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Badugi: Playing The Probable Best Hand In The Middle Rounds

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Dec 30, 2020

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In badugi, as is the case in most draw games, whenever we are a card ahead of our opponent heading into a draw, we mostly have an automatic bet on the next street, even when we have not improved.

If we are pat and our opponent is drawing, betting is clear, and if we have a one-card draw (i.e. three-card badugi) we should also tend to bet against an opponent drawing two. While there is some possible merit to checking an unimproved, rough, one-card draw versus a two-card draw, this situation is close, and all things considered we can’t go that wrong betting whenever we are a card ahead.

Betting The Superior Three-Card Badugi

In a battle of one-card draws if it’s highly probable we held the best hand going into the draw, we should also tend to bet the next street regardless if we improved or not. On any particular draw there is only around a 20-percent chance an opponent drawing one has made a badugi, thus we are still a sizeable equity favorite even when we brick.

For example, suppose we hold AClub Suit 2Heart Suit 3Diamond Suit and drew one on the first draw, as did our opponent. If our opponent fails to improve, we are an approximate 70-percent favorite with two draws to go. Getting raised when our opponent has made a badugi isn’t a big fear as we have an easy call with implied odds on our side.

On the turn our advantage is greater because when our opponent fails to improve, we are around an 80-percent favorite with one draw to go. If the villain has made a badugi, his median holding will be an eight or nine, and against this range we have approximately 10 percent equity. So we are betting the turn holding around 66 percent equity (80%80% + 20%10%) which is clearly enough even after factoring in potential check-raises that we may face.

Overall, our situation is better when our opponent does not check-raise weak badugis, and of course he may fold unimproved which would be a good result. Occasionally, an aggressive player may elect to check-raise and pat as a bluff, a play we will examine below.

Getting Check-Raised With A Strong Draw

Suppose a loose-aggressive player opens from the cutoff and we three-bet from the button with AHeart Suit 2Spade Suit 5Club Suit. The villain calls and draws one, as do we. Given the range that an aggressive player will open from the cutoff, our three-card badugi is a big favorite to be the best hand so we should remain aggressive.

We fail to improve on the first two draws and unfortunately get check-raised on the turn. As previously discussed, assuming villain has the badugi he is representing we are in bad shape with 10 percent equity, give or take.

However, the pot is quite sizeable and we are getting 7.75 to 1 odds to call the raise, meaning we only require around 11 percent equity to continue. We can usually make up the slim equity shortfall on the river because with a strong draw and position we hold the betting advantage on the last street.

When we hit gin, we can possibly get in a raise, and if our opponent checks, his range is usually capped to weaker badugis, thus we can value bet somewhat aggressively and get called due to the bloated pot. In addition, folding on the turn for one bet is dangerous as it may entice players to take shots at us in the future.

If we call the check-raise and fail to improve, should we consider calling on the end? If you are up against a tight, ABC player you can definitely find a fold, however, against a loose-aggressive player we need to consider the play of the hand and the mathematics involved from his viewpoint.

Suppose the villain had opened from the cutoff with a 5Diamond Suit 6Heart Suit 8Spade Suit; not a powerhouse but still a standard open from that position. Our three-bet from the button indicates that we have a good three-card badugi; however it could be a five, a six, or even a smooth seven and not necessarily a premium holding.

When the villain has not improved, calling on the turn isn’t a great option as his equity situation is quite bad and he also has reverse implied odds. Remember, after the second draw he doesn’t yet know whether or not we are pat, and if we have made a badugi he could easily be drawing dead. And even when we are not pat, he has to think there is little chance to win by reducing his incomplete.

However, he has another option other than folding, and that is to make a move at the pot by check-raising and patting as a bluff. If he has the play in his arsenal it would be a good time to do it especially if he has paired along the way. He’s at the bottom of his range and we don’t necessarily have a premium three-card badugi that we may feel obligated to showdown regardless.

So how often does our opponent need us to fold on the river in order for the play to be profitable? Most often when taking this line he is risking three big bets in an attempt to win 6.75. Two big bets go in with the turn check-raise followed up with a river bet and the potential reward is the 6.75 big bets in the middle after we call the turn.

Under this risk-reward proposition, the play only needs to work around 31 percent of the time to be profitable, indicating we need to call down with at least 69 percent of our holdings to defend against it. It actually needs to work less often than that as sometimes he will run into a very strong badugi and get three-bet on the turn. In this event, the villain will often waive the white flag and fold to only lose two big bets.

This success rate isn’t that high of a hurdle to clear considering we will only make a badugi around 38 percent of the time over the course of the last two draws. Therefore, against a very loose aggressive player we would be correct to show down the A-2-5 as it quite far up in our range.

There are only a few combinations of three card badugis better than A-2-5 (A-2-3, A-2-4, A-3-4, and 2-3-4) and many other worse fives, sixes, and sevens that we likely would have played in the same manner. Once again, this call would be incorrect against a tight, ABC player and we can exploit his straight-forward play by folding.

However, not every situation is the same and we should be less apt to call the river if both of our ranges were stronger. For example, if villain had instead opened from under-the-gun and we originally reraised from the hijack, the range of both our three-card badugis would be much stronger. This means he is much less likely to have a three-card badugi that he would turn into a snow, and he should also realize we are more likely to hold a premium draw that most players will showdown no matter what happens in the hand.

Playing Pat Badugis

With a badugi, we are always going to bet against an opponent that is still drawing. When we are dealt a badugi from the onset our overall range isn’t that strong, however, if we are playing correctly before the first draw our range will be stronger than the average player.

So what happens when we get raised along the way with a mediocre or weak badugi? This is a very difficult situation to deal with and impossible to answer without the context of the session, the play of the hand, and the aggression level of your opponents taken into account.

When you are out-of-position and your opponent raises, sometimes it is a test to see if you will break. We can only consider folding immediately to this raise against only the most passive and straightforward of players. Correspondingly, if we are in-position and get check-raised, our opponent’s hand has a much greater chance of being legit.

We should also consider the strength of our badugi relative to the position from which we opened. For example, if we had opened a ten badugi from early position in a full game this hand is towards the bottom of our range, however, if we had opened this identical hand from the button this same holding would be quite high in our range. In the absence of more relevant information, we should tend to fold when we are at or near the bottom of our range and tend to showdown when we are much higher up.

In the next issue we will examine situations where we know, or at least think it’s highly probable that we hold the second-best hand and need to chase.

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.