Join Team Pro Katja on the Razz
As players prepare for the SCOOP Razz event (event #13 on April 8), some may be a little inexperienced and unsure of how best to play the game.
Who better to ask how to play successfully than a WSOP bracelet winner? Handy, then, that on Team PokerStars Pro we have just the person...
by Katja Thater, 2007 WSOP Razz bracelet winner
Only the "R" in H.O.R.S.E.?
H.O.R.S.E. and mixed games are becoming increasingly popular, and guess what? Razz - "the pain game" - is included in most of them. And for good reason: if you have ever played H.O.R.S.E. you might have noticed the pots in Razz tend to be the biggest of the lot. Razz is not a split-pot game such as Stud Hi/Lo or Omaha8 Hi/Lo, it is a stud game which means there is one more betting round than in Hold'em games - and it is a drawing game!
The game is in the mix for good reasons. Playing Razz successfully requires a lot strategy, patience, discipline and attention: as in all the stud games you need to memorize all those board cards and connect them not only to your opponents hand but to your own hand also. Razz is a challenging game and its strategy requirements are often overlooked. Also, Razz poker is one of the few remaining games where your average opponent knowledge is relatively small because most players never cared to think about a strategy. You see, for many players, aiming for a "7 low" is not as much fun as trying to hit a full house.
Welcome to the game!
The objective of Razz poker is to make the lowest possible 5-card hand from the seven cards you get dealt. The cards are dealt just like in 7-card stud. Aces count as low; flushes and straights are ignored. This means the best five-card hand in Razz is A-2-3-4-5 - called a "wheel" or "bike". The purpose is interesting enough: Whoever makes the worst hand wins!
You can find the basic rules and explanations for Razz at the PokerStars website right here.
Razz is pretty easy to teach to newcomers and they can pick up the basics quickly. It is quite straightforward because many of the cards are "up" cards, which means the whole table can see them. The name of the game is observing the action and waiting for three low starting cards.
That sounds simple. Very simple. But it's so simple why is not every player a winning player in Razz? The best Razz players know how to win because they realize that knowing how to play starting hands is crucial. You should understand that the value of your starting hand depends principally on what cards other players have showing. Razz poker is a game where the observant and astute poker player can do very well at the tables. Playing Razz poker requires patience, discipline, mental focus, and an ego control. When you get dealt a hand, here is your check list:
- Your own hole cards
- Your exposed card
- The exposed cards of your opponents
- How many of the exposed cards are duplicate cards to your hand
- How many of the exposed cards make your low hand
- Your position to the bring-in bettor and opponents who have low cards showing
- The actions of the players who act before you
- The possible actions of the players who probably may act behind you with lower cards showing
These points are very important and interconnecting because the moves you make at the start of the hand heavily influence how you will play the rest of the hand. Making a bad decision or ignoring the other players' exposed cards can cost you a lot of money through a hand.
With a little experience it will be quickly be apparent which cards you can start with. Your standards should be pretty conservative. Always be observant when the cards are dealt. Look at all the exposed cards and look for the ones that would help your hand. If there are many of those cards exposed then that is not good for you. However, if you don't see any or just a couple then that is potentially good for your hand. Certainly you should not play (7-6) 8 when there are two threes and an ace still to act behind you. Even if you are dealt three perfect cards, like (2- 3) A, and then catch two bad cards in a row and your opponent looks good, then you should fold the hand if bet to you.
Hoping for runner-runner in Razz is not advisable as it rarely comes in (as in other games) and making these kind of plays in the long run will make you a losing player. If you are behind in a hand and don't improve by fifth street, then you should fold if there is a bet to you.
It can be a very frustrating game at times, and that is why discipline is so indispensable for your Razz life. Sometimes its getting weird and it seems all the rolled-ups and pocket kings are dealt much more often to you than in Stud hi. In this game you have to think upside down.
Now that's enough of folding and frustration. Let's talk about how you play your good Razz hands well. The requirements are like in every Limit game. When playing against weak players it is very important not to try tricky plays on them as they may call you down to showdown with almost any cards. Do not try check-raises on weak players and miss a bet because your opponent is checking behind you. Follow the basics and play elementary poker, unless you know what you are doing.
Razz is not really a slow-playing game. There are exceptions of course, but generally speaking if you have a good hand, you want to jam it. If you are heads-up and your opponent starts to check when in prior rounds they were betting and you have a half-decent hand, then you should bet.
Play your board aggressively. Razz is a game where you need to play a strong-looking board aggressively to push drawing hands out. If you are sitting on fifth street with a three card seven and your opponent is showing a couple of high cards then you need to bet. The same is true when your opponent pairs up on his board or catches high cards that leave him drawing lower than you. You can also try to bluff in this situation. If your opponent calls and catches bad on the next card a bet from you will usually take the pot down right there. By all means you won't go wrong by just betting and raising when you have the best of it.
Show aggression when you think you have the best hand and play straightforward. For example, a player to your right with a 7 showing comes in the pot with a raise. Your hand is (2-3) 6. You should re-raise. You want to isolate this opponent as you are in the lead. And, if you have duplicate cards exposed, you have even more reason for a raise as your edge has improved.
In fact, you should consider raising the player who comes in with a raise even if you think he has a better hand than you to get heads-up. For example, if the first player raises and has a 6 showing, you may want to raise with your smooth (!) 7, if you can get heads-up. This allows you to find out if your opponent is really that strong and to have proper odds to call on 4th street even if you hit a bad card.
Showing aggression is important as well in order to steal the antes. Several situations are great for ante-stealing attempts. First, if the bring in player is immediately to your left and it is folded up to you, you should always complete the bet to steal the bring and antes. You do not have to be successful every time for this to make a profitable play. Another good stealing shot to take is when you are the lowest door card. You'd prefer to have reasonable cards in the hole, but this steal attempt is not unlike completing with an ace door card in 7 card stud, representing aces. You can also attempt to steal with second highest up card if it is folded up to you in late position.
Don't get carried away here: stealing becomes less effective and less profitable the lower the limits you are playing. Always be willing to let go of a steal attempt if another player plays back at you!
In a nutshell I can give you these tips: select the right starting cards in relation to your opponents. Be patient and disciplined. Know when to be aggressive or to give up a hand. And be prepared to suffer agonies. It's that simple!
Good luck in the SCOOP Razz event!