The 'Other' Games of Poker: Linda Johnson on Razz
Linda Johnson, the vibrant, gregarious, and dare I say sassy "First Lady of Poker" is also one of the few people alive that can call herself a razz world champion. She took home her first World Series of Poker bracelet in the 1997 razz event and made another WSOP final table in 2004 in the $1,500 stud hi-lo event. In addition to her duties as the floor announcer for the World Poker Tour, Johnson still tears up games at the $100-$200 level both live and online and has won two ladies' events in the past year– at the Orleans Open in Las Vegas and the California Ladies State Poker Championship in Oceanside, CA.
We're privileged to have Linda Johnson join us this week to share a little razz strategy with us. (For a quick refresher course on the rules, look no further than Ashley Adams' excellent columns on the game).
Nicole Gordon: Razz is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the internet poker age now that sites like Full Tilt and Poker Stars have started spreading online ring games and tournaments. Still, razz is missing from B&M casinos outside of mixed games (and the occasional high-limit razz ring games that go off at Commerce). How did you get yourself started in razz? Was it in B&M mixed games or did you just decide to give it a shot in a tournament setting?
Linda Johnson: When I began playing poker in the late 70s, razz was played in Las Vegas at the Fremont Hotel. The game was spread daily and players didn't play too well. I learned to play and enjoyed the game.
NG: What are some of the most common mistakes you see from inexperienced razz players?
LJ: Inexperienced players tend to not understand who the favorite is in a hand on fifth street. Also, many of them don't realize that it doesn't usually pay to continue with a hand if you catch a bad card on fourth street and your opponent catches a good card.
NG: I've found that one hole in my own game is not paying enough attention to the low cards that have already been folded. How crucial is it to track these "dead cards?" Do you have any tricks that help you to remember them?
LJ: It is very important to remember the "dead cards" as this will give you a clue if your opponent has paired or not. For instance, if you have seen two fours folded and your opponent catches a four, it probably didn't pair him. Also, you need to know how many cards are left in the deck to complete your hand. Each person has a different trick to remembering cards, but I just try to pay attention and say them in my head so I can remember.
NG: Let's take a look at a few hand situations. Let's say a J brings it in and I raise with (5-2) 3. A third player, who calls almost everything to the river has (x-x) A and calls. The J folds. On fourth street, I catch a Q for a board of (5-2) 3-Q while my opponent catches a 7 for (x-x) A-7. He leads out at me-- would you call here having caught bad?
LJ: No, you shouldn't call here unless the pot was double-raised on third street.
NG: Let's say it's a short-handed game and you've brought it in with (A-3) K. A couple of big cards fold and a LP player with (x-x) 2 raises. He's the type of guy who could easily be on a steal with one bad card in the hole. Would you make the call here or fold? What if that same LP player was showing a 9 instead of a 2?
LJ: The answer depends on the structure of the game you are playing. If the ante is large, you can consider calling, but you can only call against one player with a low card, never against two players. It isn't a big mistake to fold either. It is easier to make the call against a nine than a deuce.
NG: If you decide to call, what would be your move on fourth street if you catch good for (A-3) K-4 and he also catches good with (x-x) 2-7?
LJ: In this scenario, I would call again on fourth street as there is now more money in the pot and it is a single bet to you. The bet doesn't double until fifth street.
NG: Let's say on 3rd street you were the bring-in with (3-5) 9, your opponent raised showing the (x-x) A and you made the call. On fourth street, you bet out with (3-5) 9-7 and he took one off after bricking with a Q. Now, on fifth street you show a board of (3-5) 9-7-8 and your opponent shows (x-x) A-Q-2. How do you proceed in this hand with a rough nine? Do you check here on fifth street or bet out, forcing him to pay to draw? What happens if he catches a good card (say, a 7) on sixth street and you do not improve?
LJ: I would definitely check on fifth street and hope my opponent checks also. If he has a smooth draw, he is a favorite in the hand. If he catches a seven on sixth street and bets, I am going fold most likely unless he is a maniac player.
NG: Any final words of advice for hold'em players giving razz a shot?
LJ: Razz is one of the easiest games to play, but does require patience. Most decisions are automatic. You should have the best hand or the best draw or fold. It is also a game where it's "what's up top that counts." You can bet and represent a good hand if you catch good cards and your opponent catches poorly. Have fun!