The complete guide to badugi

Poker.Org Staff
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Posted on: October 21, 2022 10:18 am EDT

If you’re a poker player ready for a change of pace from your usual Texas Hold’em, Omaha, or 5-card stud poker nights, you may want to consider adding badugi to your game rotation. With a completely different set of hand rankings than flop or traditional draw style games, badugi offers a great way to shake things up and challenge yourself.

Badugi history and origin

Among the poker playing community, badugi is believed to have hit the mainstream in South Korea in the 1970s and ‘80s. There are also claims that badugi was popularized in Winnipeg, Canada in the ‘80s, except in Canada, the game is referred to as off suit lowball.

In some circles you may also hear the game called padugi, padooki, or padookie.

South Korean origins?

In the Korean language, the word “baduk” or “badug” refers to a black-and-white pattern. Many people have come to believe that badugi originated in South Korea because of its popularity there and the similarity between the word “baduk” and badugi.

While there are rumors that South Koreans started playing badugi as early as the 1960s, there’s very little existing evidence to prove exactly where or when the game was created.

North American introduction

The late American poker pro Paul “Eskimo” Clark is often credited with introducing the game to the United States after learning it while serving as a medic in the Vietnam War. However, there has been some confusion about whether Clark claimed to have invented the game or was just the first to introduce it to American poker tables.

Badugi’s rising popularity

Whether you prefer to call it badugi, padooki, or the Canadian moniker off suit lowball, this low hand game has become a popular alternative to traditional poker games both in casinos and in online poker.

PokerStars added badugi to their offerings in 2008 and as a result many American poker players developed a love for the unique game.

How do you play badugi?

Badugi poker is a draw game similar to 2-7 triple draw. The game has multiple betting rounds and drawing rounds, no community cards, and a four-card hand. Here are some of the basics on how to play badugi.

The object of the game

The goal in badugi is to have a four-card hand composed of the lowest possible cards with no repeated suits or paired cards. In this lowball poker game, an ace is considered the lowest card, so the best badugi hand you can get is an unsuited A234. 

Part of the difficulty of getting the lowest hand in badugi is deciding which cards in your hand to discard and which to keep. While you may want to get rid of high cards like KQJT, there’s no guarantee that the card you get instead will count toward making a badugi. If you get a repeated suit or a pair, the most you can hope for is a three-card badugi.

Other badugi concepts to know

In badugi, all players keep their hands secret or face down until showdown, so there isn’t any opportunity to guess how other players are doing with any certainty.

Badugi poker uses a blind betting structure, more on this later, with big blinds and little blinds that rotate around the table after each hand.

You can play badugi with as few as two players or as many as eight players. The more players you have, the more interesting the game will be.

Badugi rules, strategy, and betting structures

As a game with a four-card hand, badugi is quite different from most other poker variations. The biggest similarities between badugi and other draw poker games is the presence of a blind betting structure and the ability to play with a pot limit, half pot limit, or fixed limit.

Rules of the game

At the start of the game, the player to the left of the dealer puts in the small blind and the player to their left puts in the big blind. The dealer then distributes four cards to each player, which are dealt one at a time and face down.

First betting round

Each player looks at their cards, and the player to the left of the big blind starts the first betting round. Each player must either call, raise, or fold.

First drawing round

Now each player has a chance to discard as many cards from their hand as they would like and draw replacement cards. The small blind goes first, discarding any unwanted cards face down. The dealer deals all replacement cards to a player before moving on to the next. Once all players receive their draw cards, it’s time for another betting round.

If a player is happy with their Badugi hand, they can stand pat or choose not to discard any cards.

Additional betting and drawing rounds

Gameplay continues with a second betting round, a second drawing round, a third betting round, a third drawing round, and a final betting round. The showdown decides the winner.

Badugi strategy

Badugi strategy is fairly straightforward since the goal of the game is so simple. Each player wants to have the lowest ranking collection of four cards. Barring a four-card badugi, you can sometimes win the game with a low three-card hand as well. You can also play a two or even one-card badugi hand, but winning becomes less likely the fewer cards you can play.

Tracking your opponents

As in any other poker variant, watching your opponents is an important aspect of the game. You need to keep track of which players stand pat from the very first deal, which players draw more than two cards, and which players call vs raise the bet.

It’s rare for all players to remain all the way to showdown. At some point, most of your opponents will decide to cut their losses if they don’t have at least three unsuited, unpaired cards. 

When to stand pat

Standing pat is one of the most important strategic moves you can learn to do in the game. It’s common to want to keep drawing to get the perfect badugi hand, but statistically, you’re often better off sticking with the cards you have if they’re all unsuited and unpaired.

We’ll go over specific hand rankings in a moment, but a general rule to follow is if you have a four-card badugi, stand pat. If you have a three-card badugi going into the last drawing round but your opponents have to draw any cards, you can stand pat, too.

When to fold

Unless you have a low ranking four-card badugi, it’s a good idea to bow out if the betting gets too aggressive. With eight player games, the pot value can increase quickly and it’s easy to get excited about the potential winnings. Remember that it’s unlikely you’ll take the pot with anything weaker than a three-card badugi.

Folding before the first drawing round is much more common in Badugi than in other draw games because unless the cards you’re dealt offer a solid head start toward a good hand, drawing a winning hand in later rounds is very unlikely. 

Betting structures

Badugi is a game that almost always features mandatory bets called blind bets. It’s exceedingly rare to encounter an ante-style game unless it’s a home game with non-traditional house rules. The blind bets are a traditional small blind, big blind structure, with the blind positions rotating around the table after each hand.

Fixed limit Badugi

When playing with fixed limits, each player can only raise the bet in fixed increments based on the small blind and big blind values. You can also only raise a certain number of times in each betting round.

Pot limit badugi

If you’re playing badugi with a pot limit, then you can bet up to the full value of the pot in any betting round. Pot limit games can get very expensive, very quickly, so it’s common to see many players fold as the pot increases.

Half pot limit badugi

Half pot limit games split the difference between fixed limit and pot limit. With half pot limit games, the maximum bet is half of the value of the current pot. When playing a half pot limit game, the value of the pot doubles every time a player raises, so pots can end up quite large, but not as large as in regular pot limit games.

Badugi hand rankings

When it comes to playing badugi, the hand rankings can get a bit complex. The best possible hand is an unsuited A234, but beyond that perfect hand, you need to pay careful attention to determine your hand’s value.

Four-card hands

Four card badugi hands always beat three-card hands, two-card hands, and one-card hands. To achieve a four-card hand, you need to have any four cards with no pairs and no matching suits. 

At showdown, if more than one player has a four-card hand, then the ranking depends on each player’s highest card. Whoever has the lowest high card wins. If two players have the same high card, then you compare the second-highest cards. Whoever has the lowest of the second-highest cards wins.

Example four-card showdown

If Player A has A♠2♣5♥8♦ and Player B has A♣1♦6♥8♠, then Player A wins because while both players have 8s for their highest cards, Player A’s second highest of 5 is lower than Player B’s second highest of 6. Having aces, ones, and twos are great, but your hand is only as strong as your highest cards.

Three, two, and one-card hands

If your hand has a pair or multiple cards with the same suit, then some of your cards will be disqualified. Players traditionally get to keep the lowest ranking cards in their hand, so if you have a 2♠ and a 9♠, the 9♠ gets removed.

Ties

On rare occasions, two players will have the exact same hands in terms of card values. If that happens, the game is tied because suits have no value differences.

What is the difference between badugi and poker?

There are several differences between badugi and poker, including but not limited to hand rankings, ace value, number of betting and drawing rounds, number of cards in your hand, and the goal of not having any pairs or suited cards. A perfect hand in badugi is a losing hand in most poker variants.

Hand sizes

Poker variants from flop games like Hold’em and Omaha to draw games like 5-card draw, all feature five-card hands. Badugi games always have four card hands.

Hand ranking differences

Poker hand rankings primarily value cards of the same suit or multiples such as four of a kind, three of a kind, or two of a kind. Because badugi disqualifies cards of the same suit and any duplicates or pairs, the highest ranking cards look very different from poker’s top hands like royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, and full house.

The takeaway

Badugi is a challenging, unique, and fast-paced poker game enjoyed by players in tournaments, casinos, and online formats. If you’re looking for a new card game to try, consider introducing badugi during your next home poker night or trying it out online! With a little bit of practice, you’ll get the hang of the unique hand rankings and playing style, so you can start to develop your own badugi strategy.

Featured image source: Flickr by Bastian Greshake Tzovaras used under CC license