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Badugi: Playing Dealt Pat Hands

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Mar 25, 2020

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The object of badugi is to obtain four different ranks with all different suits. A hand such as 7Diamond Suit 4Club Suit 3Heart Suit 2Spade Suit is called a badugi and is not as easy to make as it may seem. When we draw one card to the 2Spade Suit 3Heart Suit 4Club Suit there are only ten non pairing diamonds available that will complete our hand.

So when the poker gods choose to bless us with a badugi right from the onset, is this a truly a gift, or possibly a curse in disguise? The answer is that it all depends, and in this article we will examine various issues to consider when playing initially dealt pat hands.

Distribution of Dealt Badugis

As discussed last issue, we are dealt a pat badugi around 6.3 percent of the time, which is approximately the same frequency of getting a pocket pair in hold’em. The majority of these badugis will be quite marginal. In fact, more than 50 percent of dealt badugis will either be a queen or king:

Only 10 percent of our pat badugis or .62 percent of our overall hands will be an eight or better. For comparison purposes we are dealt pocket aces in hold’em around .45 percent of the time, thus being dealt a premium badugi is only slightly more likely than getting bullets. Pat nines and better only come around 1.11 percent of the deals.

The following pie chart visually demonstrates just how top heavy this initial pat badugi distribution is.

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Over 80 percent of the pat badugis are ten and greater, and while a ten is towards the top of the range and a solid holding, it is far from impenetrable. If you recall from the last issue, whenever a three-card badugi improves, their average holding will be an eight or nine badugi, which obviously has the ten beat. Playing weaker badugis creates some obvious playability concerns in that we can’t always fold when faced with aggression. However, we will often be second-best when we get raised.

Anytime we choose to play a pat hand we are essentially forced to raise or reraise the pre-draw betting otherwise it will be quite transparent our holding is not that strong. Of course, it is a problem that the initial pat distribution is relatively weak to begin with but we are highly incentivized to limit the field and avoid making it crystal clear our holding is probably on the weaker side of the spectrum.

Playing Weak Badugis From Early Position

Suppose we are playing a six-handed game and look down at the QHeart Suit 10Club Suit 8Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit and raise from first position. Is this a good open? Let’s breakdown several different things that can happen on the first betting round and discuss the ramifications.

Good Outcomes

We open the QHeart Suit 10Club Suit 8Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit and everyone folds. This will not occur very often, however, it’s certainly a good result to take the blinds and move onto the next hand.

Another good outcome is picking up a single caller who is drawing two cards (D2) to a hand such as ADiamond Suit 3Spade Suit. Our queen badugi has around 70 percent “hot/cold” equity against D2s; however, in reality the pat hand will win more often than this. The reason is that the D2 must improve in order to stay in the pot; if villain does not fold unimproved, they will often do so on the next draw.

Another decent outcome is that we raise and the action folds around to the big blind who calls and draws one (D1). This situation is pretty good because we have around 58 percent equity along with the positional advantage.

When out-of-position most opponents will play in a more straightforward manner and only check-raise when they have us beat. Acting last on the river is important because we can just check back and hope that we win. This allows us to save a big bet the times villain improves to a hand that beats us but chooses not to lead the river. If the positions were reversed, we would have to reveal some weakness by checking, enabling our opponent to get in a value bet with his more marginal but better holdings.

Also, since your opponent called from the big blind, the pot is quite small and his draw may be very mediocre. This means that if he is a player capable of folding, he is much more likely to do so. Some opponents always call and chase though regardless of the strength of their three-card badugi.

Neutral Or Slightly Negative Outcome

When an opponent with position reraises us with a holding such as AHeart Suit 3Spade Suit 5Club Suit and we take the pot heads-up it is at best a neutral situation. Given this action, we should have four-bet the action and once again have around 58 percent “hot/cold” equity. This 58 percent showdown equity assumes that our opponent will not pat a queen or king badugi after the first or second draw and this is usually the case. If our opponent will pat a queen badugi our equity drops to 55 percent.

While this seems like a good result it’s actually not that great because the AHeart Suit 3Spade Suit 5Club Suit has clear playing advantages against us. Along the way, whether he makes his hand or not, he can put in a raise in an attempt to get us to fold or possibly break. Of course, with our particular holding we have nothing to draw to, so we would never break and only consider folding. However, there are other holdings in our range where we may consider it.

This presents some obvious problems with our weak holding, especially the times we are up against an aggressive player. Getting raised on the flop is an awful feeling as the pot is bloated and we are all but forced to call at least that street. Our pot odds are incredible and folding can be easily exploitable given that villain is only risking one big bet to win the 5.25 big bets in the middle. And even if it is a move that doesn’t work out, the AHeart Suit 3Spade Suit 5Club Suit typically has around 25-30 percent equity.

Getting popped on the second draw doesn’t feel a lot better, however, as a percentage of the pot the semi-bluff costs more and should it fail, the villain has less equity to fall back on. In general, more people play straightforward on the big bet street, but some players can never be trusted.

All in all, given that we are pretty much at the bottom of our range we are most often forced to fold to a ‘turn’ raise, however, this is a tough situation to deal with especially against aggressive players. We did open from first position, thus our badugi should be getting some modicum of respect, however, our opponent is telling us he doesn’t care.

Another positional advantage afforded to the villain is that when he makes his hand on the last draw, he can get in a value bet (that we should mostly pay off), however, we cannot effectively value bet the river.

Villain may be an equity underdog but is more than likely the money favorite. Our weak badugi has reverse implied odds while our opponent has implied odds and position. This outcome can only really be considered slightly positive or neutral if we are up against a player who plays completely straightforward thus allowing us to make safe folds. However, these opponents are somewhat rare.

Bad Situations

A pot contested by more than one D1 is a precarious situation. Against two opponents our equity situation varies around 27-36 percent depending on whether or not the D1s have some of their outs blocked off. From a raw “hot/cold” perspective this isn’t that bad, however, overall our situation is terrible.

The pot is getting large and we have two opponents getting implied odds which can present some really ugly spots later in the hand. One such example is when you lead out after the first draw, get raised, and the other D1 cold-calls. It will require quite a parlay for your hand to still be currently good and hold up over the course of two draws.

However, the pot is already very large thus many players in this situation will re-raise because they don’t want to indicate weakness in case the one player is making a move and they may also harbor hope of getting a better badugi to break. All of this usually results in a bunch of big bets sent down a black hole with a hand we could have easily just mucked pre-draw.

Disaster Situation

The disaster situation entails running into a better badugi and getting reraised. As previously discussed, we are essentially forced to four-bet as the villain could be three-betting a strong tri hand and we cannot afford to indicate that we hold a weak badugi. We will then quickly get the bad news that our hand is usually no good when villain five-bets or just calls and stays pat. It’s within the realm of possibility that villain has a worse badugi; however, this is essentially never the case when up against a good player.

Thus, a ton of bets are going in on the first betting round and most of the time we have zero equity in the pot. It may be possible to get your opponent off a jack badugi and get him to break if he has a smooth draw underneath, however, most often our best play is to simply cut our losses and fold.

Solid players will usually only r-raise with a jack or better badugi and with five players left to act, the probability of bumping into such a hand is approximately 13.7 percent. The following chart estimates how often various pat badugis are out based upon the various positions at the table.

Having this calamitous scenario unfold around 13.7 percent of the time is a bit too high as it doesn’t get any worse in poker than putting in a ton of action and quickly finding out you are essentially drawing dead.

Concluding Thoughts

If you take an overall view of the discussion above the good outcomes were only the times we won the pot uncontested, or played a small pot versus one opponent in the blinds with very little in the way of dead money. When the biggest pots occur, we are most often on the losing end as any raises later on in the hand on our end are probably best characterized as spew.

Many players will play any badugi from early position and this is a sizeable leak. Others may even cold-cap a hand such as the QHeart Suit 10Club Suit 8Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit against two other opponents originating from early positions and this type of play is catastrophic to one’s bankroll. If you see an opponent playing like this the game will often evolve into a battle to get their money as it probably won’t last that long.

From the cutoff and later, opening the QHeart Suit 10Club Suit 8Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit is acceptable because it’s far more likely we will win uncontested or play a heads-up pot in position against a weaker holding. And the chances of running into a better badugi or getting involved in a multi-way pot against a pair of one-card draws are greatly reduced.

Badugi is a very unique game in that the object of the game is to make a badugi but unless we get dealt a premium pat right away many of these holdings and situations are money losers. The real bread and butter starting hands in badugi are the strong three-card badugis which will be discussed in the next installment. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary of MetLife but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. He is co-owner of Elite Fitness Club in Oceanport, NJ and is a certified personal trainer. With regards to poker he got his start way back in 2003 and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. His new mixed-games website Counting Outs is a great starting resource for a plethora of games ranging from the traditional to the exotic. He can be reached at haneyk612@gmail.com.