Beginners Guide to Playing the Razz Poker Variation
In Razz Poker the lowest hand wins. While you might think this is a recent innovation, created by online poker sites eager to do something different – ‘lowball’ poker has been around for a long time. Variations of 5 card poker (for example London Lowball) were among the earliest poker games.
Razz follows the same game format as 7-Card Stud. The major difference is that the lowest hand wins. This is defined as the 5 lowest cards out of the 7 each player is individually dealt. Ace-2-3-4-5 is the lowest possible hand, this is known as a ‘wheel’. Razz is played in both cash game and tournament format. Fixed limit betting is the most popular variation. You can also find Razz as a component of mixed games, for example Razz is the ‘R’ in HORSE Poker.
This page gives players who are new to Razz an overview of how to play. To make this easy to follow, I have gone through a single hand from start to finish. Along the way, different aspects of the rules are covered. At the end of the page are some straightforward strategy tips to get you started.
How to Play Razz – Before the Deal
You’ll play Razz with a maximum of 8 players. While in theory all the cards could be used up if all 8 go to 7th street, this will not happen in practice!
Instead of a small blind / big blind bet, each player will contribute a small amount to the pot. This is around 10% of the smaller betting unit and is known as the Ante. You will see the bets given as two units, one twice the size of the other. In a $1 / $2 Razz game the ante would be 10c (sometimes a little more). Bets start at $1 for the first 2 betting rounds, and then double to $2 for the final 3 betting rounds.
Razz does not use a dealer button. The player who starts the action is determined by their visible cards.
3rd Street and 4th Street
Each round of a Razz game is known as a ‘street’. Initially, all the players are dealt 3 cards. One of these is visible to everyone, and two are visible only to the individual players.
Betting starts with the player showing the highest card, this bet is known as the ‘bring in’. If your high card matches other players, suits come into play. Clubs is the lowest suit followed by diamonds, hearts and then spades. The betting action then goes clockwise around the table. There are usually a maximum of 4 raises on any one betting round. Players can fold, call the bring in bet or raise – if your raise gets everyone to fold at any point, you will win the pot. If a player runs out of chips, their hand is still live (and they still get dealt more cards), a side pot is created for any additional bets and raises.
Once the initial betting round is completed, a 4th card is dealt to each of the remaining players. This is dealt face-up.
The player to start the action on this and the other betting rounds is the one showing the best Razz hand. That is the lowest unique cards – Ace-Two in this round. Play goes clockwise from there. Players can check their option on 4th and subsequent streets. If everyone checks then the betting round will end without any new chips in the pot.
Bets Double on 5th Street
When the 5th card is dealt (this and the 6th are also face-up to the table), then the betting unit doubles. There are still 4 raises possible, though with the bigger bets the pot can now grow quickly. Many players have a ‘rule of thumb’ to fold on 3rd or 5th street if their hands do not work out because of this betting increase.
On 5th and 6th street the player with the best Razz hand starts the betting. On 7th street, the final card is dealt face-down – visible only to the individual players. This means what whoever bet first on 6th street will do this again.
Razz Poker Showdown Rules
As in all forms of poker, the player who took the last aggressive action will show their hand first. This gives the player who called their last bet the opportunity to muck their hand unseen if they can’t beat what is shown.
Hands are made of the 5 lowest cards out of the 7 in each player’s hand. Any 5 unique cards will beat a hand including pair, and straights or flushes are not counted. The best possible hand is a wheel, which is A-2-3-4-5. The highest unique card is used to determine the winner.
Strategy Tips for Playing Razz Poker
The main strategy tip in this game is to bail out early if you get high cards to start or your hand does not work out. With 5 separate betting rounds, chasing those marginal hands can be expensive. You might find yourself getting the right price to call on later streets, only to find yourself drawing virtually dead to an opponent’s nut low.
Like with all Stud type poker games, you need to remember the discarded cards. If you see several cards you need in hands which were folded, then your chances of improving will go down significantly. Conversely, if you have 3 low cards, and see several matching cards and high cards folded, you have a far better chance of making a good low.