Omaha Poker: Intermediate Strategy

by Magnus Martin

By this stage in your Omaha journey, you have hopefully grasped the basics of the gameand are feeling relatively clear in your mind about how the game is played. It is not asimple transition from playing NLHE; despite the similarities, there are still a number ofsubtle differences, which make PLO a unique and, of course, very exciting game to play.

It is important to think independently about PLO; avoid approaching the game from theperspective of a NLHE player, if that is the game you are accustomed to playing. NLHE is a game which, by nature, has a lot of bluffing and levelling wars, where opponents attemptto out play and out smart each other through bluffs and with sheer aggression. But this cannot be done as often in Omaha; it is a game in which you should pick your spots carefully. You will often see NLHE players overvaluing one and two pair hands, as well as straight draws, which, equity wise, are not getting correct odds to play.

Equities run a lot closer in Omaha. For example, if you get all in pre-flop in NLHE with AAversus KK, you have an 82% chance of winning the pot. Conversely, in Omaha, if you getit all in pre-flop with some variation of AAxx against a KKxx combination, you are looking athaving less than a 60% chance of scooping the pot: a significant difference.

A good starting hand selection prior to the flop and a suitable post-flop strategy are key factors to being a winning PLO player. Omaha is a game filled with action and in a lot ofhands, at least two players will compete for all of their chips by showdown. If you comefrom a limit poker background, you will be amazed at just how intense the action can be atPLO.

There is a saying that there are only two kinds of hands in PLO; the nuts - the best handpossible - and then there is everything else. This is, of course, an exaggeration;nevertheless, it is a helpful thought to keep in mind when learning the game. The bestpossible hand - the nuts - will win a lot of the pots which become all-in situations. Always be aware of what the nuts are on each street, and avoid drawing to hands that are likely tomake second best straights and flushes.

Position is an important concept in all forms of poker, but particularly so in Pot LimitOmaha. You must extract value when you have the best hand, and this is a far easier task from late position and, especially, the button. Furthermore, the dynamics in an Omahahand can change considerably down the streets; the information you gain by actingsubsequent to your opponents is invaluable.

Be selective about the hands you play from early position. This is particularly important intight games, where you will get picked off and run into superior flushes and full houses far too often, if you choose to play too many hands from early position. When you are on thecutoff and button you can widen your range and start to open up your game. You willinevitably make mistakes but you should now be reaching a point where you arecomfortable enough to try new things. But only do this once you feel confident in your post-flop abilities and, also, when you expect to be battling against weaker opposition post-flop.These are the opponents you should be targeting.

In PLO, it is important to get as much money in the pot as possible, while you hold the besthand. This may sound obvious but it is certainly worth emphasising. Even very stronghands can remain extremely vulnerable in many situations in Omaha, as you will regularly be faced with draw heavy boards and a number of villains in the pot.

Small bets will often give your opponents too good of a price to call and are less advisablethat in NLHE. That being said, I find that small bets are often under used in Omaha. Iregularly see people betting three quarters to full pot on dry flops, which is not particularly necessary.

For example, you raise pre-flop and the big blind defends; the board comes down KK6rainbow. This is an ideal spot to make a small bet with a wide range of hands - andpotentially your entire range (although you may want to include some check backs, suchas quads and pocket pairs like JJxx and QQxx, which aren’t particularly vulnerable to over cards on the turn.

In PLO you should focus on playing aggressively with your strong hands and also your premium draws. Slow playing strong hands with the intention of getting value later is something you can occasionally mix into your game. But, as a rule of thumb, you cannotreally go wrong with betting for value at the earliest opportunity.

The rare occasions we have quads, straight flushes and, more frequently, nut full houses,can be opportunities to consider a slow play. But given the amount of strong draws we canbe up against, passive play will not generally be advisable in these situations.

Strong board connectivity is something much more frequent in PLO than NLHE, as eachplayer has twice as many cards in their hand. A failure to be selective with your startinghands will be expensive; you will continually encounter situations where you makerelatively strong hands but find that these are frequently dominated at showdown by opponents with better pre-flop ranges than you.

Conversely, if your pre-flop range selection is correctly balanced and appropriately strong,you will find post-flop situations much easier to navigate and will be on the winning side atshowdown much more frequently.

Making strong hands is not particularly difficult in Omaha - but it is always preferable toplay hands that can make the nuts relatively easily. Put an emphasis on playing pots withhigh card hands that have the ability to make the nut flush or nut straight and hold their equity well through to showdown. A hand such as 8654 double suited may look quitepretty, with its connectivity and suitedness - but it will tend to make inferior straights andflushes a lot of the time. Therefore, be cautious about over playing such hands.

Playing hands with an ace high suit will usually be better, even if you sometimes have tomake do without having an actual flush. This is due to the fact that we can use nutblockers to buy the pot.

Imagine that you have A(h)K76 and the flop comes out 932(hhh) - our hand strength is apaltry ace high. But this is only part of the story. The Ah is the best card in the deck inrelation to this board texture - and we hold it. This gives you the option of firing a multi-barrel bluff. This can be a scary prospect as we are putting ourselves in a position wherewe are probably going to be committing our entire stack by the river.

Nevertheless, you will often find that opponents call one or two streets with an inferior flushor set/two pair combo but feel compelled to fold on the river, when the third barrel comes in. The power of the nut blocker really cannot be overstated in Omaha.

We also want to play hands that have a high degree of connectivity when possible. A handsuch as J987 double suited may not seem better than one such as K974, with one suit;jack high is behind king high after all. But in deep stack games, you want to play hands that can realise their equity better down the streets.

A hand like J987ss is going to make a lot of straights, as well as flushes and boats. Doublesuited hands have a distinct edge over single suited hands and we should certainly look toprioritise them within the range of hands we play. Double suited hands give you a higher chance of making a flush and also allow you to realise equity more frequently. You will beable to see more turns and rivers, with a greater proportion of draws and backdoor draws out there for you. Mid-to-high run downs are also good in the sense that they have greatdrawing abilities and we can often apply a lot of pressure with them post flop against over

Bit should also be noted that bankroll management is something which should always beconsidered by those venturing into the PLO cash game realm. Many players enjoy PLObecause of the fast-paced action. With four hole cards instead of two to play with, morehands are played and the pot size increases quickly. However, there is always going to bea high amount of variance in this game, which makes shrewd bankroll managementcrucial. PLO should be avoided by those easily prone to tilting, as this can be very costly ina short space of time. You need to have a lot of mental strength to be a successful PLOplayer in the long-term.