Mastering Badugi Part 3 – Strategy before the First Draw

Last month we learned how often we are dealt certain hands and discussed some key Badugi essentials.  The table was set; so it is now time to dive into the main course.  Let’s begin by developing a strategy for the times that we are the first to enter the pot.

Opening Hand Ranges

Any hand that you decide to play should be opened for a raise.  If you think your hand is marginal it should be folded because what hurts a marginal hand most is a multi-way pot and that is what you help encourage when you limp.  If you get dealt a monster badugi you should raise and hope for action.  Those types of hands are quite rare so you will still get action if players behind you have playable hands.  Weaker badugis should be played with caution as they fare very badly in multi-way pots.  Outside of rare monster pat badugis, good three card badugis are the most profitable set of hands in this game.

Against most table lineups and situations, one reasonable opening strategy would consist of:

Early Position (14.3%)
Jack High or Better Badugi (2.9%)
Breakable Queen or King Badugis (.3%)
75X or better Tri (11.1%)
Middle Position (18.2%)
Queen High or Better Badugi (4.4%)
Breakable King Badugis (.2%)
A48 or better Tri (13.8%)
Cutoff (28.3%)
All Badugis (6.3%)
8 or better Tris (18.8%)
A2, A3 (3.2%)
Button (38.2%)
All Badugis (6.3%)
9 or better Tris (25.9%)
A2, A3, 23, A4 (6.0%)


Raising standards should be fluid based on table conditions.  For example, if the blinds are very loose and are not as highly susceptible to snows and other moves you need to modify and eliminate the weaker hands from your range.  In order to make the weaker 3 card hands profitable you must effectively snow them on occasion.

The opening range from the small blind is very player dependent.  There is only one player to get through but keep in mind that you are out of position and blind versus blind usually has an untrusting and aggressive dynamic.  Against the toughest players, opening the hands you would on the button appears reasonable.  Against softer competition you can probably add the 24, 34, A5, 25, 35, and 45 hands.

Some players fall in love with A2 and will play them regardless of their position and the action before them.  These hands appear to be overrated so let’s discuss some various concerns.

A Closer Look at A2 (And other two card draws) 

The attraction to these hands appears to be that the chance of improving on any particular draw is quite good.  As was previously discussed, on the first draw you have approximately a 40% chance to obtain an eight high or better tri and approximately 10% of the time you will be lucky enough to draw a badugi.  But on average this badugi will not be particularly strong; the median is a T9.

A 50% chance of improvement sounds great. But that also means that around 50% of the time after the first draw and 25% of the time after the second draw you have a pile of nothing.

In “hot/cold” simulations, A2 fares terribly against all badugis:

A2 (34%) vs KQJT

A2 (24%) vs JT98

A2 (16%) vs 9876

A2 (8%) vs 7654

Unsurprisingly A2 is also a big underdog to strong tri hands, but it is even an underdog to the worst three card eight:

A2 (41%) vs 246

A2 (44%) vs A57

A2 (48%) vs 867

Two card draws also have playability concerns because they will always face bets from another player who is pat or drawing just one card and must improve in order to stay in the hand.  Thus it will be difficult to always realize your equity.

What about implied odds?  Sometimes you will improve and when you do you can count on your opponent making an automatic bet.  But remember that your opponent is already ahead and is also drawing to better hand so you may have simply improved to a payoff hand.

Your opponent drawing one card has around a 20% chance of hitting a badugi of which the median is around an eight.  When you hold an A2, you have around a 10% chance to hit a badugi of which the median is around a T9.  He’s twice as likely to improve to a badugi and when he does it will be stronger on average.  In any form of poker, your opponent is in a commanding position when he has both the best hand and best draw.

How does A2 fare in multiway pots?  Assume you make what is currently considered a standard play and call a raise from the button with A2 in the small blind.  If the big blind also calls you will frequently end up in a situation like the following:

A47 (44%) vs A2 (26%) vs 863 (30%)

Here you have 26% equity against very pedestrian hands in a three way pot with the worst position.  But you put in 31% of the money and to make matters worse you will not always be able to realize your equity.  In this situation you would have been better re-raising and taking it heads-up as a slight underdog but with dead money in the pot.  But re-raising really isn’t an option unless you are up against a player who opens 45%+ of his buttons. In that situation the play could be justified as there would be a heavy dose of bad tri and two card hands in his range so you would be less of an equity underdog versus his entire range.  However, in this particular situation you can certainly call from the big blind as your pot odds are better and your relative position is good.

Two card draws are profitable in the right situation but keep in mind that there are some drawbacks so exercising a certain degree of caution with them is prudent.

Defending Against an Open; Re-Raise or Fold

As in all forms of poker, you need to tighten up your range when you are facing a raise.  But in Badugi unless you are in the big blind you should you should almost always be re-raising when you do continue in the hand.  Here are the considerations that help build the argument for playing re-raise or fold:

  1. Creation of Dead Money

Dead money is created when the blinds fold to a re-raise.  You only put in 40% of the money so your equity does not need to be 50% for your re-raise to be profitable.

  1. It Doesn’t Make Sense to Slow Play Badugis

When you stand pat it’s clear that you have a badugi.  Weaker badugis are very vulnerable in multi-way pots so when you have a pat monster all of the weaker badugis in your overall range provide the perfect camouflage you need in order to get action.  Remember weaker badugis far outnumber premium ones, so any badugi that you choose to play should be re-raised.

  1. Multiway Action is Generally Discouraged

Badugi is a limit game and similar to most one winner limit games proper strategy is geared more towards winning pots and not future bets.  We already know that most dealt badugis are vulnerable and certainly prefer heads up pots.

Do we want multiway or shorthanded action with the premium tri hands?  Some players prefer to cold- call with a hand like A23 attesting to the fact that it is such smooth draw and that they want to pull other players into the pot. But heads-up is probably still preferred.

Assume the cutoff opens with 347, you re-raise on the button with A23, and the blinds fold.  You now have around 63% equity in a pot where you only put in 40% of the money.

If you call and let the big blind in with 456 the equities would be approximately A23(42%); 347(28%); and 456(30%).  42% equity is good considering you only put in 31% of the money.  However, the ratio is not as preferable as before but more importantly it is now more likely that the pot will go to showdown.  The multi-way pot creates a schooling effect where the draws subsidize each other.  If they are not making an error in calling, then in theory you do not profit from them doing so.

In addition, as smooth of a draw as A23 provides, you can always hit a jack or queen on the first draw and wish that the pot was not multiway.  Heads-up you would be a solid favorite over a single drawing hand with the jack badugi but multiway your hand is very prone to be outdrawn.

  1. Badugi Hands are not Directly Correlated

When playing Pot Limit Omaha and holding A A♠ 9 8♠ you may prefer to cold-call in position and not re-raise which could potentially eliminate a bad player who may hold a dominated draw.  Similarly in Omaha Hi/Lo you don’t really mind bad low draws coming in against you when you hold A234 In general you do not want to eliminate hands that you could have in very bad shape if the right flop or situation arises. In Badugi, hands are independent so considerations similar to the above do not apply in this game.

  1. Having the Betting Lead Can Help Steal Pots

When you re-raise and draw one an opponent will typically put you on a strong tri hand. They may know they can be a big underdog with one draw left and fold on the turn.  You may only have a hand such as 456 but your three bet could potentially enable you to win with the worst hand.

Your snows also become more believable.  You have represented a strong tri which has plenty of showdown value on its own thus the story that you have a badugi is more credible.

  1. Re-Raising from Small Blind will often Eliminate the Big Blind

It is much preferable to be heads-up and avoid having both the worst absolute and relative position in a three way pot.  After the first draw, both you and the big blind will typically check and face a bet from the original raiser means that you will have to act on your hand before the big blind does and thus have to fear a potential raise from him.  If you are heads-up you can simply just call and draw to your hand.

Bloating the pot out of position in a limit game isn’t that big of a deal. It is more of an issue in a big bet game like PLO where your action pre-flop can create a situation where you need to fade exponentially bigger bets with reverse implied odds post-flop.

  1. Opponents Can Make Bigger Mistakes in Large Pot

In a re-raised pot it would be a decent sized leak if a two card draw automatically folds when they do not improve after the first draw. (We will examine why in a future article)  Also if your opponent is susceptible to snows regardless of the pot size this would be another reason to re-raise.  Make the pot large enough to be worth stealing and then steal it.  Smaller pots tend to lead to smaller mistakes.  Most often the mistake is to call too lightly after the 2nd draw but those mistakes are only worth fractions of bets.

  1. No Reason to Fear a 4 Bet

Of course you will get four-bet from time to time but in most cases you are not a big equity underdog and will usually have position with implied odds.  If your opponent four-bets with any badugi the pot is now big enough that you would typically chase to the end and realize your equity.  If your opponent only re-raises with monster badugis and calls with weaker ones then you just received an immense amount of information.

  1. Frequent Re-raising Slows Down Opponents

This will allow you to open up more pots against the blinds in position.  Preventing opponents from constantly stealing your button is very important.

  1. Cold-Calling Can Turn Your Hand Face Up

Deliberation from a player before he cold-calls and draws one means they almost always have a three card six or a hand like A27.  They think they have too much hand to fold, but not enough equity to re-raise so they just call.  When this happens you can almost play perfectly.  You should bet a three card five or better for value and protection.  If you have a bad tri your options are to snow or simply take a free card if you have position. If you think your hand is marginal it should be folded or re-raised in order to get it heads-up.  A call is not a good compromise because taking a marginal hand against a larger field just makes matter worse.  .

Now that we hopefully made a compelling case to play a re-raise/ fold strategy what hands should we re-raise and which ones should we fold?  That answer depends on the range of hands we put our opponent on and how our holding fares against that range.  In next month’s article we will look at some examples on how one could estimate equity versus a range and attempt to extrapolate reasonable three betting standards.