When Chris Moneymaker took down the WSOP Main Event back in 2003, he not only helped ignite the poker boom, he made Texas Hold’em the world’s game of choice. Although the variant had long been one of the most popular choices for regular players, Moneymaker’s historic win turned it into a game the masses simply had to play. Indeed, fast-forward a year or two after he became World Champion and everyone was playing Hold’em. Today, however, the industry has evolved both online and offline and players young and old are branching out into different games. In fact, players such as Jason Mercier, who were once feared No Limit Hold’em tournament players, have successfully transitioned to other variants. For example, during the 2016 World Series of Poker, the American managed to win the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event as well as the 2-7 Lowball Championship. In addition to his outright wins, Mercier finished second in the $10,000 Razz Championship which attracted 100 entrants. While that number may pale in comparison to other variants, it’s markedly higher than the <50 it received just a few years earlier.
Like other non-Hold’em variants, Razz has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the last decade and that’s the game we’re going to describe for you today. Despite appearing somewhat strange from the outside, it’s actually a neat way of playing poker. Now, before we start to break down the mechanics of Razz, let’s start with a general definition of the game. In simple terms, Razz is a Seven Card Stud poker variant, which means there are no community cards as there are in Hold’em. As well as following a similar format to Seven Card Stud, Razz is also a lowball game. Perhaps the best way to describe what lowball means in this context is that it’s an “unusual version” of Stud that requires you to make the worst hand instead of the best. In other words, you’re looking to make the lowest ranked hand possible in order to win the pot. For seasoned players and poker pros, this change means that they need to reprogram their poker thinking and be alert, which is highly welcome since it enhances overall skill. We’ve seen an increase in Razz offerings online in recent years, too, and – considering current trends – we expect to see wider availability moving forward.
How to Rank a Razz Hand
In simple terms, the overall value of your hand is determined by the highest value card you hold. Straights and flushes don’t count in this game, so you don’t need to worry about them and, as you’d expect, pairs, sets and full houses are weak. Aces are also counted as low cards in Razz.
To show you what we mean by the “lowest” ranked hand, consider these two examples:
- Player 1 is dealt the following seven cards: A-2-5-K-3-5-4
Like all forms of poker, the aim is the make the best five-card hand from those available. In this instance, Player 1’s best hand is 5-4-3-2-A.
- Player 2 is dealt the following seven cards: 2-6-7-5-A-3-8
Again, Player 2 will be using their best five cards to make a hand, which in this case is 6-5-3-2-A.
In this scenario, Player 1 has the best hand because their highest card is a 5, while the highest card in Player 2’s hand is a 6.
How to Play Razz: From the Antes to a Showdown
Once you’ve got a basic understanding of how a hand is ranked, you’ll need to keep in mind that the action in Razz plays out in the following way:
As is the case in all forms of poker, each new round starts with a forced bet. In Razz, this bet is known as an ante and everyone must put in some money if they want to play the hand. The size of the ante is a fraction of the table stakes. For example, in a $10/$20 game, the ante would be $1.
Once the antes are in, each player is dealt three cards: two face-down and the remaining card face-up. At this point, the player showing the highest card must make an extra bet, known as the bring-in. The size of this bet is, again, determined by the smallest of the pre-set table stakes. So, if we stick with our $10/$20 example, the bring-in would be $10. However, if the player doesn’t want to “complete” the bring-in and pay $10, they can pay half the amount.
Following the bring-in, each player receives a fourth card face-up and the strongest holding gets to start the round of betting. This player can choose to check and pass the action on in a clockwise direction for free. Alternatively, the player can make a bet which is equal to the smallest side of the table stakes which, in our example, would be $10.
During a betting round, all players are free to check if there hasn’t been a bet before them. If a bet is made, all other players must call (match it) in order to stay in the hand. If the player doesn’t call, they can fold and give up.
Alternatively, a player can raise, doubling the size of the current bet. When a player raises, the action continues until everyone has either folded, matched the bet or raised again. Finally, because Razz is generally a limit game, raises are a fixed size (double the previous bet) and there is, typically, a maximum of four permitted raises per round.
On fifth street, each player receives their fifth card (this one is face-up) and the player with the lowest cards will start the betting action again. At this point, the options to check or bet are exactly the same. However, from fifth street onwards, the starting bet will be equal to the largest side of the table stakes. In our example, this would mean the player that starts the betting on fifth street would have to make it $20.
Action on sixth street is identical to fifth street.
The seventh and final card is dealt face-down, which means each player now has three hidden cards and four exposed cards. Again, the person that starts the betting is the one showing the lowest set of cards and they have the option to either check or bet.
If more than one player is left once the betting is over, a showdown takes place. Unlike a showdown in Hold’em where players combine their two cards with the five cards in the middle of the table, Razz hands are individual. In other words, a player reveals their seven cards and then pushes forward their five best ones. The winner is the one with the lowest hand based on the rules we described earlier.
That, in a nutshell, is how you play Razz poker. Although the concept of shooting for the worst hand might seem crazy if you’re used to variants such as Texas Hold’em, it actually makes sense in context. In fact, thanks to the game’s unique dynamics, there are plenty of ways you can use your poker skills to gain an edge on your opponents when you play Razz, and plenty of ways Razz can help you improve in other variants of poker.