Badugi: An Introduction

Badugi is a draw poker variant, which probably originated in Korea and takes the poker scene by storm for almost a year. In the following article I will explain the rules and the basic strategy of this exciting game.

What does a betting round in Badugi look like?

Badugi is played with a dealer button just like Texas Hold'em. The game is also played using forced bets. So there is a small and a big blind and as the case may be an ante as well. Badugi consists of three drawing and four betting rounds.
 
When the blinds have been posted every player receives four cards face down (the cards are dealt individually starting with the small blind and continuing in a clockwise direction). Afterwards the first betting round starts. The maximum amount you can bet depends, like in Texas Hold'em, on the betting structure, thus whether you are playing fixed limit, pot limit or no limit. After the first betting round each player - beginning with the first player still in the pot to the left of the dealer - may discard up to four cards (at will all of his cards) and receive an equal number of replacement cards (first draw).

The first draw is followed by a second betting round. If it is checked around or at least two players are left in the hand, there is another draw where you can again replace up to four cards. Of course, you can also stand pat and take no card. That applies to all drawing rounds, irrespective of the fact whether you have replaced cards in the previous round or not. The second draw is followed by a third betting round and by the third and final draw. As soon as the fourth betting round is finished there is a showdown, in case at least two players are still in the hand.

The player who is holding the best hand wins the showdown.

The best possible hand in Badugi

The object of the game is to make the lowest possible four-card hand consisting of four different suits and no pairs. The best Badugi hand is determined in two steps:

  1. How many cards will play?
  2. What kind of low do we have?

1. How many cards will play?

In order for a card to play it has to be of different rank and suit than the other three cards. The more cards play, the better the hand. In case all four cards play (four rainbow cards of different rank), you have a "Badugi".

If you have one or two pair or two or more cards of the same suit, then the worst (highest) of the paired cards doesn't play. Thus, the aim is to form the best possible Badugi hand. A Badugi (valid four-card hand) is therefore always better than a three-card hand. A three-card hand again is better than a two-card hand which in turn is better than a one-card hand (e.g. four cards of the same suit).

2.: What kind of low" do we have?

When two or more players have hands containing the same number of cards and nobody else is holding a card combination where more cards play (which would be automatically the winning hand), then the player who has the best low wins the hand.

In order to determine who has the best hand they are evaluated by comparing the highest card first. The player with the lowest card wins the pot. When two players have the same highest card then the second highest highest card is compared and the player with the lower hand wins. If they also have the same second highest card, the next highest card decides etc. In case both players have the same hand then the pot is split accordingly.

Here is a small trick:
To be able to quickly determine the better hand you should try to think of the cards as numbers, which start with the highest number, then comes the second highest number etc. The player with the lowest number wins.  

  • Example:

    Player 1:    
    Player 2:    


    In numbers:

    Spieler 1:    7541
    Spieler 2:    7532


    Thus, player 2 wins the hand, since he has the smaller number (7532 < 7541).

This principle doesn't work under certain circumstances for hands such as king low and queen low.

It is important to know that the ace is the lowest card and straights are disregarded as well as pairs, three of a kind, flush, full house, four of a kind and straight flush, because all of these hands include duplicate cards of the same rank or suit.

  • Example 1:

    Hand Player A:
    Hand Player B:


    Player B wins, as he has a Badugi king low and therefore also a valid four-card hand (in our example by the way the worst possible Badugi), while player A is holding the and the . So the doesn't play anymore and player A only has a three-card hand 5-low. In this case the rank of the cards is not decisive anymore and a four-card hand beats any (!) three-card hand.

  • Example 2:

    Hand Player A:
    Hand Player B:


    Player B wins, since he is holding a three-card hand 5-low (the is disregarded as a duplicate heart and he will keep the and therefore has ), while player A is only holding a three-card hand 6-low. (The is disregarded, because it is a pair and also of the same suit as the . So player A has . If instead the is disregarded, the has to be disregarded as well, because otherwise two cards of the same suit would play. We therefore would only have a two-card hand, which would be a worse alternative.)

  • Example 3:

    Hand Player A:
    Hand Player B:


    Player B wins, since he has a three-card hand 6-low. (The is disregarded, since it is of the same suit [hearts] like the .) Player A is indeed also holding a three-card hand 6-low (the is disregarded, as it is of the same suit like the ) and both players have a three as their second highest card. so that the last card finally decides the outcome of the hand. Player A only has the , while player B has the lower .

Basic Strategy

As Badugi is a relatively new game in the Western World, there are only few strategic recommendations for this poker variant yet. This has of course the advantage that many Badugi players don't really know what they are doing. The following recommendations should give you a basic understanding of the game.

Recommendation 1: Pay attention to your position

Position is one of the most important strategic elements in Badugi. In Texas Hold'em it is already a big advantage, but in Badugi position is vital. Because you can draw decisive conclusions from the drawing rounds as well as from the betting behaviour of the opponents.
Especially the number of the replacement cards is a precious information when it comes to making a decision how many cards should be discarded. In position you can play considerably more hands than out of position.  

Recommendation 2: Play only selected starting hands

A good starting hand selection is also an important key to success in Badugi. I recommend to play all Badugis 8-low and better, all three-card hands 7-low and better as well as two-card hands 5-low and better. Two card hands and one-card hands should generally only be played, when you either want to snow (see below) or steal the blinds.

Recommendation 3: Low discarded cards make your starting hand stronger

When you discard cards that other players need in order to make a Badugi the relative strength of your hand increases in proportion to the hands of your opponents.
So is a better hand than .

Recommendation 4: Play your hands aggressively

In principle you should always try to thin the field so that you are playing heads-up against a single opponent as quickly as possible. If you are ahead it would be disastrous to give the opponent a free card. Check-Raises could be a very effective tool against the right opponents, but they should only only be used, when you are convinced that the opponent will react to the check by bettting, as otherwise you will again run the risk of giving away a free card.
In case you discard fewer cards than your opponent you should bet, raise or even re-raise, in case you have made a Badugi and the opponent discarded at least two cards.

When you have discarded more cards than your opponent you should play check/call or check/fold, depending on the pot odds. In any case you should resist the temptation of trying to steal the pot if the opponent checks in case you didn't draw very well.

Recommendation 5: Pay attention to the pot odds

If you discard a card yourself, while the opponent already stands pat (i.e. he doesn't replace a card) and thus pretend he has a Badugi, you should try to figure out with how many of the possible Badugis the opponent would really stand pat.

The following table shows the probabilities of having a better hand than the opponent after one, two or three draws, if he is holding one of the badugis below (and we have a one-card draw). The last column displays the pot odds required in order to be able to see the next card. The tables differ to the effect that we are either before the first, second or third draw. For this reason there are no results for the third draw in the second table as well as in the third table for the last draw since there are no more draws to come.

Badugi of the opponent 

Own Hand

Outs

Draw-
No.

First

Draw

Second

Draw

Third

Draw

Required pot odds to see the next card
               
KQJT A23x 9 1 20 % 37 % 51 % 3,9
QJT9 A23x 8 1 18 % 33 % 46 % 4,5
JT98 A23x 7 1 16 % 30 % 41 % 5,3
T987 A23x 6 1 14 % 26 % 36 % 6,3
9876 A23x 5 1 11 % 22 % 31 % 7,8
8765 A23x 4 1 9 % 18 % 25 % 10,0
7654 A23x 3 1 7 % 13 % 20 % 13,7
Badugi of the opponent Own Hand Outs Draw-
No.
First Draw Second Draw Third Draw Required pot odds
  to see the next card
KQJT A23x 9 2 21 % 38 % - 3,8
QJT9 A23x 8 2 19 % 34 % - 4,4
JT98 A23x 7 2 16 % 30 % - 5,1
T987 A23x 6 2 14 % 26 % - 6,2
9876 A23x 5 2 12 % 22 % - 7,6
8765 A23x 4 2 9 % 18 % - 9,8
7654 A23x 3 2 7 % 14 % - 13,3
Badugi of the opponent Own Hand Outs Draw-
No.
 First    Draw   Second  Draw Third Draw

Required pot odds to see the next card

KQJT A23x 9 3 21 % - 3,7
QJT9 A23x 8 3 19 % - - 4,3
JT98 A23x 7 3 17 % - - 5,0
T987 A23x 6 3 14 % - - 6,0
9876 A23x 5 3 12 % - - 7,4
8765 A23x 4 3 10 % - - 9,5
7654 A23x 3 3 7 % - - 13,0

The number of outs is relatively small, because you are always drawing to a certain suit in order to complete a Badugi. If an opponent also has a Badugi, the number of outs is reduced once again. Thus, when the opponent is holding the worst possible Badugi (T to K), then every remaining card of the required suit will be enough to beat the opponent, however less the three cards that we already have in one of the other suits. Here we have to discount three cards the , and if we need another heart, since we are holding and a card that the opponent has as well. So there are nine cards left of the 13 possible hearts cards, which will help us to get the best hand.

If we assume that our opponent bluffs a lot, we don't need quiet as high pot odds as stated here.
The following therefore applies: The looser the opponent (i.e. the worse the Badugis, with which he is willing to stand pat) and the more he tends to bluff every once in a while, the more unfavourable the pot odds can be in order to call profitably.
Except when playing against notorious bluffers it isn't worthwile to call a bet with a one-card draw in the third betting round, when the opponent stands pat.

Recommendation 6: When does it make sense to snow?

Snowing is a kind of bluff, where the player pretends to already have a very strong hand (Badugi) or that he has received it during the three draws, which actually isn't the case. Snowing is particularly effective when we are in position, when it is already clear that we are - if at all - up against only few opponents. Oftentimes a failed blind steal can be converted into snowing successfully, if the player in the blinds is weak. Low discards (see recommendation 3) are more appropriate when it comes to snowing than high cards, which the opponent doesn't need anyway. 



is therefore a much better snowing hand than

Similar to bluffing the basic rule for snowing is that you shouldn't do it too often and if possible only in the right situations against the right opponents (e.g. tight players or rocks). Snowing against a calling station is not profitable no matter how perfect the situation may be.

Recommendation 7: Take it easy!

Especially in Badugi it can sometimes be very frustrating when you are in a phase where you don't hit your strong draws - and on top of it even several times in row! Every Badugi player will experience this in the course of the time. Here it is very important not to go on tilt, in case of doubt you can change the variant or make a break and continue playing later on. It is very helpful to be able to deal with frustration in order to avoid big losses.   

Concluding remarks:

The recommendations apply to full ring games and average players. The strategy therefore has to be adjusted of course when you are playing shorthanded or the table is either particularly aggressive or passive or very tight or loose.

All that remains to be said is have fun and good luck! See you at the tables!