Razz poker variation (sometimes referred to as “seven-card razz”) is a stud variant first made popular several decades ago alongside other “lowball” games. Its popularity waned somewhat during the 1990s and early 2000s, but the rise of mixed games and H.O.R.S.E. (of which razz is the “R” variant) helped reintroduce the game to a new generation.
Razz can be played with two to eight players. Like seven-card stud, it does not involve a flop (like hold’em or Omaha) nor any community cards. Unlike seven-card stud, the object in razz is to make the lowest possible five-card poker hand out of the seven cards.
Game play for razz is very similar to that of seven-card stud. To begin each player is dealt the first two cards face down and a third facing up. As in stud, this first deal and the betting round that follows it is commonly referred to as “third street,” with each subsequent deal/betting round referred to similarly (“fourth street,” etc. through “seventh street”). The two down cards are referred to as “hole cards” with the third card facing up called the “door card.”
As in seven-card stud, in razz a player will decide on the basis of these first three cards whether or not to continue in the hand, with starting hand selection again being a key element of the game’s strategy.
Each player who doesn’t fold prior to seventh street eventually will be dealt a total of seven cards — the first two down and one up, then three more up, then the last card down. From these seven cards the player has to make the best possible five-card combination, only instead of making a high hand the player is trying to make the lowest possible hand with the ace always counting as the lowest ranking card.
Flushes and straights don’t count in razz, meaning the best possible razz hand is 5x4x3x2xAx with suits being entirely inconsequential. The second best hand is 6x4x3x2xAx, the third best is 6x5x3x2xAx, and so forth following the same procedure used for ranking low hands in other “lowball” or split-pot games.
Also there is no “eight-or-better” qualifier in razz — the lowest hand at showdown wins, regardless how low it is.
Antes, bring-in and betting
As in seven-card stud, antes and bring-in bets are employed in razz in order to stimulate action. We’ll use the example of a $10/$20 razz game with an ante of $1 and a bring-in of $5. (Like most stud games, razz is most typically played as a fixed-limit betting game.)
Each player wanting to be dealt in to receive a hand would have to post the $1 ante, creating a pot worth competing for. The first three cards are then dealt to each player before it is determined that one player must post the bring-in. Whereas in seven-card stud the player with the lowest-ranking door card must post the $5 bring-in, in razz it’s the opposite — the player with the highest door card must pay the bring-in, with the Kx being the highest-ranking card in the game.
If multiple players have a king showing on third street, this becomes the only instance in razz where suits matter, with the player having the highest ranking king being the one forced to post the bring-in according to the following ranking: K♠ (highest), K♥ (next highest), K♦ (third highest), and K♣ (lowest).
As in seven-card stud, the player posting the bring-in has an option to “complete” the bet to $10 (the small limit of the game). From there betting clockwise around the table, with each player having the option to call, raise, or fold. Once the betting is complete, every player left in the hand is dealt a fourth card (i.e., “fourth street”).
In seven-card stud, the first player to act from fourth street on is the player displaying the highest-ranking hand. Meanwhile in razz the first player to act on fourth street and on subsequent rounds is the one with the lowest hand showing.
In a $10/$20 razz game, the limits of betting on third and fourth street would be the smaller limit, or $10, then on fifth, sixth and seventh streets the limits would increase to $20.
The best starting hand in razz, then, would be Ax2x3x. Often in full-ring razz games (i.e., with eight players), experienced razz players will fold three-card starting hands containing any card higher than an 8x. Also worth noting — pairs count in razz, making hands undesirably higher. That means any starting hand that has a pair is a bad one, and that pairing up on subsequent rounds is also detrimental to players making strong razz hands.
That said, it will often happen that a table might fold around to the player sitting to the left of the one who was forced to post the bring-in with a high card showing. In that case, a player will want to complete the bet with what will necessarily be a lower door card showing, a move which will often win the antes and bring-in.
Say a player showing the Q♦ posts the bring-in and it folds around to the last player who has K♠J♥ in the hole and the 7♥ showing. That player should complete even with those face cards in the hole, because the player with the queen showing will very likely be unable to call and continue in the hand. Stealing the antes and bring-ins is a key component of solid razz strategy.
From there razz strategy involves understanding when it is worth continuing to draw to a strong low hand as well as keeping track of opponent’s up cards to know which cards have been used and which remain as “outs” with which to complete a hand. Sometimes even a good starting hand like 7x3x2x becomes less attractive if several fours, fives, and sixes are showing up as other players’ up cards, thus making it harder for you to draw to that 7-low.
In razz players with low cards showing as their up cards often will be aggressive with their betting and raising, although sometimes it can be correct to bet and raise with an especially strong draw that is concealed by the fact that your lower cards are face down.
It is possible sometimes in razz to have a “lock” on a hand where you know with certainty your opponent cannot draw to a better hand than yours. Say on sixth street you have 4♦2♥ / 3♣A♠K♥6♠ and you see your opponent with XxXx / 5♣6♠J♦7♣. You know that whatever card your opponent ends up drawing on seventh street, the very best that player can make will be 6-5-3-2-A, a hand you already have beaten with your current 6-4-3-2-A.
While not everyone finds razz the most exciting poker variant, it is a favorite game among many, and definitely worth learning how to play. Often in H.O.R.S.E. games razz is one of the lesser known variants in the mix, meaning just a little bit of study can make you considerably better at the game than your opponents, thus potentially making the razz round a profitable one for you.