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Poker Strategy | Seven Card Stud

Razz Primer

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In a previous article, "Mixed Games ," I recommended playing a super-tight conservative strategy in your weaker games while playing a "normal" strategy in your better games. For the vast majority of players, razz is a weaker game. In this article I will provide some basic guidelines for playing razz. The goal here is not to maximize your winnings but to minimize your losses so that you can play to your strength(s). As I said in the previous article, the H-O-R-S-E games at Ultimate Bet and Poker Stars are quite weak and a very basic strategy can reap big rewards.

The object of razz is to make the worst hand. Flushes and straights do not count against you, hence the worst hand possible is an A-2-3-4-5 otherwise known as the wheel. The winning hand is determined first by the highest card of the five best. For example, a 3-4-5-6-7 beats an A-2-3-4-8 because the 7 is lower than the 8. If the high cards are equal, then the second lowest card plays. For example, a 2-3-4-5-8 beats an A-2-3-7-8. Thus, the lower your starting cards the better. Naturally, the best starting hand is A-2-3. You can't just sit around waiting for this hand, however, or you will lose money. Waiting for this hand is akin to just waiting around for aces in hold'em.

As you first learn the game, I would recommend not playing any starting hand worse than a three card 7; i.e., 7-6-5. You must, however, pay attention to the up cards of other players. Their cards affect the playability of your own hand, since too many of the cards you need to make your hand can be out on the board. For example, if you have 7-6-5, but the up-cards of your opponents are A-A-3-4-4-K, with a raise coming to you, FOLD. Too many of your cards are gone, and you are almost certainly way behind with very little chance of winning. In general, if four of your cards are gone, you should fold. The cards of your opponents are the key factor to determining the value of your own hands, but understanding this affect takes some experience and the present article is geared toward beginning play. If there are two bets coming to you, you can also fold a 3-card 7, even if none of your cards are gone.

These starting hand requirements will have you playing a maximum of one in every ten hands. Usually, a mixed game only has eight players; hence, you will be giving up your bring in bets and passing on some lucrative situations. Nevertheless, this super-tight strategy will keep you out of as much trouble as your opponents will be in. When you do enter a pot, you will have a good shot at winning it and recovering all previous losses and then some.

Even though I just recommended limiting your starting hands to 7's, there are two exceptions. First, if you have the lowest card and no one has a good up-card, raise. For example, you have a 9 and everyone else has paint. Raise, as this is a rare opportunity to steal the antes and the chance of your raise being successful is enormous. Second, raise with any non-paint card if everyone folds to you and the bring in bet was brought in by a paint card. For example, you have (K-K) 9 with the 9 as your up-card. The player to your immediate left brings it in with a Q and everyone else folds. Raise, as this is also a great opportunity to just steal the pot.

In general, since you are waiting on a good starting hand, you should raise most of the time when you enter a pot. Even with good up-cards behind you, such as an A and a 3, raise. Many novices think an Ace and one other low card are good starting hands and will call the bring-in, but may fold to your raise. Most, however, will still call and when they do, they will be far behind.

You should call most raises rather than reraising unless you are perfect or near perfect in the hole. For example, an Ace raises and a 4 calls; you should raise with an A-3-4. You almost certainly have the best hand. When you have the best hand, bet or raise. Do not slow play. The mistake of 99% of the players in the low stakes mixed games is to call too much. It is their calling, not their aggression that you need to exploit. Now if you are not near perfect and instead have something like 7-5-3, just call the raise from the Ace.

Let's turn our attention to 4th street action. You must pay attention to the cards of your opponents and remember how many of your cards are still available. You will also need to gauge the strength of your opponents hands based on their up-cards and their actions on various betting rounds. In general, if you raised initially. you should follow it up with a bet here. If you remain in the lead, then of course a bet is easy, but let's consider some other scenarios.

Let's say you started with a (7-4)-5, raised the bring-in bet and got three callers showing an A, 8, and a 4. Assume none of the cards other than the A that you need folded. Fourth street brings a 3 for you and the other hands now have: A-4, 8-Q, 4-9. The A-4 will have the first option and will probably bet. You should raise to find out where you are at. If you get 3-bet, then obviously the opponent is happy with the hand and since your board is strong (it's a 5-3), you should proceed with caution. In this scenario, only one opponent can have a better low draw than you right now. Furthermore, the opponent started with an A, and this often indicates suspect cards in the hole. If we change the scenario a bit and make the third player's 9 into a 6, then a fold becomes an option. If the A-4 bets and is raised by the 4-6, you should call, but a fold is okay. You are probably behind at this point and will have to make a decision to continue with the hand on 5th street.

Let's consider a different scenario in which you don't improve your hand, but neither does anyone else. Say everyone gets a paint card or pairs their up-card. Bet or raise. You still have a decent draw and now is a good time to get other players out of the hand and narrow this down to heads-up or three-way action. In addition, aggression on 4th street can get you a free card on 5th street.

Finally, let's consider a scenario in which you fail to improve, catching another 5, but someone else improves. Simply fold if bet into. If you are fortunate enough to be checked to, you should check as well and hope for a good 5th street. Don't invest more money in the pot hoping to catch two cards to regain the lead. As you become more proficient in the game and better at reading opponents, I think you can call one bet if you have a draw to a lower hand than the best draw out now. When starting out, however, folding is proper.

Let's now consider 5th street action. If you make your low, you should bet and raise. If it appears that a better low, such as a 6-low may have made 5th street, you need to bet and raise to find out. If this is met with aggression, you should fold. Don't keep shoveling money into the pot, trying to catch a bluff, particularly when the bluff can turn into a better made hand with one card. Bluffing happens in these games, but not generally on 5th street and not beyond one action; i.e., bluffers don't 3-bet or 4-bet (usually).

If you have a four-card low on 4th street and miss along with everyone else, bet or raise. If you started with a 7-low you probably still have the best low draw. Bet while you are ahead. If you only partially miss your hand with a card like an 8 or 9, bet or raise, if only one other player gets a good card. That good card can easily pair a hole card and raising will pick off a bluff. If reraised, just call if you have a better low draw. In general, if the best possible made low on 5th street is a 9-low, you can cold-call any bet (with your 7-low draw). If you notice that you've lost 5 or more of your cards to other players, then consider folding as you probably do not have the correct odds.

When you start out, these guidelines are sufficient, but as you get used to the action, you should begin calculating the odds as you go. It takes practice, but learning to do it is the next big advantage you can gain over your opponents.

If you only had a 3-card low on 4th street, but so did everyone else, and you don't improve to a 4-card low on 5th street, you are effectively done with the hand. Better luck next time. If no one else improves here however, a decision to continue will likely be postponed until 6th street as no one will bet.

6th street and 7th street are relatively straightforward. If you have a made low, bet and raise. If you have a 4-card low, call even if there is a possible made hand betting as long as you can draw to a better hand. For example, say an opponent has a board of 3-9-5, you should still call with your 7-low draw. If there are no possible made lows, bet. On 7th, if you make your low call possible made lows, even if they may be better than your low. You will pretty much always have the pot odds to make this call. If you think you have the best low, bet or raise. If you've missed the 7-low, but made something like a 9-low, I would call one bet heads-up, but would not overcall.

The main idea on this super-tight strategy is to wait for good starting hands and play with aggression when you enter a pot. You will often win without going to 7th street, but if you get there, you will also quite often have the superior hand. Log on to Ultimate Bet or Pokerstars and give it a try.

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