How to Play Omaha Poker | Pot-Limit Omaha Strategy 101
If you read our Introduction to Texas Hold'em poker you're already off to a good start learning how to play Omaha.
All of the basic rules of betting, hand rankings, showdowns and order of play are all exactly the same as Hold'em.
While there are a few variations of Omaha Poker, like Omaha Hi-Lo Split 8 or Better, we'll focus here on Pot-Limit Omaha cash games, which are a big favorite of poker players, especially those in Europe.
The Basics of Pot-Limit Omaha
There are four key differences between PLO and Hold’em:
1. You get four hole cards in PLO
2. You must use EXACTLY two cards from your hole cards to make up your final hand (you can’t use four cards on the board and one from your hand)
3. Omaha is always played with a fixed limit so everyone doesn’t go all-in every hand.
4. You’ll see big hands more often (because everyone gets more cards)
If you can remember those four basic facets of the game then you’ll be ahead of a large percentage of people who are just learning PLO.
Special Beginner Tips for Omaha
Starting hands in Omaha consists of twice as many cards as in Texas Hold'em. So the first thing you need to realize is that there aren't twice as many two-card combinations, but six times as many!
For example, the hand AKJT can be combined into six rather decent two-card hands: AK, AJ, AT, KJ, KT, and JT.
That's is why, in Omaha, the average hand at showdown is much better than in Texas Hold'em. For example when three suited cards are on the board, someone usually has a flush, and so on.
To adjust to this you need to be very choosy about your starting hands. Preferably, all four cards should be connected in some way, by rank or suit. For instance, a hand like 8766 is stronger than AK83.
Be warned that, unlike Hold’em, you MUST use EXACTLY two of your four hole cards in Omaha. That means if there are four spades on the board and you only have one spade, you DON’T have a flush.
Pre-flop play in PLO is more important than it is in Hold'em due to the nature of the betting and the large number of starting hand combinations.
Balance your play and use your position to your advantage and you'll put yourself in the best position to win regularly in PLO cash games.
This is why, just as in hold'em, you should tighten up your starting hand requirements the earlier you act in the hand.
PLO is essentially Hold’em played with four cards instead of two. The betting rounds and hand rankings are exactly the same as Hold’em.
It tends to play like a more action-packed version of Hold’em so if you’re looking for something new then you should jump on board PLO.
What’s a Good Starting Hand in PLO?
This is one other area that’s obviously different than Hold’em since you get four cards. Let’s get this out of the way immediately:
A-A-A-A is not the best hand. In fact it’s a terrible hand since it can’t really improve.
Instead PLO is focused more on drawing hands with strong pairs. The best hand in PLO is actually A-A-K-K double-suited because of the high pocket pairs AND drawing ability.
Unfortunately, your chances of drawing it are extremely rare. Any A-A plus a high-pair is very strong as well as hands like A-A-J-T. Always be thinking of your drawing potential.
Here’s a look at the top 10 starting hands in PLO (all double suited of course) but keep in mind the starting hands aren’t near as rigid as NLHE.
The Importance of Draws
While Texas Hold'em can be found in fixed-limit, pot-limit and no-limit varieties, Omaha is rarely played using a no-limit structure.
This is because draws are so powerful in Omaha. It would be correct strategy to move all-in before the flop much too often, resulting in very little poker to be played.
Instead, Omaha is played using either a fixed-limit or pot-limit structure, and it's important to know what you are in for when moving from the fixed-limit to the pot-limit variety of the game.
Draws vs. Made Hands in Fixed-Limit Omaha
In basic Limit Omaha, it is almost always correct to bet if you are drawing to the nuts. The pots often get very large relative to the cost of a bet, so pot odds are high.
The converse of this is that it may not be correct to bet if you have already made your hand, assuming you cannot improve. For example, perhaps you have 3 3 T T and the flop comes 3 A A.
You probably have the best hand now. However, those other two aces are likely to be in the hands of your opponents, and they are unlikely to fold for a single bet.
That means if any card comes that matches any of the other three cards in either of those hands, then you will lose. It may not be worthwhile to put in a bet here and you may even want to consider folding when facing a bet.
Draws vs. Made Hands in Pot-Limit Omaha
In Pot-Limit Omaha the situation is very different. If you can make a pot-sized bet here, it may be possible to get the field down to just you and one of the other aces.
If one of the aces bets in front of you and you double the pot, or if you bet the pot and one of the aces comes over you, the other ace may assume that someone already has A3 (unlikely since you hold two of them, but he doesn't know that) and fold, making you the favorite in the hand.
Alternatively, if someone makes a pot-sized bet and is called or raised before you have a chance to act, you may choose to fold since both aces may now be committed.
Pot-Limit Omaha is a tricky game that can get expensive for the inexperienced. Start your transition to this game by playing low blinds, and then move up as you become accustomed to the structure and the nuances of this variation.
Position in Pot Limit Omaha
In Pot-Limit Omaha, position is crucial; perhaps even more so than in No-Limit Texas Hold'em.
In No-Limit Texas Hold'em, a player with position has more information than players who preceded him. However in Pot-Limit Omaha, the player with position not only has more information, he has more options.
This is because if an early position player raises early in a PLO pot, the late position player can usually call without committing too many of his chips. However, the late position player can also re-raise an amount that may be prohibitive to the early position player since the pot size may have now doubled.
For this reason, there are occasions where it may be correct to attempt to get all-in or close to all-in before the flop if you are in early position with a strong hand. You can do this by check-raising or re-raising another early position player.
Position in Fixed Limit Omaha
The consequences of position in Fixed-Limit Omaha are not as potentially devastating as in Pot-Limit Omaha but can still be quite important. If a dangerous flop comes in Omaha, it is usually very foolhardy to take a stab at the pot given all the possible card combinations that are out there.
However, due to the danger of allowing opponents to draw at a hand, it is much less likely than in hold'em that an opponent will draw at a strong hand. Therefore, if everyone checks a flop to you in Omaha, you have a better chance of stealing a pot with a bet than in many hold'em situations.
Position in Omaha Hi Lo
Just as in Omaha high, having position in Omaha hi lo does confer an advantage. If you have a hand that plays much better for low, you may be much more inclined to play if several players have already limped in.
A multi-way pot can lead to a profitable split. If you call in early position and most of the other players behind you fold, you may find yourself playing for half the pot with a negative EV situation.
Omaha Strategy is Not Holdem Strategy
Texas Hold'em players often take up Omaha poker when they get a bit bored of Holdem or are ready to learn a new poker game.
Since both are flop-based, community card games, they figure that the concepts learned in Hold'em will work playing Omaha.
In reality, a Hold'em mentality will typically lead to disaster. So here are a few tips for transitioning from Texas Hold'em to Omaha poker.
For example, in Texas Hold'em pocket aces is about 77% to win against a hand like 8-7 suited. In Omaha a hand like As-Ad-Kh-Ks is only about 59% to win against a hand like 7s-8s-9s-10s.
Even the biggest hands in Omaha do not have a huge advantage over other hands and players with a Hold'em mentality tend to over play these types of hands.
Chasing Non-Nut Draws
Also, players tend to chase after too many non-nut draws in Omaha poker. The odds of a flush-over-flush situation in Texas Hold'em are very low in comparison to Omaha poker.
However, with the myriad of potential starting hands in Omaha, the odds of two players having a flush is very high. So it's not profitable to chase after non-nut draws in Omaha.
In heads-up hands, nut draws have a greater potential to win but still will lose a much higher percentage of the time than non-nut draws.
Texas Hold'em rewards players who speculate with hands and push their edges with huge pre-flop hands. Players in Omaha that try and apply the same concept will quickly find themselves on the rail having blown through their stack or bankroll.
There are no pre-flop starting hands in Omaha poker with a massive advantage over another. So many players will tend to see the flop on a regular basis.
Once you reach the flop you need to evaluate your hand deeper than you normally would in Texas Hold'em. The two things that you need to do at each street of a hand is to evaluate your hand and what potential hands could come to beat you.
First, you need to evaluate what types of draws or even redraws that you have. For those new to the game, a redraw is a secondary draw that you have in addition to a flopped hand.
For example, if you flop the nut straight but also have a flush draw, you have a redraw to a flush. Next, you will need to evaluate what potential hands could be out there that are better than yours.
If you start with 10s-9s-8c-7d and the flop falls 6c-7c-2d, right now you're sitting with a wrap draw and a pair of sevens. A wrap draw in Omaha is when you flop a straight draw where more than eight cards can come to make your hand.
In this case any ten, nine, eight or five will make your straight. You have 13 outs for your straight. But what redraws do you have? In this case, you have none. Your opponent could very likely be on the same straight draw as you, be drawing to a flush, have flopped two pair, or even a set.
The same evaluation needs to take place on the turn. Players will either have a hand or they will have a draw. If you hit your hand you need to determine if it is the nuts. If it is not, do you have a redraw to the nuts?
In Texas Hold'em, if you were to flop a hand like two pair or a pair with flush draw, it would be a hand that you press in many situations. In Omaha, you must evaluate each hand deeply or find yourself in a huge hole.
Omaha: A Game of Small Edges
Players transitioning to Omaha poker from Texas Hold'em should be aware that the game does not have the same edges as they are used to.
In Texas Hold'em, hands like aces are a huge favorite against all hands and players can easily play the game when they have a huge advantage. The best players in Hold'em are those that play well when they don't have huge edges but small edges.
In Omaha, the edges are always small and in many cases you are about 60/40. Even hands with huge amounts of outs are not as dominating as they seem.
For example, if you have a huge wrap draw that has 20 outs to make you a winning hand, Hold'em players would assume you are about 80% to win. However, that just isn't the case with Omaha.
Any player holding a pair higher than your wrap draw will drop your odds to 73%. If any player had a set, then you drop to about 54%. You go from being a "huge favorite" to being in a virtual coin flip.
Small Edges = Huge Swings
Since you only have small edges you will see huge swings in your bankroll based on luck. Long term you will still come out ahead, but the swings can be brutal. The best players are those who still push their small edges when it is correct to do so.
Using a Texas Hold'em mentality to approach Omaha poker is a recipe for failure. The games look similar, but are in reality entirely different in game play, odds, and even strategy.
While certain poker concepts are universal such as being able to identify player tendencies, most Hold'em concepts will lose you money in Omaha.
Regardless of what many will have you believe, Omaha is not Texas Hold'em with four cards. It is its own game and should be learned as such.
3 Essential Omaha Strategy Tips to Remember
1. Be Wary of Increasing Pot Sizes
One of the elements of PLO that draws players to the game is the average size of the pot pre-flop as opposed to showdown. In many cases, players can enter a pot somewhat cheaply and see many flops.
So many players have the proper implied odds to speculate in certain hands that they would not have in other games such as Texas Hold'em.
This blessing can also be a curse, though, depending on the aggression level of the other players and their holdings. While betting tends to be small on average before the flop, after the flop the bets and raises are the size of the pot.
If the pot pre-flop is $10, then a player can lead out with a $10 bet on the flop, which can be followed by a $20 raise, and then followed by a $40 three-bet.
The same could happen even pre-flop if someone in late position raises an $8 pot. The big blind could come back with a $16 three-bet, and someone else with a $32 four-bet.
So pots in Pot Limit Omaha can build to be larger than many NL Hold'em pots.
2. Position is Even More Important
Position is more important in your overall Omaha strategy than in any other form of poker. The reason is that relatively small bet sizing can give you more information on a hand than in Texas Hold'em.
If you're in late position pre-flop and see multiple raises ahead of you, your decision will be easier than it would be in Hold'em. In Hold'em, you have to factor in aggression more so than PLO.
In PLO, players will bet on their potential hand strength in hopes of building a big pot.
Acting in early position pre-flop can also be more costly for you in PLO. First, you can only raise the size of the pot. Next, you don't have hands that are huge favorites as in Hold'em.
Playing out of position can be expensive and you may end up committing chips on a hand that may fail to develop.
Finally, be careful when opening up your range in late position. Inferior hands tend to be more costly in PLO, so play them carefully.
3. Balance is Crucial
An important element of PLO strategy is balancing your play depending on your competition. For example, low-stakes games will either be super aggressive or nitty. The way you adjust your play will determine your profitability.
In highly aggressive games, a tight strategy or one that focuses on pot control is usually appropriate. For example, if there's one super aggressive player at the table, keep the pots as small as possible pre-flop to give yourself solid implied odds.
When there's a lot of pre-flop raising, you want to mainly stick to stronger holdings. In cases where you have strong holdings like double suited A-A-K-K or A-A-K-Q, then you want to focus on isolating players when possible.
In a table of limpers, you have multiple options. You can try to become a maniac and pot more often or you can focus on playing hands that have massive potential in multi-way situations. Hands like middle-wrap starters or double-suited hands with aces are fun to play here.
When choosing the later focus on hands with multi-way drawing potential, especially those with nut drawing potential. Betting often explodes once a player hits and when you're that player, you want to extract maximum value whenever possible.