Poker players unfamiliar with the game Razz may know how to play the game if it were called by another name – seven card stud low. Imagine a game of stud set up so that the hand of the lowest value takes the pot. Basically, that’s what Razz is. The object of the game is to form the hand that has the lowest value.
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Because this variant is one of the less-familiar versions of poker, and because it turns the traditional hierarchy of hands on its ear, it can be frustrating. Think of that frustration as a challenge, and you’ll see the value of learning Razz strategy. It’s especially important for poker players to learn if they plan to play HORSE, since it is one of the games that make up that multi-variant tournament format.
This variant plays out almost identical to seven card stud. The differences between stud and Razz are where the strategy for the two poker games differs.
One important rule difference is that a forced bet (the ante) is required of whichever player is dealt the highest-value card on third street. After this forced wager, the game really takes off. After this round, the player with the hand of the lowest value will always play first. In the case of a tie in either low or high value hands and cards, play goes to the first active gambler seated to the right of the dealer.
Another important variation between this game and the more familiar seven card stud version of poker has to do with door card pairs. In Razz, players don’t get a chance to make a double bet when pairing their door card.
Back to the low hand situation; to determine who has the lowest hand (and is the winner), all Aces count as low (meaning they have a value even lower than a deuce) and for the purposes of scoring the hand, flushes and straights are totally ignored.
Most of this game’s strategy requires patience. One reason to learn and play this unique variant is to learn to be patient in other card games. Playing tight in this game requires patience, patience, and more patience – stealing antes is the best way to improve your Razz play. Patiently sitting back and stealing antes at every turn is the mark of a good player.
The higher the limit, the more important it is to be an ante-thief. Position also makes the theft of other players’ antes valuable – if the bring-in player is at your immediate left and the table folds to your position, it is time to complete the wager, steal the bring-in and antes, and pat yourself on the back. Even if you don’t pull of the ante steal every time, this is a winning strategy.
Another position that makes ante stealing important is when you have the lowest up card. In fact, players with the second highest value up card that fold to you when you’re in a late seat should be victims of your thievery every time.
Because it is easier to learn and remember the value of starting hands in this poker variant, it makes sense to commit this info to memory and use it to develop your personal strategy.
One of the best hands in this game is when you hold three cards between Ace and five. Straights don’t count, so A-2-3 is probably the best starting hand overall. But really any player holding any three cards between Ace and five (unpaired) has a solid hand, worth a bet and a raise if they get the chance. Less valuable is a hand with three cards Ace to six, and most of the time you can play that hand just as aggressively as the Ace to five hand. This also means you should watch out for players with low cards who increase their wagers.
Bad hands in Razz start at the level of eights and cards higher than eight. If you are stuck with a hand pegged with three cards eight and up, your only play is to start stealing antes. Poker players trying to play through with a hand containing three eight and up cards are likely to lose a lot of money.
Most strategy guides for this game insist that bettors who control the pace of the game (and keep it slow) are more likely to win. The only really good time to slow the pace down is if you hold good cards. Why? Because you can also slowly build up a good pot, one that fits the value of your hand. Slowing down the game allows you to call on fourth street even if you get a really bad off.
Controlling the speed means nothing if you don’t learn when to fold. It may not need to be said, but playing through with bad cards or making a bet with a poor hand against better draws is a great way to thin your wallet. Be aggressive when you have a good hand, but be patient in every other situation.
Here are the ten best hands in the game. Remember that straights and flushes don’t count and that the Ace counts as an actual ace.
The above bits of strategy advice and information on what constitutes a good hand in this strange but exceedingly enjoyable poker variant are enough to get you started on the path to being a Razz expert. Of course, you’ll learn more about the game the more you play. Rather than ignoring the rules of this game until you find yourself near the end of a HORSE tournament, practice this version of stud low to teach yourself patience and as a palate cleanser between long sessions of Omaha or Texas holdem.