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Poker Rules

Razz Poker Rules & Strategy

6,470 Views on 20/5/15

Razz is a lowball poker variation, played with a combination of up-cards and down-cards, without community cards (except in special circumstances)

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Razz is a type pokerimageof stud game and first appeared shortly after the introduction of 7-card-stud. It is a essentially a “lowball” form of 7-card-stud and hence uses a different hand-ranking system to many other poker variants. The action and the betting structure is identical to 7-card-stud.

Razz appeared at the WSOP in 1971 and hence one of the first formats to appear on the line-up after WSOP began in 1970. Around 2004 Razz gained a huge boost in popularity after the Razz event final table was televised on ESPN and won by poker great T.J Cloutier

That same year, Razz was made available for online play by Full Tilt Poker, and later in 2006 by Pokerstars.

Here are some of main differences between razz and other poker variants -
  • players are dealt a combination of up-cards and down-cards but no community cards
  • there are no fixed positions at the table – this will changed based on hand-strength
  • there are 5 betting rounds
  • antes are taken from all players before every round
  • lowball game, lowest hand wins!
Razz is generally played as a fixed-limit game meaning there are two possible bet-sizings in most situations. The big-bet and the small-bet, with the big-bet being double the small-bet. The antes (mandatory payment from all players before each round begins) are considerably smaller than the small-bet. For example if the big-bet is $2 and the small bet is $1, the ante will often be somewhere around $0.15.
Although this will happen very rarely, even with 8 players at the table, there is a possibility of running out of cards if each player is dealt all 7 cards.

Razz can generally be played with 2 up to 8 players. Seeing as each player will receive 7 cards, having more players than this would not be practical. In fact, even with 8 players there is a possibility of running out of cards if each player is dealt all 7 cards. This will happen extremely rarely however and there is a special rule which covers this situation.

Keeping Score

Similar to all other poker variants the objective of the game is to win your opponents chips. These are small circular plastic discs which can be exchanged for their monetary equivalent after the game is over. Razz can also be played as a tournament, where the objective is to be the last player left standing with all of the chips.

Playing a hand of Razz

Before any cards are dealt, all players must pay an ante, placing it into the “pot” in the centre of the table. At this stage each player will be dealt three cards, 2 face-down and 1 face-up so that everyone can see. The two down-cards may be looked at but should be kept secret from the rest of the table. The first round of betting, “third street”, may now take place.

Razz is considered a non-positional game in that there is no dealer button to indicate who will act first. This depends on the strength of the up-cards and can change from street to street. 

pokerimage

Third-Street
– The player with the highest up-card acts first, with the action then proceeding in a clockwise direction around the table until both the following are true:
  • everyone has acted
  • all players have agreed on the amount bet – no additional raising takes place
The player with the highest up-card is referred to as the “bring-in” and is required to make a starting bet. There are 2 options – a smaller bet or a larger bet. The size of the smaller bet here will depend on the game. The larger bet will be equivalent to the “small-bet” as specified in the game stakes. So in a $1/$2(ante $0.15) game, this will be $1. The smaller “bring-in” amount will usually be around $0.40.
The player with the highest up-card is referred to as the “bring-in” and is required to make a starting bet.
The action proceeds in a clockwise direction around the table where players have the option to either call (match the current bet), raise (increase the current bet), or fold (give up on the hand).

Fourth Street – Each player is dealt another card face-up, referred to as “fourth-street”.  The player now first to act is the player whose up-cards are the lowest (strongest in razz).

The player to act may now check, or bet. Assuming he chooses to bet he must select the small-bet sizing ($1 in the $1/$2 game). Action proceeds in a clockwise direction and players may choose to call, raise, or fold.

Fifth Street – A third card is dealt face-up to each player, referred to as “fifth street”. Once again action starts with the player whose up-cards have the lowest (so strongest) value. The main difference with fifth street is that betting will now occur in increments of the big-bet. The initial player to act has the option to check or bet the big-bet amount ($2 in the $1/$2 game).

Sixth Street – A fourth card is dealt face-up. Similar to previous streets the player with the lowest (strongest) value up-cards starts the betting. Betting will continue to occur in increments of the big-bet.

Seventh Street – A final card (7 in total) is dealt face-down. This card may be looked at but should be kept secret from the other players along with the initial 2 down-cards. The player with the lowest (strongest) value up-cards takes the betting lead. This will be the same player who started the action on sixth street, since the 7th card dealt is unknown to other players. Betting occurs in increments of the big-bet. Assuming there are still players left in the pot after the betting is complete then we reach “showdown”. Players must turn over their cards to see who wins the pot. The player who takes the last aggressive action should turn over his hand first.

Hand Rankings

Since Razz  poker is a lowball variant pokerimage, hand rankings are completely different to games like No-Limit-Hold'em. From a high-card ranking point of the view the objective of the game is to make the worst possible hand, ignoring any straights or flushes and treating Aces as low. As such any unpaired hand is always going to be stronger than a paired hand.

Perhaps the easiest way to think of lowball hand-rankings is to read them backwards and treat them as numbers.

For example, the nuts in Razz is A2345 (remember we ignore straights here and Aces are low). We could read this as a number 54,321. Any hand with a higher number than this will be an inferior hand (all of them since A2345 is the nuts). Next in the line would be A2346 but A2347 is not the third nuts. The third nuts would in fact be 23456. This is because when comparing hands, the highest card in the sequence is considered.

Good way to think about this is how you determine a winner in five card draw, for example. If both players have a single pair, the one with the highest kicker wins. If both players have a pair of Aces, the player who has KJ and a A as his kickers will lose to a player with K2 and a 3. But, since razz is a lowball game, the player who holds the lowest card will win, provided they both have the same hand in terms of number of cards (five card hand, four card hand etc).

So as a test, which of these hands is stronger?

i) A 3 4 5 T
ii) 2 3 4 5 8
iii) A 2 3 4 T
iv) A A 2 2 3

It's easy to end up assuming hand (iii) is the strongest because it contains an Ace. Don't make this mistake though, we don't look at the lowest card to determine the strength of our hand, we look at the highest card. The lowest non-paired hand here is actually option (ii). We can refer to this as 8-low. Hands (i) and (iii) are actually Ten-low hands. We can differentiate between them further by referring to the second card. Hand (i) is Ten-Five-low, while hand (iii) is Ten-Four-low and a stronger hand.

And what about hand (iv) isn't this 3-low? Remember that we are looking for unpaired cards when reading our razz hand. We actually hold two-pair here, so our holding is pretty weak when playing a lowball variant.

Another way to think about this –-> We only hold 3 unique cards here, and in a sense only have a 3-card hand. 3-card hands will lose to all 4-card hands (those with one pair) and all 5-card hands (those with no pairs).
Perhaps the easiest way to think of lowball hand-rankings is to read them backwards and treat them as numbers.

Some examples of Razz hands, from strongest to weakest, to help you along.
  1. 5432A
  2. 6432A
  3. 65432
  4. 9765A
  5. 97653
  6. 98765
  7. KQJT7
  8. KQJT9
  9. AAT98
  10. 22765
  11. KK432
  12. 33355

Fixed Limit betting Structure

It's important to understand the stakes and the betting structure before the action begins. Most Razz games are based on a fixed-limit structure which means -
  • we can only bet in fixed increments.
  • there is a cap on how much can be raised to on any given street.
Each betting increment will either be based on the “small-bet” or “big-bet”. These will be described as the listed stakes of the game. So in a $1/$2(ante $0.15) game, the small-bet is $1, the big-bet is $2. In Razz games there will be an additional bet-sizing used which is the smallest “bring-in” amount. In a $1/$2 game the bring-in maybe be something like $0.40 but varies from casino to casino. 

As mentioned we used increments of the small bet on third street, and fourth street. On the remaining three streets we must use increments of the big-bet.

However in most limit games it is not possible to continue raising indefinitely. There will usually be a cap on the amount of times we can re-raise our opponent on each street. Again this will vary depending on the casino – but it's commonly 1 bet and 3 consequent raises. 

For example on fourth street we bet the small-bet $1. Our opponent raises us by the small-bet to $2. We then re-raise to $3. Our opponent can then raise us one last time to $4. At this stage we will have only the options to call and fold, not to re-raise.

Additional Rules

The community card – As mentioned earlier pokerimageit is possible to run out of cards in an 8 handed Razz game. This will happen somewhat rarely, but if all 8 players would take 7 cards then 56 cards would be needed and there are 52 cards in a standard check. In such an eventuality the 7th card will be dealt face up on the table and used as a community card. All players may make use of this 7th card to construct a 5-card hand.

Bring-in tie – Assuming there are two players holding up-cards of the same rank, certain suits may be counted as stronger than others for the purposes of a tie-breaker. These are ranked in alphabetical order with clubs being the weakest and spades being the strongest. So if one player holds the Ah and another the As, then the As has to bring-in and start the action. The ranking of suits is also used to determine who will act first on the following rounds. However it does not affect made hands at showdown – so if we have the same nut-low as someone else, we will chop the pot.

Can't pay the bring-in – If a player is all-in after paying the ante and are subsequently dealt the lowest value up-card, it is obviously not possible for them to bring-in and start the betting. The bring-in moves clockwise to the next player on the table, regardless of the value of his up-card.

Why Play Razz?

  • There are some players who feel that Razz is the format that allows us to have the biggest edge over our opponent. The large amount of information we have available by looking at our opponents up-cards makes for a rich and complex decision making process.
  • It's a nice introduction to playing lowball poker games. Learning to read low hands will help in playing other variants of poker, in particular split-pot games such as omaha-8 or stud-hi/low-split.
  • Players are less advanced than in variants such as No-Limit-Hold'em which might make for more profitable games

Razz Tips for Beginners

  • Start with high-potential hands. Any 3 unique cards between Ace and Five are likely great starting cards. Naturally we want to avoid high-cards and pairs in a lowball game.
  • Use the information available. Razz is not just about the absolute strength of our hand. We want to know how strong our hand is relative to our opponents. There are situations in Razz where we know we absolute have the best hand. For example we hold a 3-card 5-low on third street and all of our opponents up-cards are higher than a Five. We can press the action here.
  • Know what's left in the deck. The other great advantage to seeing so many of our opponents up-cards is that we have a decent idea of which cards are still in the deck and which cards have been dealt. If the outs we are looking for have largely already been dealt as up-cards for our opponents, we know that chances of hitting it are slim. If some our opponents up-cards are the same as our holdings, we know it's less likely the next street is going to pair us and damage our hand.
  • Make sure you know how to read hands. Sounds obvious, but one of the most common ways new Razz players lose money is simply by misreading their hand. You aren't going to be the first guy to wonder why his A,2,3,4,7 just lost to 2,3,4,5,6 even though his opponent didn't have an Ace.
  • As RedChipPoker.com mentions in their article R is for Razz, bluffing plays a major factor in Razz and you can use it for your advantage throughout the game.

If you want to learn how to play poker make sure to check our Poker Strategy Articles but remember that all poker strategies are bound to follow the rules.  

Make sure you learn the poker rules  before starting the journey of your poker career. 

Make sure to follow us for more interesting articles about Razz!

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Author

w34z3l

I am of British nationality and go by the online alias w34z3l. I am considered one of the top consultants in the field for technical analysis (i.e. database work) and application of game theory concepts to various card games. I make a ... Read More

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