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Poker Strategy With Kevin Haney: Badugi Opening Standards

Haney Explains Which Cards You Should Start With And When To Play Them


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On the surface, Badugi appears to be very simplistic, yet there is much debate amongst players regarding the most effective outlook on the game and the hands and situations we should look to get involved with on the first betting round. Thus far in our discussions, we have gone into great detail the play of initial pat badugis, tri hands, and two-card draws. We outlined what situations are advantageous to us and those that we should look to avoid, and in this issue we will put it all together with a default opening strategy.

So from first position we should fold a pat-jack badugi? Unless the badugi has a good three-card badugi underneath such as QHeart Suit 6Club Suit 3Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit that indeed seems best. Several issues ago we looked at the perils of playing a weak unbreakable badugi such as QHeart Suit 10Club Suit 8Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit from early position. The following chart estimates the probabilities of running into various badugis based upon your position at the table:

When we open with a queen badugi we will run into a jack or better around 13.7 percent of the time and with a jack or better we will run into a ten or better approximately 8.9 percent of the time. These probabilities are somewhat high considering the fact that we will often be four-betting the action with zero percent equity and very little to no chance in making a better hand fold.

In addition, multi-way pots are also bad for jack and queen badugis; while we may have a decent amount of “hot/cold” equity in a three-way confrontation we also have a great deal of reverse implied odds with these holdings.

We are only dealt a ten or better badugi around 1.9 percent of the time, thus we are going to fill the void with many tri holdings. Any seven or better tri is worth an open as well as the smoother three-card eights that have the ability to effectively reduce. It is important for the three-card eights to be smooth underneath in the event that better tris call or re-raise you. For example, against 4Club Suit 5Heart Suit 6Club Suit the 2Diamond Suit 3Heart Suit 8Club Suit has approximately 42 percent equity while 2Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit 8Club Suit only has around 37 percent.

From first position some players have advocated opening queen high or better badugis and only opening seven high tris when they are very smooth underneath. This range would be too heavy in badugis with reverse implied odds and we would only be playing around 10 percent of our hands which is not quite enough for a one winner limit game.

With the suggested openings described above we are playing around 13-14 percent of our hands and in general this mix of holdings will perform better against pat badugis and in multi-way pots.

From the hijack we can open up a few more holdings as the odds of running into a strong pat badugi or ending up in a multi-way pot are slightly reduced. When we open with a jack badugi the odds of running into a ten or better pat are approximately 7.2 percent. This is still relatively high so if you are a beginner or are playing in a very loose and aggressive game it probably isn’t too tight to still only play tens or better.

We can open up a few more three-card eights, however, it is important to be able to reduce to at least five-high tri to improve your winning chances against slightly better three-card badugis.

In addition, we can also begin to open up the very best of our two card draws such as ASpade Suit 3Heart Suit 4Spade Suit 5Spade Suit. The low blocking spades give us greater equity against three-card badugis that will often need a low spade and these cards also reduce the amount of times a pot is contested multi-way. This hand also fares better against pat badugis as we completely unblock any cards we may need to overtake a weak pat holding.

In the cutoff, a queen high or better badugi is recommended although it may be somewhat closer than people think. A jack or better will be lurking around 8.5 percent of the time, however we will often have position and the pot will not often be contested multi-way. When we get called by a one card draw from the blinds position is important as when out of position most opponents will play straightforwardly and we can check the river.

Any eight tri badugi is generally worth opening even though with three players left to act it will run into a better tri or a badugi around 44-55 percent of the time. In the event we get called when we have a rough holding such as 5Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit 8Club Suit turning our hand into a snow at some point is something to consider.

For the most part any A-2 or A-3 is worth opening unless our blockers are bad (e.g. ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 10Diamond Suit JDiamond Suit) and the table is loose and aggressive.

Other two-card draws such as 2-3, A-4, and 2-4 are judgment calls where the deciding factors are the other two cards in your hand and the players left to act. Premium two-card draws are those with a few low blockers, two pair, or trips. Those that are considered good may have one low blocker and perhaps a card that is relatively neutral to your holding such as the 2Spade Suit 3Heart Suit 4Spade Suit KSpade Suit.

Any badugi is playable from the button as there are only two players left in the hand and we hold position.

Many Badugi players do not consider three-card nines to be legitimate starting hands and will instead open up more two-card draws. While 2Diamond Suit 3Heart Suit 9Club Suit KHeart Suit is almost certainly best played as a two-card draw a hand such as 4Diamond Suit 5Heart Suit 9Club Suit KHeart Suit may have more value drawing one as opposed to two regardless of the situation you face.

When up against a pat hand we probably fare better drawing to the nine as it will very likely be good if we make it. Versus a one-card draw we have options when we do not improve on the first draw; we can consider snowing or just simply taking a free card. And when our opponent is drawing two our “hot/cold” equity is usually better as a one card draw and we do have some turn fold equity.

Very rough nines such as 6Diamond Suit 8Heart Suit 9Club Suit are definitely on the edge but that’s always the case as you move towards the bottom of a button open range. Similar to opening 9Heart Suit 8Club Suit from the button in limit hold’em most of our profit component with these borderline holdings comes from stealing the blinds outright.

It’s also tough for the blinds to wake up with a hand that has us in really bad shape. For example, 6Diamond Suit 8Heart Suit 9Club Suit has greater than 30 percent equity versus either a ten badugi or a premium three-card badugi. Against mediocre tri hands and two card draws we are also an equity underdog, however, all things considered we are probably a money favorite if we play well and work in some well-timed snows.

Regarding the two card draws any A-2 or A-3 is worth an open as are the vast majority of our 2-3, A-4, and 2-4 hands. And we can also open with slightly weaker holdings such as 3-4 and A-5 when they are accompanied with good blockers.

Final Thoughts

When compared with the general Badugi population these guidelines are probably much tighter in regards to opening pat badugis, slightly looser with the three-card badugis, and overall probably a little more restrained (but arguably more effective) in the play of two-card draws. Hopefully I adequately explained my reasoning for the areas where the guidance above may differ from what may generally be considered “standard.”

However, what I think all experienced draw players would tend to agree on is that when compared with Deuce to Seven Triple Lowball (27TD) we should play a lower percentage of hands from every position. In Badugi, the best drawing hand is also the best made hand and the best hand has a very large equity advantage on the turn. This greatly impacts strategy and the hands that we choose to play. Since the turn equities in 27TD run closer we can get away with opening a larger percentage of hands. ♠

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