The Timeless Razgu

            By now, hopefully we all know that once something is posted on the internet, it never disappears completely.  Nonetheless, it was quite a shock when I received an e-mail this past week from a reader who came across a column I wrote in 2004!  I knew the site still existed, but I'm still amazed that a column I wrote nearly 13 years ago can so easily be referenced.  You'd think that they might archive the articles or during some redesign of the site would remove the older articles.  I guess the good news is that more than a decade later, the column is still as relevant today.


            The column was about the dreaded RAZGU hand.  For those not familiar, this is the hand in video poker when you throw all five cards away.  Where did the term Razgu come from?  I always thought my father made it up.  But, it turns out that he got it from one of his friends he played Poker with.  I don't know if that friend made up the term or borrowed it from someone else.  I've searched on the internet and I can't find any references that would indicate it was used commonly before my father started using it for video poker about 25+ years ago.  


            I think the term RAZGU (which to the best of my knowledge is NOT an acronym) does more justice to the hand than the term Draw 5, which might be more literal.  A hand has to be pretty bad to be a RAZGU.  In jacks or better, it essentially requires the hand to contain NO High Cards, no 4-Card Straight (Outside), no 4-Card Flush and no 3-Card Straight Flushes (of any type).  The good news is that less 3.5% of our hands will be a Razgu.  The bad news is that you probably remember every one you got.   The worse news will be if you get one and start making up hands to play instead of it.


            The expected value of a Razgu is a mere 0.36.  It doesn't get any worse than this.  Well, if you're playing properly, it doesn't get any worse than this.  If you start chasing garbage, it can get worse.  Playing a single High Card has an expected value of 0.47.  This may not sound a lot better, but it is more than 33% better than a Razgu.  And, 1 High Card is the 2nd most common hand behind a Low Pair.  So, in this case you don't want to turn all those 1 High Card hands into a Razgu.  That would be the worst thing you can do.


            On the other side would be making up hands to play.  As tempting as it might be to go for that 3-card Flush or 4-Card Inside Straight (no High Cards), these will return you an expected value BELOW that of a Razgu.  With a 4-Card Inside Straight, you've got only 4 chances to grab that Straight for an expected value of 16 divided by 47.  This equates 0.34, which is not much below our Razgu, but it is still below. 


            You may wonder how throwing all five cards could be better than drawing 1 for an Inside Straight.  As ugly as the Razgu is, you have a chance to pick up literally every possible type of hand, including even a Royal Flush!  If your Razgu didn't include a 10, you will actually have a higher chance of drawing a Royal than you would of being dealt one (without a draw) from the start of the hand.  Overall, you'll have about a 23% chance of still winning the hand.   This compares to the below 10% of the 4-Card Inside Straight. 


            Admittedly, many of these winners will be a High Pair which will pay less than that Straight, but you are roughly twice as likely to get a High Pair on the draw with a Razgu vs. drawing the Straight on the 4-Card Inside Straight.  While the odds of drawing Full Houses, Quads and up are slim, they do still exist and are enough to push the expected value above that of the 4-Card Straight.


            Now, if a 4-Card Inside Straight has an expected value a little below that of our Razgu, you can only imagine where a 3-Card Flush or 3-Card Straight will fall.  While these hands do allow for the possibility of drawing High Pairs, Two Pairs and Trips, they leave ZERO chance for a big payout and still a rather slim chance for a Straight or a Flush.


            As is often the case in video poker, knowing how to play the really bad hands is as important (if not more so) than knowing how to play the good hands.  Most of the good hand strategy is fairly obvious.  It is the oddball partial hands that separate the regular players from the Expert players.