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H.O.R.S.E.ing Around with Razz

The middle hurdle of H.O.R.S.E. is, of course, Razz. Elusive, perplexing and difficult to master, but Lee Munzer puts you in the clear with failsafe strategy.

Limit razz is a seven-card stud game where showing down the worst five-card hand wins the pot; players need not make an eight low to qualify and straights and flushes are ignored. Thus, the best possible hand is 5-4-3-2-A (‘the wheel’). The competitor receiving the highest displayed card must bet on third street. Typically, she can bet either 20 percent or 50 percent of the maximum bet. For example, when playing $5-$10 razz, the high card holder may ‘bring it in’ for $2 or $5. If she pushes $2 forward, the opponent to her left may fold, call or ‘complete’ to $5. During the first two rounds of a $5-$10 game, bets and raises may not exceed $5. During the third, fourth and fifth rounds, bets and raises are made in $10 increments.

When playing H.O.R.S.E., you’ll often be able to build profits by playing an aggressive game of razz. Since the game is rarely spread on a comparable basis, many of your foes will be inexperienced. These competitors often adopt a super snug strategy during razz rounds. You can move these ‘locked down’ players off marginal holdings and target them for your bluff attempts. Observe which rivals are running from razz, and pounce on them when given an opportunity. When these same adversaries bet or raise, they usually have the goods, thus you can fold marginal tickets with confidence.

As usual, the main axiom of winning limit poker strategy applies—strong starting hands get the money long-term. Playing hands that contain a card higher than seven is risky. Of course, if I pick up 8-5 / 3 and my eight is the lowest board card, I’m going to raise hoping to pick up the blinds and bring-in uncontested.

Always focus on the relative value of your hand, not the absolute value.

The worth of your razz hand will frequently be clearly defined. Let’s say you’re dealt 3-2 / 6. A player showing a queen brings it in and a seven holder completes the bet. You raise. All fold to the ‘completer’ who calls your raise. You both snag fives on fourth street. You are ahead and should make your opponent pay to outdraw you. In addition, you may gain information that can be used later in the hand should fortunes reverse. For example, let’s say you bet and she raises assuming you don’t have the stellar hand you possess. Her raise tells you she has a draw to a seven low. If she catches an eight on fifth street and you ‘brick’ with a king, you can be almost certain you have fallen behind. In that instance, your ability to calculate your chances of outdrawing your opponent along with determining your risk/reward based on pot size and future bets will determine your strategy.

Continuing to analyse the above example hand, let’s say your opponent catches an eight on fifth street, but instead of the ugly king, you score a helpful four. After she checks, you bet and she calls. On sixth street, she catches a nine and you now brick with a king. You have the hand sewn up! I watched Men “The Master” Nguyen check an unbeatable six low in this precise situation at the final table of the 2000 World Series of Poker (WSOP) event. On seventh street Men’s opponent correctly checked. Men then bet his immortal hand. His foe contemplated and made a crying call after notching a seven low on the river. Men gathered extra chips by cleverly checking on sixth street.

KNOW YOUR…Razz errors to avoid

  • Starting with a bad card—either on top or in the hole. If you’re starting with a two-card hand and your opponent has a three-card hand, you’re playing at an extreme disadvantage.
  • Betting into monster draws with weak made hands — is a losing strategy. Let’s say you show 3-8-9 on board and have 7-2 in the hole. Although you have notched a nine-low, you realise (from the betting pattern) that at least one trailing adversary has a wheel draw. You are the underdog. If you make the mistake of betting, an opponent holding a big draw should raise.
  • Playing without the best hand or the best draw — is a path to the razz poorhouse. You want to avoid arriving at the river with second-best hands that put you in situations where you must decide between folding your probable losing hand and making a crying call. Although occasionally you will be getting favorable pot odds to draw into a better hand that also contains a better draw (his 9-7-6-6 versus your 8-5-K-J), try to avoid putting chips into a pot without either the best hand or the best draw.
  • Getting married to three strong starting cards — can lead to irrational play. For example, let’s say you are dealt 4-3 / 6. After third-street betting concludes, you are heads-up against an opponent who called your completion bet with a six showing. You catch a queen on fourth street. Your rival spikes a four. Check and give up if he bets. Since no one made it two bets to go initially, you don’t have the necessary pot odds to take a card off in this situation. You do not want to chase a likely better hand into the expensive betting streets.
  • Losing track of folded cards — is tantamount to donating chips to your opponents. It’s important to observe and remember all cards that are no longer in play, especially those that will help your hand or those your opponent needs. When starting with a 3-2 / 6 you may actually be an underdog to a 5-4 / 8 adversary. This happens when the board is rife with cards that you need and he already possesses (fours, fives and eights in this case).

As always, play your opponents. For example, when loose/aggressive razz players check, they usually have hole-card problems, and you can attack. When tight, tricky players check, be more wary.

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