When you visit a poker room or any major poker platform, you’ll find a tournament or game format that says HORSE. This format refers to five games: Holdem, Omaha, Razz, Stud, and Eight or Better. Razz is the most interesting of all five because it has a different approach in winning the pot—quite the opposite of what many players do when playing poker.
Dealing in Razz Poker is similar to 7 Card Stud—each player gets 7 cards. However, instead of ranking based on the typical hand rankings, the player with the lowest value card wins the pot. We also refer to it as 7 Card Stud Low because it follows the “California System” when ranking hands.
Mixed games are fun because it tests your skills throughout poker. However, you need to understand and master each format to win the game. Let’s discuss how you can deal with Razz Poker in great detail, together with tips that can help you crush the tables whenever you’re playing it.
The Basics for Razz Poker
Poker has so many variations that it can be challenging to keep track of everything. However, one poker variety stands out because it has a different approach when ranking hands—Razz Poker.
Razz is identical with 7 Card Stud, from dealing the cards to how players play each street. The difference when you’re playing Razz Poker is that your goal should be to have the lowest card in the game.
To start a Razz poker game, you need the following:
- Standard 52-card poker deck
- 2 to 8 players
- Chips to use as ante
- Button for the bring-in
Starting the Game: Setting the Ante and Bring-In
Before you start dealing in Razz Poker, each player should agree to the amount they’ll use as their bets. This amount is the cost of being dealt into the hand. If players decide to have a $1/2 game, each player who wants to join the game should place a $1 chip on the table.
Once all the bets are in place, the dealer will deal each player three cards: two hole cards and one upcard. Since it has the same rules as 7 Card Stud, you will use the exposed card to determine the “bring-in” or the player who starts the action at the table. However, since it favors the lowest value cards, the player with the highest value card starts the game.
In Razz, Ace is 1, Jack is 11, Queen is 12, and King is 13. The player with the King always starts first, but in a game where there are two Kings on the table, the cards’ suit determines the bring-in. Suit rankings are in alphabetical order, meaning clubs are the worst, then diamonds, hearts, and spades are the best.
The First Betting Round
Once you have the bring-in, the first betting round starts. The player on the left of the bring-in starts betting and moves clockwise with the following options:
- The first player has two options: check or bet.
- When the first player checks, the second player has three options: check, call, or bet.
- When the first player bets, the second player can fold, call, or raise.
- The options for the players on the table depends on the player’s actions before them. When a player already bets, no other player can check, and when a player checks, no one should fold their cards.
The bring-in is the last to move, and since he has the weakest upcard (exposed card), he usually won’t join the pot. In other variations, the first player to move on the third street is the one who has the highest value card. However, it’ll still have the same outcome because the player with the weakest card will eventually fold.
Remember, when playing Razz, the decision whether a player stays in the game depends on their upcard—the higher it gets, the less reason for them to stay in the game.
The Streets in Razz and Its Gameplay
There are seven streets in Razz, and the first three are at the start of the game. When the first betting round ends, the dealer will distribute one card to each player facing up. We also refer to it as the fourth street, or the fourth card distributed to each player.
What makes Razz more interesting is in every street, the hand strength can significantly change. Each street also has the potential to affect the table’s rotation. For example, a player who received a deuce on the third street can get a King on the fourth street, making him the first person to act with the option to check or bet.
The fifth and sixth street follows the same format—each player gets one upcard (exposed card) after each round. The player with the weakest card (highest value card) will always be the first to act, with the option to check or bet. Once a player places his bet, no other player can check, and the subsequent players can only call, raise, or fold.
The seventh street (or the river) is where the dealer deals each player a card face down, and is only visible to the player who has the card. The first player to act is the player who has the weakest upcard. When more than one player stays in the game after the final betting round, we reach the showdown—the part that determines the winner.
Winning the Pot in Razz Poker
Winning the pot in Razz Poker is easy—you only need to have the weakest hand. However, it doesn’t mean that you should aim to get AAAA2; it doesn’t work like that! When playing Razz, you need to discard pairs. The best hand that a player can have in Razz is A2345.
Suits don’t really matter in Razz hand rankings. The only purpose that suits have is for determining the first player to move in every street. The number of the card is the only thing that matters. Now that you know how a player can win the pot in Razz Poker, here are some scenarios that will make it easier to understand:
- The highest of the five lowest cards will determine the hand’s rank. For example, if James has A♣ 2♦ 3♦ 4♥ 7♣, and Ben has A♦ 2♣ 3♥ 4♣ 6♠. Ben wins the pot for having the lower value card.
- When ranking cards, the lower value cards within the hand rarely matter. For example, if James has 4♣ 5♥ 6♣ 8♦ 9♠, and Ben has A♣ 2♦ 3♣ 4♥ J♠, James wins the pot. That’s because, despite having 4 other cards higher than Ben’s four other cards, his highest value card (9♠) is still lower than Ben’s highest value card (J♠).
- The lower value cards only matter when both players have the same highest value card. For example, if James has 3♣ 4♦ 5♥ 6♠ 8♠ , and Ben has 3♦ 4♣ 5♠ 7♥ 8♦, James wins the pot. When the highest card for two players is the same, we use the second-highest card to determine the winner.
- Another variation of Razz Poker is splitting the pot between two players when they both have the same highest value card. In the example above, played in a game where all players agree to split pots for a draw, James and Ben split the pot.
Razz Poker can be confusing at first because we are used to ranking hands based on the typical poker rankings. However, it’s one of the simplest and most straightforward poker variations that you can play. Since there are no hand rankings to consider, you only need to look at the table to see how your cards stack up against your opponents.
Essential Strategies to Help You Win More in Razz Poker
One of the first things you need to understand when playing Razz Poker is that it may be a straightforward game, but determining hand rankings will always be relative to the table.
For example, a hand of 2♥ 4♣ 5♠ 7♦ 9♠ is weak in Razz. However, if you’re playing on a table where the other players have 10, jack, queen, and king, your hand suddenly becomes the strongest on the table.
Razz is different from other poker variations because it’s relative to the cards you see on the table.
It’s crucial because one of the main strategies that you can do to win at Razz is to steal bets. Many players will use their hole cards to decide whether they’re joining the pot or not, and you can use it to your advantage to steal the pot.
When you have a 3 as your upcard, it’s a powerful card that can force the other players to fold. So even if you have a queen and king as your hole card, don’t discard your hand. Razz is a game of representation; if you have a 3 in your upcard, many players will fold on it, and it’s free money for you.
Ensure that you take advantage of the cards you and the other players are seeing on the table—not on the cards that only you can see.
Remember, the only data that you and your opponents can have when making your decisions are the upcards. So make sure that you’re using it to your advantage and represent yourself accurately to steal the bet.
When to Apply Proper Aggression
The third street is where you have the potential to build up the pot and show aggression. Let’s say you have a relatively weak upcard, say a 10, but you have 2 and 3 hole cards. If you see the other players have 7, 8, 9, or any card better than your upcard but weaker than your hole cards, you should be aggressive.
That is the best way for you to build up the pot, but there’s a caveat to playing aggressive on the third street. Remember, the fourth street can have a massive impact on how you play. If a player with 9 suddenly gets an ace and you get a queen, it’ll be hard for you to fold because you’ve built the pot so big that you have to see the river to extract value from your money.
So when you’re trying to be aggressive early in the game, make sure that you have a strong hand that won’t be difficult to bring to the river. Even though the gameplay is different in Razz Poker, managing the pot is still crucial. You should build the pot without giving yourself too much equity that it weighs you down when you get weak cards.
How to Bluff in Razz Poker
Representation is the key to winning in Razz Poker. Even if you have weak hole cards, with a relatively strong upcard, you can still take advantage of it to steal the pot. Remember, your opponents don’t know that you have bad cards. They know that your upcard is better than theirs, so make sure that you represent it accurately.
When you’re in the early stage of the game, focus on what your opponents can see and use it to your advantage. You can also use bluffing even when you have a low-value pair, as long as you represent it accurately. The best example of this scenario is when your opponent has 3♥ and 8♦ upcards, and you have 2♥ 5♠ downcards and 4♣ 2♦ upcards.
In this scenario, you have a bad hand; when you discard your pair deuce, your chances of getting a better hand is lower. However, despite having a bad hand, you have to remember that your opponent doesn’t know that you have a pair. With representation, you can take advantage of your low-value upcard to steal the pot.
Winning in Razz is all about representation. Regardless of your hand’s overall strength, what matters more is how you use the upcards to your advantage.
The Illusion of a Strong Hand in Razz Poker
One of the pitfalls that you need to avoid when playing Razz is the illusion of having a strong hand. Here’s a scenario with five cards out to help you visualize it:
- You have A♣ 2♠ 7♣ J♦ 10♠
- Your opponent has A♦ 2♠ 3♠ 7♥ Q♦
When you look at this table, it’s easy to think that you’ll win the pot, right? But it’s not always the case in Razz, and your opponent is in an even better position to play aggressively. In fact, your opponent has a 74% chance to beat your cards, while you only have a 26% chance to win the pot. That’s because if both of you get the lowest cards possible for your hand, your opponent would have 5 low, and yours will be 7 low.
The two lowest cards that you can have are 3 and 4, giving you a hand with 7 low. Your opponent’s lowest possible cards are 4 and 5, giving him 5 low. Instead of only looking at your highest value card, try to consider your low-value cards and determine how your hand stacks up to the competition.
If you find yourself in this scenario, it might be tempting to play aggressively, since you have a better hand. However, when you’re playing Razz Poker, playing 3bet with this hand is one of the worst things that you can do. With only 26% to win, you don’t want to inflate the pot and have too much equity in it because it only supports your opponent. He’s in a better position to be aggressive, and you’re only helping him build the pot.
What Should You Do When You’re Losing at the River?
Razz can get so much action that it’s rare to see both players reaching the river with a small pot. In a lot of cases, players fold at the fourth or fifth street, so if you were able to reach the river, chances are you are so deep in the pot that it wouldn’t make sense for you to fold.
Never fold on the river when playing Razz Poker.
Of course, the exception is when you reach the river, and there’s not as much equity in the pot. However, in most cases, the correct way to play the river is to ensure that you reach the showdown. There’s really not much that you can do, so it’s best to take your chances at calling a bluff or giving your opponent his money.
Razz Poker is an exciting poker variation with straightforward gameplay. There are no hand rankings to consider, and you only need to focus on having or representing low-value cards. The secret in winning at Razz is to take advantage of the upcards and steal more bets than your opponents. Mastering the game can take years, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be good at it in a few weeks.
The strategies that we shared with you are the basic strategies that you can use to dominate in Razz. In fact, even in professional games, these strategies are still so effective that using it successfully can be the key to slowing building your stack.