Badugi - the latest game to hit the high limit mix games, home games, and eventually the internet. This unique draw game has some sort of mysterious aura around it, probably stemming from the fact that there is no literature on the game whatsoever to turn to for advice. There are a couple reasons this remains the case; most prominently is the rarity of the game. The traditional poker authors we might look to for answers don't seem to play this game, and the demand for knowledge just isn't there. Another reason is the players who do understand the game and play it well don't want their opponents getting educated - Badugi is viewed as a gambler's game with little skill and naÃ¯ve players will jump into high stakes Badugi games with this belief, providing quite a profitable situation for the quiet, Badugi-savvy players in the game.
The game itself is played very much like triple draw lowball except you play a four-card hand instead of five and aces are low. Badugi is a draw game with three drawing rounds, four betting rounds, and the "lowest" hand wins. A "badugi" is a four card hand where all four cards have different suits (rainbow) and different ranks. If your hand contains a pair or two of a suit, the higher of the suit or one of the paired cards do not play and you hold a three-card hand. At showdown hands are compared just like in triple draw, from highest to lowest. For example, a KQJT badugi (the worst possible badugi) beats any three-card hand like As2c3d3h, and the latter hand would chop with Ad2h3sKs - both would play the A23 (sometimes called "A, B, C") as a three-card hand.
Because Badugi plays similarly to triple draw, I think a strong triple draw background is extremely helpful in becoming competent at this game. A major difference between the games, however, is that when nobody is pat in triple draw, no hand is a big favorite over another. This is far from the case in Badugi, where the best drawing hand is not drawing at all! He will win if nobody improves and sometimes they will improve and he will further improve and win anyway.
Play a bit of Badugi and you will quickly realize betting actions are quite repetitive (true in triple draw as well) - checking to the pat hand or the person drawing the fewest cards is practically expected. The best way I can describe the flow of the game is to split it into two subgames. Subgame A is when nobody is pat and therefore nobody has a badugi, and subgame B occurs when someone declares themselves pat with a badugi (or a snow!).
Let's suppose you are in a hand and it's a subgame A situation. It's absolutely critical that you recognize when you have the best draw because in that situation you don't have a draw at all, you have the current nuts! For instance, if you have A23x and everyone is drawing, you have the nuts and can only be tied at that moment and you need to charge everyone for drawing against you by getting in as much money as possible. You will frequently be in a subgame A situation on the first or second drawing rounds (and not uncommonly throughout the hand) which is why it's important to play starting hands that give you the best draw, so that you are not really drawing at all. For this reason, a hand like A2xy makes a better starting hand than 678x - when you improve the A2xy to a strong three-card hand you will usually have the best hand and can fearlessly value bet and force everyone else to try and play catch-up. The 678x must improve to a badugi to feel comfortable with the hand, and even then it's far from the immortal nuts. Note that its much more likely for an A2xy to become a strong three-card hand than for any three-card hand to become a badugi, simply because drawing two cards gives you a better chance for improvement than drawing one card, and there are many more outs available to the two-card hand.
Now let's focus on subgame B, which occurs when someone goes pat. This is a drastic change of events from subgame A and your strategy must shift as well. The second somebody says they are pat, your A23x doesn't look so good anymore, does it? Let's be generous and say you are against a pat Queen badugi - in this case you have nine outs to beat them. Not awful, but if you only have one draw to go you are a big dog to overtake their hand. Now consider when they make a premium hand and you are against a pat six. You're down to a three-outer, and even worse, you might catch a card like a seven or an eight for a costly second-best badugi and pay the maximum. As soon as you enter subgame B the game becomes checking to the pat guy and everyone still in the pot calling, drawing, and chasing. In a heads up pot you will almost never get the right price to continue past the second draw if you believe he really has a badugi. In multiway pots you will often feel committed to chasing to the end and at the river either the pat guy will bet and everyone will squeeze out their last card, grimace, and fold or he will check it down, show a weak badugi and everyone will nod and muck. It is hard to make a badugi, and once you do it is even harder to be beat. Consider this: a dealt KQJT badugi is just about a coinflip with a dealt A23x with three drawing rounds to go (the badugi is a slight favorite). When you find yourself in subgame B and the pat guy isn't a chronic snower, remember how tough it is to outdraw him and make sure you are really getting the right price to continue.
Badugi subgame A is all about hand reading - the fish in the game is the one giving the free cards when he has the best draw. Subgame B is all about math ("do I have the right price to try and outdraw this pat hand?") and snowing ("if everyone bricks out, I'll bet and they'll believe I have a badugi and fold" or "this guy is pat but he's weak and will break or fold if I raise here"). To me, subgame A is the more interesting of the two because there is more poker to be played. Hand reading, value betting, trapping, and determining profitable times to turn your hand into a snow and force a subgame B situation are prized skills. Subgame B often plays robotically, with little creativity as everyone tries to outdraw the single pat hand and usually fails. There are definitely opportunities in subgame B to make a play, but it often only costs the pat guy one or two more bets to simply check and call to showdown and keep you honest so usually your best strategy is to outdraw him and value bet him to death because he will make you show him a better badugi.
Even more than in triple draw I believe Badugi is a game that you need to play and gain experience at to get a feel for. Many of the situations I've discussed occur over and over again and become second nature over time. In the future I'll talk about some advanced Badugi plays you can make and what to watch out for from the trickier players in the game. Whether you're ready to jump into the next 200/400 mix game, want to add it to the home-game rotation, or you play in the rarely running Doyle's Room games online, I hope I've helped you lift the fog off this unique poker game.
© 12/2006 by Chris "DeathDonkey" Vitch