Razz Rush (or, Learn to Love Tilt)

Montecasino Complex Poker
A poker croupier wearing a face mask and a face shield watches an employee sanitizing a poker table at the Montecasino complex. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

Everybody plays the fool – but nobody does it as well as Norman Chad. The longtime color commentator for the World Series of Poker is the perfect foil for play-by-play announcer Lon McEachern; that duo is just as responsible for the mid-Aughts poker boom as Chris Moneymaker himself.

As a professional circus performer, Chad’s life depends on knowing exactly when, where and how hard to throw the knife.

And he hit the target just a few years ago with the catchphrase that’s sweeping the poker landscape: Razz Rush. If you’ve ever played Razz, even once, you get the joke.

But most poker players haven’t tried this classic variant. Maybe it’s because the game’s just too simple. Maybe it’s because their chosen online poker rooms only have the software to offer “flop” games (Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo).

Or maybe it’s because Razz is the most frustrating game on Earth. Because this is such a relatively easy game to learn – at least compared to Hold’em – a hand of Razz can feel like you’re playing a scratch card.

Everything starts off promisingly with some good hole cards; you keep scratching, and you get nothing. Not even a free ticket.

All that losing will get to you after a very short time. But unless you’ve been “counting cards” with those scratch-offs, they won’t give you a positive expected return the way Razz will – provided you don’t tilt and rage-quit first.

Poker Made Easy – Almost Too Easy

Razz wasn’t always the bête noire of poker. Also known as Ace-to-Five Lowball or California Lowball, Razz is a seven-card variant of the “stud” games that started popping up during the American Civil War.

The key difference: Instead of making the high hand, you want to make the low hand in Razz, with Five-Four-Three-Deuce-Ace (5432A) the lowest hand possible.

Still not easy enough for you? Straights don’t count in Razz, which is why 5432A is the nuts. And flushes don’t count in Razz, so you don’t even have to think about which suits have been dealt – except during the bring-in, which we’ll get to in a minute.

This is why Razz strategies are so much simpler to learn and apply than they are at the Hold’em tables.

It also helps that Razz is almost always played using the Fixed-Limit structure, which only has two bet sizes (again, aside from the bring-in): the small bet on the first two streets, and the big bet, which is double the small bet, on the last three.

The thing is, a lot of people don’t like playing Limit poker. They want the action you get playing No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha.

And the bring-in is something you don’t see in flop games. A lot of people don’t like learning, either.

Bring It In: The Key to Winning Poker

If they only knew. The bring-in is actually a very simple concept; everyone gets dealt three hole cards, two down and one up, and the player with the highest-ranking up-card (King being the

highest possible) has to put in a forced blind. If there’s a tie for highest rank, the tie-breaker is by suit, with Spades the highest, followed by Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs. Pro tip: If you can’t remember the suit rankings, use their alphabetical order (Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades) in reverse.

See how easy this is? Easy, yes, but the bring-in is also the most critical point in a hand of Razz – just like the pre-flop round in Hold’em. This is where you get to see everyone’s up-card, including your own.

If you’re the player with the forced blind, this is where you decide whether to bet only the bring-in amount or to “complete” and put in a full small bet.

Your decision should be based not only on your three-hole cards but the identity and position of everyone’s up-card as well.

The same goes for everyone else around the table. Master the bring-in phase, and Razz will be a piece of cake for you – and it will give you the foundation for learning other lowball games and split-pot games.

Maybe you’ll even sit at the same WSOP table as Mr. Razz Rush himself. Good times, good times.