Omaha Poker Strategy: The Basics

by Magnus Martin

If you have never played Pot-Limit Omaha (often referred to in its shortened form ofPLO) before, then you have been missing out. PLO has developed in recent years 

from a relatively little known game into comfortably the second most popular form ofpoker - behind only Texas Hold’em. Omaha is a fast-paced and action packedgame, which is sure to excite players new to the genre.

Now played extensively in both cash game and tournament form, you can find amultitude of PLO games on most major poker sites, ranging from small stakes tonosebleed action - a lot of the biggest cash games in the world are now Omaha. Onthe tournament front, the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas now offers a number of Omaha bracelet events. And the major online MTT series’ such as SCOOP andWCOOP host a number of PLO events with huge guaranteed prize pools.

Unlike NLHE, in which each player is dealt two hole cards to start the hand, in PLO,you get double this amount; four face down cards, individual to each player,
preceding the first round of betting. There is still a small and big blind but Omahagames are generally played with no antes, meaning that there is typically a little bitless incentive to steal the blinds.

hole cards

One key difference in PLO is that you must use two of your own cards to contributetowards your best five card hand. So, unlike, NLHE, you cannot make a flush or astraight using just one card of any particular suit.

Here is an example: You are dealt AK98, with the ace of hearts; the flop comes J62,with three hearts on board; the action checks around and the 4h peels off on theturn. In NLHE, if you held the Ah in your hand you would now have the nut flushand the absolute best possible hand on this board. However, in Omaha, given thatyou only have one heart in your hand, you do not have a flush. Indeed, with this particular holding you only have ace high.

It will take a little bit of getting used to this if you have been playing a lot of NLHE and it is obviously a very clear and crucial difference between the two games However, you should not get too disheartened if you make a few mistakes with this when you start out playing Omaha. The first time I sampled Omaha was in aDealers Choice cash game in my local casino and I made the very mistake I justoutlined; incorrectly believing that I held the nut flush when in fact I only had onecard of that suit in my hand - it was an expensive mistake but we do, of course,learn from our such errors of judement.

Similarly, if you have a 9 in your hand and the 5678 is on board, do not be fooledinto thinking you have a made straight. You will need to have another connectingcard to hold a straight. If the board is reading 8899 and you have a nine in your hand, again, this does notmean you have a full house. If your hand is AKQ9, your hand strength is a pair of9’s, with A-K high. You must always use two cards from your hand and three from the board to make your best five card hand.

The great things nowadays is that there is much more material available for beginner players to learn from. Ten years ago, it would probably not have been allthat easy to find a lot of Omaha strategy articles. That means the good news for players starting out in Omaha, is that they should be able to avoid makingrudimentary errors.

Omaha is played as a pot-limit game, meaning that you can only raise the size ofthe pot. Therefore, the only time you can go all in is when there is equal to or less than the pot in chips behind. This is in contrast to No-limit Texas Hold’em, whereyou can make huge bets and all-in shoves that are over the size of the pot.

The consequence of this is that, in Omaha, it is usually harder to bet people out ofthe pot, as they are typically getting a decent price to call. The VPIP (thepercentage at which a player voluntarily puts money in the pot) rate of each player is, on average, significantly higher in Omaha than it is in Hold’em. Players love tosee flops in Omaha and it is not uncommon to see a player with a VPIP of 50% or higher. You will even see players with VPIP’s over 70%, or even 80% - but this is taking it too far and very unlikely to be a winning strategy.

But this is good news for us. As new players get introduced to the game and find itdifficult to let go of hands, this means we should be able to gain a suitable edgeover this type of opponent. Provided, of course, that we, ourselves, are playing well.

If you take a look back at my article on starting hand selection in NLHE for beginners, you will notice that I suggested taking a solid and predominately tightapproach in the early stages of learning the game. This is also true and rather important in Omaha. You will almost certainly see players doing the exact oppositeand entering virtually every single pot. Do not imitate this kind of play - you will losea lot of money.

You should prioritise playing hands with lots of high cards and connectivity. AAxx and most KKxx hands should be opened from under the gun - although you canfold some of the weakest KKxx hands, as they are really not all that strong.Something like KK82 with no suits is a mediocre hand because basically your only way to improve is to hit a set - therefore, you effectively only have two useful cards,which is not great in a four card game.

High card hands with suits are powerful holdings: a hand such as AQJT with a suitwill always be a hand you should raise. We should look to prioritise hands that haveace high suits at this stage as most of our flush value will come from these mostpowerful flushes. One can obviously go for three streets of value with an ace highflush (on an unpaired board); but small flushes will typically only be worthy of onestreet of value and other medium strength flushes potentially two streets.

If we are out of position and responding to pre-flop aggression from an opponent,we should typically check our flopped flushes over to them. If we lead out it will tendto look a bit obvious that we, ourselves, have a flush - and we do not want to be predictable in our approach. Often, checking to a pre-flop aggressor is effective ingetting them to take a shot at the pot and, although continuation betting is usually abit less common in Omaha than Hold’em, it is still done at a relatively highfrequency. Check-calling also keeps the pot smaller for the times that we run into abigger flush - so we can minimise our losses on such occasions.

When you are starting out at Omaha, you will probably be encountering a lot ofopponents who want to see flops as much as possible. You have to be aware thatyou need, on average, much higher quality hands to win at showdown than inNLHE. You will soon learn that you have to fold a lot of small-medium flushes as
you will often come up against higher flushes. This is one of the reasons it is goodto start out playing quite a tight range of hands. You may not win as many pots as
some players but, when you do, you will likely win big pots as you will tend to havemostly nutted hands.

omaha real table

In terms of three betting pre-flop, this is also something a little bit less common inOmaha. It is common to see players with very tight three betting stats such as
3-5%. And a lot of players only three bet with the very strongest of hands, or evenjust AAxx combinations. Although this is not my own personal approach, I wouldrecommend that you keep things simple at first. Calling raises with good, solidhands and, predominately in position, is going to be a solid plan in your early

If you are insure of whether you should perhaps be three betting a hand in aparticular situation, then err on the safe side. Do not three bet just for the sake of it.
Calling is the smarter play in these circumstances. As your game grows inconfidence and experience, then you can start to mix it up a lot more.