No one specifically comes to mind when you think of the premier Badugi players in the world. Although Badugi has been played in poker circles for years-especially in high stakes mixed games-the game is still in its infancy and not as popular as hold 'em, stud, or Omaha. Badugi is a fixed-limit lowball game with four cards and three chances to draw. You're seeking the lowest low hand but with different suits.
Badugi recently made its debut at the virtual tables and the game was finally introduced at this year's World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) on PokerStars. The winner of the inaugural event was a familiar face, none other than Raymond Davis.
If you frequent the card rooms in Southern California, you might have come across the flashy pro. Davis is often the best dressed player at the table, decked out in a Gucci fedora and diamond earrings. He loves to get under people's skin in an attempt to tilt them.
When Davis got out of the Army in the early 1990s, he settled down in Seattle. After rising through the ranks of the local cards rooms in Washington, he headed south to Los Angeles to test his skills against some of the best players in the world. In the early 2000s, Davis was mentored by the late John Bonetti, while he befriended pros such as Phil Ivey and Paul Darden. The guidance of all three helped Davis' game evolve and he amassed $1.5 million in career tournament earnings. Now, Davis can add a WCOOP bracelet to his resume.
Davis, playing under the screen name "raydavis77," faded a field of 376 runners en route to his first place finish. The top 56 won prize money, and notables who cashed included Vicky Coren (36), Katja Thater (22) and Daniel Negreanu (21).
Davis began the final table in a comfortable spot as the chip leader, but he had a couple of difficult opponents nipping at his heels including Aussie pro Billy "the Croc" Argyros, Danny "THE__D__RY" Ryan and Jason "JP OSU" Potter.
Team PokerStars Pro Barry Greenstein, who hosted the event and is good friends with Davis, entertained everyone on the rail with some witty banter.
"Normally I would congratulate all of you," explained Greenstein. "But you are all behind Raymond Davis, which is embarrassing. I have to root for you, Raymond. No one else owes me money."
When Davis knocked out Billy the Croc in seventh place, Greenstein could not resist teasing Davis, "Raymond still leading? Bad for the arguments that poker is a game of skill."
When action was heads-up against "bobsmith166," Davis held a slight chip lead, yet agreed on a deal. Despite the chop, the two played for over ninety minutes before Davis finally won the tournament. He collected $19,912, the bracelet, and the distinction of being the first player to ever win a high stakes Badugi tournament on PokerStars.
This year's WCOOP boasted $40 million in guaranteed prize money and the number of tournaments increased from 33 in 2008 to 45 in 2009. The WCOOP has come a long way from its first festival, which consisted of a mere nine tournaments. Although WCOOP victories are not quite the online equivalent as winning a WSOP bracelet, winning a WCOOP event is a badge of honor among the online community. Several previously unknown online pros were thrust into the spotlight after their first place finishes in WCOOP events. That list includes Jeff 'ActionJeff' Garza, Jason 'strassa2' Strasser, James 'mig.com' Mackey, and Steven 'stevesbets' Jacobs.
Over the years, a couple of familiar names have won WCOOP events. That elite list includes Greg "fossilman" Raymer, J.C. "area23JC" Tran, Chad "stelladora" Brown, Shaun "shaundeeb" Deeb, and Dan "Lenny" Heimiller.
For now, Raymond Davis has bragging rights and can claim that he's the greatest Badugi player in the world.
Paul 'Dr. Pauly' McGuire is the author of the upcoming book 'Lost Vegas'. You can read his poker blog, Tao of Poker, over at www.taopoker.com.