Poker Game Guide: Badugi
Originally played in Asia, or Canada, depending on who you ask, badugi is a variation of draw poker. It's a fun and different game which is slowly gaining popularity across the poker world.
On this page you'll find the basic rules of badugi, how to play, and strategy sections to help you get started. If you aren't familiar with low ball poker then it may take some getting used to, as badugi is a mix of draw poker and low ball and also takes into consideration suits.
The betting rounds and blinds are similar to Texas hold'em. If you're familiar with that variation then picking up badugi won't take long.
What's the biggest difference?
In badugi, you only use and are dealt four cards instead of the traditional five.
Badugi Rules and How to Play
A player is designated as the dealer. This is indicated by a dealer button, a white disc with the word dealer (or the letter D) on it, which is placed in front of the designated player. To the immediate left of the dealer is the small blind. To their left is the big blind. After each hand the dealer button rotates clockwise. Every player has a chance to be the dealer.
The two blinds make a forced bet each hand to ensure there is action. The blinds are set by the house and dictate betting limits in later rounds. If you're playing fixed limit, the small blind is usually half the size of the big blind. If you're playing no limit or pot limit, the small blind and big blind can be the same as fixed limit, or $2/$5, $1/$1, and so on.
Starting with the player in the small blind, each player receives four cards face down, dealt one at a time clock wise around the table.
After each player receives four hole cards, the player to the left of the big blind may fold, call the amount of the big blind, or raise.
Play moves to the next player to the left, who folds, calls the largest previous bet, or raises. Once each player has their turn, the action keeps moving to the left. When the small blind is eventually reached, they either call the remaining part of the largest bet above the blind amount, fold, or raise. After this the big blind has the option to check (if no one has raised), call the raise, raise, or fold.
Play continues to the left until every player has called the highest raise or folded.
The next step is the first draw. Each player still in the pot can choose to discard as many cards as they want to improve their hand. They can also stand pat and not discard any cards at all. After everyone has acted and received new cards, which are dealt all at once, another betting round takes place.
After this, another draw and betting round takes place, followed by a third draw. After the third draw, each player now has their final hand and a last round of betting occurs. If there are still multiple players left, there's a showdown, and each player exposes their hand. The player or players with the best badugi hand wins the pot.
That's how the draws and betting rounds work. Now onto how hand strength works in badugi.
Hand Rankings in Badugi
Badugi is a lowball game--the aim of the player is to get the lowest value hand. The suits are also used in badugi to determine hand strength. The strongest hand in the game, which is known as a badugi, is As 2c 3d 4h. The suits don't have to match the ones listed, but all four cards have to be different suits. This means you have one heart, one club, one spade, and one diamond. These are the absolute nuts. You can't lose with this hand. It's comparable to a royal flush in Texas hold'em.
Players rate hands based on the number of unique suited cards first, with a four card hand being the strongest, three being the next strongest, and so on. Keep in mind that in badugi, unique suit hands will outrank lowball hands. You're effectively losing cards and therefore hand strength.
Here's an example.
The first hand is a three card hand (once the Ac is removed leaving three unique suits). The second hand is a two-card hand. Both aces have a matching lower card suit and thus must be removed. This leaves only 4s 5d. This is a lower hand, because only two cards are used, but it loses to a three card hand with higher values.
Here are some more examples of hands showing which hands are stronger.
They are both four card hands but the first hand's highest card is a and is smaller than .
The first hand is a four card hand and the second card is a three card hand as the must be removed due to a matching suit.
They are both three card hands but after removing the from the first hand and the from the second hand, the first hand has a high card of , which beats the second hand's .
They are both three card hands, but the high card in the first hand is the which beats the second hand's .
This triple draw low ball poker variant is more complex than many other kinds of poker. Increased popularity means that there are more weak players who can be exploited with some basic strategy, patience, and control in respect to the range of starting hands. Position is also key, and being in late position always helps.
Badugi has also recently been added to the World Series of Poker. This means more players, online and off. Finding badugi in live casinos might be hard; but that might change if it continues to increase in popularity and demand increases.
Reading this guide and following this basic strategy increases your odds of showing a profit.
Choosing when to voluntarily enter a pot is absolutely vital if you want to be a winning player. Players need to weigh a number of factors when deciding whether to play a hand or throw it away.
These factors include what action other opponents have already taken, position on the table, who is in the pot, and of course, what hand is actually held. These factors define what starting hands one can enter a pot with.
Having three draws in badugi and four betting rounds doesn't mean a player can get caught up in every pot in the hope of drawing her way to a powerful badugi. Players have more opportunities to make plays in badugi without solely relying on your cards. Players can often rely more on opponent tendencies and position.
But you should also avoid playing too many hands. Be patient. Choose your spots. If you don't, you'll add too much variance to your game and end up a losing player.
Weak players call down many hands to continually try and make a badugi. This isn't profitable. Choose your spots and only call down when defending or trying to limit pot size due to your hand and the opponent.
You're also much better betting and raising in order to take a pot down without a showdown.
This will be more profitable in the long run.
Here are some good starting hands as they relate to position on the table.
Strong 3 card hands and good pre draw badugis.
Decent 3 card hands and good pre draw badugis.
Strong 2 card hands ranging from 2 to 5. Raise with decent 3 card hands. Raise with every badugi.
2 card hands can be played against tight opponents. If there are previous callers, use odds to determine whether to enter. When in doubt fold. If someone raises, fold. You can raise with 3 card hands and with every badugi. If there was action before, tighten your range to only excellent 3 card hands and determine odds when deciding. When in doubt, fold.
With strong 2 card hands and weaker 3 card hands you can defend your blind but don't go overboard. Fold most hands if there's been a great deal of action already. You should raise with most badugis, depending on prior action. When in doubt, fold.
When deciding what your starting hand range will be, factor in how many players are at the table. With fewer players, expand your starting range--there are lower odds of strong hands. At a full table, tighten your starting range--the odds of a strong hand appearing are greater.
Making a badugi often means drawing multiple times. The cards that make the badugi are called "outs". Working out the odds of hitting those outs is how you justify calls, bets, and/or raises. Pot odds are how you make an informed decision about staying in a hand and going for a badugi. With three draws and four betting rounds, determining when to proceed is vital. You need to justify your investment in every pot with good odds.
The odds of getting a jack high badugi is roughly 15% each draw. With two draws left, the odds are 27%, and with three draws, 38%. This provides more opportunities to make plays.
If you're in a hand with an opponent who takes one card on the second draw, you have a 73% chance he didn't make the badugi. In this position, the opportunity to "snow"—or stand pat and represent the badugi hand--is almost always profitable. But study your opponents closely before making a play like this. And be in position.
An example of outs and odds can give you an idea of the odds of hitting outs across multiple draws. It's not a hard formula to get an approximate percentage fast.
A player holds . He has two draws. His outs to make the badugi are .
This is 10 outs. So to work out his chance of hitting the badugi, he uses the following formula: 2 times the number of outs times the number of draws. In this example, it's 2 x 10 x 2 = 40. His chances of hitting a badugi are roughly 40%.
Working this out at a fast-paced poker table is easy. Even though the math isn't perfect, it's close enough to help make that decision quickly.
Imagine in sports having the opportunity to choose which opponents you'll play against when trying to win any contest. This is the beauty of poker. In cash games you always have the choice of which table you'd like to sit down at. This is especially true in online poker, which is where you'll find most badugi tables. You might find it at a brick and mortar casino, but your options when choosing a table might be limited. They'll probably only have one running.
Weak players are always at the low limit tables. Stronger players can be found at the higher limit tables.
That's basic economics.
Even with the cash to play higher limits, it can be worthwhile playing at lower limits to build one's skills and bankroll against weak players. You can eventually play at the higher limit tables, and you'll find that some of the players there are now weaker because of your increased experience and skills.
When playing online, it's absolutely vital to take notes on players. The same players are frequenting the badugi tables--it's still a game with a fairly small number of players. Take notes regularly. That bank of information on players will make it easier to find a table with weak players.
Reading Your Opponents
There are no community cards in badugi. None of your opponent's cards are visible, either. The information gained from your opponent's actions is what you'll have to base your play on.
This includes information from tells, hand history, betting patterns, and tendencies during draw rounds. Study your opponents closely and keep in mind all these factors. You should be able to put your opponent on a range of hands. This allows you to win more pots and get away from hands where you're beat.
Keep track of what your opponents do every single hand, even when you fold. Take note of how often they voluntarily enter a pot. If an opponent has a high starting hand percentage, they are most likely a weak player. Stronger players have tighter starting hand requirements.
This information offers hints to how skilled opponents are. Keep that in mind when choosing which hands to play.
Watching closely how opponents act on draws and betting rounds. Every action says something about their hand. This information will give you the best indication of what hand they hold or are going for. If they throw away two or more cards in the draw, they're weak. If in later rounds they throw away one card, you know they're most likely going for a badugi.
You can use this to your advantage if you're in position--you can make a play and snow. Of course, better players often change up their discard patterns and snow themselves. So be sure to study other factors, too.
The better the player, the closer they have to be monitored in order to add up all data to guess what range of hands they have. Against weaker players, you might be able to get away with only one or two bits of information to know what they are most likely holding.
Here are some specific moves to watch for.
There's no certainty that the above actions indicate those situations. But you can build profiles on players. These profiles enable you to make the best decision.
You build these profiles by answering the following questions on your opponents' behavior and taking notes.
- When do they make certain moves?
- When do they try for a snow?
- When do they call down a snow with a three card hand?
When you're at the poker table, virtual or real, always concentrate on what other players are doing. You might need to take notes on particular players and proceed with caution if you're unsure on how they play. Sticking to playing position and good starting hands protects you to an extent.
Many different people play poker. They have a huge variety of personalities. But eventually you can assign a small number of poker personas to most players. This helps you make better decisions and profit more.
The next section covers planning hands. Once you have starting hands in place, know your odds, and know your opponents, you can make a good plan for every situation.
Planning the Hand
Have a plan for every hand. Don't get caught in a situation where you don't know what to do. Snap decisions are opportunities for mistakes.
Base your plan on an overall strategy that considers opponents, starting hands, and odds. The goal is to be a winning player. A plan helps avoid making losing moves or deviating from proven winning tactics.
Position is crucial in all poker variants. It's important in badugi, too. Position is determined by the dealer button. Acting from late position provides information on what every other player has done.
Combine position with the player profiles, and you can decide what to do to give you the best odds in early rounds. In later draws, this also allows you to pick spots where you can snow.
Always enter more pots in late position and fewer pots in early position. If you're entering early you need to have a stronger hand, but even then you have no idea which players are going to come along. You might end up in a pot with a strong player you're trying to avoid.
In late position you also have pot control. You can dictate how large the pot becomes. You can use odds to your advantage. You can build or control the pot size in relation to the hand you have, your odds of hitting a badugi, your implied odds, and also your fold equity. These skills
lead to becoming a great poker player.
Here's the magic, two part formula.
These factors protect you while you create player profiles of the other players.
With a good profile of an opponent, planning what to do gets a lot easier. Knowing a player puts money into a high percentage of pots means something. It means they'll have a wider range of starting hands and will often be weak. Playing in late position with good starting hands becomes like taking candy from a baby.
On the other hand, players who don't play a lot hands have stronger hands. Proceed with caution, especially if that player is a strong player overall.
A player can use these two factors to formulate a plan on what you'll do based on other players' reactions. Position is the most important starting point in every plan. Position and starting hands make winning players. But to get to the next level, you have to make decisions based on what the other players are likely to do.
Don't join a hand unless you have a good idea of how you'll handle various situations.
Does this sound daunting because of the number of rounds of betting?
Don't be nervous. Just take it one step at a time. Base decisions on what's already happened.
Whatever happens, don't go into a shell and focus exclusively on drawing the best badugi. That isn't winning play. Everyone has the same odds of making a good hand. The skill used at analyzing available information and other players is what separates the sharks from the fish. Players who can do that can win even when they don't have the best cards.
Working out these plans in advance takes time. And online badugi games are notoriously fast-paced. But with practice, most players are amazed at how fast these decisions become second nature. Speed and profits go hand in hand with online play.
Finally, review hands regularly. Online, you can use your hand history to do this. In live poker, take notes after each session so you can remember what happened.
Reviewing your hand histories shows what moves resulted in losses and what moves resulted in wins. Then you can focus on fixing errors and honing skills on plays that worked in order to become a better player next session.
Even casual poker players can use bankroll management skills to take their game to the next level. Using bankroll management forces players to monitor sessions more closely. Effective bankroll managers learn which errors turn a session in to a losing one.
Everyone has losing sessions. The trick is having more winning sessions than losing sessions. Also, don't vary limits too much. It's easy for losing sessions to outweigh winning ones.
Casual players fund their poker from their professional job. Poker pros have to ensure that their winnings continue to fund their poker and their living expenses.
Since badugi is generally played with limits, there's less variance. You won't usually go on the wild swings that are common in Texas hold'em and Omaha. But let your skill level dictate your bankroll. That's what determines what limits you should be playing.
Once you crush a certain limit and increase your bankroll you can then consider whether or not to proceed to a higher limit. Good poker players never chase their losses at a higher limit. That's how bankrolls disappear.
Online bankroll calculators don't take into consideration skill level. Start in a low limit game and try to win consistently. Succeed at that before going up in limits. Since the variance is so low, you won't need a huge bankroll in relation to the limits you play.
But a bankroll should be big enough that decisions dictated by a fear of going broke. Never fold, call, or raise in a hand because of the amount of money that is at stake and how that relates to your bankroll. All decisions at the table should be independent of your bankroll.
Setting up a bankroll and assigning specific limits provides the best chance to become a profitable player. Always keep track of your sessions and study your hand history. This allows you to manage your bankroll and also hone your skills. Are you crushing badugi at a certain limit? Is your bankroll growing? Go for a higher limit game. But don't forget that there's nothing wrong with dropping back down again.
Many readers want a specific number when it comes to bankroll. A good guideline for limit games is 20 to 25 times the upper betting limit. In a $2 /$4 game this is between $80 and $100. In a $10 /$20 game, it's between $400 and $500.
Beginning players might need to be more conservative and stick with 25 to 30 times the amount of a normal buy-in. In $2/$4 games, that means having $2,500 or 3,000. In $10/$20 games, that's $9,000 and $15,000.
You can count on your opponents trying to read you at the table, just like you're trying to read them. They're watching your betting patterns and hand histories, too. They're watching what you say and do. You have to control all of these things to maximize your profits.
In online games, you don't have to worry about body language and verbal tells. Your main goal in Internet games is to keep the speed of your actions the same. Many players track how much time it takes an opponent to make a decision based on the strength of the hand at the showdown.
But in live games, body language and verbal tells become hugely important.
The trick is to be consistent. Act and talk the same way regardless of what cards are in each hand.
But don't be consistent with your playing decisions. Constantly change speeds and avoid making predictable decisions.
Once action speed, body language, and voice are under control, the only thing opponents have is betting patterns and how you play draws. If you're discarding three cards, they know you're weak. If you stand pat, they put you on a badugi or suspect you of snowing.
This is all part of the game. It's impossible to avoid, in fact. The only solution is to change how you play. Switch speed in late position in safe spots with weak players. This throws other players off and confuses them. Confused opponents make mistakes.
Here are some common badugi mistakes. Even experienced players make these mistakes.
All of these common mistakes have the same theme, and it's one you want to avoid.
To be a long term badugi winner, you have to make decisions based on information.
Badugi is a great game which is quickly gaining popularity that also offers opportunities for good players to turn a profit. Hand strengths can be confusing to seasoned Texas hold'em or Omaha players at first, but the betting rounds and structures are similar. It won't take long to learn how to play.
Players completely new to poker might consider cutting their teeth on an easier game first.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: October 2015
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