How To Win at Badugi

It goes without saying that No-Limit Hold’em remains as the most popular poker variation in the world, but slowly other poker genres are creeping up in popularity. Especially in the high-stakes world, more and more players prefer variety because of an increased edge in some lesser known games. In fact, in many of the top-tier high-stakes card rooms in Las Vegas, NV players refuse to sit down unless there are 6-8 games thrown in the mix. Because of the novelty of some of the games, players who have the ability to focus and multi-task within different settings will dominate opponents because of their versatility.

It’s not the most popular game in the world, but Badugi is becoming one of the more relevant draw games available. Similar in scope to 2-7 Draw Lowball, or several other draw games, Badugi is prevalent because it draws great action (no pun intended). It takes a particular amount of skill to become adjusted to its nuances, but just like any other poker game, after enough study and practice it shouldn’t be hard to master. Because of the increased aggression and improvement of players in other games such as Hold’em and Omaha, beginners and pros alike should take the time to learn Badugi to maintain an edge over the field in terms of overall skill and profitability.

In order to start playing Badugi, however, we should lay out some of the ground rules so you’re not completely left in the dark. Since most people know how to play Hold’em, we’re going to try to discuss some of the differences in comparison to that game, and also use Hold’em as a reference to what you should and shouldn’t take from that field.

Badugi Rules

In Texas Hold’em you’re always dealt two cards, in Badugi you’ll be dealt four. Similar to any other poker game you’ll find out there, Badugi does have a starting hand that’s the best overall. Appropriately, it’s named a “Badugi”. This four-card combination is A-2-3-4, with all four cards being of different suits.

Badugi is an interesting game with the goal being to always make the lowest four card hand, ideally unsuited. As mentioned above, a hand such as [Ac 2s 3h 4d] would be the best four card Badugi possible. However, as customary, you won’t have the luxury of always getting Badugi so you’ll have to adjust your requirements accordingly. Depending on your table composition, a lesser-strength hand may just be good enough to stand pat – also known as “snowing” – and to play back aggressively at your opponents.

But before we get into great detail about starting hand requirements, let’s focus on what we need to establish rule-wise, and how the game play functions.

Badugi is similar to Hold’em in the trait that you’ll have a small and big blind. Depending on what you’ve set as the limits, the player immediately to the left of the dealer button will need to put in his amount for the SB and the player to the left of him will put in his BB. After this is done, each of the players will be given a total of four cards, one at a time. The cards are always dealt starting with the small blind first, and then moving clockwise to the big blind, under-the-gun, etc. After four cards are dealt to each player, the first round of betting begins.

Badugi is predominately a Limit game, although it’s seldom played in other formats such as Pot-Limit or No-Limit. Because of the typical Limit structure, they’ll be a capped betting and raising amount during each betting round.

After the first betting/raising round has commenced, players will then be allowed to draw for more cards. You can draw for as many cards as you would like, including your entire hand. Or, if you wish, you may keep your entire hand which is known as standing pat.

This cycle will continue until there are no players remaining except one, or until the remaining players in the hand have gone to “showdown”, which is after the third and final betting round. Once you reach the final showdown, the best Badugi wins.

Obviously not all players will have the same Badugi. There are several different types of Badugis, and each of them have different values. Once showdown is reached, you’ll need to look at each remaining player’s hand to determine who has the best Badugi. The rankings go as follows:

  1. If your Badugi contains four cards, you’ll beat any player who has a three, two or one-card Badugi.
  2. Badugi’s are ranked from their highest card first, then the second highest, the third highest – and so on.
  3. Anytime a player has an ace in their hand, it’s always counted as low.
  4. In order to have a four card Badugi, all of your four cards must be of a different suit and of a different value. For example, if you’re holding the [Ad 5s 7c Th] you would have a four card Badugi, or you would call this hand a “four-card ten”. If your hand was instead [Ad 5s 7c Tc], since your hand has two to a suit, you would have a “three-card seven”. The highest of the cards which have the same suit will be eliminated.

If you have a pair in your hand, for example [2c 6s 9h 9d], you’ll remove one of the cards which are paired. In this case you would have [2c 6s 9h], and it would be deemed a “three-card nine”.

** If you happen to have the same hand as another player, it will be deemed a tie and both parties will receive their bets back.

More in-depth Badugi Strategy

While we believe that all games require a certain amount of understanding of advanced poker concepts, for players transitioning from another game such as Omaha or Hold’em you’ll need to understand that Badugi is of a different breed. It’s not that it’s strategy is complex; Badugi is instead a game that demands greater understanding of thorough poker ideas such as fold equity, implied odds, reverse implied odds and the gap concept. Because there isn’t a ton of information in regards to how to play Badugi most effectively, being able to play the game competently will ultimately require a clear thought process of your own, and the ability to use gathered resources from your opponents and each session to come up with the highest EV plays to succeed.

However, if there was one way to summarize the best approach to Badugi, it’s to play the game with aggression. Just as with most poker genres, being able to win pots both by bluffing and by holding the best hand will increase your win rate dramatically. While we commented briefly on the subject of “snowing” earlier in this article, let’s talk about this particular play a bit more.

Snowing

Since Badugi is a draw game, you will be able to gain more information about the strength of your opponents’ hands by seeing how often and how many cards they draw during each round. Because of this added information, players who pay acute attention to an opponent’s patterns should notice that their hand is likely very weak, and they should “snow” to relay the perception of strength, and take the pot with fold equity regardless of hand strength.

The problem lies in that many inexperienced players will implement a snow during bad spots, making it easy for an opponent to catch their bluff. It’s not always a bad thing, as sometimes we do want to get caught snowing to be paid off later, however our goal is to effectively snow as much as possible without giving too much information away to our opponents. The fact of the matter is, the best Badugi players will adjust to your play correctly and call you with reasonable frequency – those who believe you’re a maniac should eventually spew money to you in instances where you always have the goods.

Starting Hand Guidelines

Before we get too much into how to win, snow and strategize in Badugi, let’s take a look at a general guideline for starting hands based on position (this isn’t a rulebook, merely an OK guideline):

Early Position: Since there are more players behind us yet to act, we want to have a better starting range of hands here. We’ll be playing somewhat tight. We recommend playing any hand that has three cards less than six, or if you have a hand that contains two wheel cards such as A, 2, 3 or 4, you can extend that range to a three-card seven or three-card eight Badugi.

Middle Position: We’re going to expand a bit here, but not too much, especially if the players behind us are good and play well in position. We don’t want to be too tight, however, because we’ll become very predictable. Let’s play any three-card Badugi or seven and under (maybe eight depending on skill), and we’ll also open raise with any hand that’s a two-card Badugi if we have a strong wheel card to accompany it.

Late Position: We want to be more aggressive when we’re in late position or on the button, and we can use our position to snow and represent strength if our opponent is terrible or showing weakness. We’ll open raise with any two-card Badugi five or less, any three-card Badugi eight or less, and with low suited hands for blocking/snowing purposes.

Knowing When and When Not to Draw

If you understand basic math, you’ll be able to compute the mathematical odds necessary to draw in Badugi. Similar in scope to No-Limit Hold’em, it’s not in a player’s favor to draw cards on later streets as the odds break down dramatically. To put things in quantifiable terms: If you were drawing to a Jack-high Badugi, if you have three draws remaining you’ll have roughly a 38% chance of making that Badugi. On the second draw you would have a 27% chance, and on the last and final draw you would have a 15% opportunity.

Badugi is an interesting game and because of its novelty you may find beginners frequently drawing one or even multiple cards on later streets hoping to make a Badugi. This strategy is easy to exploit; since you notice that they’re drawing cards repeatedly and it’s obvious that they’re weak, you’ll likely stand pat in an attempt to take the pot away by betting. It’s likely they haven’t made a Badugi, and if they haven’t they’ll be reluctant to continue. These are the types of plays we want to watch for, and the types of players we’ll earn a living from.

Simultaneously, we want to make sure that our opponents aren’t capable of more sophisticated thinking, and possibly could understand that because they’ve shown weakness that we’ll try to take the pot away regardless of our holding and break a weak Badugi. We want to think about our table image, and how best to use that to our advantage against specific types of opponents.

Snowing in More Detail

Likely the most sought after strategy concept in Badugi, knowing when to snow is arguably the toughest idea to master effectively. Because Badugi is a draw game, you’ll gain tons of information about your opponents’ hand strengths by taking note of how many cards they’re drawing and when they’re drawing them.

Because this gives us additional insight on their hand strength, we often want to use their weakness to our advantage.

We’ll attempt to snow – or stand pat/bluff without a Badugi – because we know our opponent has something marginal and it will be much easier for us to pick up the pot if we exude strength and show aggression at that point.

But when do we snow? There are some obvious instances, such as the one described above when our opponent draws multiple cards on a later street. However, there are a few lesser known instances that we’ll also want to take note of.

Snowing when we hold four suited cards pre-draw isn’t a bad idea. Using a bit of meta-game, because we hold many of the cards of one suit, if our opponent is drawing to a Badugi they have very few outs to do so. In an example, if our opponent is drawing to a jack-high Badugi or better in the same suit and discounts the King and Queen, inferring that we also don’t hold either or those cards, they only have four outs to make a Jack-high Badugi or better.

We should also avoid snowing when our opponent has exuded strength after an earlier draw. Especially after the third draw, if we decide to stand pat and our opponent has called a bet, we’re much more likely to be looked up at showdown. If we’ve been snowing often, this gives our villain even more incentive to see what we have. In this case, we may be better off taking another card to try and make a better Badugi.

It’s not that getting caught in a snow is always bad, however if we want to maximize our value we want to be sure we’re not being caught snowing too frequently, or not snowing enough. There’s a tricky balance that the best Badugi players utilize, and we want to attempt to find that magic number depending on player composition and table conditions.

Brief Summary

Badugi is an amazing game, however you want to make sure you completely understand some of the plays involved before you dive right in. Snowing is the most important concept, but understanding draw odds as well as position is crucial to success. In higher stakes games, you’ll have to fully comprehend all of the fundamentals just to stay afloat, and dominating when you’re in position and knowing when to three or even four-bet becomes much more necessary.

In Badugi, players will put you to the test and for those who are skilled it can be very easy to spot a bad player, or someone who has very exploitable tendencies. To avoid this, read up on more Badugi strategy here, and sit down in games where you look to be a favorite.

Good luck, and we hope to see you at the tables!

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