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Poker Strategy: Razz Fundamentals With Randy Ohel

by Steve Schult |  Published: Feb 12, 2020

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The World Series of Poker is the one time of the year where all of poker’s variants are on display at the highest level. Randy Ohel is a regular in the high-stakes mixed game scene, both in tournaments and in cash games.

Ohel has a WSOP bracelet from his victory in the $2,500 2-7 triple draw in 2012, and has cashed in several other variants, including runner-up finishes in the 2018 10,000 2-7 triple draw, the 2016 $10,000 seven card stud hi-lo championship, and the 2014 $10,000 HORSE championship.

The Florida native and Las Vegas resident has more than $2 million in live tournament earnings, almost exclusively in mixed events. Ohel has delved into the coaching realm of poker and is currently taking students to learn non-hold’em games. He can be reached for coaching inquiries on Twitter @RandyOhel.

In an effort to provide readers with a solid fundamental strategy of mixed games, Card Player sat down with Ohel to break down a hand from the $10,000 razz championship.

The Hand

Event-Limits 2019 WSOP $10K Razz 40,000-80,000 with a 10,000 ante
Players Chris Ferguson Dan Zack
Chip Count 560,000 $1,420,000
Hand A-6 / 5-3-J-J / 2 4-3 / 7-3-2-4 / 6

The Action

Five-handed at the final table, Chris Ferguson completed and Dan Zack raised. Ferguson called and both players checked fourth street. On fifth street, Zack bet and Ferguson called. The same action took place on sixth and seventh street.

Steve Schult: Given that the updates don’t list the relative positions to the bring-in, which positions would make sense for a 7 to raise a 5 that completed?

Randy Ohel: It really depends on what you just said. The missing information is really important here actually. How many other low cards are left to act is really important. If there were no other low cards left in the hand and Chris was the second to last low card and Dan was the last low card, then that weakens their range quite a bit as opposed to if they were upfront with a bunch of other low cards behind them.

Also, just flat out how often Chris has a two-card hand simply changes. If there are a couple more low cards, then there is almost no chance that Chris has a two-card hand. And of all people, Chris has fewer two-card hands here than most people just because he is a particularly tight player. Even so, I can’t really speculate on that with the information that is missing.

SS: How much strength does the lower card have? If Chris was showing a 2 instead of a 5, would that change Dan’s decision about whether or not to raise with a 7?

RO: No. A 2 and a 5 are functionally the same. All reasonably good hands run close in equity on third street in razz. Those equities depend a lot on the other cards out and how dead your hand is and stuff like that. Hands are just really close together when they are of reasonable strength.

An ace, 5, 6, it’s whatever. A 7 is marginally weaker than a wheel card, but not really. A three-card 7 is a really good hand. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a three-card seven. If these are in steal position, there are a lot of weaker hands. That last to act versus second to last act, Dan could be playing a two-bet or fold strategy.

There’s a lot of stuff that could be going on here. Having a 7 against a 5 doesn’t mean it’s a three-card seven against a wheel draw or something like that. And the 7 isn’t behind the 5. In general, good hands just run really close in equity against one another.

SS: If these two hands were under the gun and under the gun +1, and there were other low cards behind them, what would be the point of two-betting a complete if the hands run so close?

RO: I wouldn’t expect Dan to do a lot of two-betting in that spot, particularly against Chris Ferguson.

SS: So then it’s likely that this was taking place in a steal spot.

RO: It seems likely. And with five left, everything is a little bit weakened five-handed as opposed to a full table of eight.

SS: If Ferguson was on a complete steal with two paint cards in the hole, would he even try and steal in this spot?

RO: He would never have a one-card hand in this spot. He would just fold.

SS: What if he was the last low card to act before the bring-in?

RO: Always. If you have a good card against just high cards left, you can complete completely dark. And your opponent will know that you have a range of any two and that creates some fun spots.

SS: In razz, it seems like you are handcuffed by your board most of the time. How much creativity do you really have in this game?

RO: You are mostly handcuffed by your board. I wouldn’t use the word creativity. There is more room for artistry in stud high than there is in razz because you make weird two pairs that are unexpected.

One of the things about razz that is different than any other poker game is existence is that everyone knows that a high card is a bad card. But when someone catches a low card, it is a completely binary situation where that card was either really good for you or really bad for you. There is no in between and there is no hiding it.

Paint is always bad and a low card is sometimes good and sometimes pairs you. It is a totally binary situation and completely known to everyone. You can’t just catch a jack and pretend that made your hand.

SS: They both check fourth street. What does that tell us about their hands and why?

RO: A lot of people will do a lot of checking in that spot to keep the pot a little bit small. Chris is checking because Dan showed initiative on the previous street. Dan is checking probably because Chris has two wheel cards and plays pretty tight ranges. And we will get to make more decisions later. Let’s see how fifth street comes before we do anything crazy.

SS: So this doesn’t mean that Dan automatically paired his 3.

RO: No. Dan is a good player. He’s not just going to telegraph when he pairs and when he doesn’t. The binary nature of the game means that if you can know just a little bit more often than everybody else when your opponent pairs, you are going to make a lot of money.

That is why, believe it or not, Phil Hellmuth is extremely good at razz. It’s not because he has been in the lab. He’s really good at reading people’s faces and when those low cards come, he knows more than anyone else when it pairs you. That skill is more apparent in razz than in any form of poker other than razz in my opinion.

There are other ways to do that other than ‘white magic.’ Understanding the combinatorics of what cards you’ve seen, how likely your opponent might be to pair. Someone who is better at that than someone else is going to have an edge over that person.

Not everybody agrees with me about Phil though. That is a strong opinion that I have.

SS: On fifth street, Ferguson catches a jack and his board is much worse than Dan’s board at this point. On fifth, with the board advantage and the bigger bet, this is just an automatic bet for Dan, right?

RO: Oh yeah. Auto-bet.

SS: Chris calls and on sixth he catches another jack and Dan’s board is four to a seven. At this point, is it just auto-bet for the final two streets and force Ferguson into making a hand?

RO: No. It’s obviously an auto-bet on sixth street, but what to do on the river depends on what you think your opponent’s call on sixth means and what their impression of you is. Even if you have a wheel draw. If your opponent knows that you have a seven, they are supposed to fold. You just don’t have enough equity to call there.

So what it should mean is that there is enough doubt in your mind as to whether or not your opponent has what they are representing. If Chris has A-6 in the hole or something like that. Cards that are different from the cards that Dan has, then it increases the likelihood of Dan having paired at least once. He is going to use that as a judgment as to whether or not to continue.

If Chris makes a fold against two pair, it’s a horrible fold. You’re very often going to bet the river in that spot, but it’s not automatic. Let’s say you had a pair with an eight, that is a really good spot to check. At the same time,

if you have a six or better, you should definitely mix in some check-raises on the river as well. It’s definitely not an automatic bet on the river. You should check with some showdown value and some of your stronger hands should go for a check-raise. More than half of the time, you are going to be betting the river.

SS: How would sixth street change if Ferguson hit a wheel card? Let’s say Ferguson went 5-3-J-2 instead of 5-3-J-J.

RO: At that point, depending on Dan’s hand, he’ll mix in the combination of all possible plays. He’ll mix in some betting and check-raising and check-calling. And not just the strength of his hand, but the blocker situation with regards to Chris’ hand. He’ll kind of be mixing in everything there.

SS: On the river, Dan bets and Chris calls. Ferguson made a 6-5 low on the river and Dan showed a 7-6. Is just calling with the third nuts standard in this spot?

RO: I think that it’s a spot where in this late stage final table tournament situation, you are more inclined to play it safe there on the river, whereas in a cash game, you might go for some value depending on your opponent. The more bluffy you are as a player, the more likely you need to go for that raise on the river.

Chris Ferguson, on the other hand, should be less inclined to go for that raise on the river, because he’s Chris Ferguson and because of his image. It has a lot to do with his image there and how likely you are to get paid off by a 7. If you’re not getting paid off by a seven, then the hands that you are up against are ones that beat you.

And of course, if you get three-bet, it’s a stone nightmare. The best that you’re risking is much more important in a tournament situation than it is in a cash game. Because chips lost are worth more than chips won, if you know you are exactly even money to either win an extra bet or lose an extra bet, you’re not supposed to gamble.

You need to be a decent-sized favorite for the last bet in order to make it correct to gamble in that way. It’s important in tournaments.

In a cash game, if you could somehow know if you were 51% to win an extra bet, you would go for it. But in a tournament, you would be very wrong to go for it.

SS: You play a lot of high-stakes mixed games. Is razz that commonly spread in the mix games you play?

RO: We play 2-7 razz every day. Certainly at higher stakes, 2-7 razz is a lot more popular than regular razz. Every game in Vegas $80-$160 and above has 2-7 razz in it.