Part 1 of this HORSE primer was dedicated to the flop-based games limit HoldEm and Omaha-8. Most people have experience with these games as card rooms everywhere offer them.
This time we’ll be getting into a game variant that time has forgotten: Stud. Let’s get started with Razz.
Razz is a very simple game that has a few underlying concepts that are very good at illustrating stud theory. Hand rankings add a lot of complexity to poker, whereas in Razz you’re simply just trying to catch low cards.
The most basic concept in Razz is utterly critical to your success and will be a vital component to the other games as well: card removal. You HAVE to keep track of the key cards that are missing from the deck and your opponent’s hands.
You don’t have to be 100% accurate, but knowing a few key cards are missing can turn a slam dunk fold into an easy call. Let’s look at a specific example.
Imagine the following cards mucked on 3rd street:
Your opponent has a board showing on 6th street
Unless the action has illustrated otherwise, it’s very likely that your opponent has paired one of his hole cards or didn’t necessarily start with a very good hand.
Normally seeing such a board would be very scary but with those 5 important dead cards, his aggression may not necessarily mean very much.
Similarly, if you have a hand where three 7s were folded on 3rd street and you have the last 7 in your hand, you have an extremely strong advantage even against smoother draws because you cannot pair one of your cards and all your other cards are live.
They are more likely to pair and cannot catch a 7 to make their hand. This is an exaggerated example as most of the time you don’t have the luxury of having the case card, but the principle is one that influences decisions strongly.
Practice watching the cards as they come out every time. I will generally rank them from low to high and simply remember the cards as they are folded so I know the cards below 9 that have been mucked. This simple exercise is crucial to your success in every stud game.
As for actual strategy, the game is pretty simple. Razz is a lowball game, which means that until you have a 5 card hand, it isn’t worth a whole lot.
People hate Razz because they can start out with a perfect draw, catch 3 pairs and have garbage. This is a frustrating part of the game but players make so many massive errors (folding too tight and calling too loose) that it’s simply part of the price you pay for playing the game.
Indeed, people pairing is a vital part of the game because it allows you to make good call downs and steal pots when you are playing less than stellar hands.
Razz Starting Hands
Good Razz starting hands don’t necessarily look pretty. There are two kinds of starting hands:
- Smooth hands have a good draw along with a redraw to a very strong hand such as . This hand is currently drawing to an 8, but boasts a redraw to a very strong hand if the cards fall our way.
- Rough hands have a draw to a strong but non-nutted hand with very little redraw potential, such as . This hand has a draw to a 7, which is a strong hand, but will lose to most other 7s and our redraw isn’t to a nut hand.
Both hand types have their disadvantages and you will be playing both, but be aware that rough hands tend to have way lower implied odds because you can’t make a concealed extremely strong hand like you can with a smooth hand.
Once you know what kind of hand you have, it’s important you control the number of people in the pot just like you do in LO8.
A lot of players will look down at and think “OMG I HAVE THE NUTS” and raise any and all bets on 3rd street. This is a flawed way of thinking.
Yes, you have the nuts, but how are the dead cards looking for you? Two 4s and two 5s are dead? This hurts your equity substantially.
Your hand makes a nutted hand a lot of the time and you can often invite players in behind you with very weak hands by just calling. A lot of inexperienced players will call with absolutely terrible hands behind you if you let them.
It’s far better to be in a small pot with a disguised monster against players who will call you down with very weak hands than in a HU bloated pot in which you’ve given away the strength of your hand.
If a good card like a wheel card completes on 3rd street and you raise with your 3 to a wheel, you’ve completely given away the fact that you don’t care that he could have a wheel draw already. Not only is the equity difference (ignoring dead cards) less than 5% either way, he can safely reduce your holdings to very strong ones.
Now if you catch 2 wheel cards, he knows you either have a wheel already, which is pretty unlikely, or you’ve paired and he has an easy call down.
If you keep your range wide to include 6s, 7s, or 8s then he has a much tougher decision to call down with his weak hand/draw. In tournaments, this is doubly true when you wish to conserve your stack until you have a bigger edge.
4th Street and Beyond
In general, Razz is about playing your board and not your hand.
If you are a true expert playing against weaker players, you pretty much don’t have to look at your hole cards until 6th street. The boards and the pot size will often determine the automatic play.
If you start with and catch a 2 on 4th street, you will often be betting regardless because your board is extremely strong and you still have lots of backdoor equity. Unless you’re up against multiple opponents who have caught 2 wheel boards as well, your hand doesn’t really matter in this situation.
Know your opponents and know who is going to fold as soon as they catch a bad card. Some players will never guess you started with a weaker hand (Like AT in the hole with a 5 up) or paired (which happens far more than people think if the dead cards aren’t in your favor).
It’s also important to know the players who will assume you’ve paired every single time you catch a good one. Those players force you to play passively until you actually have a hand to bet for value. This can happen with weak hands still, but just be aware that you don’t have the luxury of fold equity.
Listen up, whippersnappers. Aside from a few century old rules that make no earthly sense, Stud is a great game.
For a long time I believed it was very close to LHE but it’s actually far closer to NLHE than I would’ve believed. Because there is no flop, your starting hands and their possibilities matter a great deal in determining your equity.
Anyone can call a raise in the big blind in LHE with 74o and flop a straight. In Stud, you first have to catch the gutshot draw and then somehow hold on for multiple bets just to have the possibility of making your straight. Note: this is not recommended.
Here’s a few things that are crucial to keep in mind in a Stud game:
- Play hands that have big potential
- Always be aware of pot size
- Always be aware of how live your hand is
Stud is CHAOS. Hands can transform from flush draws into full houses or from pairs into straight draws in just a few streets. You must be aware of your hand’s potential at all times.
Similar to Razz, the most important element in Stud is knowing how to play your board effectively. It’s very important in Stud to think of your opponent’s range as his overall range and not just what he has at that exact moment.
If your opponent has the up and catches the on 4th street, his range overall is incredibly strong even if he may have a hand as weak as or in the hole.
Remember, there are 5 streets of action including 3 big bet streets. Half the deck potentially makes his board very scary. You’d have to have a very good reason (pair of queens or better or a big draw) to really think about calling down unless the player has shown themselves to play far too many hands.
Drawing hands are very strong when made early in Stud and since the river is dealt face down, people who have draws can have very strong hands concealed and thus have big implied odds.
For this reason, if you catch a card that is crucial to your board, you can play much more aggressively.
If you have the and catch the , you can suddenly represent a slew of hands that you may not even be close to having.
At worst, you have a pair and a few backdoor draws. That may be enough to get a lot of players to fold their weaker hands, which is a nice thing to achieve when you don’t have much.
On the other hand, pay attention to when someone is showing a lot of aggression despite having a very weak looking board.
If someone’s board is showing , every potential draw has missed. If they’ve been aggressive from the getgo, you can assume they have at LEAST a pair of queens and potentially much stronger. Even the more aggressive crazy players know that it’s hard to get people to fold pretty much anything if your board runs out dry.
The second crucial element to Stud is overcards. The difference between a hand like and cannot be overemphasized. After all, which hand would you rather have if a player opened a pot with nines or tens?
Unless you’re up against a pair of aces, is miles better despite less straight potential.
It’s also far easier to represent a strong hand from the beginning this hand, making them ripe for semibluffs. Occasionally bluffing also gives you better implied odds when you actually have the represented big pair. But this is not the only way that overcards are important.
Say you have a hand like () and all your cards are live.
Some young punk opens with a ten up. For whatever reason, you believe that he likely has a pair of tens. You don’t care, you raise anyway. Seems crazy, right? False! You have upwards of 43% equity in this hand.
The ace in your hand is incredibly powerful as a semibluffing tool. Not only is your equity good, but if you catch an ace and your opponent makes two pair, he’s drawing to 4 outs!
Your implied odds when you semibluff in this game and get there can be huge. In the same scenario, a hand like would be worthless because you simply cannot play your hand aggressively, even if you make your small two pair, as your opponent’s two pair can easily be hidden.
Part 3 of this series will cover Stud-8 and HORSE tournament concepts.
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