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Keepin' it Razz!

Since the Razz Skillz Game, I've been thinking about the nature of Razz. I used to play a lot more, generally the limit cash games at Full Tilt. For a while, I'd play $8/16, until I realized that I was playing way above my bankroll. When I first started playing at that level, I simply played it because I felt like I had an edge. I'm a relatively smart guy, I played a relatively tight game, and there were always a few people at the table who played relatively HORRIBLY. It was a boon at first, but after a brick-heavy session netted me a $300+ loss in one session, I had to curb the stakes due to the reality that my roll couldn't handle the swings.

After a while, I just sorta abandoned Razz, mostly because the players were catching up and the UIGEA saw me withdraw most of my online bankroll. Playing in the Skillz Game and reading the compendium blog, Brickin the Nutz, though, has got me thinking about the game again, and while I doubt I will be playing it with any regularity, there is one topic that is at the forefront of my mind.

Razz is not a tournament game. Plain and simple. NLHE is a tournament game. PLO is a tournament game. The limit variations of either of those games are decent tournament games. But Razz just doesn't work the same way.

Without a doubt, Razz takes less skill the Stud Hi or Stud Hi/Lo. In both of those games, players can gain an advantage by remembering the cards that were already dealt out. Not only must players remember cards of all ranks, but they also must remember suit, since flushes are in play. In Razz, all you need to remember is the low cards. For a very skilled Razz player, this means remembering how many As, 2s, 8s are out. There is no need to discern between the Ace of Spades and the Ace of Hearts because flushes do not matter. There is no need to discern between Kings and Jacks because those are usually irrelevant at showdown (if Kings play, then you have a very interesting game going). So, the amount of memory and edge attainable through paying attention is significantly reduced.

So, immediately, we can agree that Razz requires less memorization and concentration than do some of the other Stud variants. Likewise, the tells one can pick out from betting patterns are greatly reduced from any NL or PL game. That is pure logic. If you cannot vary your bet sizing, then there is less ability to discern what a bet means.

So far, we've established that (a) there is less edge for players with good memory in Razz, and (b) there is less edge for players who rely on tells.

Really, all you can do in Razz (at this level of play) is pick up on who knows how to play (i.e., tighter players who play 8 or lower starting hands...and sometimes 7 or lower only), and who doesn't know how to play. After that, you can get a basic idea about your opponents and play accordingly. In contrast, there is a lot more you can tell about someone in a NL or PL game. For instance, in Razz, a player might bet each opportunity when they are in a hand. This means they are either loose or only play premium hands to start. You may reach showdown and get a feel for this player, but you won't get too much in the way of details, especially since FT and Stars mixes up the hole cards at showdown. In contrast, if a player bets every step of the way in a NL or PL game, you will get more information based on bet sizing. Beyond knowledge in a particular hand, you will learn that a certain player likes to push all-in (push monkey) or bets small (small pot poker). In either instance, you are learning some important details about the player, details that are unavailable generally in Razz.

With little with which to form reads other than Razz donkey vs. Razz player (with some room for Razz pro, I suppose), the majority of decisions are going to be based on the cards themselves.The cards themselves is little more than luck. If you constantly brick, you will lose, regardless of your amazing skills, because most of your bricks are face-up. Everyone can see that you keep getting Royalty or that your board paired. You may be able to exploit situations where your board pairs with your hole cards, but that is the only deception in that sort of situation (i.e., when you hit tons of bricks). In NLHE, though, the cards independent to you are all face-down. You can use that lack of information to your advantage in a lot more ways than you can use those 2 face-down cards at the start of a Razz hand.

It seems like I am slamming Razz, since I personally believe that it is very luck-based. But that isn't necessarily the truth. I do believe that Razz is highly luck-dependent, moreso than some of the aforementioned games, but it can be a very profitable game to play in a cash format. Simply put, if you play smart, luck will even out and you will make some money. It may take a while, and I guarantee that Razz is a high variance game, but you can make money playing Razz. Unfortunately, I just don't think that this translates to tournaments.

Why doesn't the luck-heavy Razz translate to tournament play? The answer is in escalating blinds. Each individual Razz tournament is just too dependent on luck. Collectively, you might be able to argue that it will eventually even out; but unlike the Razz cash games, it may take a lot longer, since the you don't just need to get lucky to turn around a bad run of Razz tourneys; you have to get lucky at the end of the tournaments without getting too unlucky in the early goings.

Usually, by the end of these tournaments, each player is playing fairly shortstacked. At this point, it really becomes a push fest, since players become committed to playing the whole way after a few bets. In other words, the ends of these tournaments are really just luck playing itself out. You don't control your fate in Razz the same way you do in other games because those X Factors, like reads on opponents, bluffs, information gathering during hands, is significantly reduced.

This is all spur of the moment theory, but I do have to add one caveat. Advanced players may have more advantages in a Razz tournament than was mentioned here. However, I would argue that even the guys at Brickin the Nutz have only scratched the surface of Razz. In fact, I don't think any poker blogger that I am aware of could profess to be a Razz pro. So, perhaps there is some higher level thinking that comes with playing Razz for years in a variety of settings. I speak only about online Razz and specifically about online Razz tournaments.


Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 2:51 PM,


At 4:14 PM, Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

I think most of your points are correct. I think the skill in Razz (like any poker) is knowing when to let your hand go. being patient. Waiting for good cards. Knowing what your opponent will do when you complete on him.

The skill level is so bad at anything 5/10 and below that you actually get a huge edge not based on luck but based on being better than your opponents.

I also agree that the Brickin' the Nuts guys are no where close to pro's.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Just for the sake of clarification:

1. I do think that Razz cash is a great game. I just don't think it translates to tournaments well.

2. I admire what Brickin the Nutz is doing. I use them as an example of non-pros only because they clearly are bloggers who think deeply about the game. The point isn't that they are not pros. The point is that even the BtN guys are not pros, so none of us playing the Skillz series likely are.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger The Poker Enthusiast said...

Wait...we're not pros?

Great post by the way. I agree with much of what you wrote. The real idea is playing a game that you can use your skills to exploit upon the other players at the table.

I think in the case of tourneys there is a large amount of varience involved when you include the betting structure. You need to catch some timely cards to get deep. I also think that a Razz tourney player can be profitable by playing a sound game.

Cash games are where the real money is at over all. It is amazing to see how many of these players continue to drop money by playing the way they do. Anyway, great post.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger surflexus said...

The problem with most of the online Razz tournaments is improper structure. The bets escalate way too fast for the game being played and it becomes a wait for great starting cards and shove match.
The writers at BrickintheNutz are intentionally not great Razz players. We were each selected because of being at various stages of learning the game. The blog is designed as a learning tool for us as well as the readers.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger StB said...

I think you miss one great aspect of Razz. Playing your opponent's hand. Seeing that they have crap and knowing you can bet them out of the pot.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

True, StB. I missed that aspect. It is part of the overall idea of luck, though. The only way you can exploit the boards is if you get lucky and your board looks better than their board. So once again, while that takes some modicum of skill, I think most players recognize this concept early on and utilitize it. Plus, it is still entirely dependent on the luck of the draw, so to speak.

In comparison, you may be able to exploit scare cards or scary boards in NLHE (for instance), but its a much trickier skill, since you share those community cards with your opponent. In Razz, however, you each have your own board, so bluffing based on the comparison of the two boards is a lot more obvious/easy if conditions are right (i.e., you get lucky on your board).

At 12:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article is obviously written by someone who just doesn't have the proper skills to beat razz. my ITM % in razz tourneys is 30% over a large sample size. I don't see many players do that in NL Holdem.

Also you point out that at the end of a tourney it turns in to a crapshoot with everybody going allin. Wel isn't that the case in all mtt's with a bad structure?

Omaha would be much more a luck based game in mtt's since almost no preflop hand is that much a favourite that it basicly is a coinflip every hand when the blinds go mad.

I agree that I make most money out of the total donks that play garbage, but isn't that the case in all forms of poker? I still see people call allins with AQ after an utg raise, a reraise and a rereraise allin isn't that just as bad as playing A79 in razz? If everyone plays just as perfect as you you won't be able to win in any game. Since there's a huge amount of razz fish it actually is the most profitable game around if ou ask me.

PS: nowadays I play razz cashgames from 10/20 to 50/100. I can make a good living out of it eventough I sometimes have to sit for hours until some kind of action is there.


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