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David "ODB" Baker Talks About Razz Tournament Strategy

Baker Explains How To Get Away From ABC Razz Play

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David BakerThe $10,000 razz tournament kicked off Saturday at the 2015 World Series of Poker with 103 entrants. The tournament was just one of two razz events scheduled at the summer series, but the poker variation still remains as a popular game rotated into many mixed games around the country, including several mixed games tournaments at the Rio.

Card Player caught up with WSOP bracelet winner David Baker during the earlier $1,500 razz event to talk about razz tournaments and how to deviate from a basic ABC playing strategy.

Baker earned his bracelet in a 2012 $2,500 eight-game mix event for $271,312. In 2010, he went deep in the WSOP main event, banking $396,967 for his 17th place finish. In total, the Katy, Texas native has more than $3.25 million in career tournament earnings.

Julio Rodriguez: What kind of experience do you have with razz?

David Baker: I don’t really play razz that much, to be honest. It’s not a game that is really played by itself anymore, but it does come up in a lot of the mixed tournaments and occasionally it will be in the mixed cash games I play at the Commerce Casino. But for the most part, it’s rare to find razz played as a standalone game.

Because it’s not played that often, the best players are usually those who can take what they know from other forms of stud and adapt. You play your hands, but you also play the situation. You try to read people and leverage your chip stack against your opponents. At the end of the day, it’s still a tournament and tournament strategy becomes just as important as knowing how to play razz.

JR: If I only understand the math behind the game, when I’m ahead and when I’m behind, how well can I do in a razz tournament?

DB: That’s a good place to start. If you are going to play ABC razz, then you’ll obviously be looking to limit the amount of mistakes you make for your edge. But the problem is that if you only play ABC, you are kind of at the mercy of the cards. There are a lot of spots in razz where you can gather chips by disguising your hole cards in different ways to get the desired result. You need to be playing enough hands so that when you have your opponent nutted, they are still calling you down, but also not so many hands that you lose the ability to make a credible bluff when the opportunity comes up. You need the right balance.

JR: Can you explain what you mean about finding the right balance?

DB: If you want to play more hands, you have to disguise them. You can’t just raise and put in maximum action only when you start with three cards to a wheel. You also can’t just call and play passively when you have two good cards and one medium card. If you do that, you’re basically playing with your cards face up. You have to be able to play both types of hands similarly, so that when I flat against my opponent, he doesn’t know if I have 7-4-A or 3-2-A.

The Original David BakerJR: What is one of the more common mistakes you see being made in tournament razz?

DB: One of the biggest mistakes I see players making in razz tournaments is that they bloat the pot very early on with, let’s say a good three-card starting hand, but they don’t realize that represents a very small edge overall. So much changes on fourth and fifth street, but they are basically putting the majority of their money in on what amounts to a coinflip. Not only that, but by pumping up the pot early, they are giving away the strength of their hand. I just try to play a much lower variance style of poker.

JR: I often see players defend their bring-in with a paint card up or later on discover that they called with a paint card or pair in the hole. When is it a good time to defend with a hand like this?

DB: If you have the chips and are up against a late position raiser, and the antes and bring-ins are high compared to the bet size, then perhaps you might be in a good spot to peel fourth street with a face card or pair in your hand. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you’ll catch great on fourth street and they’ll hit a brick, which will put you back into a coinflip situation the rest of the way. But for the most part, you’ll just want to toss those types of hands.

JR: How much math do you incorporate into your game when playing razz?

DB: I’m more of a feel player. I’m not calculating the math behind each decision on every street, but there are times on fifth or sixth street when I can more definitively define my opponents hand and calculate what the pot is laying me to hit what I think my outs are. That math becomes more important later in the hand, in my opinion. But like in any poker game, there are spots where you are getting the right price to call even though you most likely beat. When you think you’ll win 20 percent of the time and the pot is laying you 8 to 1, then you call. But there are other times when your read is strong and saving that last bet is more important.

JR: How do you pick up reads in a game like razz where the betting is structured and often seems automatic?

DB: Reads are way more important in razz than many people might think. A lot of players don’t have any idea how much information they are giving off when they bet or call or raise. A lot of times you can tell whether or not someone is excited or disappointed by a card. So if it’s a low card and they look disappointed, perhaps that means they paired up. Or you might learn something from how quickly someone bets or how they look at their down cards or even how much they are studying my board. It still pays to pay attention.

For more coverage from the summer series, visit the 2015 WSOP landing page complete with a full schedule, news, player interviews and event recaps.