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Ahh, Razz. The game that one minute seems fun and easy to beat and the next minute has you standing on a rooftop debating on whether or not to jump. I believe that Razz is the easiest of the three major Stud variants (Stud and Stud Hi/Lo being the other two) since generally the play is pretty straight-forward.

The object of Razz is simple: make the lowest hand possible. Straights and flushes do not count against you and Aces qualify as a low. So the best hand in Razz is A2345. This is known as the "wheel". If you make this hand, raise and re-raise all the way to the bank because no one can beat you.

It is important to note two things about Razz:

  • Unlike in Stud Hi/Lo, there is no low qualifier. In other words, you don't need to make an Eight or Better low. Any card counts towards your low but certainly high cards or cards that pair your hand don't offer much help.

  • The winning hand is determined by whoever has the lowest high-card in their qualifying hand. Many novice players don't realize this and it costs them a lot of money when they're first starting out. A player with A4567 has a "seven low" and would beat someone holding A2348 (eight low). If one player has 23457 and another player has A2467, they both have "seven lows", so who wins the pot? The first player does because his next highest card (a five) is lower than the other player's next highest card (a six).

  • In Razz, you can win the pot one of two ways:

  • By making the best low.
  • By making people believe you have the best low so they fold.

  • In full-handed Razz games (eight players), you'll generally need to make the best low in order to win the pot. This is especially the case in small stakes games. The reason for this is that most hands usually go to a showdown. To win the pot, you're going to need to be able to show the best hand at the end in order to win. In games with fewer players or when you're in late position and the action has folded to you, you can sometimes win the pot just by representing a good low hand.

    For instance, suppose the action folds to you and you have [[cards K d Q s ]] down with [[cards 4 c ]] up. This is a wretched Razz hand. Face cards are absolutely horrible in Razz. However, your opponents can't see these cards. All they see is the Four. If there are only one or two players left in the pot and neither of them have a very good low card showing, go ahead and raise. Even though your hand is trash, chances are they'll believe you have a good low hand and fold.

    A situation you'll commonly see in Razz is where two or three people stay in the pot to fourth street. At this point, it becomes a game of "who gets dealt the best cards?" Say you have [[cards 4 c 2 s ]] down and [[cards 5 d ]] up. This is certainly a very good starting hand in Razz. You and two other players who are showing the [[cards 6 c ]] and [[cards 2 h ]] stay in the pot. On fourth street, you are dealt the [[cards 2 d ]] while your opponents receive [[cards 10 s ]] and [[cards Q h ]] . The [[cards 2 d ]] was a worthless card for you. You could literally tear it in half and light it on fire and it would not detract from the strength of your hand. However, your opponents can't know this and each of them received cards that everyone knows are bad. So go ahead and bet! There's a perfectly good chance they'll fold allowing you to win the pot with what might have been the worst of the three hands.

    But let's say the player showing [[cards 6 c 10 s ]] calls. On fifth street, you are dealt [[cards 4 d ]] while they receive [[cards 9 c ]] . Again, an absolutely awful card for you. You might as well have been dealt a blank piece of paper. However, your opponent can't know this and the card they were dealt wasn't all that great so bet again! They'll almost certainly fold now. If they don't, give up and make a note that they're a bad player that you should avoid bluffing in the future.

    Position, Starting Hands and Outs

    Position is very important in Razz because it determines how good of a starting hand you need. If you are immediately to the left of the "bring-in", you'll need a much better starting hand than if you're to the immediate right of the bring-in and the action has folded all the way around to you. The same concept applies in no-limit hold'em: the more people left to act in the pot, the stronger your hand needs to be. The fewer people left in the pot, the more you can open up a little bit and raise with a bit of a weaker hand.

    A very good starting hand in Razz is when your highest card is five or lower (with no pairs, of course). I would raise and maybe even re-raise with this hand from any position. If your high card is a six, your hand is probably good enough to play even from early position. If your high card is a seven, you can still probably play it but maybe not from early position depending on the number of your "outs" that are missing.

    If you're dealt [[cards 4 d 5 c ]] down and [[cards 7 h ]] up in early position, whether or not you play this hand depends on the face-up cards of your opponents. Aces, Twos, Threes, and Sixes are all bad cards to see because a.) it means one less rich card in the deck to help improve your hand and b.) they might have a better starting hand than you. In this scenario, I would probably play my hand if only one of these "outs" were showing. If two are showing, it becomes pretty questionable. With three or more, I'm almost certainly going to fold.

    Losing Razz players don't care about what cards their opponents are showing. They only care about their cards. Winning Razz players know their opponents cards are just as important and sometimes even more important than their own cards.

    "I Have the Best Hand" Syndrome

    People play Razz painfully straight-forward. If they have the best low hand showing, they will bet almost without fail. While this is generally the appropriate strategy, it can and should be exploited. Let me explain what I mean:

    Suppose after fifth street you have [[cards A d 2 c ]] down and [[cards 4 c 3 h Q s ]] up. Your opponent is showing [[cards 7 h 6 s 10 h ]] . He technically could have a stronger hand than you at the moment. After all, your opponent knows the best possible hand you can have is a Queen-low. Knowing this, if he has a Ten-low, he'll almost certainly bet. Even if he has something worse than a Ten-low, he might bet anyway hoping you'll just give him credit for the Ten-low and fold your Queen-low. However, even if he does have a Ten-low in this situation, you're still a 55%-60% favorite to win the pot! Raise him! You've got two chances to catch a Five, Six or Seven all of which will almost certainly give you the pot or an Eight or Nine which could certainly wind up being good enough depending on the strength of his last two cards.

    Razz is a straight-forward game but some people play it too straight-forward. If you raise the player with the Ten-low in the above example, chances are he's going to be thinking "gee golly, I know I have a better hand than this sucker, I'm going to re-raise him!" Re-raise him back! For every $1 you can get him to put into this pot on fifth street, you'll profit about $0.10-$0.20 in the long run! Higher-stakes Razz games can be very profitable on account of inexperienced players not realizing this crucial concept.

    However, in those instances where your last two cards are [[cards K c K s ]] after you capped it on fifth-street, just try to focus of all the good things about life while you stand on the ledge of the roof.

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