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Poker Strategy Badugi Fundamentals With Randy Ohel

by Steve Schult |  Published: Mar 25, 2020


WSOP Bracelet Winner Randy OhelThe World Series of Poker is the one time of the year where all of poker’s variants, not just no-limit hold’em, are on display at the highest level. Randy Ohel is a fixture in those other games. He is a successful 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 found 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 badugi hand from the $2,500 mixed triple draw event from the 2019 World Series of Poker.

For those that may not be familiar with the rules of the game, badugi is a limit triple draw game where each player is dealt four cards and the goal is to make the lowest hand with four different suits. 4-3-2-A with four different suits is considered the nuts in this game.

If neither player makes a badugi by the end of the hand, the best three-card hand will take the pot. For example, a 4-2-A with three different suits would beat 4-3-2 with three different suits, but both hands would lose to K-Q-7-3 with four different suits.

The Hand

Three-handed at the final table, Sumir Mathur raised on the button, Dan Zack called out of the small blind, and Braden Gazlay defended his big blind. Zack and Gazlay each took two and Mathur stood pat. After the first draw, Zack checked, Gazlay checked, Mathur bet, Zack called and Gazlay folded.

Zack took one card and Mathur stood pat. After the second draw, Zack checked, Mathur bet and Zack check-raised. Mathur called. On the final draw, Zack stood pat and Mathur stood pat behind. Zack bet, Mathur called, and Zack won the pot with a 9-4-2-A.

Steve Schult: Both blinds call and draw two cards. What are considered good two-card draws? Are you only playing wheel cards at this point?

Randy Ohel: Dan will only have wheel cards and it should only be the smoother portion of the wheel cards. He’s not calling with like 4-3 and 4-2. He should probably have maybe the smoothest half of wheel cards and the big blind will have some two-card fives because he is closing the action and getting a better price.

SS: Sumir will have pretty much any badugi at this point?

RO: Yeah, when you are opening the button, you can open any badugi. He will open any badugi as well as some snows.

SS: After the first draw, action checks to Sumir on the button, who bets, and only Dan calls. He takes one. Are you ever going to continue after the first draw if you don’t improve and need to draw two again?

RO: Against a pat hand, you pretty much want to have improved to continue. You’re just going to be in a lot of bad spots on the turn where you either have to fold some equity or call with low equity because you’re getting a good price. Neither of those spots are that great.

And it’s really hard to go from two to pat, so usually if you improve, you’re going two to one. And then when you’re drawing one, you’re still not in an amazing spot on the turn. For that reason, you need to have improved right away.

SS: How would that change if the button wasn’t pat after the first draw. If it just went two-two-two after the first draw, can you proceed unimproved?

RO: Then you’re never folding for one bet. Only against pat hands are you folding the flop for one bet.

SS: After the second draw, when Dan check-raises. Just from a theory standpoint, he has to bluff some portion of the time. What kind of hands would Dan be snowing?

RO: Dan should be snowing here with the weaker portion of his range that has got to this point that has also caught some suited cards. You’re never snowing with the stronger portion of your range. And then with the weaker portion of your range, you’re only snowing some percentage of the time.

He’s risking two bets to win five bets. It has to work pretty often immediately here, so he shouldn’t be doing it a ton. And then counting the river, you’re going to have to risk three to win six. It’s an expensive proposition. It’s not easy to improve to beat a badugi. It’s just not easy to beat one. So sometimes you have to pretend you did.

SS: What is the weakest portion of his range?

RO: Three-card eights are the weakest portion of his range.

SS: What if he had A-2-5 and then got a suited 3 or something like that?

RO: It’s always this thing that any hand in the moment can maybe be bluffed and maybe work, but you need to not do it too much because people will stop folding to you. And the best way to do that within yourself is to do it at times when it will be most profitable and the times when it would have been most profitable are when a.) your draw is the least profitable and b.) you’ve seen extra cards that block his strong hands. The small suited card matters more when you’re not facing a pat hand, but it is still kind of a decent way to keep yourself in line.

SS: Sumir calls the check-raise and then stands pat. How strong of a badugi does he have to not break it heading into the final draw?

RO: Breaking should be very rare here because Dan’s median badugi that he is raising with is so strong. You can’t pick up too much equity by breaking. If you want to not show it down, you should be folding.

SS: I remember when we talked about 2-7 triple draw, you talked about convertible hands. They were hands where you could have a strong pat hand against a drawing hand or break it and draw to something strong against a pat hand. Something like 10-7-6-4-2 comes to mind. Are there convertible badugis?

RO: Badugi is a very different game in that sense.

SS: If you had a K-4 badugi, you wouldn’t just break the king and draw to a wheel.

RO: If you had a K-4 badugi, you would have made a tremendous mistake by patting it to begin with.

SS: You should break that from the start?

RO: Yes. It’s not even close.

SS: To bring it back to the first draw, what makes some badugis breakable and others not?

RO: Smoothness underneath and badness up top. Like K-3-2-A is the ultimate break hand. There are a couple spots where badugis are somewhat convertible. When you realize that the other guy is pat, then you might switch to a three-card hand.

Let’s say you open Q-8-4-3 badugi from the cutoff and the small blind three-bets you and pats or something like that. You could pat it once and then break it or you could break it right away. Those do exist, but they are in different circumstances and they are earlier in the hand. So, with a K-3-2-A, you would just break it right away. You wouldn’t think of that hand as a convertible.

There is much less breaking in badugi than there is in regular triple draw because it’s just so hard to win when you are behind, particularly to beat a pat hand.

SS: That makes sense since there are fewer cards to catch. You need a specific suit and rank as opposed to just a rank.

RO: You might have like five outs a lot of the time. Whereas in 2-7 triple draw, you might have 12 outs or more.

SS: After Sumir calls the check-raise and stands pat behind Dan, is Dan going to continue with his bluffs or is he going to just give up?

RO: He should almost always bet the river when he’s bluffing. At this point, he’s getting a better price on his bluff.

SS: After the third draw, Dan bets, gets called, and wins with a 9-4-3-2. Is this near the bottom of his check-raising range after the second draw? What are his value hands that he would check-raise?

RO: The bottom is probably a good jack. And those hands might check the end. So maybe the bottom is a 10-8 or something like that. A 9-4 against a pat hand is going to be a big favorite there. The 76th percentile of badugis is somewhere in the nines.

SS: You said it’s a big favorite against a pat hand. Would it not be a favorite against a hand that was drawing to get there?

RO: The route at which a badugi is acquired dramatically impacts the median badugi that someone will have in that spot. The median among all badugi is somewhere in the jacks. But the median badugi going from one to pat is going to be something like an 8.

A one to pat is the strongest badugi. Two to pat is weaker. And pat from the go is much weaker. It’s kind of simple. When you go two to pat, you could catch a Q and a 10 and you’re pat. And that combination doesn’t exist when you go one to pat because you wouldn’t have ever kept one of those cards.

The most extreme example is that K-Q-J-10 badugi does not exist within a range that drew cards because you never would have kept any of those cards. You can only get dealt those cards to end up with that hand. ♠