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Badugi: Donking The River

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Jul 28, 2021

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I have now written several articles on Badugi, but since it is not that widely played, a quick refresher on the rules may be helpful to some readers.

Badugi is a triple draw lowball variant where the object of the game is to obtain the lowest hand possible with cards of all different suits and ranks. When holding four different ranks with all different suits, you have made a badugi. For example, 8Diamond Suit 6Club Suit 5Heart Suit 2Spade Suit is an eight badugi. Aces are considered low, so the best possible holding is A-2-3-4 of all different suits.

When you do not hold four different ranks of different suits your hand is considered “incomplete.” For example, ADiamond Suit 3Club Suit 4Heart Suit KClub Suit is not a badugi because it lacks four different suits, and this holding is referred to as a three-card badugi or tri hand.

One of the more unique aspects of Badugi is that the best draw is also the best hand, and can win unimproved. For example, at showdown, ADiamond Suit 3Club Suit 4Heart Suit KClub Suit beats 2Club Suit 5Heart Suit 6Spade Suit 7Spade Suit as neither player holds a badugi, and a four-high tri hand is superior to a three-card six.

In this article, we will be talking about some river decisions that draw upon fundamental concepts discussed in previous issues. In Badugi, as in all forms of poker, it can sometimes be correct to lead the river even though our opponent had the betting initiative on the turn and we by no means possess a lock hand.

When a player leads out on a street after being a caller on the previous one, it is often referred to as “donking.” Let’s examine a few situations where it may be correct to do so in Badugi with a relatively marginal holding.

Example 1

Suppose we open from the cutoff with ADiamond Suit 2Spade Suit 4Heart Suit X, get reraised by the button, and just call. We draw one and our opponent is pat. Regardless of if our opponent is ultra-aggressive or more on the passive side, the vast majority of players would three-bet any badugi against a cutoff open. This is important because whenever a villain’s entire badugi range is in play, his median hand is a queen or a rough jack and it’s correct for us to take all three draws to try and run it down.

We fail to improve on the first two draws, but on the third and final draw we make ADiamond Suit 2Spade Suit 4Heart Suit JClub Suit. This is a spot where we should lead on the river because checking would simply allow our opponent to bet his strong badugis and tap behind with his kings, queens, and rougher jacks.

Our lead may end up costing us money when villain specifically has a ten badugi, a hand some players would choose to check behind on the river, but that’s probably it. Most opponents will bet any nine or better on the river, so in most cases, donking the river won’t cause us to lose any additional money.

In addition, a drawing hand that has potentially made a badugi is on average quite strong, so we shouldn’t get raised that often. Our opponent generally requires an initial dealt eight or better badugi, which would only be approximately 5% of his initial pat range.

Example 2

In this hand, we are in the big blind with AClub Suit 3Heart Suit X X and defend against a hijack open. On the first draw we take two and our opponent draws one. We fail to improve on the first draw, but make a standard call on the small betting round with a smooth two-card hand. On the second draw, we again take two and our opponent is still drawing one.

We improve to AClub Suit 3Heart Suit 4Spade Suit X and decide to just check-call the turn even though we now often have the best hand and are often up against someone betting 100% of their holdings. While we may have around 60-65% equity, a turn raise may not reap as much value as one may think as it re-opens the betting for villain to three-bet many of his made badugis, against which we are a big underdog.

Also, since we are out of position our opponent will never break a badugi once he sees us drawing. If we were in position, a turn raise with AClub Suit 3Heart Suit 4Spade Suit X would make more sense because we will occasionally get our opponent to break his weak badugis, but that is not the situation here.

Additionally, when we check-raise the turn with our strongest draws, it dramatically weakens our check-calling range, making our other holdings more or less face up.
Getting back to the hand, we decided to check-call the turn and failed to improve on the third and final draw. However, in a move that may appear to be inconsistent with our turn play, we opt to lead out with AClub Suit 3Heart Suit 4Spade Suit X on the river.

So why would we “donk” the river, but not lead or check-raise the turn? The main reason is that our opponent is betting the turn with virtually everything, but on the river will typically only do so with hands that beat us. He will somewhat happily check back three-card fives and sixes, and it is these hands that we are targeting with our river lead. Also, since our opponent opened from the hijack, he will often have a three-card hand good enough to try and pick off a bluff.

Even though we may be a small underdog to have the best hand when our opponent calls (or raises); leading out here may produce a higher expectation than checking.

In both of these examples, sometimes our play will cost us money the times our opponent calls with a hand that he would have checked behind. However, we can’t be results oriented and should remain focused on maximizing our expectation wherever we can.

Betting marginal hands from out of position is somewhat akin to hitting a 16 against the dealer’s 10 in Blackjack. While it’s never fun to bust your own hand, we do so since the rules stipulate that we must act first and hitting is unquestionably the correct mathematical play.

Of course, poker situations are not as clear cut, but in cases where our opponents will usually only bet hands that beat us and check behind everything else, it is often correct for us to lead. There’s an understandable aversion to leading out on the river with marginal hands, however, if we feel it’s the higher expectation play we must fight any possible innate desire to play it safe. ♠

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. If interested in learning more, playing mixed games online, or just saying hello he can be reached at haneyk612@gmail.com.