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Badugi: Playing Against A Raise

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Sep 09, 2020

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As in all poker games, we must tighten up when another player has opened for a raise before it is our turn to act. There are two main questions to answer, how much should we tighten up, and should we tend to incorporate a three-bet only strategy, or is cold-calling acceptable?

Let’s tackle the second question first as the answer will impact the overall range of holdings that will continue against an open. In general, cold-calling can be problematic in Badugi for a couple of reasons.

With the vast majority of our pat hands we are highly incentivized to limit the field and slow playing rare monsters doesn’t make sense because if your opponent is drawing they will simply check to you. In addition, smooth calling mediocre three-card badugis will make your holding somewhat transparent which is quite an impediment in a game where the best draw is also the best made hand.

The only real advantage to smooth-calling three-card badugis is to prevent ourselves from escalating the pot when we have a pre-draw equity disadvantage. However, when your opponent has the best hand with a three-card badugi they are not likely to put in the fourth bet as you could easily have a badugi. Thus, in this case only one extra bet is going into the pot.

Meanwhile there are several reasons to incorporate a re-raise or fold strategy:

1. Creation of Dead Money

Three-betting will often produce a heads-up pot and create dead money. When the blinds fold you are only putting in 40 percent of the money thus even if your holding is slightly behind the original raiser’s range you are not necessarily taking the worst of it especially when you have position.

2. It Doesn’t Make Sense to Slow Play Badugis

When you stand pat it’s clear that you have a badugi thus slow-playing monster pat badugis is not possible. Weaker badugis are very vulnerable in multi-way pots thus we should re-raise any pat hand we choose to play to increase the odds of getting the pot heads-up. The times we are lucky enough to hold a monster our opponent will still give us action because medium and weaker pat badugis far outnumber premium holdings.

3. Multi-way Action is Generally Discouraged

Badugi is a limit game and similar to most one winner limit games proper strategy is geared more towards winning pots and not future bets. We already know that most dealt badugis are vulnerable and prefer heads-up pots, so re-raising them is clear.

A premium draw such as AHeart Suit 3Club Suit 4Diamond Suit plays well in either a heads-up or multi-way pot, however, it’s probably better played short-handed to increase the probability that we win the times we don’t improve. In a multi-way field, a badugi is usually required to win thus mostly negating the power of your premium draw.

4. Less Incentive to Pull Action Players Into the Pot

When playing pot-limit Omaha high and holding AHeart Suit KSpade Suit JHeart Suit 9Club Suit you may prefer to cold-call in position instead of re-raising because that could potentially eliminate an “action” player who may hold a dominated draw. If someone is destined to go broke with non nut flushes and straights, we potentially lose a ton when we prevent them from entering the fray. Similarly, in Omaha eight-or-better you don’t really mind bad low draws coming in against you when you hold A-2-3-4.

In Badugi, hands are independent so there is a less incentive to try and pull another player into the pot with the AHeart Suit 3Club Suit 4Diamond Suit. When you just cold-call an opener it doesn’t really benefit you to let in a player with 5Heart Suit 6Spade Suit 8Club Suit that would have otherwise folded. If they make an eight badugi you are left drawing to five outs. Also on the first draw you could make a jack or queen badugi and wish that the pot was not multi-way.

5. Having the Betting Lead Can Help Steal Pots

When you re-raise and draw one an opponent will typically put you on a strong tri hand. They may know they can be a big underdog with one draw left and make a semi-tight fold on the turn sometimes enabling you to win with the second-best hand.

Your snowing lines also become more believable. By re-raising you have represented a strong tri which has plenty of showdown value on its own thus the story that you have a badugi is more credible. While it may be your strategy to re-raise with any three card badugi that you continue on with but your opponent may not realize this.

6. Re-Raising from Small Blind will often Eliminate the Big Blind

It is much preferable to be heads-up and avoid possibly having both the worst absolute and relative position in a three-way pot. If the button has the betting lead and the big blind is also in the hand you aren’t closing the action and thus have to fear a raise from behind. And the times you do make a strong a holding and check-raise the button the big blind can get out relatively unscathed.

7. Running Into Monster Hands is not a Great Concern

Suppose we hold 3Heart Suit 4Spade Suit 6Club Suit on the button and re-raise a cut-off opener. For us to have less than 30 percent equity in the hand he would have to be holding an eight badugi or better and these hands are almost as rare as pocket aces in hold’em.

From the cut-off position most players will be playing any pat badugi and against that range you have approximately 40 percent equity. When holding a badugi your opponent will often put in the fourth bet and from that point on due to current and implied odds you have an easy decision to take all three draws and try to beat it. If your opponent does not four-bet his weaker badugis then you just received a nice bit of information.

When your opponent has the better three card badugi your equity is in some range between 38-47 percent. However, as previously discussed he will not often put in the fourth bet as he is an underdog to a badugi and by doing so he will be somewhat transparent that he holds a premium tri.

8. Frequent Re-raising Slows Down Opponents

When you are more often punishing your opponents with re-raises this can have the effect of slowing down your opponents. Hopefully this will reduce the frequency with which they open their marginal holdings allowing you to open up more pots against the blinds in position. Dissuading opponents from constantly stealing your button is advantageous in any poker game.

All things considered it seems best to play tight but aggressive on the first betting round and incorporate a three bet or fold strategy. It is easy to implement and while we may be taking slightly the worst of it with the bottom of our range as a whole our entire range will benefit. However, when employing this strategy we should play slightly tighter overall than we would if we also had a flatting range.

Three Betting Ranges

When a player opens for a raise from UTG and we are in either the hi-jack or cut-off we should play quite snug; in this situation playing a range of ten or better badugis and A-3-6+ is probably correct. This may seem overly tight, however, the raiser is originating from a power position and there are still many players left to act on their hands.

However, when we are on the button versus an early position open we can play somewhat looser as we are guaranteed best position and only the blinds are left to act. In this case re-raising jack or better badugis, any six tri, or A-2-7/A-3-7 appears reasonable. Against a range that is fairly strong we are probably taking the worst of it with the weaker tri holdings but we have position and as already mentioned premium three card badugis are not often putting in the fourth bet.

With the button versus a cut-off we can open up a bit further and three-bet queen or better badugis and 3-4-7+ tri holdings. In the small blind versus a button open (that is often very D2 heavy) a reasonable three-betting range is any badugi, any seven tri and A-2-8/A-3-8. In this situation we can also get aggressive and also re-raise our best A-2/A-3 hands containing blockers such as AHeart Suit 2Spade Suit 4Spade Suit 6Spade Suit.

There are exceptions to every rule and sometimes from the small blind it makes sense to simply smooth-call. This would be the case when an early position player opens and we have a rough six high tri or a hand like A-4-7. We are partly invested in the pot and can make big holdings where the lack of position won’t really adversely affect us. In this situation since our hand is relatively face up thus we should tend to play straight forward and fold turns unimproved.

As it is in all poker games, playing the right mix of holdings against a raise and setting up mostly profitable situations is critical to your success in Badugi.♠

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.