Razz - Where every loser wins!
If you feel you land far more losing hands in poker then you do winning combinations, then Razz just may be the game for you. Razz is probably the most popular form of what are known as "Lowball" poker games. In Lowball poker games, it is the worse poker hand that is the winner, and not the best. Razz is just one of a wide range of Lowball poker games, each with their own very definite set of rules and nuances. I will mention a couple of the other forms of the most popular Lowball games later on, but at the moment I'll just run through the rules of Razz.
Once you've got to grips with the rules of Razz and you fancy giving the game a fling, head off to my reviews of the top poker rooms - in each review you will find a list of all the poker variants that are offered, so you can see where you can play Razz.
About Razz Poker
Just like most forms of poker, no one knows exactly who invented Razz, or where it was first played. The only thing you can be sure about is the fact that Razz was invented after Seven Card Stud, as that is the game it is based on. Razz was first offered as a national tournament in 1971 when a Razz competition was run at the World Series of Poker. It was of course popular with Seven Card Stud players, as the games are virtually identical - it's just the hand values that are completely the other way around!
About The Game
There are different ways of playing Razz, but the two key things about playing Razz that you have to remember is that straights and flushes can be ignored, and that Aces are always low. At times it can be very hard to work out which is the lowest hand in Razz, but if you remember these two rules then you should be able to do the necessary determinations. For example, as a Royal Flush is the best hand in most forms of poker, you'd expect it to be the worse hand in Razz. This is, however, not the case. A Royal Flush is actually a King-high, as the King is the highest card (as the Ace counts low) and both the straight and flush is ignored. A Royal Flush in Razz actually beats a pair of deuces! Confused yet? Well, keep working through this article and you'll soon see the light.
As with most forms of poker, there are three types of Razz:
Limit Poker: There is a limit to the size of any bet that can be made
Pot-Limit Poker: No bet can ever be made that is worth more than the current value of the pot (the total amount of chips that have been bet by all the players)
No-Limit Poker: There is no limit to any bet that can be made
Gameplay and Rules
The Deal, and the Ante
Unlike Hold'em or Omaha poker there are typically no blinds in Razz. Instead, each player is expected to chip in an ante amount into the pot before the cards are dealt. Most Razz games are played in small-bet/large-bet format, with the ante being about the size of the small-bet value when divided by the number of players. Note that there is a maximum of eight players who can play in a single hand of Razz. If you're quick with your maths, then you will have realised that with eight players each receiving seven cards during a hand, the total number of cards that can be dealt is fifty-six, and as there are only fifty-two cards in a pack, then there's a danger of running out of cards. Usually, that does not happen as players fold before each of them is allocated a full hand of seven cards. If there are not enough cards to go around then for the last street the dealer will instead deal one card face up in the center of the table - everyone then uses this card in their hand as they would if playing Hold'em or Omaha.
In the deal each player is dealt two cards face down and one card face up. The player who has the highest up card is the first to take action. If two or more players have the same highest upcard, then the suit is used to break the tie. Spades is the highest suit, followed by Hearts, then Diamonds, and finally Clubs. If you've ever played Bridge you'll recognise this suit ranking. If you haven't, then just remember the suits strength is in reverse alphabetical order. The King of Spades is therefore the highest "bring-in" card. The first player to act must make a bet in order to stay in the hand. The ante bet is not like the blinds in Hold'em or Omaha - it does not count as part of the player's overall bet. In limit Razz a player can bet up to the maximum small-bet size. Betting continues around the table as players either fold, call or raise. The bet cannot surpass the small-bet size.
In our sample hand, BusyBeth folds, but Dangerboy makes the small-bet of $4. EdPokerK calls, F10N4 folds, GazMan and IceQween call, JuicyJay folds and Alex1974 calls. The chips are collected in and the pot now stands at $28.
Each player is now deal another exposed card, which is called "Fourth Street". The player who acts first is whomever has the highest exposed hand. This player can either fold, check or bet. The amount of this bet must be equal to the small-bet size. Each player in turn must either bet or fold. A player may only check if every player in the round before them has also checked. Once a player has made a bet each player who wishes to remain in the round must call.
Fifth and Sixth Street
Another exposed card is dealt, and again the first player to act is the player with the best hand. All bets and raises are now in big-best increments. The same happens for the Sixth Street.
In our sample deal the highest hand is IceQween's pair of eights. She checks, as does EdPokerK and GazMan, so the pot stays at $40.
On the sixth street IceQween is first to act. She checks, but EPokerK bets at $8. GazMan calls, but IceQween folds.
Seventh Street (or the River)
The final card is dealt face down. The first to act is still the player with the best hand. There is a final betting round, and once all bets have been made, we reach the showdown. The last person to make a bet or raise is the first to show their cards. Their hand is the lowest possible hand made up from five of their seven cards. All players who wish to can show their hands - obviously you can only win the pot if you show your cards! The pot is given to the person with the lowest hand, the cards are gathered in, and the dealer button is passed one chair clockwise, and the next deal takes place.
Finishing off our sample deal, The seventh card is dealt. GazMan is first to act, and checks. EdPokerK bets $8, and GazMan calls. EdPokerK is the winner with a 7-high, which beats GazMan's 10-high. EdPokerK takes the pot.
So, now you know how to play Razz. Why not check out some of my poker reviews so you can find out the best places to play this very different poker variant?
You do not really have to worry that much about hand rankings when it comes to Razz. Flushes and straights are completely off the board, and if you have a hand that has anything better than a pair, then you are not going to win. Even pairs very seldom win the pot at Razz. The key is to obtain as many low cards as possible, without matching any of them up. Remember that you can discard two of your seven cards, so having a couple of pairs in your hand is fine. If you have three pairs, or one pair and a set then you're obviously in a bit of bother.
A good Razz seven-card hand is one with two pairs or less, and with as few cards above nine as possible. For example 988633A - one eight and one three can be discarded, leaving 9863A, which is nine-high.
There's no definite strategy to Razz, but here are a few handy tips:
- It's worth staying in a hand up to the sixth street if you have three cards under eight in your hand. If there are a lot of tens and court cards on the board, then you can perhaps expand this to a nine. Also, if there are a lot of cards on the board the same as the cards in your hand, then you know your chances of being forced to play a pair are much diminished.
- Be attentive of the board at all times. Say your hand is A34K5T - you have the chance of a good hand if you can land a 2, 6, 7 or 8. Anything higher than that and you're at least going to have a nine-high, which is likely to get beaten. If there are lots of 2s, 6s, 7s and 8s already on the board, then you know your chances of being dealt one on the river are slim.
- Just like any form of poker, don't go chasing those draws. If by the fifth street you don't have a low hand, then the chances are you are not going to get one. Say you have A559K - You really need two good cards on the sixth and seventh street in order to make even a nine-high. Get out of the hand whilst you can!
2-7 Single Draw Lowball
This is another form of Lowball poker (it is also known as Kansas City Lowball), and follows the pattern of 5-Card Draw. The main difference between Razz and 2-7 Single Draw Lowball - and it is a very important difference - is that flushes and straights DO count against your hand, and Aces are high. The game is known as 2-7 as the lowest possible hand is 23457o. The rest of the game matches 5-Card Draw exactly, with one single draw taking place after the first round of betting.
2-7 Triple Draw Lowball
Exactly the same as 2-7 Single Draw Lowball, except that three draws take place (and a round of betting between each) instead of one. This game is not to be confused with Badugi, which is a similar Lowball game but is acutually very different.
This game is so-called as it is almost exclusively played in Europe. The game is identical to Razz except that straights and flushes do count. The Ace remains low, though.