Razz Poker Rules & Starting Hands
Razz Poker is becoming more and more popular, and it’s a bit like a simpler version of Seven Card Stud Low. Razz is like the opposite of regular poker – it’s all about having the lowest hand. Instead of aiming for the highest hand, in Razz, you want the lowest. This game uses a standard deck of 52 cards and typically works best with a group of two to eight players. The main goal of the game is to create the smallest hand you can using five out of the seven cards you’re dealt with. In Razz Poker, it’s important to note that there’s a distinction from other variations like Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo or Omaha Hi/Lo. Unlike those games, Razz doesn’t have an ‘eight or better’ requirement to win the pot. Today, we’re going to discuss the rules and which starting hands are good to begin with in the game of Razz Poker.
Playing razz is a bit like playing seven-card stud. To start, each player gets two cards face down and one card facing up. This initial deal and the round of betting that comes after it are known as “third street.” The following deals and betting rounds are also named in a similar way, like “fourth street” and so on, up to “seventh street.” The two face-down cards are called “hole cards,” and the face-up card is known as the “door card.”
Just like in seven-card stud, in razz, a player decides whether to continue in the hand based on these first three cards. Choosing the right starting hand is an important part of the game’s strategy.
If a player doesn’t fold before seventh street, they will end up with a total of seven cards: the initial two face down, one face up, then three more face-up cards, and finally, the last card face down. Out of these seven cards, the goal is to create the best possible five-card combination. However, in razz, you’re trying to make the lowest hand possible, with the ace always being the lowest-ranking card.
In razz, flushes and straights don’t count. This means that the best possible razz hand is 5-X-4-X-3-X-2-X-A-X, and the suits of the cards don’t matter. The second-best hand is 6-X-4-X-3-X-2-X-A-X, and the third-best is 6-X-5-X-3-X-2-X-A-X. This ranking follows the same rules used for ranking low hands in other “lowball” or split-pot games.
Razz Poker Rules & Starting Hands
Now that we have discussed about the gameplay, let’s begin with the rules of Razz Poker after which we will discuss about the starting hands.
Razz Poker Rules
Before a game of Razz kicks off, all players chip in a small amount (the exact sum depends on the game and is shown on the table’s title bar). This is what it costs to join the hand. For example, in a 1/2 game, the ante would be 0.15.
Every player starts with three cards: two hidden hole cards and one facing up. In Razz, the player with the highest visible card becomes the ‘bring-in’ and has to initiate the action. They must make another small bet (again, the exact size of the bring-in depends on the game) or, if they prefer, a full bet in the lower betting category. Betting proceeds clockwise around the poker table until everyone has had their turn.
Now, each player receives an additional exposed card, known as ‘Fourth Street.’ The player with the strongest (lowest) exposed hand is the first to act. According to the rules, this player can choose to either check or bet. The bet amount is small (1 in a 1/2 game). There’s a round of betting.
Each player receives another exposed card, known as ‘Fifth Street.’ Again, the player with the lowest visible cards gets to act first. For example, if a player has an Eight-high hand, they would go first if the other players in the hand are showing a pair of Sevens and a Queen-high. The player with the Eight-high can decide to either check or bet a larger amount.
From Fifth Street onwards and for the rest of the hand, all bets and raises are made in larger bet increments (for example, 2 in a 1/2 game).
Now, each player gets one more exposed card, called ‘Sixth Street.’ Once again, the player with the lowest exposed cards is the first to act. There’s another round of betting.
Seventh Street (or the River)
Each player now receives a seventh and final card, dealt face-down and known only to the player who gets it. As with the earlier streets, the player with the lowest poker value in their exposed cards goes first. There’s a final betting round, and if more than one player is left, it’s time for the Showdown.
If there are multiple players remaining when the final betting round ends, the last person to bet or raise shows their cards first. If there was no bet in the final round, the player in the earliest seat reveals their cards first (Seat 1, followed by Seat 2, and so on). Additional hands involved in the Showdown are revealed in a clockwise order around the table.
The player with the best five-card Ace to Five low hand wins the pot. Unlike Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo and Omaha Hi/Lo, there’s no ‘qualifier’; the best low hand takes the entire pot. If two or more hands have the same value, the pot is split equally among them. The suit of the cards doesn’t matter for determining the pot winner.
Player Betting Options
In Stud, like in other forms of poker, players have several actions to choose from: ‘fold,’ ‘check,’ ‘bet,’ ‘call,’ or ‘raise.’ Which options are available depends on the actions of the previous players. If no one has bet yet, a player can either check (choose not to bet but keep their cards) or bet. When a player has bet, subsequent players can fold, call (match the previous bet), or raise (not only match the previous bet but increase it). In Limit games, bets and raises are in predetermined amounts.
Moving ahead with Razz Poker Rules & Starting Hands, let’s get to the latter.
Razz Starting Hands
In razz, it’s important to start with a decent hand. A good rule for beginners is to avoid playing any hand that’s worse than a three-card eight. That means if your hand doesn’t have three unique cards with a rank of eight or lower, it’s usually best to fold. Especially in lower-stakes games and smaller tournaments, hands worse than eight-high rarely win. Starting with three strong cards gives you a better chance to win.
For example, a hand like 3-8 is better than 3-2. Even though both hands have the same total value, having a two showing is better than an eight. Razz is a game where having strong exposed cards is key. The stronger your exposed cards are, the more pressure you can put on your opponents with your Razz starting hands. If your eight is showing, your opponents will know for sure that you can’t have anything better than a made eight, which might encourage them to draw.
Hands with three eights or sevens should usually complete the bring-in when they’re first to act. However, there are some exceptions we’ll discuss later. Hands with three sixes or wheel cards can raise if someone has already completed the bring-in, hoping to go heads-up into Fourth Street.
But if you only play three-card eights or better, you’ll lose a lot in antes and bring-ins because those Razz starting hands are rare. It will also make your play too predictable. This is where “stealing” comes into play.
Let’s say you’re dealt 2-J with a 3-showing. The player with a king showing brings it in before a 2, a queen, a 9, and a 10 fold. Behind you, there’s an ace and a nine. You might try to complete the bring-in to steal the antes and the bring-in. In structured razz games, you’re risking one small bet to win almost two small bets. Plus, if the ace calls and you catch a low card on Fourth Street, the ace is likely to fold.
However, this isn’t a strict rule. If your opponents are likely to call with weak hands, you should adjust your stealing frequency. You’ll want action in your good hands, so don’t steal too often if you’re always getting called. Stealing is a way to keep up with the blinds and antes until you get stronger hands.
What if you have a three-card eight in a late position, and someone in an earlier position has completed the bring-in? In this situation, it’s a good idea to raise. If you suspect the earlier player is stealing, you have a better hand, and every additional dollar in the pot benefits you. Even if the initial completer has a stronger Razz starting hand, raising can discourage marginal hands from continuing to Fourth Street. Catching a low card on Fourth Street can also help induce a fold.
Keep in mind that not all three-card eights are the same. For instance, 7-6 with an 8 showing is a weak hand, especially if there are already many low cards showing. These hands require careful play and may not have much potential unless you draw well.
Card memory is essential in Razz, just like in other stud games. Knowing which low cards are already dead is crucial when deciding to play or fold on Third Street. As a beginner, you can ignore the high cards for now since you’ll mainly play three-card eights or better. Focus on the exposed cards and your own hand to make decisions on later streets. Your cards are either “live” (still available) or “dead” (already dealt to others). Practising card memory when you’re not in a hand helps you stay focused on the game.
It can be frustrating to fold many hands in razz or start with a strong hand only to catch a bad card on Fourth Street. Remember, discipline is important. A bad starting hand remains a bad hand, and there’s no magical sequence of cards that will turn 8-K-10 into a winning hand.