The "Other" Games of Poker: Chris Fargis on Badugi
Professional poker player Chris Fargis joins us again this week to delve into strategy for one of poker's wildest and weirdest varieties: badugi. [Ed Note: If you need a refresher on the rules of Badugi, see Nicole's earlier column on the rules of the game]. A regular in mixed games from Foxwoods to Commerce, 27-year old Fargis has succeeded at badugi at its highest levels, and as he reveals to us here at Poker News, his education in the game didn't exactly come at a small price.
NG: Badugi is a pretty specialized form of poker-- very little has been written about it in terms of strategy and it is rarely spread live outside high-limit mixed games. How did you go about learning the game and developing your skills at badugi?
Chris Fargis: I learned in high-limit mixed games. This is not an ideal learning environment, but I didn't really have a choice. Badugi is in most of the mixes, I wanted to play in the mixed games, so I had to learn badugi. I would like to say "I played tight in the beginning until I could figure out what was going on," but that would be a lie. But that's my advice!
NG: What is the most important thing for a beginner to understand when approaching the game?
CF: It's pretty hard to make a badugi so if someone is standing pat and you're still drawing, so make sure you're getting the proper odds before you call a bet. Frequently you should fold after the second draw if you are heads up, the pot is small, and you believe your opponent has a pat hand.
Also be aware that people are bluffing (or "snowing") a lot in this game. It's hard to adjust to this element but you should consider calling with a good incomplete (non-badugi) hand if you think your opponent may be snowing. The larger the pot is, the more inclined you should be to call.
I once had a conversation with a high stakes player who was unfamiliar with the game and said something about badugi that I found very interesting. "This is the only game I've ever seen," he told me, "where it's common for there to be fifteen or more bets in the pot on the end and for someone to win the pot for one bet without a showdown." Even if you think it's unlikely that your opponent is bluffing, consider HOW unlikely it is.
NG: Three to an eight-low badugi or any pat badugi have been described by some professionals as good starting hands. Within this starting range, what are some of the "trouble hands" an inexperienced player might run into/overplay?
CF: Bad pat badugis, like J-T-8-2 or K-Q-7-3, can be difficult to play. This is especially true if you are inexperienced at the game and your opponents know what they're doing. If you choose to play these hands and you get raised at any point, it's very hard for you to continue. You may be better off just folding these hands, at least until you get a better feel for the game.
NG: In the little badugi I've played, it seems to me like the winning hands at showdown are all over the place, from smooth 6 and 7 low badugis to K high badugis, to 3-card hands like Ah-3c-4d-Td. Though everything in poker is opponent-dependent, in your experience, what feels like a "median" winning hand to you? When do you feel comfortable jamming the pot?
CF: My experience with hand values is similar. I've seen players go to war with incomplete hands and I've seen a guy check-call twice with A-2-4-5! By the way, he correctly put his opponent on a wheel (A-2-3-4) and lost the hand.
Off the top of my head, I would say the median winning hand in a six-handed badugi game is a jack or ten badugi. It's pretty rare to see someone make a 6 or better so I'm usually comfortable raising with a 7 but that comfort level is very dependent on the situation. For example, f I think someone is betting a good incomplete hand on the end, I might make a value raise
with a A-2-3-x incomplete or with a bad badugi.
NG: I've heard players moan and groan that badugi is just an action junkie's game with too much of a luck component, resulting in very little edge, even for a skilled poker player. Is this the bad side of badugi's high variance talking or do you think there is less of an edge in badugi than in other poker games?
CF: There is a large luck factor in any poker game. People who whine about luck in poker need to come to grips with this fact. Games like badugi and triple draw do have higher short-term variance, but there are correct and incorrect ways to play in these games, and if you play correctly you will get the money in the long term.
NG: Here's a hand I caught on Doyle's Room recently. Five handed and a loose player raises from second position. The button, who seems to be a reasonable player calls and I call from the BB with 3-5-7-X. On the first draw, I draw one, loose guy draws two and the button takes one. I brick and check, loose guy bets, the button calls and I call. On the second draw, I hit a T high badugi and lead out. The loose guy calls and the button raises. What's your play here? Three-bet to try and get the loose guy out or just call to keep him in and likely drawing slim?
CF: You don't particularly want the loose player in the pot here but your hand is weak enough that I don't think you can three-bet here. The button may very well have you beat and if he has a strong hand he will definitely four-bet and you will have cost yourself two extra big bets. My advice here is to call the raise and check/call on the end.