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Strategies For Razz

Temperament

You need to be even-tempered and very patient when you play razz. Often, you'll start with three good cards, catch good on fourth street, then catch three bricks. You cannot allow yourself to get frustrated and go on tilt in those situations. You cannot expect to make your hand every time. "Whoever stays the calmest, is the most patient, and goes on tilt the least usually will get the money in razz," is the way that Tom puts it.

Key Concept

A four-card hand is much, much better than a three-card hand, making fourth street much more important in razz than it is in stud. When you and your opponent both start with a pair in seven-card stud, the fourth street card isn't nearly as pivotal toward determining the outcome of the hand as it is in razz (unless one of the players makes trips or started with a significantly higher pair and makes two pair).

But in razz when an opponent significantly improves his hand over yours on fourth street, he has a four-card hand while you have only a three-card hand. He then becomes a much bigger favorite than he would have been in seven-card stud if, for example, he had started with a pair of fours and you had started with a pair of threes.

A four-card hand generally is a draw to an eight or lower, but as Tom points out, "A four-card hand could be a 9-8 or an 8- 7 if you're up against a J-I0."

Key Concept II

In razz, you should have either the best hand or the best draw. "Best draw" doesn't mean a six-draw against a seven-draw. A seven-draw is a very good hand, and in fact you sometimes may be a favorite over the six-draw, depending upon how live your cards are. The "liveness" of your cards is determined by what cards are already out. Suppose that you have an A-2-3 and see two fours, a five, and a six showing. With those particular cards out, you would rather have a 4-5-6 than an A-2-3. Several of the cards that will help the A-2-3 are gone, and some of the cards that would pair the 4-5-6 have appeared. So, "liveness" includes not only the cards that are showing that you will need to improve your hand, but also the cards that are out that may pair your hand, especially the ones that may pair your doorcard. If you happen to catch a card that pairs one of your hole cards, your opponents won't know for sure that you have paired, but if your doorcard pairs, it's out there for the whole world to see. Therefore, if you have a seven as an upcard, you would be happy to see two other players with sevens on the board fold. This would make it harder for your opponent to make a seven, and would make it much less likely that you will pair your seven. Even if you pair one of your hole cards, you still will be looking good on top.

Chasing in Razz

If you have an eight-draw and your opponent has a seven-draw, you usually are correct to continue with the hand. But on fourth street, if you have only three good cards and you suspect that your opponent has four good cards, your best option is to fold unless the pot is very large (perhaps several raises were put in on third street). If my opponent has what appears to be a wheel-draw and I have a seven-draw, although I'd usually rather have the wheel-draw, my seven-draw certainly is good enough to stay in the pot. Key Concept Representation is key to your success in razz, making a strong front very important. For example, suppose that you have started with a low doorcard. Your fourth-street card pairs one of your hole cards and your opponent catches bad. You still should bet. Although some people would call this type of play a bluff, it really isn't; it is more a semi-bluff than a bluff. You have a good chance to win the pot right away, and even if you are called, another low card on fifth street might win the pot for you.

Tom relates an example of representation: "Suppose you are double paired underneath on sixth street, but you have four babies on top. You're looking at an opponent who has caught two paints. Although he actually has the best hand, he knows that he could be drawing dead if you aren't paired. So, you often can move him off the pot just because he's afraid that you may have another baby in the hole."

If your board is good enough to support your betting, you have it made most of the time. For example, suppose that I'm showing a 7-2-3 on fifth street. My opponent was drawing to an 8-6 on fourth street and then caught a l0 on fifth street. He may have called again with a 10-8-6, but when I catch my fourth low card on sixth street (7-2-3-4) he should give up his eight-draw. He can't afford to gamble that I have paired.

"It's pretty sweet when an opponent calls both sixth and seventh street drawing dead. He's paired up or has a bad card in the hole, but for some reason he puts you on a hand that he thinks that he can outdraw, or at least has a live draw against. Thankfully, he isn't always right," Tom says.

Here is an example of representation that occurred at the final table of the razz championship event at the World Series of Poker in 1997. With two high cards in the hole and a seven showing, I had started out by trying a steal because there was only one lower card out behind me. I raised the pot and a player called with an eight showing. I was thinking, "I hope I catch better than he does." On fourth street, I caught a six and he caught a king. I bet again. Again, he called. On fifth street, I caught a deuce; he caught a five. Since it looked as though I could have a seven made, I bet again. When he called, I knew that he had an eight-draw. I don't recommend the call because you could be drawing dead here. It is unlikely that my opponent would have either the best hand or the best draw at this point (although, he did have the best draw).

Then on sixth street, I caught a three. I finally had a draw to a seven! He caught another five. "It's over," I thought. "There's no way that he can call me with an eight-draw." Again, I bet. Again, he called. "Could he have seen my hole cards? How can he call with an eight-draw looking at 7-6-2-3?" I wondered. On the end, I paired one of the paints that I had in the hole. I bet, hoping that he had missed and wouldn't call me. At last, he folded. It is extremely unusual for a player to go that far with what appears to be a busted hand. I can only guess that he thought (correctly) that I was on a total bluff

The Nature of Pots in Razz

Most hands are played either two-way or three-way from third street on in razz. It is rare to see more than three players compete on third street. One reason for this is that it is very difficult to call when you have a facecard showing. "Say that you are the forced bring-in with a king or queen showing and someone raises the pot. Three people call the raise," Tom gives as an example.

"If you have cards such as a 2-3 in the hole, you will be getting better than 4-to-1 odds, but still it would be a terrible play to call the raise. You aren't hoping to outdraw one hand, you're hoping to outdraw all of them. I don't care how smooth your hole cards are, it's extremely difficult to outdraw four people."

Basically, you never should play on third street with a bad card against more than one other player. "If you set that idea in stone, you'll be far ahead of the game," Tom adds.

Decisions Based on Knowledge

You should know that on fifth street, if someone bets into you with a rough nine or worse and you have a draw at a six or better, you are a favorite and should raise.

You should base your decisions upon whether or not you have the best of it. In order to know that, you need to know which cards are live, and what your opponents' chances are of having paired. You have to be able to remember cards, especially the cards that have been folded, to have a good grasp of what's going on. "I call hold'em 'the lazy man's game' because no memory work is involved," Tom adds. "On the other hand, in stud, stud/8, and razz, you'd better have a pretty good idea of what cards have been folded and be able to remember them."

For example, based on what has happened earlier in the hand, there are times when you can know with 100 percent certainty that the card that your opponent has just received did not pair him. You know that he hasn't paired because you have seen two cards of that rank on the board and the other one is buried in your hand. Suppose you've seen three fives and your opponent catches a five. He has "caught the joker, which means catching the case card and not pairing with it. It also is important to know when there are two fives out, for example. Then if your opponent catches a five, you can surmise that it probably did not pair him.

Tom adds that "There also is another way to read theboard. The bigger the upcard, the more likely that your opponent is smooth in the hole. Suppose he has an eight showing, for example, and then he catches a deuce or trey on the next card. In this scenario, there is a reasonable chance that the deuce or trey may have paired him, especially if you haven't seen any of them as upcards.

"But if he catches a seven, for example, the chances are that the seven has not paired him because he probably did not start with a rough eight (an 8-7) if he is a tight player. You can get a pretty accurate read on opponents in this way. Actually, it's easier to read your opponents in razz because they should start with three low cards. So, the higher the upcard, the lower the hole cards probably are. Sometimes, for example, a player comes in with a nine on top. You almost are sure that he doesn't have an eight in the hole; he probably has two wheel cards." Now suppose that you are in heads-up play and you both have low cards, but his card is slightly higher than yours - for example, he has a seven and you have a six. In this scenario, you should consider raising. Of course, you should not automatically raise if you don't have a three-card hand be-cause he may have two other low cards in the hole. But if you know that he is going to fold if he has a bad one in the hole, you definitely should raise. Along the same line of thinking, if I am playing against an opponent who consistently throws away his high card bring -in -if he virtually never plays - I always will raise if I have a low card showing, regardless of my hole cards.

Never Show Your Hole Cards.

Never show anyone your hole cards in razz. This is practically a license for others to steal, especially if you have folded the high card bring-in with two babies in the hole. The less information you give your opponents, the better.

Tournament Considerations

Following the tournament strategy that we discussed in the first chapter, you may want to play a few more marginal hands in the earlier rounds of a tournament, although I don't think that this strategy really applies to razz because, basically, you shouldn't reach for hands that aren't hands. Whereas it might be OK to playa J-I0, if it is cheap enough, in order to generate chips early in a hold' em tournament, I certainly do not recommend playing two strong cards with a queen in the hole in razz in order to gather chips because I don't think that you will be successful with that strategy unless you're in the steal position. And, of course, whenever you're in a position to steal, you should try to do just that.

Throughout the tournament, and especially when the limits are very high, you definitely want to have a hand when you play a pot (unless you are attempting a steal). Whether you limp or raise going in will depend upon such factors as who you are playing against, how many chips you have compared to the number of chips your opponents have, and whether you want to be deceptive - whether you think that you can get someone else to playa weak hand by just limping into the pot.

 

Third Street

Since there is no qualifier for low in razz, the median winning hand probably is an eight, though you will occasionally see much worse hands win. But if a lot of jamming is going on, it's almost always going to be a seven or better that takes the money - depending, of course, on how well your opponents play.

Is this a game in which there is much check-check-check after third street? Generally, no ... the lowest hand almost always bets. There is a great deal of representing in razz. You're always hoping that your opponent has paired - and you want to move him off his hand - so you bet.

Starting Hands

Generally speaking, you should start with three low cards. If someone has an A-2-3 and you have a 6-4-2, he isn't that far ahead of you, since not too many wheels are made in razz.

At times, a 7-5-3 can be a better starting hand than an A-2-4, depending on the texture of the board. You are hoping to make a seven and so, if three sevens are showing as well as a five and a three, and you have a 7-5-3, you prefer your hand over the A-2-3 because he can't make a seven. He's hoping to make either a wheel or a six, but those hands are very hard to make. Because he can't make a seven, his next best hand would be an eight. In the scenario pictured on the next page, you would rather have the three-card seven than the three-card wheel draw.

You have a 7-5-3 with the three on top. Your opponent has an ace showing. Although you don't know it, he has a 2-4 in the hole. Looking at the board, you see 7- 7-3-5-5-K. In this case, your 7-5-3 is better than his A-2-4 because the aces, three deuces, and three fours are still in the deck for you to catch. These are the cards that will pair him - and the ones that will make your hand. With two sevens out, it will be difficult for him to make a seven. In this scenario, the fact that he doesn't have a seven is very important.

Key Concept

I don't like to pair an eight in razz and certainly not on top. What does this mean? It means, "Be careful about playing an eight!" However, there are times that an eight is the lowest card out and then it is OK to play one and even to raise with it. In most cases, if I do play an eight, I prefer for it to be in the hole and to be heads-up.

Raising on Third Street

It is very important to look around the table to see what cards are showing. There are times when everyone will have a nine or higher and you are the only one with a baby upcard. In this case, it is automatic that you raise to try to win the antes.

Raising is not automatic when other low cards are showing, although it is almost automatic when there is only one low card behind you. But as Tom warns, "The only catch is that other experienced razz players also know that this is a semiautomatic play and that your raise doesn't necessarily mean that you have a three-card hand. You will probably get reraised if your opponent has three low cards. Sometimes they will come after you if they have a two-card hand because they suspect that you may be weaker than your front suggests. At these times, raising with your low card can become a double-edged sword." In this scenario, they may chase you down or may even have a better hand than what you are representing. However, you still can often pick up the pot on fourth street if you catch good and your opponent catches bad. "Discipline comes into play when, for instance, you have raised with a good upcard and one bad card in the hole;" Tom continues. "Then you catch bad on fourth street and your opponent catches good. In this case, be prepared to give up the hand because all that you have at this point is a two-card hand and you know that your opponent probably has at least a three-card hand."

The purpose of raising on third street is to win the antes or, sometimes, to build the pot. Certainly you want to build the pot if you can trap a third player in the middle when you know that you have a better hand than he does.

Suppose you have limped in with a good hand (which I do at times), someone else raises, and the high card calls. At this point you must reraise because you have the high card in there with you.

"Sometimes the second-best hand will raise the best hand to punish the third-best hand, but you must be careful if you decide to make this move," Tom adds. "It is ludicrous to raise the best hand to take out the third-best hand if the best hand looks very smooth, although I've seen it done quite often, especially on fourth street. Say that the three of you in the pot have all started with premium hands. Then you catch an eight on fourth street, one opponent catches a nine, and the other one catches a seven. The seven bets and you raise to force the nine out of the pot. This is a fairly common strategy and one that I generally use, especially when I have a very good draw. I really don't mind if the third-best hand calls (if he wants to play that badly), but if he decides to stay in, I want to be sure that he has to put more money in the pot to pay for his bad decision. I also don't mind if he drops out and leaves his dead money behind.

"I don't want to put in the extra action on fourth street if I have a rough eight against what looks like a much smoother hand," Tom explains. "I'm not necessarily prepared to abandon ship at this point, so I might just call and take off one card. If I catch bad while the seven catches good again, then I will give it up on fifth street. So, if I'm going to deliberately raise on fourth street with what I think is the second-best hand in order to get the third-best hand out, I need to have a reasonable draw."

We have said that it is automatic for you to raise on third street if you're the only low card showing. Also, Tom and I agree that you probably should raise if you have two or more low cards (one of them as your doorcard) if there is only one low card behind you, especially if he is a tight player. But temper that advice with this thought: If that other low card does indeed have a hand, he knows that you may not have one, and then it often becomes correct for him to reraise rather than to just call.

Reraising

Reraising is an important strategy on third street. For example, suppose that Tom is sitting on my right with a four showing and I have a three showing. He raises, which he usually would do since the two of us have the only low cards remaining. Now it becomes very important for me to reraise if I have three very low cards.

One of two results may happen: (1) If he really has bad cards, he may fold; (2) By putting in the double raise with what I know are three good cards, I am giving myself the opportunity to go to fifth street with my three good starting cards. .. even if I catch bad on fourth street. And he, of course, may not be able to do that since he may not have started with three premium cards.

In other words, by reraising, I am giving myself an extra chance in the event that things don't work out well for me on fourth street. I can take another card off because there is already enough money in the pot to justify my call. But if I just call his third-street raise and then I catch a king on fourth street while he catches a baby - I do not want to call his fourth-street bet because the pot is too small.

Any time that you put in a raise and another low card just calls instead of raising, you can assume that he is calling you with a good hand, though not necessarily a great hand. Also, if you know that he is a rock, you have even more liberty with him because you can be pretty sure that he's not going to reraise you. You also have added value because you have a better chance to win against him on fourth street if you catch good because he is capable of laying down a hand. As in all forms of poker, it is important to know your opponents.

Calling With the High Card

Sometimes it can be OK to call a raise (heads-up only) with the high card. Some very tight players, however, will never call with the forced bring-in, even if they have an ace-deuce in the hole, because of their bad board. Let's say that you are playing in the early round of a tournament at the $30-$60 level. Eight players are at the table and their antes amount to $40. You have a king upcard with an A-2 in the hole and bring it in for $10, making $50 in the pot. A four raises, bringing the pot to $80. It costs you $20, giving you the proper odds to call.

Four possible situations could happen on fourth street:

  1. You and the four both can catch good.
  2. You both can catch bad
  3. You can catch good and the four can catch bad
  4. You can catch bad and the four can catch good.

You're going to be looking at that king on top during the entire round, and that can be psychologically upsetting, but calling with your K-A-2 isn't as bad a playas some people think it is.

"It depends on one other factor, too," Tom explains. "Did the baby card (the four) raise early when there still were two or three players with low cards yet to act, or did he raise from a steal position? If he raised from an early position, I have to give him credit for a hand, so I'm less likely to defend with a king. But if he raised in late position, and I know that he isn't a rock, I am more likely to call his raise. My personal rule is this: If I'm going to defend the high card, both of my hole cards must be extremely low."

I agree with Tom. If all you have under the king is a 7-5, you usually should not call. Also, if my two downcards are babies and I think that the raiser could be a little weak because he was in a steal position, I will be getting about the right price to call, although it still is a borderline decision.

In a live money game, I am more apt to call heads-up with the high card bring-in and two babies in the hole even if l know that the raiser has a three-card hand ~ than I am in a tournament. In a $30-$60 side game with $80 in the pot, it costs $20 to defend with the king so you have the proper odds for your call. But in a tournament, I would be less likely to call the raise because when my chips are gone, I'm out of the race. Also, in tournament situations players initially playa little more conservatively and have a greater tendency to pass than they do in a live game. (Most live razz games currently are being played as a part of a H.O.R.S.E game, although $50- $100 or larger razz side games often are spread at the World Series of Poker.) Note: Remember that you should never consider calling a raise with the high card against two or more opponents.

 

Fourth Street

Continuing with the sample hands that we discussed on third street, let's take a look at them on fourth street. You started with 7-5-3 and your opponent started with 4-2-A

"Both hands 'play themselves' on fourth street. If you catch good on fourth street and your opponent catches good," Tom says, "you probably will wind up going to the river with this hand - unless, for example, your opponent's hand looks overwhelmingly threatening by sixth street (maybe he is showing four wheel cards), in which case you should give up your seven-draw. You may even give up a made seven, depending upon whether you think that your opponent is double-paired or possibly has an eight in the hole plus a pair."

In razz, then, if you have a four-card seven or better on fourth street, the chances are good that you will be going to the river with your hand. But suppose that on fourth street you and your opponent both catch bad. For example, what should you do if you are first to bet on fourth street and you caught a queen and your opponent caught a king? Even though a queen has slightly the best of it over a king, you probably will not want to gamble in a tournament on fourth street if you are fairly sure that you both started with three low cards. You will be at a disadvantage on future rounds because you will have to bet first. If you check and the king bets, you certainly should call. If you then catch good and he catches bad on fifth street, or the other way around, the hand usually is over. However, if you catch a nine and he catches a king, you should bet the nine.

To reiterate, if you both catch good on fourth street, the hand often will go to the river. However, if you both catch bad on fourth street, and only one of you catches good on fifth street, the hand is usually finished. On fifth street, if a player has a three-card hand against what appears to be a four card hand and he keeps playing, it usually is very poor razz play because the bets double and the four-card hand is a big favorite.

As we have said, most situations in razz are fairly automatic. If you have a draw to a wheel, a six, or a seven on fourth street, you probably are going to stay in to the river unless you catch very bad cards and your opponent catches very good cards. Another fairly automatic situation but one that isn't as automatic for a lot players as it should be is the fourth-street fold. Under normal circumstances, when you and your opponent have both limped in (or when there has been only one raise), it should be automatic on fourth street that you are done with the hand if your opponent catches very good and you catch very bad.

I like to play with people who call on fourth street when they have caught bad and I have caught good. You see this happen in both ring games and tournament games. If you want to quickly decide whether someone is a good player or a bad player, just look at what he does on fourth street. The players who have played razz for 40 years or more know to give up their hands in this situation; they aren't going to give you the best of it. When you see somebody calling on fourth street with much the worst of it, you know that he is the type of player who you want to be playing with in both tournaments and live games.

Raising on Fourth Street

Suppose that you both catch good on fourth street; your opponent has an A-4 showing and you have a 3-5 showing. You have an A-2 in the hole, giving you a wheel draw. You don't know whether the four has paired him, and so you may want to raise him. In case he started with a bad one in the hole, or if he has paired, you have the best of it by far. You also want to find out where you're at and so, in most cases, I raise in this situation. You are committed to going to the river with your wheel draw.

"Another reason to raise is that you. want to see if your opponent has enough of a hand to reraise," Tom adds. "If he reraises you, you know that he is not paired and that he also has a strong four-card hand."

At times, it is OK to be deceptive with your big drawing hands. Let's say that you just check and call with a four-card wheel. Your opponent may think, "I've got her," especially if he also has a good four-card wheel or a six-draw. Now suppose that you catch a seven and he catches an eight on fifth street. Even if you lead out, it is hard to give you credit for having a seven made. He easily could call you with his eight...or even raise. I have seen players who will check-call with a wheel draw on fourth street to give the impression that they have paired. You can use this type of slowplay, but for deceptive reasons only. However, if you do this too often, your opponents will catch on to it.

In the example above, on fifth street if you check your seven and he bets, then you can check-raise him. This play set up by checking a very smooth hand on fourth street works most of the time, especially against an aggressive opponent. Often, your opponent is thrown off for the rest of the hand. He can't imagine that you would check such a strong hand on fourth street (he wouldn't). You have sunk the hook.

Since he already has put in the bigger bet on fifth street, he simply cannot bring himself to give up the hand and often will play it to the river.

"If you have a hand that is as good as a four-card wheel and are up against another four-card premium hand," says Tom, "one reason not to raise on fourth street is simply that you have decided to wait until fifth street to raise when the bets are doubled."

The Check-Raise

The check-raise is not used often enough in razz, although top players use it because it is a very valuable tool. "You don't have as many opportunities to checkraise in razz because it is a game of strong fronts," Tom adds. "If you have a 7-2 showing against an 8-6, you are usually better off to bet than to try for the check-raise because even if the 8-6 suspects that he may have the best hand, he still will be reluctant to bet." You have to have done something along the way to set up the check-raise so that you will get action when you try it.

For example, let's say that you check your four-card wheel and your opponent bets his 7-5. You smooth call. Then on fifth street, he catches an eight and you catch a jack. He bets and you call. On sixth street, he catches a six. You catch a queen. He bets and you call again. This type of scenario can be very embarrassing because it becomes obvious to your opponent that you checked a strong four-card draw on fourth street in an attempt to trap him and set up a future check-raise with the hand. "One time that you can check-raise is when the boards are similar and you are not paired," Tom adds. "For example, you start with 2-4-5 and catch an eight on fourth street. Your opponent started with a six up and he also catches an eight. Now you have an 8-5 draw against what appears to be an 8-6 draw. This is a spot where you can check-raise and be fairly sure that your opponent will go for it," Tom says.

Of course, this is a play that you would be more likely to make in a ring game than in a tournament because you hate to miss any bets in a tournament. By checking, you give up the opportunity to win the pot right there in the event that your opponent has paired. The better your opponent, the more you need to be a little trickier in your play because a sophisticated opponent will not automatically call you. He is going to think about what you might have, whereas if you're playing against a calling station, you don't need to get tricky; you can play more straightforwardly. As in any poker game, there are more reasons to make tricky plays against sophisticated players than there are to make them against weak players.

Pairing a Hole Card

Let's examine a scenario in which you and your opponent both started good; on fourth street, he caught bad while you caught a "good" card, but it paired one of your hole cards. Should you bet?

If you caught good and he caught bad, even if you paired underneath, you must bet on fourth street. Your bet can have two good results:

  1. You might win the hand right there; or
  2. You have set up your play for fifth street.

What if you catch bad and your opponent catches good - Is there it situation in which you might continue even if there has been no double raise on third street? Yes. If my opponent is someone who consistently starts with a bad card in the hole, I may opt to continue. Although I do not particularly like this play, you occasionally can make it in a live game (you probably should not do so in a tournament). You must have a good read on your opponent and be fairly sure that he has started weak. Against a tight player, never continue in this situation.

Key Concept

Never call on fourth street when two or more opponents caught good and you caught a bad card. "Even if you started with A-2-3, if you catch a paint and both of your opponents catch inside a seven, for example, give up your hand," Tom advises. "Even though one of them may have paired, it is unlikely that they both have paired. Suppose that one of them is on your immediate right and bets into you; the third player is still to act after you. In this scenario, your opponents have you right in the middle, a terrible situation."

Now suppose that you are last to act. The low hand has a 5-4 showing and checks to the second guy, who has a 6-3, and he bets. Now you absolutely cannot call because you stand a good chance of being check-raised by the 5-4. "The other scenario is that the 5-4 may bet - even if he suspects that he is going to be raised - just to force you out of the pot," Tom adds. So, in this example, if there is a bet on fourth street, you must fold.

 

Fifth Street

"If you are trailing by a card with only two to come, that is too much to overcome. Generally, you should fold if you have every reason to believe that your opponent has a four card hand and not a three-card hand like you have," Tom explains. There might be a case where, on fourth street, you both catch bad. Say that he catches a 10 and you catch a jack, for example. Then on fifth street, suppose that you catch a nine and he catches an eight. Now he has a 10-8 made and you have a J-9 made. A lot of people will call in this spot~ but I believe that it is a mistake. Your opponent has both the best hand and the best draw. He has a 10 made with an eight draw. He has far the best of it.

Key Concept

"A lot of times, a draw is better than a made hand. On fifth street, if an opponent appears to have a 1 0-9 made and you have a jack showing with a four-card wheel draw, you are a favorite. Therefore, good players will raise with the smooth draw in this situation, " Tom adds. The better razz players don't want to have to throwaway the best hand in case the jack raises and so they will usually check and call if the jack bets, rather than risk betting and getting raised.

However, if the 10-9 has reason to suspect that the jack has paired, he should bet. "If you have a fairly good read that one of the cards that the jack has caught has paired him - for example, he caught a four on fifth street and no fours are out - you may decide to bet on fifth street. But I think that you must be fairly sure that the four paired him before you risk a bet in a spot where your opponent (if he is sophisticated) is capable of raising you," Tom clarifies. "If he is an unsophisticated player who probably will not raise, then I might go ahead and bet."

 

Sixth and Seventh Streets

The chances are that by sixth street you have already picked up a draw to the hand that you are trying to make (usually an eight or lower), and so sixth street usually will not have tremendous significance in razz. But if your opponent is looking as though he may already have you beaten, and he catches inside again (a card between his top card and his low card), chances are that you should fold. In fact, there probably are more sixth-street laydowns in razz than there are in seven-card stud.

Let's look at a hand on fourth street in which you catch an eight and your opponent catches a seven. You call his bet. Then on fifth street you both catch paints. You're still in there trying to make an eight. On sixth street, suppose that he catches a four and it doesn't pair him on top. You no longer should draw to your eight because he may already have a seven made and you could be drawing dead; you should fold your hand.

There are many times that you still will be drawing going into seventh street - for example, when you have four wheel cards, and your opponent has an 8-7-6-2 showing and you think that he has at least an eight made. Even though you have only a four-card hand, you still are going to have to play because if you make your hand on seventh street, you probably will beat him. This is another example of having "the best hand or the best draw." On sixth street, you have the best draw, although he has the best hand at that moment. "This is why many razz players gnash their teeth so often. You have a four-card draw to a wheel and catch paint-paint. Your opponent looks as though he has made a rough eight. Even though you started so smoothly, he has the best hand and you have to go to the river to try to outdraw him, " laments Tom.

On seventh street, you have a lot of decisions to make: Should you bet, should you call, should you raise, should you bluff? The time to bluff is when you think that your hand cannot win in a showdown. But if you decide to try a bluff, remember that you usually will be called because by seventh street, the pot often is big enough to warrant a call.

For instance, suppose that you were showing a low hand on fourth street and then caught two paints on fifth and sixth streets. Since your opponent knows that you have been drawing to a good low, it comes down to whether you made it or didn't make it on the river. If he checks to you and you bet, generally expect him to call.

Similarly, if you are the low and your opponent appears to have been drawing very smoothly, you may want to check on the river even if you have made an eight-low. By checking, you may be able to induce a bluff because when a player misses on seventh street, he sometimes will decide to try a bluff But if you bet and he has made a smooth hand, he probably will raise. So, if you have only a marginal hand, I recommend that you check into what you believe is a hand that has been drawing very smoothly, whereas if your hand is very, very good, you should make a value bet.

If you have hidden strength on seventh street, don't be afraid to try for a check-raise, especially if your opponent has been betting strongly along the way. Suppose you're showing a Q-8-6-2, for example, and you're up against a K-7-6-5. If you have made a six-low on the river, check. If your opponent has a seven-low, he probably will bet - and then you can raise. You probably are not risking the loss of a bet in this scenario because if you are fairly sure that your opponent has made a seven-low, he probably will bet it and thus set up your check-raise.

If your opponent sees that you have a very smooth draw and still bets into you on the river, he may be bluffing. Therefore, if you have made any kind of hand, you probably should call. There is no reason for a player who apparently has made an eight or nine-low to bet into what is an obvious wheel draw. Therefore, he may not actually have his low and if you make an eight or a nine, you usually would want to call his bet.

There are few big confrontations on seventh street in razz. In order to have a shoot-out on seventh, two tremendous hands must be betting against each other. "If your opponent bets and you raise and then he reraises, it's like looking down the barrel of a gun, " is the way that Tom describes the sinking feeling. "You thought that you had the best hand, so you raised. Now you wonder why you did it."

Playing at the Final Table

When you're at the final table with a short stack, your strategy will depend upon your goal for the tournament. If your goal is to move up the ladder, you definitely will be waiting for a solid three-card hand. But if your goal is to win the tournament, you sometimes will have to take a stand with a hand that is not quite as good as you would like it to be. For example, you may have to playa three-card nine, even though that isn't a great hand.

 

The Final Table of the 1997 WSOP Razz Event.

The final table play lasted 4 hours and two minutes (202 hands). I want to thank Tom Sims for doing an excellent job of recording the hands so that we have a permanent record. When we got to the final table, I was the chip leader and thus I could afford to play more aggressively against the short stacks, who weren't going to come after me unless they had strong hands. I raised three out of the first four hands at the final table because I was lucky enough to get low cards on top and be in the steal position. Stealing antes is important throughout a tournament in order to stay in chips. "If you don't steal, you're giving up way too much, " Tom agrees.

An interesting hand came up when we were three-handed - Max Stem, Peter Brownstein, and I - playing at the $5,000-$10,000 limits. Head-up with Max, I was the forced bring-in with a seven and Max raised with a six. I had an A-9 in the hole and called. On fourth street, Max caught a deuce and I caught a three. He bet $5,000 and I called. On fifth street, I caught a ten; Max caught an eight. He bet $7,000 all in. My hand was 10-9- 7-3-A and I was looking at his 6-2-8. I weighed the situation; for $7,000 I had the opportunity to bust Max. I could have caught two runners to beat the eight that he was representing. Did he really have an eight made?

Max had been playing fairly conservatively since he had gotten low on chips. There was $30,000 in the pot. Even though I would still have about $150,000 left if! called and lost, $7,000 flowing from my stack into his would have been a $14,000 I swing, and I didn't want to give him more ammunition to hurt me with in the future. I usually play very quickly and respond intuitively. This time I needed to stop and think.

I could hear everyone in the crowd murmuring, "She's got to call. It's only $7,000." But I did not call. Max was kind enough to show me his 4-5 in the hole and indeed I would have been drawing almost dead. He had an 8-6-5-4-2.

Out of the next 20 hands, only one hand went to the river, and fortunately for me I was the victor in that hand against Peter Brownstein. At that point, Peter and Max were both low on chips. Three hands later, in a pot between Max and Peter, Peter went all in with a partial bet on sixth street and was called by Max, who had a few less chips. Peter won the pot and Max had to settle for third place. Had I made the $7,000 call in the earlier hand between Max and me, Max would have still been in the tournament, albeit with very few chips. There might have been an entirely different result.

I had about a 3-to-1 chip lead when I went heads-up with Peter Brownstein. Peter is an excellent player and is always a gentleman at the table. I had played with him on the East coast and found him to be a tough opponent. Plus, he wanted the victory as much as I did. In our heads-up match, we played 68 hands in 46 minutes. Several times, we turned to the gallery and apologized for our play taking so long; it was not an exciting event to watch - it was usually a bring in bet, a raise, and a fold. We went to the river only three times during our heads-up action. We were quite concerned that the people who had been there for hours watching us, including the Card Player staff and lots of personal friends, were very bored because a razz final table isn't as interesting to watch as a no-limit contest or other high-action game.

Between deals, Peter and I chatted. "It's probably going to come down to a hand in which we both have four-card hands and one of us gets lucky," I said to him. And that is pretty much what happened.

The Final Hand

I had a 2-to-1 chip lead when the final hand began. We both started with a three-card hand. He started with a deuce on top and I had the forced bring-in with a seven. I had A-6 in the hole and he had 8-5 in the hole. After I opened, Peter raised and I reraised because I had more chips than he had and because I also knew for sure that I had a three-card seven and I wasn't positive that he had a three card hand. On fourth street, I caught a three and he caught a seven. He checked, I bet, and he called. On fifth street, I made my seven and Peter still was drawing to the eight. On sixth street, Peter made his 8-7 and on the river I improved to a six - and that ended the competition. What a thrill! I had at last fulfilled my lifelong poker goal of winning a WSOP title and bracelet.

The Key Hand

But the really key hand for me in the tournament occurred when we were down to three tables, still out of the money. I got involved with a hand against Randy Holland. Though I had started with three low cards, I had caught two bad cards while he had caught two good cards. He bet on fifth street and I had only $200 left. In 1996 when we were down to two tables, Randy had busted me out of the tournament and then went on to win the title. I said to myself, "This year, he's not getting my last $200," and I folded. He had a hand, of course, and I would have needed two miracle cards to beat him. "Don't panic... don't panic," I told myself that $200 saved got me to the final table. I had to ante $100 on the next hand and won that pot, taking me to $1100. Then I had a tremendous rush. It felt as though I could do nothing wrong from that point on. I won about 60 percent of the hands for the next 30 minutes. To win a tournament, you need to go on a rush at some point. "You put yourself in a position to get lucky," Tom told me, "by making an intelligent laydown when it counted."

I had a large, enthusiastic gallery at the final table. When I walked in to scope out the final table area, I saw the bleachers full of people wearing hats, waving banners, and sporting pins that said "Go, Linda!" I was so overwhelmed that I had to go outside to regain my composure. My friend Bonnie Damiano had spent the day having the hats and banners made to surprise me. It gave me a tremendous feeling of confidence.

Even one of my opponents at the final table was wearing a hat that said, "Go, Linda!" (although when I beat him in a pot, he threw it on the floor). Before final table play began, I asked my cheering section to cheer for everyone at the final table because I believe in good sportsmanship. Being great people, they did. That evening, Bonnie threw a victory party for me that was attended by many of the spectators, my office staff, friends, and by runner-up Peter Brownstein. I was on cloud nine! I will never forget the thrill of winning a title in poker's most prestigious event, the World Series of Poker.

And my winning the tournament was a good thing for women. I was most excited about winning it because I wanted to set an example for other women - an example that would show them that they too could compete and be winners in the open events at the World Series of Poker.

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