Mastering Badugi Part 1 – Introduction

Badugi is Korean for a black and white spotted dog and the goal of the game is to get a hand with all different “spots”.  It is a triple draw lowball game where the players are each dealt four cards and the object of the game is to get the lowest hand possible with cards in different suits and of different ranks.  If you obtain a hand with four unpaired unsuited cards you have a badugi e.g T♣ 9 5 2♠.

Aces are considered low, so the best possible hand is A234 of all different suits (e.g A♣ 2 3 4♠) and is called a four high badugi or just a four badugi.  If you do not have a badugi then your hand is considered “incomplete”.  There are varying degrees of incomplete.  If you have three unpaired unsuited cards (e.g. J♠ 8♠ 5 2♣ or 8♠ 5 2♣ 2) you have what is known as a three card badugi or tri hand.  The terminology is interchangeable and the hands shown are referred to as either a “three card eight” or an “eight high tri”.

Any badugi beats a tri hand, thus the worst possible badugi K♠ Q J T♣ beats A♣ 2 3 4.  In game play the tri hand would discard the 4♦ and hope to get one of the following ten cards to pull ahead: 4♠, 5♠, 6♠, 7♠, 8♠, 9♠, T♠, J♠ Q♠, or K♠.  The A♠, 2♠, and 3♠ are unhelpful because pairs do not improve the hand. (Of course the K♠ is dead in this particular example)

If the highest card is the same, then you look to the next cards in order to break any ties.  For example, 9 7♣ 6 2♠ would beat both 9♠ 8 2 A♣ and 9♠ 7 6 4♣.  When you compare tri hands to each other you only look at the three lowest unpaired unsuited cards and break any ties in a similar fashion.  For example, A♠5♣6♦K♦ beats 3♠5♥6♣J♠.

A notable difference between Badugi and 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball is that the last draw in Badugi plays a much lesser role in determining who ends up with the best hand.  In a battle between two drawing hands the last card in “2-7” means everything but in badugi the better draw typically has a big advantage going into the last draw.  For example A♠ 2 3♣ is an 81% favorite over A 2♣ 4♠ with one draw to go.  That’s because A♠ 2 3♣ will win if no one will improves to a badugi.  However, in “2-7” the best possible draw of 2347 is only around a 55% favorite over a much inferior draw such as 8653 with one draw left.  This single difference impacts a lot of impacts many strategic considerations so let’s look at some introductory concepts that we will examine in more depth in future articles.

Introductory Concepts

The object of the game is to obtain a low unpaired hand with all different suits.  You are dealt a badugi only around 6% of the time, which is roughly the same probability as being dealt a pocket pair in hold’em.  Getting dealt a monster badugi that is seven high or lower is a very rare event.  Do not slow play any of these extremely strong hands. Raise and re-raise any action in front of you.

The majority of dealt badugis are king high and this is a problem because a king badugi is not a particularly good hand.  If you hold a king badugi and your opponent has a better badugi you are drawing dead when you stay pat.  You could choose to discard the king and draw a card but you don’t always have a solid three card badugi underneath upon which to draw to.  If you are not up against a badugi your hand is only approximately 50% to hold up against any three card badugi over the course of three draws.  If you are up against two tri hands you will only win around 25% of the time.  A queen badugi isn’t that much stronger as it could also be drawing dead and is also quite vulnerable to being outdrawn.  Over 50% of dealt badugis are either king or queen high.

Playing bad badugis in multi-way pots is the biggest trap to avoid in this game. The goal is to either steal the blinds or play them heads-up so open-raise in late position or re-raise someone opening from a steal position.  Sometimes you may end up in a multi-way pot by accident but you should never voluntarily enter the pot if there is decent chance that you may end up with more than one opponent.  Playing a king badugi versus several players is akin to playing a pair of deuces in hold’em without the possibility of flopping a set.  If you get dealt hands such as A24K or A23Q you should virtually always discard the king or queen and draw.  This is known as “breaking”.  You are “breaking” the weak badugi in the hopes of obtaining a better one.  These hands are called “breakable” kings and queens.

Since getting dealt a badugi is relatively rare, most of the starting hands you will play are one card draws i.e. three card badugi or tri-hands.  Any three low unsuited wheel cards such as A24, 234, and 345 are almost always playable.  Three card sixes are playable the majority of the time but should be discarded in the face of too much action.  Good three card badugis are similar to AK in limit hold’em.  There are strong hands but they probably play better heads-up, so try to limit the field by raising or re-raising pre-draw.  Three card sevens, eights, and sometimes nines are typically playable when stealing blinds or defending them.

Two card draws such as A2, A3, and 23 are also playable in stealing and defending situations.  Although many players overrate these hands and will play them from anywhere and this can be a substantial leak that we will examine in a future article.

In most draw games whoever has the betting lead typically makes what is considered an automatic bet after any one particular draw.  For example, someone with a badugi will bet 100% of the time versus an opponent drawing cards and someone drawing one will virtually always bet against a two card draw.  In Badugi, a premium tri hand such as A23 should bet 100% after the 1st draw against one or two opponents.  If you are drawing you should be checking and often look to check-raise should you improve.

A Few Sample Hands

Let’s look at a few sample hands from a six handed game:

Pre- Draw

Under the Gun:  K♠ Q♠ J♣ 9♣ folds

Middle Position:  8♠ 6 7♣ T folds

Cut Off:  2 3♠ 6 6♠ raises

Button:  A 2♣ 4 9♣ re-raises

Small Blind:  7♠ 7 T T♠ folds

Big Blind:  K J 9♠ 3♣ folds

UTG makes an easy fold with a wasted Omaha hand. Middle position has an 867 and makes a prudent fold with the worst possible three card eight and four opponents remaining to act. Cut-off makes a standard raise with 236 and the button re-raises with the second best possible three card, A24.

This is an easy re-raise for both value and protection.  The button might be up against a badugi but most of the time he is up against a drawing hand and has a significant lead in the hand.  The big blind has a king badugi and makes what is in the long run a big money saving fold.  He is drawing dead to a better badugi, has no draw underneath, and is a sizeable underdog to two drawing hands in a three way pot.

The cut-off calls the raise, discards the 6♠, and draws one.  The button discards the 9♣ and also draws one.  The cut-off gets the 5, the button the Q♣, and thus neither player obtains a badugi.  Badugis are not easy but notice that the cut off still improved his hand slightly.  Instead of a three card six he now has a five high tri.  This is called “reducing your incomplete.”  It doesn’t help him here but it’s always possible he was re-raised by a hand such as A45 and has now taken the lead.  Factoring in this possibility is something to consider when you are faced with close decisions.

After 1st Draw 

Cut-off: 2 3♠ 6 5 checks/ calls

Button:  A 2♣ 4 Q♣ bets

Even though he did not improve the button bets because he still has the best hand around 80% of the time thus it is an easy value bet.  The cut-off probably senses he is still behind but it is an easy call due to the tremendous pot odds.

The cut-off discards the 6 and makes a ten badugi. The button discards the Q♣ and gets the unhelpful Q.

After 2nd Draw 

Cut-off: 2♥ 3♠ T♣ 5 checks/ raises

Button:  A 2♣ 4 Q bets/ calls

The cut-off checks and the button bets for the same reasons that he did after the first draw.  If the cut-off does not have a badugi the button is a big favorite with only one draw left.

The cut-off then makes an easy check-raise for value as he knows the button will bet a large majority of the time whether he improved to a badugi or not.  Only seven cards would make the button a better badugi for the button, so the cut-off knows he is the big favorite over the button’s range.

The button calls because he believes it is possible that he got check-raised with any badugi and thus has enough outs when considering the current pot and implied odds.  There is also a chance that the cut-off may be making a play representing a badugi by raising and then standing pat.  Then the play is to bet out on the river in the hopes that the button will fold his better three card hand.  This is called a “snow”.  We will discuss “snowing strategy in depth later in the series, but a five high tri may be too good to snow.  There’s a chance it is the best hand, especially against an aggressive player.

The button makes a jack badugi on the last draw.

After 3rd Draw

Cut-off: 2 3♠ T♣ 5 bets

Button:  A 2♣ 4 J♠ calls

The cut-off bets on the end because he doesn’t want the last round to check through.  There is enough value to bet here as the button will probably call with any badugi and many strong three card hands.  If he folds the river you should put this hand in your memory bank as it may be highly profitable to snow this particular player in the future.

Since his badugi is not nearly strong enough to raise, the button just calls the bet.  It is actually closer to a crying call then it is a raise as the button only beats snows and or somewhat misguided value bets with weaker badugis.  The average badugi shown in this situation is almost always stronger than a jack.  Badugis obtained from drawing are on average much stronger than ones initially dealt and we will examine that important fact in more depth next month.

Let’s look at an example in a three handed game:

Pre- Draw

Button:  3 2♣ 4 K♠ raises

Small Blind:  Q♠ 7 9 T♠ folds

Big Blind:  6♥ 7 7 3♣ calls

The button opens with a good hand and the big blind defends with 763 because he is getting good pot odds and the button has plenty of inferior hands in his opening range.

The big blind discards the 7 and draws the T while the button breaks the king and gets the 4.  The decision to break is an easy one as the button is probably increasing his win percentage and now reaps implied odds enhanced with position.

After 1st Draw

Big Blind:  6 7 T 3♣ checks/ calls

Button:  3♥ 2♣ 4♦ 4 bets

The big blind makes a reasonable check/call getting 5.5 to 1 pot odds.  He discards the ten and receives the useless J while the button tosses the 4 and obtains the 9♣.

After 2nd Draw

Big Blind:  6♥ 7  J♦ 3♣ checks/ folds

Button:  3 2♣ 4 9♣ bets

The big blind now checks and folds which is probably the correct decision.  The seven tri is rarely the best hand here nor is there any reasonable expectation that is possible to take the lead by reducing the incomplete.  On occasion you can check-raise and snow.  But it probably doesn’t make sense to do it very often as the post isn’t very big.

In addition to overplaying bad or mediocre badugis, another major leak of many amateur players is that they will check/call all the way with three card hands way too often.  Most often the correct play is to fold but occasionally you should make a move at the pot by raising and representing a badugi.  That potentially gives you two ways to win because if your opponent does not fold immediately you could still possibly outdraw him.  But checking and calling just hoping to hit while only raising when you hit your hand allows your opponent to play perfectly.

Hopefully the above examples served as an ample introduction to some of the strategic considerations of Badugi and also whet your appetite for next month when we will start from the beginning and learn about some key Badugi essentials.