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Friday, February 11, 2005

Games Other Than Hold'em
Badugi is a form of poker that they played on Live at the Bike last night. Unfortunately I missed it. I had heard the announcers mention Badugi before (actually I thought they were saying "Padugi") and that it is some wild and crazy form of lowball. Then I saw Chris Halverson mention it:
I watched a bit of Live at the Bike on Thursday. They were showing 300/600 mixed, $10K buyin. Whoa! They played some weird triple draw game called “Badugi” and it generated a ton of action.
So I do a Google search and don't get much, then I head over to 2+2 and get this tidbit:
This "badugi" sounds exactly like a game that I have played on several occasions that is called "padukah" (at least that's how I always thought it was spelled).

The nuts in this game is as follows:
As 2d 3h 4c

And any hand that contains one of any suit beats any hand that has two of a suit and so on. The first determining factor is the suits of the cards, and the second is the value of the cards themselves.
Another post gives an example:
In badugi, what would win:

Ad 2h 4c 5c


2d 3h 4s Qc


Ah 2h 3c 4c . . .

the winner is: 2d 3h 4s Qc
Nothing on 2+2 gives any indication of how the game is actually played (how many cards are dealt, etc.), but since Chris says it's like Triple Draw I'm assuming it's played with Hold'em-style blinds, the players get 4 cards, and draw three times, with the bet doubled after the third and fourth draws as in Triple Draw. Dealing the players only 4 cards would presumably let you play with 7 players or maybe 8, whereas Triple Draw is best with 5 or 6. (Update: This is correct, but see this post for more specific info on how the hands rank in Badugi.)

It's just funny that as soon as I heard of the game, I had to know how it was played. I definitely have a fascination with exotic poker games. This is probably because, before the WPT and the poker boom, poker night in college and afterwards was dealer's choice, and we played all the usual crazy games -- Follow the Queen, Baseball, Chicago, Spit, Anaconda, etc. -- and many more I don't remember. By the end of the night we were usually making up games.

A lot of players seem to frown on wild-card games, with good reason. The optimal strategy in those games is very rigid -- fold unless you have one or more wild cards early on. And that simplistic "strategy" is just not that much fun.

But not every "crazy home game" relies on wild cards, and there is plenty of room for strategy in some of them. Anaconda, aka "Pass the Trash," was always one of my favorites. This game is 7-Stud Hi/Lo, but there are several phases of passing cards to, and receiving cards from, your neighbors, before the betting starts. (Anthony Holden talks about this game in Big Deal.) You can usually keep track of the info and have a good idea whether you have the nuts hi or lo -- and squeeze the other players accordingly. Before the betting starts, you arrange your cards in the order you want to reveal them, which creates some room for deception and bluffing. So the strategy is not as basic as "just wait til you are dealt the best hand."

Anyway, Badugi, like Triple Draw, seems to be a game with some room for strategy. Chris notes that Badugi "generated a ton of action," and that is what players say about Triple Draw as well. (Click here to read a Phil Hellmuth CardPlayer article on an action-filled Triple Draw hand.) In Super System 2, Daniel Negreanu writes that
Triple draw has caught on so quickly because of the allure of action and big pots. Typical triple draw pots are larger than those generated by a hand of Omaha high-low, for example. . . . Triple draw is an action game, no question about it. You'll need to have your seatbelt on at all times.
Why are Badugi and Triple Draw such "action" games? Two reasons stand out:

First, there is luck. With three draws, a lot can happen. But Negreanu writes that "There is a common misconception among some high-limit players that triple draw is a game of pure luck. That's simply not the case." As with any form of poker, there are decisions to be made, and making the right ones will increase your EV.

But second, and I think more importantly, these are fairly new forms of poker and most people don't know how to play them well. Many poker players are, as Bob Ciaffone puts it, "aggressive optimists," and tend to focus on the ways their hand can win the pot rather than all the ways it can get beat. Most players tend to play loosely in games they're unfamiliar with, and only tighten up with experience.

This is a common theme in the history of poker. In Thursday Night Poker, Peter Steiner talks about how 5-Card Draw used to be the dominant form of poker, and how it fell by the wayside once players began to understand the optimal strategy for the game, which relies heavily on good starting hands. Five-Card Draw was replaced by 7-Card Stud, which has in turn been replaced by Hold'em.

In this "evolution" of poker, games with more rigid optimal strategies (including starting hand guidelines) have become less popular, while games with more room for bluffing and deception have become more popular. Simultaneously, games with more luck have become more popular than games with less luck. I know that is a controversial statement. Many people would take issue with the idea that there is more luck in 7-Stud than 5-Card Draw, or more luck in Hold'em than in 7-Stud. "Luck" is a loaded word when talking about poker. Clearly, there is a skill element to all these games. What I should say instead is that each new form of poker is "friendlier" to players with little knowledge of the game than the one it preceded. A newbie will go broke in 7-Stud a lot quicker than he will in Hold'em. It is not that good 7-Stud players are better poker players than good Hold'em players. It is just the nature of the games.

Getting even more specific, what I mean by "new" or "bad" players is loose players. Hold'em is more forgiving of "looseness" and bad starting hands than 7-Stud is, and 7-Stud is more forgiving than 5-Card Draw is.

This is something that every poker player should understand. The fact that Hold'em doesn't punish the very worst players as badly as 7-Stud is why Hold'em is more popular than 7-Stud. Think on that next time you take a bad beat.

And as Gus Hansen fans know, the extra room for bluffing and deception on Hold'em often allows looser players to gain an edge.

Back to Badugi and Triple Draw. To say that a game has a lot of luck is not that informative. The question is, Can players overcome the luck -- that is, gain an edge -- by outplaying their opponents over the course of the hand, or is gaining an edge mostly about tightening up? In short, How rigid is the optimal strategy?

Take Omaha for example. For a while, it seemed that Omaha might become as popular as Hold'em. If the appeal of Hold'em is that "any two can win," then it's easy to think that giving players 4 cards would be even better. And pot-limit Omaha is very popular in Europe. But it certainly hasn't succeeded Hold'em. I think one reason is that the "two and only two" rule confuses newbies too much. But, more germane to my point, is that to win, you generally have to play much tighter in Omaha than you do in Hold'em. The game that would appear to be "wilder" than Hold'em is actually less forgiving of loose play. Optimal strategy is more rigid and straightforward, with less room for deception and bluffing. To get those elements into the game, you have to play pot limit.

So how rigid is the optimal strategy for Triple Draw and Badugi? Having played only a few hands of the former and none of the latter, I don't pretend to know. I've read Negreanu's chapter in Triple Draw in Super System 2, but you can only tell so much from reading about a game. Time will tell if these games are interesting enough to rise out of their current obscurity.

A side note here is that I wonder whether any game will ever surpass Hold'em in popularity, now that the poker-on-TV phenomenon has made Hold'em king. On the 2+2 discussions of Live at the Bike, posters were complaining that the hole cameras were only being used for the Hold'em game (that is, they did not have graphics showing the players' hands for Badugi and other games), so it was hard to follow the action. So Hold'em is the game of choice among those who watch poker, even if the players would rather play a different game!

I love Hold'em but will continue to enjoy other forms of poker. Last night I spent a couple hours playing $2/$4 Stud-8 on Paradise. (I got the 2+2 book on Stud-8 for Christmas.) I made all of one big bet but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, mostly because the game still seems new to me.

We tried Crazy Pineapple 8 and Triple Draw in our home game last week, and I will continue to push for a multiple-game format in the home game, even though a lot of the regulars would like to play nothing but Hold'em. In addition to my enjoyment of the variety, we've got a lot of players who are pretty inexperienced, and playing non-Hold'em games helps level the playing field to some degree. I think Badugi might be a bit too weird for everyone though . . .

You are correct regarding how badugi is dealt. 4 cards, 8 people (if there were 9 at the table at the time one had to sit out), HE style blinds. They'd have to reshuffle periodically in the middle of a hand due to all the cards being drawn. I thought it was "Padugi" or something too, but then they zoomed in on the card showing what game was being played.
Thank you. Your write up helped.
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