H.O.R.S.E. Poker Strategy: In the Mix -- Position in Razz?
As I write this, I'm in Melbourne, Australia for the start of the 2009 Aussie Millions Poker Championships. Over the course of three weeks more than a dozen new poker champions will be crowned. The side action at the Crown Casino has been nothing short of amazing. Although there haven't been any mixed games spread yet since I've been here, there is a fixed-limit game here that I'm almost reluctant to bring to the attention of the world. It's that juicy! (Maybe next week.)
Two weeks ago I discussed the vital importance of position in 2-7 triple draw. Of course, position is important in every form of poker. But in triple draw, as a draw game, there are only two pieces of information available to players to inform their decisions — the betting action, and the number of cards each player draws. Since draws are accomplished in turn, players in late position have more information (and really, the only information) available to them than players who must draw first in early position.
Position also has an effect, albeit a lesser one, in razz. It's not a situation that happens often, because of the fact that razz is a stud game requiring the player with the lowest board to bet first, but it does happen once in a while and is good to be aware of. An example from a recent razz hand I played should make things clear.
I started with a strong hand, (A-2) / 5. I raised after an opponent showing a four completed the bring-in bet, folding everyone else in the hand. The two of us went to fourth street, where we both caught eights. He bet out and I decided to call, knowing that this player tended towards the tighter end of the loose-tight spectrum and would probably not bet without a four-card hand. At that point I wasn't sure how strong his four-card hand was, just that he had one.
We both bricked on fifth street. His card was slightly better than mine, as he caught a jack against my five — a card that paired my board. I had a four card hand of A-2-5-8 against his apparent five-card hand of J-8. Yet I had a sneaking suspicion that my eight draw was better than his. I wasn't sure what each of our equity in the hand was but it seemed like it couldn't be much worse than a flip at that point. Thus when he bet, I raised.
Why raise here? There are a few reasons. First and foremost, I'm testing the strength of his hand. I think he has a made jack in this situation, but if he is paired or has a brick in the hole he will almost certainly slow down, despite the presence of the pair on my board. Secondly, even if he has a made jack, I'm confident that my eight draw is better than his (although I have to make a hand by the river; he does not) and I don't mind getting a few extra bets in the pot with two cards still to come.
The third and final reason to raise is a bit more subtle than the first two. My board is showing 5-8-5 against my opponent's 4-8-J. Absent the incredibly unlikely event that he catches an eight or a jack on sixth street, I will have position against him for the rest of the hand — the big bets of sixth and seventh street. This will help me get a free card when I need one and otherwise pound the pot when I think I have the best of it, maximizing the amount of money for my winners and minimizing my losses for my losers. Even if the equity of our hands is a flip at fifth street, my positional advantage swings the numbers in my direction for the remainder of the hand.
Like anything else, it's possible to get carried away with this concept. I wouldn't recommend taking this type of line against someone who had completed or raised on third street and was showing three babies on his board by fifth street. While the likelihood that he is paired is relatively high, the fact remains that your hand is a pretty big dog to his. Position will only get you so far in poker; at some point it does come down to the individual cards each player is holding.
That also goes for those situations in which you do have the proper conditions for raising on fifth street with your pair. Remember that many players will just see a pair on your board and keep firing away at the pot. Against those players, you are most likely going to have to show down a hand with a reasonable amount of strength in order to win the pot. The point of raising on fifth street is not about setting up a situation where you can "buy" the pot on a later street — the pair on your board is too strikingly obvious.
There are a few mixed-game events and a few fixed-limit events on the schedule here in Melbourne over the course of the next few weeks. Although I'll be too busy working to have time to play in any of them, you can be sure I'll keep a sharp eye out for players who have command of a wide variety of games and those who seem overmatched. Who knows? Maybe a few of the hands I observe will make it into this space.