Badugi is a poker-like game played with four-card hands. To win the pot at the showdown you need to have the lowest set of cards with no two cards of the same rank or suit, ace ranking low. The best possible hand is therefore A-2-3-4 with one card of each suit.
There is some controversy over the origin of this game, which has been played at least since the 1980's. Bill Rosmus reports that in the 1980's in Winnipeg, Canada it was played under the name Off Suit Lowball in the back room of pool halls and back room poker clubs. Bryan Micon says he has been told by several Korean players that it was also played in South Korea in the 1980's. L. Michael Riccardi tells me that Badugi is commonly played in prisons in the southern USA, for example in Florida, where it is known as Airborn.
Nick Wedd reports that the Korean word baduk, or badug refers to a black and white pattern. This gives rise to the Korean name baduk for the board game Go, played with black and white stones. In Korea, if you have a black and white pet dog, you might well give it the name "badugi". Two high-low games featuring the "doogie" hand, a low four-card hand consisting of a different ranked card of each suit, were contributed to pagat.com in 2000 by Bob Procter's poker group in North Carolina, and published on pagat.com in 2002: Doogie and Buddys Game. They have suggested that the "doogie" hand may have been named after the TV character Doogie Howser. Badugi started to become well-known in the USA around 2004, popularised by Paul "Eskimo" Clark, who was a friend of at least one player from Bob Procter's group.
Any solid information on the history of Badugi or Off Suit Lowball before 1980 would be of great interest in helping to establish how old the game really is, and whether it was invented in Korea or North America, or even independently in both places.
The following explanation of how to play Badugi assumes that you are familiar with the general rules of poker.
Players, Cards and Hand Ranking
Badugi can be played by from 2 to 8 players, using a standard 52-card pack. The cards rank from Ace (low) up to King (high).
When comparing hands, within each hand all the cards must be different in suit and rank. If a player has more than one card of a suit, or two or more cards of matching rank, some cards must be eliminated to create a valid hand. Examples:
- 5-9-3-J: only one diamond can be used so this is a three-card hand J-5-3.
- 7-4-A-4: only one four can be used so this is also a three-card hand 7-4-A.
- 3-6-8-6: eliminating the 6 makes a valid three-card hand 8-6-3.
- 3-6-8-3: in this case two cards must be removed - a club and a three - leaving a two-card hand 6-3.
- 10-10-10-8: this is another two-card hand 10-8.
- 6-5-4-2: only one heart can be used, so this is a one-card hand: 2.
- 8-K-5-Q: this is is a four-card hand, also known as a badugi, though not a particularly good one K-Q-8-5.
The rules for comparing hands are:
- Any hand with more cards beats a hand with fewer cards. So a badugi beats any three-card hand, which beats any two-card hand, which beats any one-card hand.
- Between hands with the same number of cards, compare the highest card. The hand with the lower top card is better.
- If the highest cards of equal sized hands are equal, compare the second highest card, and the lower card wins. If these are also equal compare the third highest card (if present), and then the fourth highest.
- If two hands have the same number of cards and the ranks of the cards are the same, the hands are equal. There is no ranking of suits.
- 8-7-5-4 beats 9-4-3-2 because 8 is lower than 9.
- 10-7-5-4 beats 10-7-6-A because 5 is lower than 6.
- K-Q-J-8 beats 3-2-A because any four cards beat any three cards.
- If one player has 5-3-5-3 and another has K-Q-3-5 their hands are equal. These both reduce to two-card hands 5-3. The ranks of the unused cards and the suits of the cards are not considered. If these are the best two hands in the showdown the players split the pot.
The best hand, consisting of A, 2, 3, 4 in four different suits, is sometimes known as “the wheel”.
Deal, Draw and Betting
Badugi can be played as a fixed limit, pot limit or half pot limit game - see the betting page for explanation. As in any poker game, the turn to deal (or to have the dealer button if there is a non-playing dealer) passes clockwise after each hand. If there are more than two players, the player to dealer's left places a small blind, and the next player to the left places a big blind, which is normally twice as big as the small blind. In a "heads up" (two player) game, the dealer places a small blind and the dealer's opponent a big blind.
The dealer deals four cards to each player, clockwise, face down, one at a time, and the players look at their hands. There is then a betting round, begun by the player to the left of the big blind. The minimum bet is normally equal to the big blind. If none of the other players does more than call, the player who placed the big blind is allowed to bet.
The players have three opportunities to improve their hands by drawing cards. Starting with the first active player to dealer's left, and continuing clockwise around to the dealer, each player states how many cards he or she wishes to exchange, discards that number of cards face down to the muck (discard pile), and is immediately given an equal number of replacement cards face down by the dealer. Players can exchange any number of cards from zero to four: exchanging no cards is known as "standing pat".
After each round of drawing, when each active player has had an opportunity to draw cards, there is a new betting round, begun by the first active player to the left of the dealer. There are therefore up to four betting rounds altogether: before the first draw and after each of the three rounds of drawing. In a fixed limit game, the size of the bet doubles after the second draw, so that the third and fourth betting rounds are played with big bets.
If at any stage only one active player remains, that player takes the pot without showing any cards.
If there is more than one active player at the end of the last betting round, there is a showdown in which the active players display their cards in turn, beginning with the last player who bet or raised in the final betting round, or with the first active player to dealer's left if all checked in the final betting round.
Players show all four cards, even if because of duplicate ranks or suits they only have a three-card, two-card or one-card hand. The cards speak for themselves, and the holder of the best hand wins the pot. If two or more players tie for best hand they divide the pot equally between them.
L. Michael Riccardi described the following variations.
A qualifying limit is specified in advance, for example that in order to win a showdown a hand must be 'airborn' (i.e. a four-card badugi) with no card higher than a 9. If the showdown stage is reached and no one has a qualifying hand the cards are thrown in, the pot remains, and there is a new deal to all players at the table. The game may be played with a different limit (for example 10) or other qualifying conditions - for example three-card hands with a pair may qualify.
Progressive Badugi with a Buy
The above game is sometimes played in a format where each player has one open card and two opportunities to buy a card at the end. Assuming that the qualifying limit is 9 or lower, the process is as follows:
- The dealer deals one card face up to each player, burning any card that is 10 or higher.
- Three times, the dealer deals one card face down to each player, which is followed by a round of betting.
- At this point each player has one face up and three face down cards. Now each player has two opportunities to improve their hand by buying a card in exchange for one of their cards: the dealer specifies the price to be paid to the pot for buying a card before the start of the game.
- There is then a final round of betting and a showdown.
[The exact buying procedure was not explained to me. Presumably players must see the card on sale before deciding whether to buy it, as it would never be worth paying to exchange for an unknown card.]
Other Badugi web sites
A Badugi strategy guide is available on the playlowballpoker website.