The lowball version of 7 Card Stud, known universally as Razz Poker, provides players with a challenging twist on the classic stud poker game
. The primary objective in Razz Poker
is to achieve the lowest possible hand ranking. In this stud variant, straights and flushes are not recognized as high hands, and Aces have the low value of "1". Unlike common Hi/Lo variants of 7 Card Stud
and Omaha Poker
, a player's final five-card hand is not required to follow the "8 or better" rule to qualify as low. With these key points in mind, Razz Poker strategy involves viable starting hands, comprehensive attention to detail, and cognizance of opportunities to steal the antes.
Because straights have no inherent value in this variant, the lowest possible Razz poker hand
is 5-4-3-2-A; also called the "wheel." Ideally, the best starting hands for Razz Poker would include any three of these five cards, and would warrant a bet or raise on third street.
Any three unpaired cards smaller than a nine have latent potential, but should be played more cautiously. Careful attention to other player's third street cards is essential. Even a nine, when every opponent is showing an even higher third street card, would be acceptable to call the bring-in or full bet. But a player going into a Razz Poker hand with cards ranging between seven and nine should stand ready to fold if their hand does not quickly improve.
The strength of a Razz starting hand is considerably influenced by which card the other players can see. Called the "door card," opponents will gain their first impression of one's hand from this card. For instance, 8-2-A is a viable starting hand. However, if the Ace is the exposed card, this is a much stronger "betting" hand than if the 8 were the door card. When showing a considerably lower door card than the rest of the table, a raise could steal the antes.
Conversely, with A-2 in the hole, and an 8 door card, one's Razz Poker strategy must be modified. The hand is no less viable, and may in fact be underestimated by an opponent. Allowing another player to take the betting lead can result in a larger pot in the long run.
Like any stud variant, every exposed card in Razz Poker conveys information. Attention paid to these details can provide revelations as to the best course of action, resulting in higher profits. Memorizing folded hands can assist in more accurate analysis of which cards are still in play.
Cards that have already hit the board are called "dead cards". In Razz Poker, dead cards can offer assurance that one is safe from hitting specific pairs and sets. Despite the fact that straights and flushes are ignored in Razz Poker Rules
, pairs, three-of-a-kind, and full houses preserve their high ranks in Razz. The knowledge that certain cards are no longer a potential threat to one's hand can be very helpful.
Observation of each player's board also allows a strategic Razz player to seize an opportunity to steal the antes. If one's opponents are showing significantly higher up-cards than oneself, an aggressive raise can often bring the hand to a profitable end, even with less-than-desirable hole cards.
Careful examination of opponents' up-cards on sixth street can offer insight into the worst case scenario. Taking the assumption that the opponent's hole cards are better than their exposed cards, a logical approximation can be made. For example, if an opponent is showing 3-8-10-3, the best possible hole cards for that player would be 4-2-A. Therefore, the lowest hand this player could possibly have is 8-4-3-2-A; an 8 high hand. This knowledge is highly exploitable, especially to any player sitting on a 7-high hand or better.
In any poker form, the players who act first in a betting round (early position) are giving away valuable information to the players who will bet last (late position). Unlike Texas Hold'em, Razz Poker and other stud variants assign the player with the best board the obligation to act first (except the first betting round; that round the player with the worst hand pays the bring-in and acts first). Consequently, player position is not necessarily static throughout a hand of Razz Poker.
When acting in early position, it is recommended to check or call, wagering only when there is sufficient information to justify the bet (such as information gathered from a prior round played from late position). From late position, a player's hand is somewhat stronger than it would be in first position, and a raise can lead to the folding of weaker hands; perhaps even the stealing of the antes.
An often overlooked aspect of Razz Poker strategy by newer poker players
is the psychology of the game. Players can be categorized by their betting tendencies and frequency of folding. By labeling individual opponents in accordance with their known habits, one can make more accurate predictions about the relative strength of a player's hole cards.
"Tight" and "loose" refer to a player's likeliness to play a starting hand. Tight players frequently fold weak hole cards, whereas loose players are more likely to chase a mediocre (or even poor) hand. Players who are "aggressive" bet and raise confidently, as opposed to "passive" players, who tend to check or call most of the time. By examining the traits that opponents exhibit, it becomes obvious when a tight player finally lands a hand they feel confident playing, or a passive player believes they have hit the winning Razz hand.
When playing Razz Poker live, it is possible to glean more information by recognizing physical tells. Signs of anxiety, fidgeting, and other changes in behavior may be recurring signs of bluffs or monster hands. A Razz opponent who suddenly sits up straight in their chair may have just landed the wheel, or may be getting nervous about a bluff. The only way to know for sure is to regard how the hand ends. Observations such as these will assist a player in making more informed decisions in the hands that follow.
Of equal importance when applying psychology to Razz Poker strategy is one's own demeanor and habits at the poker table. Players who behave according to predictable patterns are easily read. By mixing up one's style of play, and maintaining a keen awareness and governance of every gesture and fidget, a strategic Razz Poker player can avoid becoming an open book to attentive opponents.