Razz, part of the Stud games family, is one of the most popular and oldest lowball poker games out there. Lowball means that the hand with the lowest 5 cards wins the pot – the classic Hold’em poker hand ranking doesn’t apply here.
Razz events are regularly featured on the World Series of Poker schedule. It is also part of many popular mixed games, such as H.O.R.S.E. and the 8 game. You can find Razz cash tables on PokerStars as well, although the action is scarce.
Almost all games are played with fixed betting limits, the no-limit version is virtually impossible to find.
The dealer deals three cards to every player at the table, two face down and one face up. The person with the highest exposed card has the option to either raise to the limit or post the bring-in, a fraction of the limit. If more than one person has the same ranked high card, suit determines the bring-in. The suit ranking is in alphabetical order, from weakest to strongest: Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades. Please note, however, that suit ranking only applies when determining the bring-in – at showdown, it makes no difference.
After the first three cards are dealt, a betting round follows starting at the bring-in. Players can call, fold or raise. If someone raises, the others need to match the raised amount in order to stay in the hand. If no-one calls a raise, the last aggressor claims the pot. This holds true for every betting round.
If there are at least two players remaining in the pot, the players remaining get another face-up card and have the option to bet once again. From this point onwards, the action always starts with the player with the lowest board showing.
On the next, the 5th street the betting limit doubles – this is called a “big bet”. The 6th card is also dealt face up to everyone, with another round of betting following. The last card is face down, however. So on 7th street players have seven cards in front of them, 3 in the hole and 4 exposed. The last betting round takes place, then it’s time for the showdown.
At showdown, the player who can make the lowest 5-card unpaired hand out of their 7 cards wins the pot. The California system is in place for Razz, which means the best possible hand is A2345. Straights and flushes are discounted, the Ace counts as low.
Please note that this is different from the Kansas City system, which applies to games such as 2-7 Triple Draw. In those games flushes and straights do count, and the Ace is always high. Do not get these games confused. Also, if you play Omaha 8-or-Better or other Hi-Lo games, keep in mind that there’s no qualifier for low hands in Razz. You don’t have to have 5 cards that are 8 or lower, at showdown you can win the pot even with a King low – although that is rare, but the rules allow it.
Anyhow, do not confuse Razz rules with other lowball games. Just to recap: in Razz A2345 is the best hand. Flushes and straights don’t count, the Ace is low, and you can’t pair your low cards.
In the rare cases when the deck runs out of cards to deal to the players, the discarded cards are reshuffled and dealt again.
In Razz, just like in other stud games, you play your cards against your opponents’ ranges that you deduce from their open cards and the actions they take.
Because it’s lowball, you have the advantage of being able to know for certain if you’re ahead of somebody up until 5th street. If you’re sitting with Jack low, for example, and you see someone with a King on their board, you have the better hand 100% of the time. However, keep in mind that if they call with a high card showing that means they’re probably on a good draw – you can’t be certain who’s ahead by the 6th and 7th street.
You also need to pay attention to the folded open cards to account for the blockers’ effect. If you know that a lot of low cards are dead, there’s no need to chase your draws. Especially given the fact that if you didn’t see many of them out of the deck that makes it’s more likely that they are your opponent’s hole cards.
You also need to be cognizant of what your board looks like to the other players. If your open cards are low but your hole cards are either high or they pair your lows, your opponents don’t know that – you can represent strength easily and make better hands fold by betting.
Because Razz is almost always played with betting limits, you usually get very good pot odds. That means you can make light calls on draws and with marginal made hands, you don’t need to win a large percentage of the time to make it profitable. This holds true for all limit games.
Razz is one of the oldest forms of poker. It has been played since the very start of the 20th Century. It emerged around the time people started using the 52-card deck instead of 20 for poker. Historically, Razz always lagged behind in popularity to other Stud games – however, it’s been around for almost just as long as 7-Card Stud or Texas Hold’em.
A $1,000 Limit Razz tournament was on the schedule for the first World Series of Poker where tournaments were actually played, in 1971. Jimmy Casella won that event for $10,000. Since then, Razz was featured at every WSOP held.
Notable Razz Professionals
One of poker’s most famous legends is about a Razz player who went by the name of Archie “the Greek” Karas.
The man, embodying the classic “rags to riches” story, arrived in Las Vegas in December 1992 with $50 in his pocket. He convinced one of his gambler friends to loan him $10,000. He turned that $10,000 into $30,000 overnight playing $200/$400 Limit Razz at the Mirage.
He paid $20,000 back to his backer, and moved on to shoot pool at a bar for $5,000 a game. As he was accumulating wins, he raised the stakes to as high as $40,000 a game. That way “the Greek” ballooned his bankroll up to $1.2 million. He got back to the poker table after that, and he eventually amassed around $7 million – he mostly played Razz. He even beat the famous Stu Ungar out of $500,000 playing a heads-up limit Razz cash game against him.
Karas’ story did not end well unfortunately. In 1995, he lost most of his $17 million gambling winnings he amassed over the course of two years and a half within just three weeks.
However, there are plenty of big name poker pros who haven’t gone completely bust yet and are frequent Razz players.
Ted Forrest has won almost $6.4 million on live tournaments, many of his cashes are from Razz events, including two WSOP victories. John Juanda and Huck Seed are also regulars in the high stakes Razz tournament scene.
As for online, an unknown player under the screen name “big_grapes” used to play the game for high stakes a lot on the now defunct Full Tilt. Some of their most frequent opponents were “JKwizzle” and “fgt4w”.
Razz is part of many popular mixed games. The “R” stands for Razz in H.O.R.S.E. It’s also included in the 8 game and the $50,000 WSOP Poker Players Championship. This means that all the big mixed game regulars are playing a substantial amount of Razz. These pros include Daniel Negreanu, Shaun Deeb, and Viktor “Isildur1” Blom online.
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