How to win a Razz tourney

Featuring Huck Seed

Razz is one of the simplest forms of poker around, and to play and enjoy it in a tournament setting all you need is a little patience. In the early and middle stages of a razz tournament, you play tight, straightforward poker. This means your starting standards should be strict – with all three starting cards valued 8 or lower before you even enter a pot, and usually something better than that to call a completion.

In razz, the best hand is at a significant advantage, because they can see exactly how their opponents’ hands develop and plan their actions accordingly. It’s often easy for them to know where they stand. For example, let’s assume that I have (3-2)-A (with my Ace as an upcard) and you have (8-7)-6. On fourth street, we both catch a 4. I know for certain that I am winning and I can play accordingly. You will never be able to bluff me off my hand, and I will charge you the absolute maximum to draw to beat me.

Sliding doors

Astute readers will have realised the importance of your door card (upcard) already. In the above example, because you had the 6 up, I knew for certain that the best possible hand you could have was 6-4-2-A. If you enter the pot with a weak door card, you are giving away a lot about the strength of your hand.

Therefore, you should be much more willing to play when your upcard is good and vice versa. For example, if you’re in late position with (8-5)-A, you might call a raise from another player showing, for example, a six. However, with (A-5)-8, you probably wouldn’t call that raise.

Your opponents’ upcards are also extremely important, as they give you information about how ‘live’ your draw is and how the hand is likely to develop. If you have seen a lot of the cards that you need in other players’ hands, your draw is weakened significantly.

As an example let’s take the same hands from before, but this time, two 8s, two 7s and two 6s are gone. In this case, the percentages reverse – 8-7-6 is now a 60% favourite over 3-2-A! What’s more, the 8-7-6 has a playing advantage, because they know if their foe catches an 8, 7 or 6 it has not paired them.

A lot of your profit in razz will come from stealing the antes, which is especially important in tournaments where you’re under constant pressure to accumulate chips. The highest card brings in, and will almost always have an unplayable hand.

Don’t be afraid to make an aggressive steal when you have a low door card and you’re first in the pot. You’re risking only a few chips to win all the antes and the bring-in, which is a reward well worth shooting for.

One of the biggest mistakes made by weak players in hold’em tournaments is that they defend their blinds too liberally. The same applies to defending your bring-in in razz. To be frank, if you never defended your bring-in when you were showing a bad card, you wouldn’t be giving up much. There are reasons to defend your bring-in occasionally however, particularly in a tournament.

To defend, you want to have two cards lower than your opponent’s upcard, and a live draw. For example, if you brought it in with (A-2)-K, the player to your right completed with a 9, and a couple of Aces and deuces were gone, you could consider defending – especially in the early stages of an event where it won’t cost a large percentage of your stack.

In the later stages of a tournament, the stacks will get shorter compared to the stakes, and players will begin to go broke. It’s incredibly important at this stage to pad your stack with aggressive steals, or you may find yourself in one of poker’s most hideous situations – being all-in on third street! If you’re all-in on third just twice in a tournament, you’re usually a favourite to be eliminated, even if you have the best hand each time. If you do find yourself getting to the stage where you must make a stand on third, you shouldn’t wait too long for a hand. It’s much better to get 1,000 chips into the pot with a 40% chance to win than it is to wait for a great hand, then get 200 chips in as a 60% favourite.

The home stretch

If you’re lucky and skilful enough to reach the final table, your playing style will have to change once again. As the number of players decreases, your starting and stealing standards should loosen up. You should be willing to complete extremely often when you have the lowest door card on third street, and you can start to relax your starting-hand requirements to include 9s and 10s, particularly if your draw is smooth and your door card is strong.

Heads-up razz is different from other poker games, in that you shouldn’t play quite as many hands. In hold’em for example, you should be willing to play almost every hand when heads-up, as long as the stacks are deep enough. In razz, you should still throw away poor hands like three big cards and pairs, unless you have the opportunity to steal either on third street or later in the hand.

Other than that, heads-up razz is simple. You play the strength of your board, and what you think your opponent has. You will almost always want to take the lead in a pot and start off with the best hand, in order to avoid significant disadvantages on later streets.

Once you have entered the pot, you should fight hard to win it. The player who fights the hardest, and who catches a few good cards, will be the one to leave the fray victorious.

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