Poker Game Guide: Badugi

Originally played in Asia, or Canada, depending on who you
ask, badugi is a variation of draw poker. It’s a fun and
different game which is slowly gaining popularity across the
poker world.

On this page you’ll find the basic rules of badugi, how to
play, and strategy sections to help you get started. If you
aren’t familiar with low ball poker then it may take some
getting used to, as badugi is a mix of draw poker and low ball
and also takes into consideration suits.

The betting rounds and blinds are similar to Texas hold’em.
If you’re familiar with that variation then picking up badugi
won’t take long.

What’s the biggest difference?

In badugi, you only use and are dealt four cards instead of
the traditional five.

Badugi Rules and How to Play

Dealer Position & Blinds


A player is designated as the dealer. This is indicated by a
dealer button, a white disc with the word dealer (or the letter
D) on it, which is placed in front of the designated player. To
the immediate left of the dealer is the small blind. To their
left is the big blind. After each hand the dealer button rotates
clockwise. Every player has a chance to be the dealer.

The two blinds make a forced bet each hand to ensure there is
action. The blinds are set by the house and dictate betting
limits in later rounds. If you’re playing fixed limit, the small
blind is usually half the size of the big blind. If you’re
playing no limit or pot limit, the small blind and big blind can
be the same as fixed limit, or $2/$5, $1/$1, and so on.

Example

You’re in a $2/$4 limit game. The big blind is $2
and the small blind is $1.

The Deal


Starting with the player in the small blind, each player
receives four cards face down, dealt one at a time clock wise
around the table.

initial deal example

Initial Action


After each player receives four hole cards, the player to the
left of the big blind may fold, call the amount of the big
blind, or raise.

Play moves to the next player to the left, who folds, calls
the largest previous bet, or raises. Once each player has their
turn, the action keeps moving to the left. When the small blind
is eventually reached, they either call the remaining part of
the largest bet above the blind amount, fold, or raise. After
this the big blind has the option to check (if no one has
raised), call the raise, raise, or fold.

Play continues to the left until every player has called the
highest raise or folded.

The First Draw


The next step is the first draw. Each player still in the pot
can choose to discard as many cards as they want to improve
their hand. They can also stand pat and not discard any cards at
all. After everyone has acted and received new cards, which are
dealt all at once, another betting round takes place.

2nd & 3rd Draws


After this, another draw and betting round takes place,
followed by a third draw. After the third draw, each player now
has their final hand and a last round of betting occurs. If
there are still multiple players left, there’s a showdown, and
each player exposes their hand. The player or players with the
best badugi hand wins the pot.

That’s how the draws and betting rounds work. Now onto how
hand strength works in badugi.

Hand Rankings in Badugi

Badugi is a lowball game–the aim of the player is to get the
lowest value hand. The suits are also used in badugi to
determine hand strength. The strongest hand in the game, which
is known as a badugi, is As 2c 3d 4h. The suits don’t have to
match the ones listed, but all four cards have to be different
suits. This means you have one heart, one club, one spade, and
one diamond. These are the absolute nuts. You can’t lose with
this hand. It’s comparable to a royal flush in Texas hold’em.

Players rate hands based on the number of unique suited cards
first, with a four card hand being the strongest, three being
the next strongest, and so on. Keep in mind that in badugi,
unique suit hands will outrank lowball hands. You’re effectively
losing cards and therefore hand strength.

Here’s an example.

Badugi Hand Example

Here are some more examples of hands showing which hands are
stronger.

Example of a Badugi Hand
Example of Badugi Hand
Example of a Badugi Hand
Example of a Badugi Hand

Badugi Strategy

This triple draw low ball poker variant is more complex than
many other kinds of poker. Increased popularity means that there
are more weak players who can be exploited with some basic
strategy, patience, and control in respect to the range of
starting hands. Position is also key, and being in late position
always helps.

Badugi has also recently been added to the World Series of
Poker. This means more players, online and off. Finding badugi
in live casinos might be hard; but that might change if it
continues to increase in popularity and demand increases.

Reading this guide and following this basic strategy
increases your odds of showing a profit.

Starting Hands

Choosing when to voluntarily enter a pot is absolutely vital
if you want to be a winning player. Players need to weigh a
number of factors when deciding whether to play a hand or throw
it away.

These factors include what action other opponents have
already taken, position on the table, who is in the pot, and of
course, what hand is actually held. These factors define what
starting hands one can enter a pot with.

Having three draws in badugi and four betting rounds doesn’t
mean a player can get caught up in every pot in the hope of
drawing her way to a powerful badugi. Players have more
opportunities to make plays in badugi without solely relying on
your cards. Players can often rely more on opponent tendencies
and position.

But you should also avoid playing too many hands. Be patient.
Choose your spots. If you don’t, you’ll add too much variance to
your game and end up a losing player.

Weak players call down many hands to continually try and make
a badugi. This isn’t profitable. Choose your spots and only call
down when defending or trying to limit pot size due to your hand
and the opponent.

You’re also much better betting and raising in order to take
a pot down without a showdown.

This will be more profitable in the long run.

Here are some good starting hands as they relate to position
on the table.

Early position


Strong 3 card hands and good pre draw badugis.

Middle position


Decent 3 card hands and good pre draw badugis.

Late position


Strong 2 card hands ranging from 2 to 5. Raise with decent 3
card hands. Raise with every badugi.

Small blind


2 card hands can be played against tight opponents. If there
are previous callers, use odds to determine whether to enter.
When in doubt fold. If someone raises, fold. You can raise with
3 card hands and with every badugi. If there was action before,
tighten your range to only excellent 3 card hands and determine
odds when deciding. When in doubt, fold.

Big blind


With strong 2 card hands and weaker 3 card hands you can
defend your blind but don’t go overboard. Fold most hands if
there’s been a great deal of action already. You should raise
with most badugis, depending on prior action. When in doubt,
fold.

When deciding what your starting hand range will be, factor
in how many players are at the table. With fewer players, expand
your starting range–there are lower odds of strong hands. At a
full table, tighten your starting range–the odds of a strong
hand appearing are greater.

Outs

Making a badugi often means drawing multiple times. The cards
that make the badugi are called “outs”. Working out the odds of
hitting those outs is how you justify calls, bets, and/or
raises. Pot odds are how you make an informed decision about
staying in a hand and going for a badugi. With three draws and
four betting rounds, determining when to proceed is vital. You
need to justify your investment in every pot with good odds.

The odds of getting a jack high badugi is roughly 15% each
draw. With two draws left, the odds are 27%, and with three
draws, 38%. This provides more opportunities to make plays.

If you’re in a hand with an opponent who takes one card on
the second draw, you have a 73% chance he didn’t make the
badugi. In this position, the opportunity to “snow”—or stand pat
and represent the badugi hand–is almost always profitable. But
study your opponents closely before making a play like this. And
be in position.

An example of outs and odds can give you an idea of the odds
of hitting outs across multiple draws. It’s not a hard formula
to get an approximate percentage fast.

Example


A player holds Ace♠, 3♣, 5♦, 8♥. He has two draws. His outs to
make the badugi are 2♥, 4♥, 6♥, 7♥, 8♥, 9♥, 10♥, Jack♥, Queen♥, King♥.

This is 10 outs. So to work out his chance of hitting the
badugi, he uses the following formula: 2 times the number of
outs times the number of draws. In this example, it’s 2 x 10 x 2
= 40. His chances of hitting a badugi are roughly 40%.

Working this out at a fast-paced poker table is easy. Even
though the math isn’t perfect, it’s close enough to help make
that decision quickly.

Remember

2 X number of outs X number of draws = chance %.

Table Selection

Imagine in sports having the opportunity to choose which
opponents you’ll play against when trying to win any contest.
This is the beauty of poker. In cash games you always have the
choice of which table you’d like to sit down at. This is
especially true in online poker, which is where you’ll find most
badugi tables. You might find it at a brick and mortar casino,
but your options when choosing a table might be limited. They’ll
probably only have one running.

A simple way to find weaker opponents is to go to the low
limit tables.

Weak players are always at the low limit tables. Stronger
players can be found at the higher limit tables.

That’s basic economics.

Even with the cash to play higher limits, it can be
worthwhile playing at lower limits to build one’s skills and
bankroll against weak players. You can eventually play at the
higher limit tables, and you’ll find that some of the players
there are now weaker because of your increased experience and
skills.

When playing online, it’s absolutely vital to take notes on
players. The same players are frequenting the badugi
tables–it’s still a game with a fairly small number of players.
Take notes regularly. That bank of information on players will
make it easier to find a table with weak players.

Reading Your Opponents

There are no community cards in badugi. None of your
opponent’s cards are visible, either. The information gained
from your opponent’s actions is what you’ll have to base your
play on.

This includes information from tells, hand history, betting
patterns, and tendencies during draw rounds. Study your
opponents closely and keep in mind all these factors. You should
be able to put your opponent on a range of hands. This allows
you to win more pots and get away from hands where you’re beat.

Keep track of what your opponents do every single hand, even
when you fold. Take note of how often they voluntarily enter a
pot. If an opponent has a high starting hand percentage, they
are most likely a weak player. Stronger players have tighter
starting hand requirements.

This information offers hints to how skilled opponents are.
Keep that in mind when choosing which hands to play.

Watching closely how opponents act on draws and betting
rounds. Every action says something about their hand. This
information will give you the best indication of what hand they
hold or are going for. If they throw away two or more cards in
the draw, they’re weak. If in later rounds they throw away one
card, you know they’re most likely going for a badugi.

You can use this to your advantage if you’re in position–you
can make a play and snow. Of course, better players often change
up their discard patterns and snow themselves. So be sure to
study other factors, too.

The better the player, the closer they have to be monitored
in order to add up all data to guess what range of hands they
have. Against weaker players, you might be able to get away with
only one or two bits of information to know what they are most
likely holding.

Here are some specific moves to watch for.

  • A player checks after they stand pat.
  • Generally this indicates strength.

  • A player decides to stand pat after they see your action.
  • This is often a tell that they are going to snow.

  • A player bets aggressively after drawing two or more cards.
  • This is usually a bluff.

There’s no certainty that the above actions indicate those
situations. But you can build profiles on players. These
profiles enable you to make the best decision.

You build these profiles by answering the following questions
on your opponents’ behavior and taking notes.

When do they make certain moves?
When do they try for a snow?
When do they call down a snow with a three card hand?

When you’re at the poker table, virtual or real, always
concentrate on what other players are doing. You might need to
take notes on particular players and proceed with caution if
you’re unsure on how they play. Sticking to playing position and
good starting hands protects you to an extent.

Many different people play poker. They have a huge variety of
personalities. But eventually you can assign a small number of
poker personas to most players. This helps you make better
decisions and profit more.

The next section covers planning hands. Once you have
starting hands in place, know your odds, and know your
opponents, you can make a good plan for every situation.

Planning the Hand

Have a plan for every hand. Don’t get caught in a situation
where you don’t know what to do. Snap decisions are
opportunities for mistakes.

Base your plan on an overall strategy that considers
opponents, starting hands, and odds. The goal is to be a winning
player. A plan helps avoid making losing moves or deviating from
proven winning tactics.

Position is crucial in all poker variants. It’s important in
badugi, too. Position is determined by the dealer button. Acting
from late position provides information on what every other
player has done.

Combine position with the player profiles, and you can decide
what to do to give you the best odds in early rounds. In later
draws, this also allows you to pick spots where you can snow.

Always enter more pots in late position and fewer pots in
early position. If you’re entering early you need to have a
stronger hand, but even then you have no idea which players are
going to come along. You might end up in a pot with a strong
player you’re trying to avoid.

In late position you also have pot control. You can dictate
how large the pot becomes. You can use odds to your advantage.
You can build or control the pot size in relation to the hand
you have, your odds of hitting a badugi, your implied odds, and
also your fold equity. These skills

lead to becoming a great poker player.

Here’s the magic, two part formula.

Late position + Good starting hand range

These factors protect you while you create player profiles of
the other players.

With a good profile of an opponent, planning what to do gets
a lot easier. Knowing a player puts money into a high percentage
of pots means something. It means they’ll have a wider range of
starting hands and will often be weak. Playing in late position
with good starting hands becomes like taking candy from a baby.

On the other hand, players who don’t play a lot hands have
stronger hands. Proceed with caution, especially if that player
is a strong player overall.

A player can use these two factors to formulate a plan on
what you’ll do based on other players’ reactions. Position is
the most important starting point in every plan. Position and
starting hands make winning players. But to get to the next
level, you have to make decisions based on what the other
players are likely to do.

Don’t join a hand unless you have a good idea of how you’ll
handle various situations.

Does this sound daunting because of the number of rounds of
betting?

Don’t be nervous. Just take it one step at a time. Base
decisions on what’s already happened.

Whatever happens, don’t go into a shell and focus exclusively
on drawing the best badugi. That isn’t winning play. Everyone
has the same odds of making a good hand. The skill used at
analyzing available information and other players is what
separates the sharks from the fish. Players who can do that can
win even when they don’t have the best cards.

Working out these plans in advance takes time. And online
badugi games are notoriously fast-paced. But with practice, most
players are amazed at how fast these decisions become second
nature. Speed and profits go hand in hand with online play.

Finally, review hands regularly. Online, you can use your
hand history to do this. In live poker, take notes after each
session so you can remember what happened.

Reviewing your hand histories shows what moves resulted in
losses and what moves resulted in wins. Then you can focus on
fixing errors and honing skills on plays that worked in order to
become a better player next session.

Bankroll Management

Even casual poker players can use bankroll management skills
to take their game to the next level. Using bankroll management
forces players to monitor sessions more closely. Effective
bankroll managers learn which errors turn a session in to a
losing one.

Everyone has losing sessions. The trick is having more
winning sessions than losing sessions. Also, don’t vary limits
too much. It’s easy for losing sessions to outweigh winning
ones.

Casual players fund their poker from their professional job.
Poker pros have to ensure that their winnings continue to fund
their poker and their living expenses.

Since badugi is generally played with limits, there’s less
variance. You won’t usually go on the wild swings that are
common in Texas hold’em and Omaha. But let your skill level
dictate your bankroll. That’s what determines what limits you
should be playing.

Once you crush a certain limit and increase your bankroll you
can then consider whether or not to proceed to a higher limit.
Good poker players never chase their losses at a higher limit.
That’s how bankrolls disappear.

Online bankroll calculators don’t take into consideration
skill level. Start in a low limit game and try to win
consistently. Succeed at that before going up in limits. Since
the variance is so low, you won’t need a huge bankroll in
relation to the limits you play.

But a bankroll should be big enough that decisions dictated
by a fear of going broke. Never fold, call, or raise in a hand
because of the amount of money that is at stake and how that
relates to your bankroll. All decisions at the table should be
independent of your bankroll.

Setting up a bankroll and assigning specific limits provides
the best chance to become a profitable player. Always keep track
of your sessions and study your hand history. This allows you to
manage your bankroll and also hone your skills. Are you crushing
badugi at a certain limit? Is your bankroll growing? Go for a
higher limit game. But don’t forget that there’s nothing wrong
with dropping back down again.

Many readers want a specific number when it comes to
bankroll. A good guideline for limit games is 20 to 25 times the
upper betting limit. In a $2 /$4 game this is between $80 and
$100. In a $10 /$20 game, it’s between $400 and $500.

Beginning players might need to be more conservative and
stick with 25 to 30 times the amount of a normal buy-in. In
$2/$4 games, that means having $2,500 or 3,000. In $10/$20
games, that’s $9,000 and $15,000.

Controlling Tells

You can count on your opponents trying to read you at the
table, just like you’re trying to read them. They’re watching
your betting patterns and hand histories, too. They’re watching
what you say and do. You have to control all of these things to
maximize your profits.

In online games, you don’t have to worry about body language
and verbal tells. Your main goal in Internet games is to keep
the speed of your actions the same. Many players track how much
time it takes an opponent to make a decision based on the
strength of the hand at the showdown.

But in live games, body language and verbal tells become
hugely important.

The trick is to be consistent. Act and talk the same way
regardless of what cards are in each hand.

But don’t be consistent with your playing decisions.
Constantly change speeds and avoid making predictable decisions.

Once action speed, body language, and voice are under
control, the only thing opponents have is betting patterns and
how you play draws. If you’re discarding three cards, they know
you’re weak. If you stand pat, they put you on a badugi or
suspect you of snowing.

This is all part of the game. It’s impossible to avoid, in
fact. The only solution is to change how you play. Switch speed
in late position in safe spots with weak players. This throws
other players off and confuses them. Confused opponents make
mistakes.

Common Mistakes

Here are some common badugi mistakes. Even experienced
players make these mistakes.

  • Don’t try to draw every hand to a badugi
  • Take your time and pick your spots. Outplay opponents with information, not just
    getting lucky by playing every hand.

  • A badugi is only as good as your high card
  • A 9 badugi might seem good, but it’s often lousy. Don’t over-value badugis.

  • Counting out cards to discard before it’s your turn to act
  • Never do this. It completely wastes the advantage you have of
    being in late position. Decide what cards to discard, but never
    separate them to throw in until it’s your turn.

  • Never bluffing or snowing
  • In some poker games, bluffing can
    be optional. Often bluffing should be avoided if you’re a
    beginner. But in badugi, bluffing’s a necessity. You need to
    snow and bluff at the right times to profit. It’ll also help you
    to get paid off when you hit the best hands.

All of these common mistakes have the same theme, and it’s
one you want to avoid.

Never be constantly trying to draw to the best possible hand.

To be a long term badugi winner, you have to make decisions
based on information.

Summary

Badugi is a great game which is quickly gaining popularity
that also offers opportunities for good players to turn a
profit. Hand strengths can be confusing to seasoned Texas
hold’em or Omaha players at first, but the betting rounds and
structures are similar. It won’t take long to learn how to play.

Players completely new to poker might consider cutting their
teeth on an easier game first.