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Badugi

Badugi Poker is a fast growing variant of lowball triple draw, believed to have Korean origins. The game is quite odd compared to other variants of poker, as it uses four cards instead of five, and has its own unique set of hand rankings. In Badugi Poker the goal is to make the lowest hand possible with each card coming from a different suit. For example A-2-3-4 in four suits is the best possible hand, and A-2-3-5 in four suits is the second best hand.

Badugi Poker has caught on like wild fire since PokerStars added it to their software in November 2008. As the world's largest poker site, they had the traffic and platform support Badugi Poker and were successful in accomplishing what other sites were not. Previously, Badugi Poker had a brief run online on the Tribecca Table Network which powered Doyles Room, VC Poker and several other sites. After Tribecca was absorbed by the iPoker Network, the game was dropped and did not appear online until later when poker.com, now the Merge Poker Network (Carbon Poker) began spreading the game.

Badugi Poker Origins

Badugi Poker is widely believed to have been created in South Korea, due to the game having been popular there since the 1970's. A number of Badugi Poker articles have suggested that badugi is a Korean word meaning "spotted dog" and this relates to the need to make multiple suits in a Badugi Poker hand. This theory has been debunked, because, go figure, no such word meaning "spotted dog" exists in the Korean language and the word badugi (in Korean: 바둑이) is only used in Korean when referencing Badugi Poker.

At this time whether or not the word badugi has Korean origins or not remains up for debate. The one thing we do know is that the game is more commonly pronounced "Padooki" in Korea and when the game was first brought to North America by Paul Eskimo Clark, it was listed on the game boards of high stakes Las Vegas card rooms as Padooki (or sometimes Paldugi). Realizing this, we researched the Korean origins further and discovered there was in fact a 1970's character in Korea used in elementary school books named Paldugi, who actually was a spotted dog. The problem with this being a theory to link the game's origins to Korea, is that the game was around in Korea prior to the character having been invented, so its more likely the dog was named after Badugi Poker than that the game's name had anything to do with a spotted dog when named and invented.

The exact date Badugi Poker was invented and first spread is unknown. In Korea the game has existed since at least the late 1960's, and there have been reports of it being played in Vietnam as early as 1971 and Iran in 1978. Paul Eskimo Clark claims to have invented the game, saying he brought it back to the US after serving in the military in Vietnam. The fact Paul Eskimo Clark was the first to introduce the game in North America has not been challenged by any credible source, so while he may or may not have invented it, he likely was the one who brought it to the United States.

As we've covered a bit on the history of Badugi Poker already, we decided at the risk of boring our readers by taking the article too far, to explain the likely reason Badugi has had so many spellings and pronunciations. It only recently after the Badugi Poker became available online that the spelling Badugi (pronounced: Ba-Do-Gee) became the standard. In the past Padugi (Pa-Do-Gee), Padookie (Pa-Doo-Key) and Badooki (Ba-Do-Key) were also used. This is because the Korean word 바둑이 can be Romanized different ways, and is not pronounced with the same consonants we use in the English language.

Korean language uses consonant sounds that have no English equivalent. An important one to note in regards to 바둑이 (badugi) is the sixth letter of the Korean alphabet which is a blend of the letters b and p. In Korean, it doesn't sound like either the b or p we know in English, but is often Romanized as a p, but spoken closer to a b sound. The other is the first letter of the Korean alphabet which sounds kind of like a k and a hard g attempted to be pronounced at the same time. This character is Romanized as both a g- and as a k- depending on how and when it is being used.

This info might not have much relevance now that Badugi seems to be the standard spelling, but might make good table conversation in the future when looking to distract or annoy your opponents.

Badugi Rules

Badugi is a four-card, triple draw, lowball poker game with its own unique method for ranking hands. The goal of Badugi Poker is to make a hand that includes one card from each suit (without making a pair) with lowball rankings then used. The best possible Badugi hand is A-2-3-4 in four suits, and the second best hand is A-2-3-5 with each card being a different suit. When a player makes a non-paired four-suit hand, this hand is called a Badugi. If more than one player makes a Badugi, the player who has the lowest Badugi wins. The value of the Badugi is ranked by highest of the four cards. For example, an A-2-3-J Badugi is a Jack high Badugi. Kickers only come into play when the players' highest of four cards match with one another.

If at showdown a player has 3 suits in their hand, this is considered a three card hand. A card in matching suit can not be used, asBadugi rules require all cards to be in a different suit as part of the hand rankings. If no player at the table has a Badugi, the pot will be awarded at showdown to the player with the lowest three card hand. In the rare case no player has a three card hand, then the pot will be awarded to the player with the best (lowest) two card hand.

Badugi rules are similar to those of Triple Draw lowball games, where the differences, already covered, are the unique hand ranking system and four cards instead of five. For those not familiar with Triple Draw, we'll break the Badugi rules down further here.

Detailed Badugi Rules

Badugi is played with up to eight players at the same table and uses a fixed limit betting structure. The exact "How to Play Badugi" is covered below.

Badugi starts with the two players to the left of the dealer-button posting a live small blind and a live big blind. Starting with the small blind, players are dealt one card at a time until each has four cards. The first round of betting takes place and when complete, the first of three draws begins. The draw starts with the player to the left of the dealer having the option to discard any number of their cards and have them replaced with new ones. This option goes around the table, with each player having the chance to draw.

After the first draw, the second betting round takes place with stakes equal to the first, and a second draw follows. After the second draw, a third betting round occurs with the stakes now doubled. The players then have one more chance to draw new cards and when complete, the final betting round takes place using the same doubled stakes. The final action is a showdown where the player with the best Badugi hand is awarded the pot.

Badugi Rules on Reshuffles

Badugi rules allow up to eight players per table. For the math minded player, you'll see it is possible that with each player getting four cards and with three draw rounds, the deck might run out of cards. In the event there are no cards left to deal, a reshuffle occurs, creating a fresh deck. Badugi rules on the reshuffle vary from house to house. In many live games the discards of the players still in the hand are left in front of them, and only cards from mucked hands are used for the reshuffle. At PokerStars.com the rules state that all cards will be reshuffled, however their software has been programmed in such a way that no player will get a card they've previously discarded. It is worth noting that in most cases a reshuffle is not needed, as many players have folded before making it deep into the drawing rounds.

Badugi Strategy

Badugi is still a relatively new poker game which was developed in South Korea and did not make its way to the west until recently. As a new game, Badugi strategy is still being developed, and not many articles exist on the topic. The strategy I'll share here is one I've used successfully at PokerStars.com $3/$6 and $5/$10 Badugi games. I can't speak about how well this Badugi strategy guide will work at the lower stakes, or the higher stakes, though I assume it will work similarly but will require some small adjustments.

Winning Badugi strategy involves an aggressive, high risk approach to the game. You'll often see Badugi strategy bloggers post about how the South Koreans play this game more aggressively than anyone else and how they'll snow more often than other players. What most fail to mention is that South Koreans invented this game, have been playing it for years, and often give even good poker players a struggle. Everyone looks like a maniac when they're caught snowing a few times. It is important not to label an opponent too quickly in Badugi, as you just might find you're actually playing against a quality opponent who will soon adjust.

While our Badugi strategy is not one of a maniac, it is one that involves snowing (standing pat without a Badugi), bluffing and playing a calculated high risk, high reward style. The truth is most Badugi players do not snow often enough, and when they do snow they pick horrible times to do so.

Perhaps the best Badugi strategy advice we can give, is before taking a seat scout your table in advance. Scouting the table allows us to both find desirable seat position and to get to know our opponents. A good seat is generally one where you'll have position on the most active player on the table. The active players are the ones that are snowing more often, and they will give our Badugi strategy the most trouble. Let's make sure we have position on them.

When waiting for our seat, we'll be taking notes on our opponents. These can be mental notes, or written notes, it is up to us. But questions we're considering are:

  • Which player is making the most basic mistakes?
  • Which player is the tightest at the table?
  • Which player value bets 3 card hands before showdown?
  • Which player limps into a lot of pots and then draws one? (perhaps he draws to all Badugis)
  • Which players have been caught snowing? (standing pat without a Badugi)
  • Which player has attempted to pick off a snow? (calling without a Badugi against an opponent who has stood pat)

This is all important information that we're going to need to know to form a good Badugi strategy against each opponent. The good news is that in online poker we can get this info before we even take a seat, just from observing the game for a while first.

Badugi Starting Hands

Now that we've scouted our table, know our opponents, and have our preferred seat, we need to know starting hands. These can be modified in time, but as a beginner, here is a basic guide.

Early Position: Play any 3-card badugi of six and under, and play 3-card seven-low badugis that includes two wheel cards (A,2,3,4).

Mid Position: Play all 3-card badugi of seven and under, and two card hands five or under that include an Ace or a Duece.

Late Position: In late position we can open with a wide range of hands including any two cards under five, or thee card hands under eight, or we can simply open with a bunch of suited low cards with the intent to win with a snow/bluff on later streets.

Understanding Badugi Draw Odds

The odds of completing a one card draw to a jack high badugi is about 15% on each draw. The odds to complete the same with two draws remaining is 27% while the odds to completing it over the course of three draws is 38%. Therefore having position on and bluffing our opponents is often profitable.

To put this into perspective: we're heads up and our opponent just drew one card on the second draw. We haven't made a Badugi yet; do we draw here? There is a 73% chance our opponent won't make a Badugi. Would standing pat here convince the player we have a Badugi? This depends a lot on the meta-game. Have we been caught in a snow? Has this opponent attempted to pick off a snow? These are facts to consider when determining if snowing here is +EV or not. Generally, when you're first sitting down at a table, this might be an automatic snow (unless you have a read on the opponent that suggests otherwise).

We have a handy article which will show you how to work out your Badugi draw odds to the nearest percentage using a quick and simple method. Hit this Badugi draw odds link to read more.

Badugi Strategy - The Snow

I've already mentioned snowing quite a few times in this article, but because it is an important part to winning Badugi strategy, I'll cover it in more detail. As a reminder, in Badugi "a snow" is a bluff that involves standing pat despite having not made a badugi hand. This might sound like a crazy play, but it works quite well and wins us more pots than a standard ABC pot odds type strategy wins us.

In Badugi, we want to snow fairly often, and though we won't be able to keep the act of snowing up forever, we do want to avoid getting caught for as long as possible. Eventually, someone will look us up; while this is not a horrible thing, we do want to reduce the chances we'll get looked up the best that we possibly can. For this reason, it is important we observe the table a while and note which opponents have attempted to pick off a snow in the past. When we do get caught in a snow, this still helps us in the long run, as it will force our opponents to call us down more often.

When to Snow in Badugi

The most obvious time to snow is when our opponent is weak. For example, if on the second draw our opponent draws two, well this should be in automatic snow. He's revealed he's weak, we know it, he knows it and he knows we know it, so why continue any longer. Here we stand pat, bet and most often take the pot right then.

Another time we'll snow, which is not so obvious to most players, is when we're dealt four suited cards pre-draw. If our opponent is drawing at a Badugi in the same suit and discounts the K-Q, assuming we also don't have the K-Q, he has only four outs to making a jack high badugi or better.

The third draw snow is often the difference between a winning and a losing player. Most players use this snow incorrectly by choosing a horrible time to attempt it. In a spot where our opponent has shown strength by making a raise after one of the previous draws, he's already told us he likes his hand, and if we stay pat on the third draw, he's much more likely to look us up. A better move in this spot would be to take a card and hope to outdraw him. Now on the other hand, if we were the aggressor through out and he hasn't given us the indication he has a premium 3-card hand, then standing pat is far more natural, and a snow is often the optimal play.

When we're caught red handed in a snow, we're going to avoid spewing additional chips. I'm honestly amazed at how often a player will bet at showdown into a player who just stood pat after calling (not raising a bet). This player's action is a clear sign he's made a marginal or poor badugi, and while he is not willing to raise or bet, he has every intention of showing the hand down. In this spot, we're going to save the bet by giving up the snow even if it means showing down the fact we were bluffing all along.

Badugi Strategy Guide Concluded

Badugi strategy is still a growing topic, and ultimately those with strong poker skills will excel at this game. By strong poker skills, we're referring to a variety of skill-sets such as observation skills, odds calculation, understanding things such as the gap concept, when to bluff, odds such as pot odds, implied odds, reversed implied odds, fold equity etc. The list goes on and on, but ultimately a player with a good understanding of poker theory, fundamentals and advanced strategy should pick up Badugi after spending a little time at the tables. During the process of getting experience, strategy forums such as 2+2 are a good place to find Badugi strategy discussion. There is a Badugi skill vs luck debate going on between poker players but let us assure you that good players will dominate weak opponents when playing Badugi.