Razz: Starting hands

The Top Twenty-One Razz Poker Hands

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Starting Hands

Rules to Know

Razz poker is the one game left where you can get an edge against your opponents. While thousands of books, articles, and videos have been devoted to No Limit Hold'em, Hold'em, and Omaha, little has been written about the game of Razz.

But, the best Razz players know how to win because they realize that knowing how to play starting hands is crucial. If you follow the rules below, you will be on your way to cashingin on the game of Razz.

Razz Poker Starting hand classification:

In Sklansky on Poker, Sklansky provides a simple but excellent classification of the hands you should consider playing in Razz:

  • Excellent hand: Three cards to the best low hand 5-4-3-2-A.
  • Good hand: Three cards to a 6 or a 7-4. This is called a smooth 7.
  • Fair hand: Three cards to a rough 7 or smooth 8.
  • Poor hand: Three cards to a rough 8 or a three card 9

The definitions of smooth and rough are very important in understanding Razz. A rough 7 starting hand is 7,6,5, while a smooth 7 starting hand is 7,2,A. A rough 8 starting hand is 8,7,6 while a smooth 8 starting hand is 8,2,A.

  • Rule #1: Consider playing all hands with cards between A-8. On average, you'll receive one of these hands once in about every 6 hands. When you get dealt a hand, you need to immediately notice the following:
    • Your three cards
    • Your exposed card
    • The exposed cards of your opponents
    • How many of the exposed cards are duplicate cards to your hand
    • How many of the exposed cards make your low hand
    • Your position to the bring-in bettor and opponents who have low cards showing
    • The actions of the players who act before you.

It sounds like a lot, but it's really not that hard with just a little practice.

  • Rule #2: As the number of duplicate cards to your hand increases, so does the power of your hand.

    Example:
    You have a (4-5) 6 and your opponent has the best starting hand (A-2) 3. But, you have four duplicate cards exposed on board 4,4,5,5,9,J and your opponent has none. You are a 61% favorite against this opponent. With three duplicate cards, you are a 57% favorite.

    On the other hand, if your opponent has 3 duplicates on board to your none, he is a 63% favorite.

    Example:
    Board (exposed cards):


    You:


    Opponent:


    Your (4-7) A is a favorite over (2-3) 5 if three duplicate cards are exposed for your hand. Your edge is 56%. If there are only 2 duplicates, your edge is only 53%. And, if you have just one duplicate your edge is gone, as it is 50%/50%.

  • Rule #3: In Razz, when two players who both have an 8 or better starting hand go to 4th street, neither player will typically have a significant edge.
    In hold'em, a starting hand like pair over pair can give a player an 80% edge going to the flop. In Razz, a player will have a big edge if he starts with a 58%/42% lead going to 4th street.
  • Rule #4: To increase your chances of winning a pot, try to get headsup from the start by raising the bring-in bettor. It is important to realize that your chance of winning a hand in Razz is reduced as the number of players in a pot increases.

    Since the edges in starting hands are not that great, you want to reduce the number of opponents to one (or better yet, get everyone to fold). For perspective, if you are a big underdog against two opponents, you'll probably be at worst a 40%/60% underdog heads-up if you get the third player to fold.

    Example:
    Player A: (2-4) 6 Odds: 42%
    Player B: (A-5) 8 Odds: 22%
    Player C: (4-6) 7 Odds: 35%

    If Player B folds on 3rd street, the odds for Player A/Player C is 55%/45%.
    If Player C folds on 3rd street, the odds for Player A/Player B is 56%/44%.

    Example:
    You have (A-2) 6, your opponent has (3-5) 8, and the "board" shows you have 2 duplicates in A,2,9,9,J,J. You are a 63% favorite.
    However, you add a third opponent in this same situation with a (3-5) 7. The odds of winning the hand have declined dramatically to only 39%.

  • Rule #5: When there are 4 or more cards on board that will help you make your 8 low, and 2 or more players have shown strength by raising and re-raising, fold your hand.
    Since players get three cards 8 or lower only one in six hands dealt, they often jump at the opportunity to play their hand. This is a mistake.

    Example:
    Board:


    Player A:


    Player B:


    You:


    You have (A-2) 8 and the board has 4 cards you need to make an 8 or better and no duplicates. The first two players show cards you need for an 8 low, and the first raises and the next reraises.
    Now, of the 20 cards you need to make an 8 low hand, 4 cards are definitely gone and it is probable that there may be another 4 or more cards you need hidden. This means that your chance of getting an 8 low has been reduced by 40% or more. And, given the strength of the board, you may even need to hit a 7 low or better.

    In addition, you are going to be against at least two opponents, so your odds of winning are reduced even further.
  • Rule #6: When there are 3 cards or less exposed on the board that will help you to make your 8 low, and there has only been one raise, you should play your hand.

    Example:
    You have (A-2) 8 and an early position player with (x-x) 5 raises. The board has 3 exposed cards that will help you make your 8 low. Should you call the raise? Yes. Assuming your opponent has the best starting hand with his 5, an (A-2), he is only a 54% favorite. Again, given the pot odds it's an easy call. And, you have the benefit of being heads-up against your opponent; being heads-up significantly increases your chance of winning.

  • Rule #7: When you have three cards to a bike, play your hand even if there has been a raise and a re-raise.

    Example: You have (A-2) 5 and there are two duplicates on board. If the first player with a duplicate card raises, and the next player with a duplicate card re-raises, it should not effect your play. While your opponents have strong hands, you must play this hand. While their actions indicate some of your cards may be in their hole cards, you have the potential to hit the best low hand, a A,2,3,4,5, and you can still win with a higher low hand.
  • Rule #8: Raise or re-raise with your excellent and good hands (a smooth 7 or better) in any position. However, if there has been a raise and re-raise in front of you, and you have no duplicate cards exposed, consider folding your smooth 7.
  • Rule #9: Raise or fold your fair hands (rough 7 or smooth 8) depending on the number of players behind you who have low cards exposed.

    Example:
    The reason to raise with a hand like a smooth 8 with three low cards behind you is that by raising you give yourself a chance to win the pot right away, plus you may only be called in one place and end being heads-up going to 4th street. If your opponent raises your bet, you should call his raise as you will not be that far behind going into 4th street.
    However, with four or more players with low cards behind you, fold these hands.

  • Rule #10: A poor hand (rough 8 or three card 9) should always be folded if you have three players behind you with low cards showing.
  • Rule #11: Re-raise a player when you know you have a better hand than him.

    Example:
    A player to your left with a 7 showing comes in with a raise. You have a (2-4) 6. Raise. You want to isolate against this opponent as you are in the lead. And, if you have duplicate cards exposed, you have even more reason for a raise as your edge has improved.
    In fact, you should consider raising the player who comes in with a raise even if you think he has a better hand than you to get heads up. For example, if the first player raises and has a 6 showing, you may want to raise with your smooth 7, if you can get heads-up. This allows you to find out if your opponent is really that strong and to have proper odds to call on 4th street even if you hit a bad card.

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