When asked to reveal the optimal strategy for the game of online Badugi, I could opt for the easy way out and simply say that it all depends on the situation, but while that may be true I’d only be telling half of the story. In reality, playing an airtight game of Badugi with the fewest leaks you can manage is a matter of combining mathematical memorization with basic poker sense. With Badugi being a variant of triple-draw lowball poker, the actual play is bound by certain statistical certainties, and until you have cracked open the Badugi book of hand ranking tables and drawing odds charts. Studying the mathematical underpinnings of Badugi will reveal crucial secrets, such as the fact that of 270,275 possible starting hands you can receive, only 17,160 can be natural four-card badugis. Or that getting dealt a badugi seven-high or better is the equivalent of waking up with pocket aces in Hold’em, as you will receive each hand only about 0.45% if the time. Having these bits of Badugi knowledge stored securely in your memory banks is the best way to start adopting the best strategy for the game.
One of the most neglected tenets of optimal Badugi strategy for online poker rooms is the beauty of simplicity. In other words, while games like Hold’em or Omaha reward creatively managed betting patterns and avant-garde plays at the pot, Badugi is a limit draw game predicated on betting and raising frequently when you have the best of it. To this end, it is important to remember that being dealt a four-card Badugi is a statistical improbability, so your opponents will usually be drawing to just make a hand in most pots. The relative value of tri-hands, or three-card badugis, is typically overlooked by newcomers to the game who mistakenly believe they need to make a four-card hand to hold up in a showdown. When you understand that a marginal tri-hand is still better than every one of your opponent’s missed draws, and can still force most high four-card badugis into the muck by standing pat and betting, your edge against the average online Badugi player increases tremendously.
Like all forms of poker, beating the game of Badugi requires a combination of data management and instinctual feel. The ability to fool your opponent into laying down the best hand can become your most potent weapon in a Badugi game, but first you need to identify who can be most easily deceived. Just like so many Hold’em players refuse to play certain commonly dealt hands, from baby aces on the button to low pocket pairs under the gun, Badugi players can generally be separated by their tendency to fold the marginal king-high and queen-high badugis. Now, hopefully during your study sessions reviewing Badugi percentages you discovered this striking fact: More than half of the four-card badugis you can be dealt will be of the king-high or queen-high variety. When you are aware of this statistical outlier you can easily develop an advanced strategy which hinges on your opponents’ recognition of the same fact. For those players known to release their king and queen badugis at the first sign of pressure, you can incorporate “snowing,” or bluffing by standing pat and betting aggressively, into your bag of Badugi tricks. Against the pesky player who chooses to hold onto their weak four-card badugis hoping to improve, you can manage the pot to minimize losses when you miss and maximize profits when you hit your hand.
Forming the best Badugi strategy for your individual game should be based on harnessing your strengths while limiting your weaknesses. If you’ve been humbled in Hold’em getting caught on bluffs, perhaps your poker face needs improvement and going for the “snow” with rags is a bad idea. Conversely, if you have always been the table bully in other games by betting big and betting often, you will probably have similar success “snowing” the Badugi opposition into submission. The elements of controlling the pot, so vital to success in limit Hold’em, are transferrable to Badugi because the majority of hands will be best over second-best scenarios. If you always seemed to lose that extra bet drawing to a flush in Hold’em, you can be sure that the same leak will sink your Badugi game as well. Knowing that you want to improve your Badugi strategy is the first step to becoming a winning player, but recognizing what areas of your game need improvement is the next step. By staying honest with yourself and analyzing wins and losses with equal scrutiny, the best parts of Badugi strategy will eventually become second nature.