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Razz poker is a variant of seven card stud where the object of the game is to build the worst hand possible. Card players who’ve played 7-card stud hi/lo are familiar with how razz is played, but the high hand has no bearing in this game. Even more than most forms of poker, razz is a game for hard-core gamblers, because so many possibilities have to be calculated.
Those familiar with seven card stud poker know the deal and betting rounds by heart. In the original deal, players receive two face-down cards, called hole cards, and one face-up card, called a door card. A round of betting begins, with the bring-in player starting play. The bring-in bet is determined by the player with the worst card; that is, the highest card showing. A king is considered the worst card in the game, since an ace can double as a card worth one.
Once one round of betting occurs, more cards are dealt. A new round of betting occurs after the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh cards are dealt. 5 rounds of betting happen in all. Because so many bets occur, the game is played with limit betting.
Straights and flushes are not counted in razz. The lowest hand possible is 5-4-3-2-A, which is also known as the bicycle, the wheel, or 5-high. The best possible starting hand is ace-2-3.
Players want to know what a good starting hand is should look at games like hi/lo 8-or-better, because three cards of 8 or less are considered good starting hands. The king is the worst card possible, while pairs are not good at all.
If your cards match a lot of the door cards, this makes your hand stronger. For instance, if you held the 4-3-2 and you saw a couple of 4’s and a couple of 3’s showing around the table, this would be a good sign. The odds you get a pair are minimal. Of course, if another player were showing these low cards (A-3-4, for example), this would change how you played the hand.
Razz tables seat between 2 and 8 players. Experienced players usually don’t have the problem, but if all 8 players were to stay into the hand until the showdown (or at least until 7th street), this would use a total of 60 cards of a 52-card deck. At low stakes tables or home games where players might not fold that often, this might be an issue. If so, rules must be used to determine what happens.
In most of these cases, the number of players is reduced to seven. Since the second, third, fourth, and fifth round of dealing uses burn cards, one option is to use the burn cards to fill out hands. If this isn’t enough, casinos can deal out a community card for 7th street, instead of dealing a different card to each player. In this case, all players remaining in the hand would consider the community card part of their deck. Razz games with serious players do not often have this problem, since most players fold before much betting occurs.
On the Internet, razz is offered in almost all online poker rooms. The game has been a popular online poker variant since 2004, when the WSOP Razz event (won by T.J. Cloutier) was televised. After receiving requests from online poker players wanting to play the game they saw on television, casino operators began offering razz poker.
A game with almost identical rules to razz is played in the United Kingdom, but only in the London casinos. This game is called “London lowball”. Flushes and straights do count as a high hand in this version of razz, which makes 6-4-3-2-A the best hand in the game. London lowball is played as a pot-limit game. No limit versions of the game are known to exist, but they tend to be given other names than the London game.
Pot-limit razz is the “R” in H.O.R.S.E. This type of tournament is considered the truest test of poker skill, because it comprises five games in all: holdem, Omaha, razz, seven-card stud, and seven-card stud hi/lo eight or better. The “E” is derived from the word “eight” in the final game listed. The World Series of Poker has one H.O.R.S.E. event scheduled every year. To win that particular tournament is quite prestigious, because many of the top players make certain to play the event.
One key strategy is to steal the bring-in and ante wagers in razz poker. Because the game is played as a limit game so often, winning small pots is one way to gain a significant advantage. Stealing the blinds is important in other poker variants like no limit Texas hold’em, but not to the same degree, because the no limit nature of the game allows big pots to outweigh a number of smaller pots.
If a person is the last to act and everyone behind the bring-in bet folded, it’s a good play to raise in hopes of stealing the blinds.
The strength of a hand is affected by what other cards are showing on the table (the door cards). If you hold a hand with ace-4-7, this is a much stronger hand if other aces, fours, and sevens are showing. If the other door cards don’t show the A, 4, or 7, then your chance of hitting a pair increase by a significant margin.
This element of the game requires players to be observant about not only the composition of their hand, but the hand of others around the table. Hands which wouldn’t be marginal in other circumstances might be playable if the right door cards are showing.