Poker Game Guide: Razz
Razz is a form of stud poker that is similar to seven card stud. The only difference is that razz is a low ball game instead of playing for the best high hand and you'll find some slight differences in how action is decided.
Razz is a good game but even the best players in the world find it quite frustrating at times, and you'll soon find out why. As you only get partial information on most players' hands in razz, it's a very strategic game. In razz there aren't any community cards, except in rare circumstances which we've outlined below, and each player is dealt seven cards to make their best possible hand.
On this page we'll give you an overview of the rules of razz and a quick guide on how to play the game. The first section won't cover strategy but it should give you all the information you need to sit down at the table or to try your luck at the virtual felt online. After you learn how to play, the next section introduces the strategy you need to play the game well and have a chance to win.
Razz is a low ball game. This means the best hand is the wheel, which is A 2 3 4 5 of any suits. Flushes and straights don't count against the player in razz and the ace is always played as low.
How to Play Razz – Game Rules
Like seven card stud, there's no dealer in position razz. However there's a small difference in who begins the action, which we'll explain shortly.
The pot starts with every player placing an ante. If you're playing limit $20 / $40 razz then the ante could be $2 but the house sets the amount. Once all players have placed their ante in the pot the initial three cards are dealt to each player.
All players get two cards dealt face down, their hole cards, and one card dealt face up, which is known as the door card. To get the hand started, one player will be forced to make a bring in wager. The bring in wager is half the small betting limit in a limit game and based on a preset table amount in a pot limit game. In the $20 / $40 example the bring in is $10.
The player with the lowest ranked door card will bring in, and considering this is razz, the weakest door card would be the king because aces are low. If two players have a king then the suit decides who brings in. The suits are ranked spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs, from highest to lowest. As in most forms of poker, the action plays out in a clock wise fashion. So on each round after the first player acts, the player to their immediate left is the next to act.
From here every other player in turn can fold, call, or raise. The play continues to the left of the bring in until all players have acted on the last bet or raise.
If the player that brings in wants to raise they can complete for the amount of the lower betting limit. In this example a complete bet would be $20. If they don't complete then the first raiser after them can complete to $20 as an initial raise.
After all players have acted in the first round all remaining players are dealt a fourth card face up which is called 4th street. Because we don't have a dealer button, the first player to act after everyone has received their 4th card is the player displaying the strongest hand with their two face up cards.
After this there's another round of betting, followed by the 5th street dealt face up and a round of betting, 6th street dealt face up with a betting round, and then finally 7th street which is the players 7th card, which will be dealt face down. Once all remaining players have their 7th card there is a final round of betting and remaining players will show down and expose their cards to determine who has the best hand and is the winner of the pot.
Razz is usually played as a fixed limit game. Using the limits of $20 / $40 above the limit of a bet is $20 on the 3rd and 4th street, and $40 on the 5th, 6th, and 7th streets.
As razz is a low ball game, hand rankings are a bit more complicated. We've outlined some examples below to show what hands are strong and which ones are weak, and which hands would win and lose in a show down situation.
Flushes and straights don't count in razz so the best possible hand that a player can make is A 2 3 4 5. Pairs are always considered high in razz, so if a player has a pair and another has no pairs but a K in their hand, then the player with king low would win. The rank of your hand is determined by your highest card, so even if an opposing player has one lower card than you, and one higher card, you would win as your highest card is lower than hers.
For example, beats . This is because the first hand is jack low and the second hand is queen low.
Another example could be when players have the same pair. beats because the first hand is seven low with aces and the second hand is nine low with aces.
As we touched on earlier, flushes and straights don't count in razz, so here's an example of a hand where a player has a flush but still wins. suit beats . As the flushes and straights don't count, the first hand is jack low and the second hand is queen low.
It's possible to run out of cards in a game of razz. If there are still 8 players remaining when the 7th street is due to be dealt, the dealer will place the last card in the middle of the table and this will act as a community card for all players to use.
Razz is just like all other forms of poker in that you can do certain things while playing that increase your chances to win.
In this section we give you all of the strategy items needed to advance from a losing player to at least a break even razz player. With the long term goal of being a winning player, you can't advance to that level without learning the strategies covered below.
Once you master everything in this strategy section the odds are you'll already be making a small profit at the tables. Once you reach that level the main thing that'll help you make more profit is experience.
Your starting hand in razz goes a long way toward your chances to win any single hand. If you only stay in the pot with your best hands and fold everything else you have a better chance to win than most razz players.
In other words, the biggest difference between good and bad razz players is how many hands they play. Of course this isn't the only difference, but it's the one area that every player can use to instantly improve their results.
Beginning players focus too much on the forced ante and worry about going a few hands without trying to win a pot. If they go 10 hands without trying to win a pot they feel they're losing money because the antes keep adding up.
The truth is that when you focus on playing good starting hands you'll often go 10 hands or more without seriously contesting a pot. You'll also have times when you win three or more pots in a row.
Players who focus on or even think about the ante aren't looking at the game in the correct way. The goal is to win as much money as possible, not to win as many hands as possible. We realize that sometimes the two go together, but they don't always.
When you play pot limit razz you don't have to win many pots in an entire session to show a profit.
The key is maximizing the amount of money in the pots you win while minimizing the amount of money in the pots you lose. This may seem simple on the surface, but remember you don't always know when you have the best hand.
The best three card starting hands are three un-paired low cards.
Here's a list of strong starting hands.
- A 2 3
- A 3 4
- A 2 5
- 2 3 4
- 2 3 5
- 3 4 5
The next level of starting hands includes three non-paired cards nine high or lower.
Here's a list of medium level starting hand examples.
- A 5 6
- 4 5 6
- 2 4 7
- A 6 7
- 3 5 8
- 5 7 9
In most games if you don't play starting hands worse than these you'll probably be able to make a small profit or at least break even. The problem is most players get bored playing so few hands so they start playing more.
Many factors go into how profitable a hand is in the long run, like your ability, the abilities of the other players at the table, how many hands they play, and the variation of razz you're playing. Variation means limit or pot limit.
We rarely see a razz player who doesn't play enough hands. It's almost always the opposite, so don't worry about playing too few hands. You should worry about playing too many hands if you want to win more.
The final series of hands you can consider playing are three un-paired cards with only one high card.
Here's a list of these hands.
- A 3 J
- A 5 K
- 2 4 Q
- 3 8 10
- 6 7 J
- 8 9 K
Please note the last hand on this list is particularly weak and needs to be folded in most games.
When we play razz we're tight with our starting hand selection. We simply fold every hand that has a pair or worse. This means the only hands we consider playing have three un-paired cards. We also don't play hands with three high cards and rarely play ones with two cards over a nine.
If we're forced to place the bring in wager with one of these hands we fold at the first opportunity unless the hand improves before we can fold.
Here's an example.
If we have a starting hand of A 10 J and have to make the bring in, if we get to see the fourth card and if it's a low card, 2 through 7 or 8, we may decide to continue in the hand. But if the pot is raised after we make the bring in wager we'd fold in most games.
We know many players reading this are thinking that this is extremely tight, but re-read the beginning of this section. Our biggest advantage at most tables is the fact that we play better hands than our opponents.
If playing fewer hands is the first thing you do to improve your chances of winning while playing razz, proper table selection is the second most important thing to consider.
Most poker rooms don't offer razz, and many places that do offer it only have a single table running most of the time.
This can make it difficult to find places with a choice of tables, but it's worth the time it takes to see if you can find options.
You want to find tables filled with players who play too many hands and make mistakes on every round of betting. Players who chase long shot draws and play half their hands put a great deal of wasted money in the pot.
The truth is it doesn't matter how good or bad you play razz. Of course you want to play as well as possible but all that really matters is your ability in comparison to your opponents.
If you can play with a table full of players who aren't as good as you the odds are that you'll win money and show a long term profit. On the other hand, if you play at tables filled with player's better than you, the odds are that you'll lose money in the long run.
When you play with better players it usually helps you get better, but it can be a costly education because they tend to take your money in exchange for the lessons.
We know this sounds simple, but that's the magic of basic razz strategy. It isn't that hard.
If you find games with poor players and don't play too many starting hands you can start winning right away.
So why don't more players win?
Most players are too lazy to look for profitable tables. They just want to start playing, and losing their money, as fast as possible. They also want action so they don't want to fold any hands unless they're clearly beat.
The world is filled with lazy people and action junkies, which creates a nice opportunity for the rest of us.
If you don't believe that becoming a winning razz player is this simple why don't you test it out over your next 10 playing sessions?
Find soft games, or create your own razz game by inviting the worst poker players you know, and only play the hand types listed in the starting hands section above.
One or two playing sessions won't give you enough information, but over 10 sessions you should be able to see just how well this simple strategy works.
The key is sticking to the plan. Don't get impatient and start playing too many hands.
What's Been Folded?
One of the challenges for new razz players is remembering all of the cards that have been folded earlier in the hand. If you play 7 card stud you probably already are used to this, but if you aren't here are a few ideas to help you.
As players drop out of the hand their up cards are no longer visible so you need to remember what they were so you can correctly determine the outs and odds for your hand as the round continues.
The best way to learn how to do this is practice. While you can practice in live play many players find it easier to start at home.
Get a deck of cards and start dealing out razz hands. We deal out seven hands including one to ourselves and fold one or two of the opponents hands each betting round. We pause after each betting round to see if we can remember the cards that have been folded.
This way we only have to remember a few cards each round.
We simply turn the cards face down that have been folded so we can check their values to make sure we're remembering correctly.
This comes faster to some than others, but if you keep practicing you'll eventually train yourself to remember every folded card.
Once you remember the folded cards perfectly at home start tracking them in live play. If you struggle at first just do it in hands you aren't involved in. Then add all the hands.
This is an important skill and one that any poker player can learn if they're willing to do a little work.
Outs and Odds
Now that you've mastered the art of memorizing all of the cards you see every round you can use this information to help you determine how many outs you have as the hand progresses. This is best illustrated with an example.
Your starting hand is A 2 5 and the six other players at the table show the following door cards; 2 3 8 J Q K. The players with the J and Q fold, leaving five of you in the pot.
Your fourth card is an 8 and your opponents receive the following cards; 4 6 8 K. Two more of your opponents fold leaving three of you to contest the pot.
At this point you have A 2 5 8 with three cards left to be dealt. Any 3, 4, 6, or 7 will give you a strong pat hand. Depending on how your opponents improve a 9 may offer a winning hand, but we wouldn't count on it at this point.
The two remaining opponents are showing 2, 6 and 3, 4 so they both have a possibility of a strong hand.
Let's see how many of the cards we want are possible on the next round and how many cards are left that we don't want to see.
At this point in the hand you've seen your four cards and ten of your opponent's cards for a total of 14. That leaves a total of 38 unseen cards. We realize that the remaining deck of cards doesn't have 38 cards, but all we can do is calculate unseen cards because we don't know what the cards that have been dealt are valued at.
The unseen cards include three 3's, three 4's, three 6's, and four 7's. So we can receive one of 13 cards that help us and 25 that we don't want for our fifth card.
Realize that not all of the 25 cards are terrible for us; they just aren't all what we want. The ones we most certainly don't want are the ones that pair our current cards. But any 9 through king gives us a five card low hand with two more cards to come to improve.
You don't need to be a math genius or make exact calculations at the table, but if you can get a good idea of these numbers it helps you make profitable decisions.
If you know that 13 cards make a good hand and 25 don't it's fairly easy to see that one out of roughly three times the fifth card will be good for you. Two times 13 is 26, which is close to 25.
You also realize that you don't just have one chance to improve; you have three more cards coming so you have excellent odds to make a strong hand. The chances are so high that you should be betting and raising at this point because in the long run you're going to win enough times to more than make up for any times you don't hit your low.
Continuing with the same example, on the fifth card you get a J and your opponents get a J and a Q. At this point you have a pat hand that is definitely better than one opponent and probably better than the other.
Now you still have 13 good cards possible for your sixth card but only 22 that aren't good. So even if you didn't hit a good card on the fifth card your odds improve for the sixth card.
If the sixth card you receive is an ace, paring your lowest card, and your opponents get a 4 and a 5 it reduces the good cards you need by one and the bad cards by two. So the numbers for the seventh card are 12 that can make a strong hand for you and 20 that don't.
We realize that all of this may seem a bit intimidating at first, but with experience you can get a good idea of your chances to improve.
This is an important skill that winning players develop so you need to work on it. It's not as important at first as table selection and starting hand selection but if you want to continue improving and have the chance to win the most in the long run you need to be able to determine your outs.
Once you know how many outs you have the next step is using these numbers in comparison to the amount in the pot and how much you have to put in to remain in the hand. This is where the term pot odds come into play.
In the previous example we figured out that you had roughly a one out of three chance to get a good card at one point in the hand. These odds improved as the hand continued. What one out of three means is one time you'll get what you need and two times you won't.
Though in our example you should consider raising because your hand is so strong, let's assume that you're drawing and need to figure out if you should call a bet or fold.
If the bet you need to call is less than one third the amount in the pot it's profitable to call.
Here's an example.
If the pot has $40 in it and you have to call a $10 bet you need to call. Even if you don't count the money you'll win on the rest of the hand when you hit your draw, you'll win money in the long run.
Three times you put $10 in the pot and two of those times you lose your $10 assuming you don't win the hand later. The third time you get back your $10 plus the $40 in the pot. This is clearly a profitable long term play.
You won't always have as much information as in this example, but what you do is determine a range of possibilities and factor them into your calculations.
It's far from easy, but as your game improves and you get more experience you start doing most of these calculations naturally. You don't need to know exactly how often you'll win, just the most profitable long term action.
Know and Read Your Opponents
Razz is a poker game of limited information. You have to make decisions based on situations where you don't have as much information as you'd like to have. This is one of the things that make poker games fun and challenging.
Because of the limited amount of information available, you have to learn how to extract and use every piece of information possible, even if it's small or can't be used until later.
Every time you see an up card of your opponents you get another small piece of information. Every time an opponent checks or bets or raises you get another small piece of information.
If you've played against an opponent before you should have some information about how they play certain hands.
The key is to always be gathering information and filing it away so you can use it to make more money in the long run.
One of the most important things you can do to gather information is watch your opponents in every situation. Instead of zoning out when you fold a hand pay close attention to how your opponents play for the rest of the hand.
Things you can learn, and use to save money or make money include the following.
- Watch for players who bluff too much on the final betting round
- Find players who always call a single bet on the final round
- Remember players who play too many hands
- Watch for players who play aggressively before they have a made hand
- Remember players who only bet and raise once they have a pat hand
Each of these types of players can be manipulated to help you make more money.
When you recognize a player who bluffs too often you know when you're in a hand against them that you don't want to fold on the final betting round unless you have no chance to win. Even a hand with a small pair can beat many bluffs and you only have to win a few times to cover the cost of a single bet.
Some players always call a single bet on the final betting round, even if they miss their draw. They figure the pot has so much in it in comparison to the cost of a single bet that they need to make sure you aren't bluffing. Against these players you know to always bet on the final round when you have a good hand because your opponent will pay you off, but you also know not to bluff because your opponent will always call.
Not only is this type of opponent good to make you extra profit, he also helps you avoid losing bets when you consider bluffing.
When you recognize players who play too many hands you'll know that on average your hand will be better than theirs. Sometimes they'll have great hands, but they'll often have poor hands and sink money into the pot that they have very little chance of getting back. The problem is that at most low level and medium limit games almost all the players play too many hands.
Though most razz players wait until they have a made hand to start betting and raising wildly, occasionally you'll run across one who gets wild before completing her hand. While bets and raises are usually a sign of strength, against these players you know it doesn't mean they have a made hand.
On the other end are players who only bet and raise when they hit a good hand. These players are valuable also because as long as they check and call you know they're still drawing. But you also know that when they start acting aggressively that you'd better have a decent hand if you want to have a chance to beat them.
Moving to Advanced Play
If you're able to master the razz strategies covered above you'll be able to win in all but the highest level games in the world. Low and medium level games will be easy for you.
Many players won't be willing to do the work required to move beyond this level. To be honest, unless you're a poker pro who wants to play high level razz instead of Texas hold'em it might not be the best use of your time to learn more.
Moving beyond this level is going to be one of the hardest things you'll ever do.
It requires thousands of hours of work and practice, a large bankroll, the ability to play without giving any information away, and access to the top level games.
High Level Games
The skills needed to compete at the highest level games in razz go well beyond those listed above. At the top levels everyone at the table knows everything covered above so you can't find an advantage by playing fewer hands or figuring your outs and odds.
You still need to do these things, but you have to do them just to have a chance to keep up with the rest of the table.
Almost all hands played at these levels are raised on the first betting round and most show downs are two or three handed at most. Many hands are contested heads up throughout the hand and players play each other as much as they play their hands.
What we mean by players playing each other is the psychological aspect of the game. If you and we are playing and we sense weakness from you we'll probably bet and raise and put as much pressure on you as possible no matter what we hold. If you're weak you're more likely to fold if we represent a strong hand.
Your opponents playing tendencies are important at this level, but most top level players are able to alter their tendencies so you can't count on them. You need to be aware of your own tendencies and work to alter them at this level or you'll lose to better players.
High level razz games require almost perfect play in order to win in the long run. Many players, even the best ones in the world, will win more at the medium levels than at the top levels because the competition is so much worse.
Plan Every Situation
Once you're able to play almost perfectly in every situation at the razz table you'll be firmly entrenched in the top 1% of poker players in the world. At this point we can only offer one final piece of advice that may be able to help you.
And if you're that good you're probably already doing it.
But the good news is if you're still trying to be the best razz player you can be you can start using this strategy now to improve your game.
If you want to be the best razz poker player you can possibly be start planning every single hand from beginning to end before you even start playing.
Consider every possible outcome for every step of the hand.
What will you do with every possible three card starting hand?
What will you do if the player to your left raises or the player to your right checks?
What will you do when one of your cards pairs or when you hit a wheel?
When you start trying to think of every possibility it's easy to get overwhelmed, but if you stick with it you'll eventually have everything considered before it happens. As you gain more information you alter your plans, but they keep getting better and better as the hand continues.
Razz is fun, but at times it can be very frustrating. This is because your hand can become ruined so often. You may have a great hand after four cards are dealt to you and then all of a sudden it's destroyed by the last three cards, sometimes even after you have significantly invested in the pot.
Nonetheless it's a great game and if you understand seven card stud and how to play it, then this could be an excellent game for you to start on if you'd like to try your hand at one of the low ball poker variants.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: November 2015
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