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For two dozen years, I have been part of a company of poker players known as ARGers. The origin of this group involves some internet friends from the old newsgroup rec.gambling.poker getting together in Vegas to play some poker. Later they decided to make it an annual get-together and called it BARGE (Big August Rec.Gambling Excursion). All these years later, we still gather for BARGE, and have other gatherings around the country. You should look into this group if your goal is to play your best, but having fun is even more important.
At the BARGE event last summer, Kevin Un and some others BARGErs developed a new form of razz. If you know razz, it is one of the least popular variants of poker. One thing players dislike is that when you are the bring-in (the player who is forced to make the first bet on third street because they were dealt the highest ranking upcard), this forced bet is essentially dead money. Meaning somebody is almost always going to complete the bet, and you are almost always correct to fold.
When you are the bring-in in other forms of stud, especially stud hi-lo, there is a chance you have a very playable hand, and possibly even an extremely strong starting hand. In razz, this is almost never the case. Kevin made it his goal to figure out how to change this aspect of razz, and he succeeded in spades!
In this new variant, action razz, the game is played almost exactly like traditional razz. The highest upcard on third street is the bring-in. Other players can call the bring-in, or complete it to a full bet. The game has the typical limit betting structure of all stud games.
The only difference is when ranking your hand at showdown.
In traditional razz, you select five cards from the seven you were dealt that make the lowest ranking poker hand possible. For example, if your seven cards are A A A 2 3 4 7, your lowest ranking hand is to exclude two of the aces, and play the 7-4-3-2-A for low. If nobody else has a lower ranking hand, you win.
In action razz it is mostly the same, with one caveat. Before we select your five cards that make you the lowest possible hand, we look to see which of the players at showdown has a “qualifying” hand. In order to make a qualifying hand, at least one of your seven cards must be a paint card. That is, one of them must be a king, queen, or jack.
If nobody at showdown qualifies, that is, none of them has a paint card, then we use the traditional razz showdown rules to determine who wins. If everybody at showdown qualifies, all of them have a paint card, then we use the traditional razz showdown rules to determine who wins. If some player(s) qualify, and other player(s) do not qualify, then all players who did not qualify are excluded from showdown, and cannot win. We then look at the hands of those players who did qualify, and whomever makes the lowest ranking hand using any five of their seven cards, is the winner. You do NOT have to use a paint card as part of your winning hand.
Which Of These Hands Wins In Action Razz?
1) A 2 3 4 5 6 7
2) 3 5 7 8 9 9 K
3) A 2 4 6 6 10 J
4) Q Q Q Q J J J
If it is just hands no. one and no. four at showdown, hand no. four wins! Even though this is a horrible low hand (jacks full of queens), it is a qualifying hand. Since the first hand is not qualifying, it loses at showdown to any qualifying hand. Even though hand no. one has the nut low of A-2-3-4-5, it loses to any of the other three hands at showdown, as they all qualify, and it does not.
If it is just hands no. two and no. three at showdown, hand no. two wins. Both hands qualify. Hand no. two has 3-5-7-8-9 for showdown, and hand no. three has A-2-4-6-10. Nine-high is lower than ten-high, so hand no. two wins. The fact that hand no. two qualified using a king, and hand no. three qualified using a jack, does not matter. Once a hand qualifies, it then gets to select its five best cards for showdown purposes.
Now, suddenly, being the bring-in can be a good thing. Especially if you are the bring-in with a jack as your upcard. When somebody else with a low card showing completes, unless they also have a paint card underneath, you might be the favorite to win. About one-third of the time, they will fail to catch a paint card entirely, and you win all those times. When they do catch a paint card, you can still win if you manage to make the lowest five-card hand. And if you have two very low cards underneath, you probably have the best starting hand.
Overall, this variation creates a fun new dynamic to the game of razz. It also adds some new strategy considerations. If you get to the river heads-up, and you have a qualifying hand, you are correct to call down the opponent if they aren’t showing a paint card, no matter how bad your hand is. How fun is that, calling somebody down with king-high for your low, or even a pair for low, and beating their wheel because they failed to qualify?
If you play a home game, or any place that will allow you to try this game, I highly recommend it. Here’s to hoping this game catches on, and becomes a staple of mixed-game lovers everywhere. Maybe this could even become a bracelet event someday? How awesome would that be to win the first action razz bracelet a few years from now? Sweet!
Have fun, and Play Smart! ♠
Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.