WSOP 2008: Could Jojo the Monkey Play Razz?

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15 June 2008, Created By: Ed Sevillano
WSOP 2008: Could Jojo the Monkey Play Razz?
In 2004, ESPN experimented by broadcasting all the different World Series of Events, including Razz. While this was a great idea in theory, the vast majority of the audience didn't understand how these games were played and couldn't appreciate the "skill" level required for all the different games.

As a result, ESPN canned the idea, much to the chagrin of poker purists out there, and went back to showing a schedule which featured 90% No-Limit Holdem.

During the Razz coverage, however, we had actually seen some of the best players in the world (Howard Lederer, etc.) complain relentlessly about how frustrating Razz was! Why were some of the top players competing for a prestigious prize, such as a World Series bracelet, whining about the game they were playing?

The reason is obvious. Razz is by far the simplest game offered to poker players at the World Series and as a result, it is the most frustrating. So much information is available for other players to glean, and so few opportunities exist to use the skill that makes poker the game it is.

It's very dependent on the cards, and you can play perfectly but if you keep pairing up or getting high cards, you have no recourse. Your ability to bluff is handicapped by the cards your opponents can see.

Howard Lederer
The Professor: stymied by Razz.

In contrast, take No-Limit Hold'em: even if you get bad cards you can still bluff easily by making a large bet. If you get a high card showing in Razz, the majority of the time, there is nothing you can do but watch your chips slowly disappear. You have a small card showing and it pairs on fourth street and there ends your hand.

Although there are rare occasions to use your skill, Razz is so simple in comparison to other poker games that it seems unfair to even include it as a World Series event. Chinese poker used to be an event in the World Series and was probably removed for the same reasons that make Razz a subpar event variant.

In fact, you could probably train someone in a day to play at close to 90% of the skill level of a top Razz player.

I recently witnessed a hand between a top player and some random that showed about as much room for skill as exists in the game of Razz. Player A bet into player B the whole way. Player A was showing 8-T-K-K while player B (the caller) showed 2-2-2-3.

On seventh street player A fired again! It was possibly the worst bet seen so far this year in a min-betting game at the WSOP. Player B started to think, about what was unclear. For player B this should have been one of the easiest raises he ever made. He had made it clear that he had an excellent draw by calling every street despite showing 2-2-2-3.

If there was ever a time to represent a hand (have it or not), it was right now. Player B raised and Luske (oops!) insta-mucked.

Marcel Luske
Player A? Maybe. OK - yes.

The best hand Luske could have had there was a ten. The best hand player B could have had was the stone-cold nuts. How could Luske ever call a raise on the end from player A? How could Luske bet unless it was an obvious bluff?

Luske has to fold to a raise there nearly 100% of the time.

I went up and asked the player what he had, hoping he would answer quad fours. He said he had a made hand but would have raised it with quad fours as well because Luske had to be bluffing.

If Luske had a made ten he would (should) just check-call every time. There is no upside to betting there, a complete waste of a bet.

So what's the point of this story? This is about as interesting as a Razz hand gets, yet every decision (except for Luske's error on the river) was simple and clear-cut.

While this might seem like a rant from a jaded Razz player, I think it really highlights what makes poker such a great game - the ability to bluff and outwit your opponent. The best players get frustrated with it because their hands are tied behind their backs.

These people are usually creative, think-outside-the-box types. When you tie their hands behind their backs and give them two pair showing on sixth and there is nothing they can do about it, it's frustrating.

So could Jojo play Razz? Probably, but I don't think he would be interested! Oh and congratulations to this year's Razz winner; a bracelet is still a bracelet. The only problem is that with the bracelet will come a life sentence of trying to explain to people how this game works.

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