World Series of Poker Europe

Make Razz Great Again, with Adam Owen and Ian Shaw

Adam Owen
  • Don't underrate razz. "It teaches you a lot of good principles for poker," says poker pro Adam Owen.

  • Mixed-game players Adam Owen and Ian Shaw discuss razz strategy for tournaments and cash games.

"Seven-Card Razz" — or, more simply, razz — is one of the most underrated and even loathed games in all of poker. It all started with Norman Chad making fun of razz during the early broadcasts of the variant on ESPN, and the game hasn't had much positive attention ever since.

Sure, razz will always be a part of the H.O.R.S.E. and 8-game mixes, as well as the illustrious $50,000 Poker Players Championship at the World Series of Poker. But as a stand-alone game it has never really grown in popularity.

Razz, is, however, a great vehicle with which to get more acquainted with stud games in general. In fact, Adam Owen — third-place finisher in the $10,000 Razz Championship last year who has already cashed in this year's $10,000 Dealer's Choice and $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. events — even argues razz to be the perfect game to learn for people who've never played poker before.

The English player Owen (pictured above) is part of a select group young players who heavily focus on mixed games, and the same goes for Ian Shaw.

Shaw's backstory isn't as littered with deep runs and close calls in WSOP bracelet events as Owen's, but it's only a matter of time before Shaw begins filling up his live tournament résumé. Shaw is arguably the most experienced razz player in the world with over 2,000,000 razz hands played ranging from $1/$2 up to $100/$200 on PokerStars under the handle "SPRocketsAA."

Shaw — who hails from Mexico (his parents are from Europe, and he went to college in the US) — has numerous deep runs in SCOOP and WCOOP events in all variations of the game. As this summer's $10,000 Seven-Card Razz Championship continues to play out at the WSOP, I sat down to speak with both players about razz.

How Much Skill is There in Razz?

The goal in razz is the make the lowest possible hand, with neither straights nor flushes counting against you. Every player starts with two cards down and one card up, after which the first betting round starts. In total there are five betting rounds, and every player that plays until the showdown ends up with four up cards before receiving seventh street dealt face down.

It's a game for which some players — especially new ones — don't necessarily appreciate the skill component. But that's a mistake, says Owen.

"A lot of people, when razz comes up in a mixed-game tournament, will say, 'God, I hate this game!' and things like, 'This game has no skill in it,'" says Owen. "When they say that, you'll immediately know that you've got a slight edge on them."

"I think there's a lot more skill in razz than people think," echoes Shaw. "You'll pick up on the subtleties after playing hundreds of thousands of hands of this game. There are a lot of small things in the game that new players won't pick up on, and playing live is great because with that you'll have even more information to work with."

Razz for Beginners

"Beginners should focus on playing three cards eight or lower," says Owen, referring to starting hand selection in razz. "Three cards seven or lower is a fairly premium hand. A very strong hand would consist of any three wheel cards" — that is, any cards used to form a "wheel" or the best hand in razz, A-2-3-4-5.

Owen also gives a brief explanation of equities in razz, which is something he believes people often estimate incorrectly, in particular when overvaluing certain starting hands.

"In razz equities run really close — [for example,] 6-5-4 is 45% against A-2-3. That shows that it's a very run-out based game, though in tournaments where you try to preserve your stack, a lot of the hands will end on fifth street or before."

"A lot of the game is based on third street, as the run-outs tend to be a bit automatic after that," Owen continues. "You just have to call down in some spots, or fold, and that becomes very clear. In stud games fifth street is a very important street because you go from the small bet to the big bet, while in razz — compared to stud and stud hi-low – it's less important, [but] it's still big."

"Third street is still the most important, as the later streets often play themselves," chimes in Shaw.

"But there is room for some plays in razz, for sure. It gets down to a lot of reading, when it gets down to steal-versus-steal, for example. Oftentimes you'll get a really good price to limp on the bring-in. That means you can play a lot of hands, and that allows you to balance and play good hands, bad hands, and mediocre hands. If there are three low cards behind you, I like limping a lot better, but if there are two or less I'd generally like to complete."

Tournaments vs. Cash Games

"It's much better to limp in tournaments versus cash games," Shaw continues. "In cash games you want to take a more aggressive strategy, and raise most of the time because your stack size is not a consideration."

"In tournaments it's good to open hands as well. There are hands that play better when you're heads up, so if you do get reraised — as Adam said — the equities run really close to play a heads-up pot. You get to realize your equity more often when you're heads up as opposed to multi-way pots."

Owen went on to point out some other differences between razz tournaments and cash games.

"In tournaments the antes are generally bigger than in cash games, which makes it good to call the bring-in," Owen notes. "And in cash games beating the rake is also a consideration, so if you can pick up pots on third street in a cash game there's no rake, that's a factor. That's the reason why you won't see a lot of limping in cash games with a seven up or lower."

Starting Hands — Third Street

"Rough eights and nines can get troublesome," Owen advises, speaking again of starting hand selection in razz. "But in general people are too tight in razz. On the other hand, they play a hand like A-2-3 like it's aces in hold'em while you're basically in a flip against 7-6-5."

"People also telegraph the strength of their hand by three-betting on third street a lot," adds Shaw, "which makes it easier for you to play the hand later on as their pairing ranges are much narrower."

"While in hold'em calling down is almost never a bad thing with pocket aces," says Owen, "in razz with A-2-3 things change a lot more drastically on later streets."

Razz: A Great Introduction to Poker

Owen closed out our discussion explaining why he thinks razz is the perfect game for beginning poker players, and why you should add it to your home game, or give it a try online.

"Having said what we've said about razz, it's for sure the easiest game in poker to learn," Owen insists. "Being competitive in razz is much easier, and if I were to teach a complete beginner the rules of a poker game, I would start with razz."

"It teaches you a lot of good principles for poker — it teaches you to bluff, to steal, and to resteal. I think it's a really good game to learn your principles of poker."

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