Want to Spice Up Your Poker Game? Learn Badugi, Lowball Poker with a Twist

Michael Rodrigues from Portugal recently won 2023 World Series of Poker Event No. 20, the $1,500 Badugi. He outlasted 516 entrants to win $144,678 and his first bracelet. Badugi is a fun variant of lowball poker that avid players love, but many others find confusing.

The WSOP hosts a Badugi stand-alone bracelet event, and Badugi is included among the games that can be played in Triple Draw Mix and Dealer’s Choice events.

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Badugi Origins: Korea, Canada, or Eskimo?

Badugi is one of those games where no one knows its true origins. Some historians point toward Canadian card rooms in the 1980s where Badugi evolved from similar lowball games. Others suggest the game originated in Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The first traces of a Badugi-like game were played in Toronto, Canada in the 1970s. On/Off High Low or Off Suit Lowball was a five-card hand that required at least one pair and four non-suited cards. There was another five-card variant known as Leapfrog, but both games are distant relatives of Badugi.

In Korean, the word “baduk” refers to any black and white pattern. The popular game Go is also called Baduk in Korea. Dogs that were black and white earned the nickname of “Badugi.” Gamblers in Korea played a lowball variant that some called Badugi. Other Korean gamblers referred to the lowball game as “Padooki.”

There was also an urban myth that Paul “Eskimo” Clark invented Badugi while serving during the Vietnam War. As the legend goes, Eskimo Clark played a variation of Off Suit Lowball with four cards and then introduced the game to American gamblers when he returned stateside.

Over the years, Badugi continued to evolve and new derivatives were introduced. Other mutations of Badugi include Baducey, Badacey, Razzdugi, and Badugi 2-7 Triple Draw.

Badugi Rules and Basic Strategy

Badugi is a triple draw variant of lowball where players are dealt four cards and you seek to make the lowest possible hand with four different suits. That would be one club, one diamond, one heart, and one spade.

Aces are the lowest card in Badugi and Kings are the highest. Straights do not count. A “Badugi” is any hand with four different suits and no pairs. The best possible hand is A-2-3-4 with different suits. That is known as a “four-card four” or a “four-card Badugi.”

Badugi has a small and big blind. Players are dealt four cards face down. Action begins to the left of the big blind with the first round of betting. Then players begin their first round of drawing. You can draw as many as four cards, which is highly discouraged. You can decline a card, which is called “standing pat.”

After the first draw, there’s another round of betting. Then players have a second draw before another round of betting. There’s a third and final draw before one final round of betting.

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Starting Hands Begin the Action

You’re trying to make the best possible four-card low hand with different suits. If you’re playing a full ring table, you want to begin with an optimal starting hand. That is at least three non-suited cards that are below five (e.g. A-2-3, 2-3-4, A-4-5). You typically only want to draw one card per round until you’re satisfied with your hand, but this could change if you’re playing heads-up or short-handed.

If you’re dealt any three-card Badugi, also known as a “tri hand” as a starting hand, you have approximately a 50% chance to make a four-card Badugi by your third draw.

A player dealt a four-card Badugi that’s eight or lower (e.g. A-3-5-7, or 2-3-7-8), it’s considered a big hand and you can stand pat and not draw any cards.

If you’re in early position, you can play any ten or lower four-card Badugi (e.g. 3-5-6-9). If you’re in late position, especially on the button, you can play any four-card Badugi (e.g. A-4-6-Jack).

Pay attention to your opponents and see how many cards they’re drawing. If they’re drawing two cards in the opening round, they probably hold two very strong low cards like Ace-deuce. If they’re standing pat on the first draw, and you’re in late position with a high four-card Badugi (e.g. A-5-6-Queen), you should ditch your high card to improve the strength of your Badugi. You can also stand pat on an initial draw, but ask for a card on subsequent draws if you feel your opponent improved to a monster four-card Badugi.

Math Crucial to Badugi Success

Sometimes you whiff on your three draws, and you have no choice but to enter a showdown with a three-card Badugi. If that’s the case, you better have a strong three-card Badugi and anything under five (e.g. Ac-2d-3s-3s or Ac-3d-4h-9h) against an opponent who was still chasing a hand through the third draw.

Hands are counted from the highest card down. So, a four-card Badugi with Ac-2d-3h-Js loses to a four-card Badugi with 10c-9d-8h-6s. Any four-card Badugi beats a three-card Badugi, so a Kc-Jd-9h-7s Badugi beats a three-card Badugi of Ac-2d-3h-3d. A three-card Badugi defeats a two-card Badugi. Any two-card Badugi beats a one-card hand.

You have a 6% chance to be dealt a four-card Badugi at the start of a hand. You have a 57% chance to be dealt a three-card Badugi, and a 35% chance for a two-card Badugi.

If you have a three-card Badugi, there are ten cards in the deck that will help you make a four-card Badugi. You have a 21% chance to make a four-card Badugi on your first draw. You will have a 51% chance to make a four-card Badugi by your third and final draw.

Sometimes players will bluff by standing pat to trick opponents into folding their hands. A well-timed bluff can help you win a pot, but only if you’re facing players who are willing to lay down drawing or weak hands. It’s difficult to bluff a “chaser” in draw games who will constantly keep drawing through all three rounds in a longshot attempt to make a Badugi by the third and final draw.

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