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An Introduction To Badugi High-Low

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Feb 22, 2023


Coach’s Game, hosted by the always congenial Donald Shiflett Jr., runs several days a week at Resorts World, one of the newer poker rooms in Las Vegas. The game is an $8-$16 mix currently comprising of 17 different poker disciplines.

Out of all the games in the mix, Badugi High-Low is the variant that causes the most difficulty for new players. It is a split-pot game where the best low badugi chops with the best high badugi. The nut low badugi is A-2-3-4 of all different suits (e.g. ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 3Club Suit 4Diamond Suit) while an A-K-Q-J rainbow holding is the best high hand. (Note, for the remainder of the article, we will assume that any hand referenced contains all different suits.)

Most players are familiar with what hand wins the low; it’s the high half that causes problems. Amongst the players who were successful in obtaining a badugi, the one holding the highest low card in their hand wins the high.

For example, K-Q-J-5 has a five high while Q-J-8-7’s lowest card is a seven, thus is playing a seven high. A-K-Q-J is the best possible high hand because the jack is the highest possible lowest card, not simply because A-K-Q-J are the four highest cards one can hold. This distinction is important, as is an understanding of the role the ace plays.

An ace is a premium card because it plays both high and low and is essentially a “ghost card.” For example, A-4-7-8 is an 8-7-4-A low and a 4-7-8-A high. This hand will scoop J-8-4-5 since that holding is a jack low with a 4-5-8-J high. In order to determine who wins the high you read the hands in reverse order, and in this case the ‘4-7’ in 4-7-8-A is superior to the ‘4-5’ held by the 4-5-8-J.

A dealt badugi such as K-J-4-2 (i.e. a king low and a two high) is a dangerous hand to play in a multi-way pot, and in most cases, should just be folded before the first draw. K-J-T-8 is a much different story since you have a very strong eight high. This hand is equivalent to 2-4-5-7, a low-oriented hand that is clearer to most that we should play.

In a heads-up pot you would have to get extremely unlucky with either K-J-10-8 or 2-4-5-7 to get scooped. In a multi-way affair these hands are in more danger, however, ending up with nothing would be a relatively bad beat and you will just have to take your lumps when hands this strong lose.

Pat hands such as A-8-7-5 and J-10-9-8 are monsters, and you should put in as much action as you can both for value, and also to limit the field. Heads-up neither of these holdings can get scooped, and you don’t want to allow one-way draws such as A-2-4 or A-K-J to enter the pot cheaply.

As in regular badugi, it’s correct to play a tight aggressive strategy with your premium three-card hands. In Badugi High-Low, these would be holdings such as A-6-8 or 5-6-7. These are good starting hands because they are condensed in the middle.

If the hijack comes in for a raise, a three-bet with a holding such as A-6-8 is automatic. It’s not easy to be dealt or obtain a badugi, and if the original opener has for example 6-7-9, you will scoop if no one improves. In this particular match-up, the three-card eight beats his nine on the low side and 6-8 is superior to 6-7 for the high.

Position is very important in this game. If our opponent never checks a badugi, we should bet our premium draws since we are the favorite and are currently scooping. Occasionally a passive player will check weak made badugis, however, in that case our bet isn’t going in that bad as we have a decent amount of outs to win the entire pot and we’ll usually get paid on the river when making our hand.

From late position we can open one-way holdings such as A-2-4 and A-K-J since there is some chance of winning the pot uncontested. And if someone defends, we can still scoop if we are the only one to make a badugi, or if we elicit a fold on the turn. There are some players who will almost never call the big bet street without a badugi.

Sometimes we can turn our hand into a bluff, and these A-2-4 and A-K-J type holdings would be the ideal candidates to snow. When both us and our opponent both end up making a badugi, our hand will virtually never scoop, and we can easily lose both ways. However, since we are mostly bluffing for only half of the pot, snowing does not play a huge role in Badugi High-Low.

Whether we should play one-way holdings from early position and in what manner is up for debate. If the table is very loose limping might be best, if it’s overly tight we can open-raise, and if it’s somewhere in between we can consider folding.

If a multi-way pot is already brewing, we can enter the pot with premium one-way holdings for the potential of making either a very strong low or high hand and punishing those in the middle. It’s also possible that we end up being the only player making a badugi and winning the entire pot.

In a heads-up pot when someone who was drawing leads the turn, they most often have a badugi. When that happens we must fold our one way draws that lack potential to scoop. We must, however, continue on with our premium draws such as A-7-8. We can’t always fold the turn unimproved as that would be too exploitable.

Also, with premium draws we are usually in a slightly better situation than in regular Badugi. In regular Badugi, a completed badugi is on average quite strong, and we may only have a handful of outs to win.

However, in Badugi High-Low a draw to a hand such as A-7-8 can have many outs to either win or split. For example, if an opponent has 4-6-7-Q there are up to five potential scooping outs (5, 6, 9, 10, J), and five more (2, 3, 4, Q, K) that would gain us a chop. If we are up against 4-5-6-7 we’d be drawing dead in normal Badugi, but in the split game we’d have up to eight outs (4, 5, 6, 9, 10, J, Q, K) to salvage half the pot.

Sometimes we’ll be drawing slim, however, when we do make a badugi, the last betting round will generally be to our advantage. It’s a rare mitt that can scoop an A-7-8 that completes a badugi, as our two worst possible made hands are A-2-7-8 (eight low/two high) or A-7-8-K (king lowseven high). Meanwhile, we have the potential to make many strong hands that can win everything, plus collect a bet or two on the river.

Initially I was turned off by Badugi High-Low, but it’s now one of my favorite games to play. It’s my recommendation that you give it a chance, either in your own home games, or in the world famous Coach’s Game. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. The certified personal trainer owned a gym in New Jersey, but has since moved to Las Vegas. He started playing the game back in 2003, and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. Learn more or just say hello with an email to