Before playing my first hand, I had compiled some advice from a few different sources. No exhaustive study, mind you. But I did at least make sure I knew the rules of the game going in. The original cue to give Razz a try had come from an episode of the excellent Ante Up! podcast from a few months back. Hosts Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long discussed how the game is played and offered a few strategy tips, then Cosenza followed up with a post on the Ante Up! blog in which he shared some more advice. I read through Cosenza’s comments there, then (as he recommends) I also read over the brief section on Razz in Doyle Brunson's Super/System: A Course in Power Poker as well as Phil Hellmuth’s chapter on Razz in Play Poker Like the Pros.
(I am aware how Hellmuth’s book tends to provoke extreme responses -- mostly negative -- and one day will post something here about Play Poker Like the Pros. I won’t be blindly defending the book or Hellmuth, mind you, but neither will I reject it wholesale as most seem to do.)
When I clicked the Razz tab at Full Tilt I saw that there were only a few tables going. There were a couple of active tables at higher stakes (one $2.00/$4.00 and one $8.00/$16.00). I knew I didn’t want to venture there. I scrolled down to find a couple of $0.25/$0.50 tables going and so took a spot at one of those. I adopted Cosenza’s “tight is right” strategy and restricted myself only to playing hands where I had been dealt three cards eight or lower (non-paired, of course) -- i.e., a "three-card eight." Was actually dealt once and cringed as I folded. I was doing a lot of folding, actually, and after a while decided to fill the time calculating exactly the chances of being dealt a three-card eight. (If my math is correct, it is a little over 16% . . . just about 1 out of 6 hands.)
I finally got involved in a few pots, winning a few and losing a few. I won about half of my showdowns -- I don’t know if that’s a decent percentage or not, really. I realized fairly quickly how you can often know precisely whether or not you are holding a winner. Occasionally you have your opponent “board-locked” (as Hellmuth says), meaning you can know with 100% certainty that your hand beats what he is showing. This circumstance comes up more frequently (per hands played) than does having the “absolute nuts” in hold ’em, to be sure.
By far the most memorable hand came when I was dealt . Everyone put in the $0.05 ante. A player two seats to my right with had to put in the bring-in of $0.10. The player to his left, Petty, called with . I completed to $0.25, and GenialGeorge called with the . Petty called as well. Fourth street brought me the , giving me four-fifths of a wheel, so I bet out the quarter. GenialGeorge had picked up the and called. Petty folded. Fifth street was a sweet for yours truly, giving me a “smooth 6-low” -- a very strong hand, especially by fifth street. GenialGeorge, meanwhile, had picked up the and so he was first to act. He bet the $0.50, and I immediately raised him to $1.00. He called. He drew the on sixth street, and so I bet out again only to be raised by GenialGeorge. I reraised to $1.50 and he called.
Looking at the hands -- I had and George had -- I felt pretty confident I had to be ahead. He had to have precisely a deuce and a trey in the hole to be ahead of me, and I had one of each. (Also, Petty had folded a trey as well.) Seventh street cards were dealt face down, and I again bet. GenialGeorge again raised me. Could it be? I called and yes, indeed, he had the wheel: . We had been dealt the two best possible hands in Razz, and we both had hit those hands on fifth street!
I couldn’t complain, though. I did make a couple of wheels myself before I finished, and while I ended up down about $12 for the session I went back over to the limit hold ’em tables and quickly made that back. Looking back, I realize I did end up chasing a few times when I shouldn’t have and even allowed myself to play a couple of 9-high hands when I knew better. Most folks at the table seemed to know what they were doing, although there was that one guy who showed down a full house on one hand and quads on another. (That caused some chat.)
Fun to learn and play a new game. I certainly recommend it. Meanwhile, what is this I hear about marked cards at the H.O.R.S.E. event?! I can see how marking the cards would make Razz easier. Somewhat, anyway . . . .