ace-Four low could turn into a King-low with the turn of a card.

So patience is an imperative skill to have. It’s not necessarily a strategy per se, but it is a necessity nonetheless.

Recap

While we didn’t really dive into later street or river play, we feel this is a good baseline to get you started on your way to becoming a profitable Razz player when you’re just getting started.

With Razz being a game that’s foreign to so many players, with just a little bit of knowledge you can make yourself a nice chunk of change at the Razz tables.
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