Poker Coverage:

Badugi: A Few Hands From ‘Dolly’s Game’

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Oct 06, 2021


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Over the next couple of issues, I thought it would be fun and different to analyze some Badugi hands from Dolly’s Game, a show produced by PokerGO. Dolly’s Game was hosted by Doyle Brunson, and in this episode featured a $400-$800 mixed game with five different variants in the rotation.

It’s a great learning tool to watch such respected poker professionals in action, in addition to being very entertaining.

Before getting into the hands, it is probably worth mentioning that anyone participating in a televised high-stakes game is a champion, and it can be all too easy to sit back and question some of the decisions from the comfort of one’s couch. If there were any mistakes made in the following hands, they weren’t that large. For the most part, these hands were chosen because they illustrate fundamental concepts and also present some sticky situations we are all used to dealing with in the great, but complicated game of Badugi.

Hand No. 1

Alan Richardson opened from the button with 5Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit 9Spade Suit X, Shaun Deeb called out of the small blind with ADiamond Suit 2Heart Suit X X, and Kane Kalas folded his big blind. Alan’s open with a three-card nine is on the border; however, it’s likely profitable as long as you turn it into a snow with some frequency. Shaun’s call with the A-2 is fairly standard and he probably had a desire to play pots with Alan, a player who probably doesn’t have a ton of Badugi experience.

Shaun drew two and improved to ADiamond Suit 2Heart Suit 4Spade Suit X; while Alan drew one and appeared to reduce his incomplete to a 2Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit X.

Even though he probably improved to the best hand, Shaun just check-called Alan’s flop bet. Some players will check-raise with Shaun’s hand here, however, the value gleaned by doing that is relatively small and it also turns your hand face up.

Both players drew one on the second draw, and Shaun decided to lead out on the turn with his unimproved ADiamond Suit 2Heart Suit 4Spade Suit X. This is a good decision as it prevents Alan from checking the turn with an un-improved weak hand. Shaun’s holding is an approximate 80% favorite against any inferior drawing hand, and he shouldn’t often get raised.

Since Shaun was only drawing one on the second draw, it’s a different situation than the flop as he is representing a stronger range of hands. In addition, he can’t assume that Alan will always bet. If Shaun checks the turn, a bet will often only go in when he’s behind, and that’s not good poker.

When Shaun leads he often has a badugi, and when a badugi is obtained from drawing one, it is on average quite strong with the median holding being an eight or nine. Therefore, in order for Alan to profitably raise he must make a strong badugi, although some players will overvalue mediocre badugis in this situation. Raising ten or jack badugis here would probably be value owning yourself and it may also cause your opponent to break worse badugis.

In the actual hand, Alan did not improve and called Shaun’s turn bet, however continuing on in the hand with 2Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit X is probably a small mistake. The pot isn’t very big and the 4:1 odds Alan is getting is only sufficient the times Shaun is unimproved. When Shaun makes a badugi, Alan only has on average an approximate 10% chance to win.

On the river, Shaun led out again and the graphics did not indicate whether or not he improved. If Shaun failed to improve, I’m not a fan of that play in this particular situation against this specific opponent. The main reason is that when someone opens from the button they usually have a wide three-card range and therefore don’t often hold a bluff catcher with which to call. The other reason is that Alan did not appear to be a bluff happy player, and these types tend to be less suspicious of their opponents and less likely to make loose calls.

In any case, Alan did not improve and quickly folded his hand.

Hand No. 2

Shaun opened from the cutoff, Kane three-bet from the button with 10Heart Suit 6Spade Suit 5Club Suit 3Diamond Suit, and the blinds folded. Shaun was drawing one and ended up check-raising Kane on the turn. This is usually bad news for Kane; however, he cannot fold a hand this high up in his range, especially against a tricky aggressive player like Shaun.

Versus a cutoff open before the first draw, I’m guessing Kane would have reraised his entire badugi range. Assuming this is the case, if Kane is bet-folding a hand as good as a smooth ten, he is folding around 80% of his hands!

Kane called, and both Shaun and Kane stand pat on the third draw. So why didn’t Kane break his hand? If Kane is up against a better badugi, he only has around a 10% chance (or less) to outdraw it, and he probably felt the odds of winning were higher by patting when combining the probability that either Shaun was check-raising a slightly worse badugi for slim value or possibly making a move at the pot.

On the river, both players checked and Kane opened up his hand. Shaun sat there for a second shaking his head and muttered, “Jack-seven” before ultimately revealing the stone cold nuts of A-2-3-4.

Shaun is famous for his slowrolls. It can make some people very angry, however, you can’t take it personally as it appears that he tries to do it to everyone. This is easier said than done, of course.

Kane laughed it off and indicated the real joke was on Shaun for missing a river bet, confirming for us he was probably planning on keeping him honest with a hand so high up in his range. Indeed, Shaun should bet the river as his range is so much stronger and Kane mostly has hands that will simply check back.

Sometimes Shaun can get in a river check-raise, but he was also probably motivated to get in a nice slowroll. (One day I hope to be wealthy enough to pass up an almost guaranteed $800 in order to garner a five-second laugh at the poker table. I understand it’s just one big bet in the game, but still!)

Hand No. 3

Alan opened from the hijack with QHeart Suit 7Diamond Suit 6Club Suit 2Spade Suit and picked up a call from Shaun in the cutoff and Richie Sklar in the big blind. A queen badugi would normally be a marginal play from hijack, however, this hand is more playable due to the possibility of breaking it and drawing to a seven should the need arise.

Since Shaun just cold-called he probably has a mediocre three-card hand or a premium two-card draw, while Richie’s probable defending range would be a little wider. We usually don’t want to play a queen badugi in a three-handed pot, however Richie drew two and Shaun may also have a two-card draw, therefore patting the queen is the preferred play here and that’s what Alan did.

As the hand played out, Shaun drew one card and was the only caller after the first draw. Shaun ended up raising Alan on the turn putting him into a difficult spot where he had many options, but none of them were particularly good. Alan ultimately decided to break, but was still drawing dead against Shaun’s A-3-5-6 badugi.

While Shaun had the goods this time, I’m sure he is capable of making a semi-bluff turn raise in another similar situation. If instead Shaun had an unimproved A-3-5-X, he would have went from an 18% underdog to an 83% favorite, in effect completely reversing the equities by getting Alan to break.

We are losing so much equity when we make a bad break that it’s often best to just call and pat and hope that our opponent is making a move. If we were ever going to break the QHeart Suit 7Diamond Suit 6Club Suit 2Spade Suit, the time to do it would have been either before the first or second draw. However, since there wasn’t a re-raise before the first draw, simply folding to the turn raise can’t be that bad in a relatively smaller pot, especially if this situation played out against a more straight-forward player.

In Badugi, it’s critical to get a feel for which players are capable of making a move targeting potentially weak badugis. In the next issue, we will take a look at another hand from Dolly’s Game where a weak badugi faces yet another rough situation. ♠

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