Plugging leaks in Omaha
TriggaLos shot a video yesterday at a PLO table on Pokerstars, and said that he hoped to start a discussion on some basic strategy. It seems that most players share a common sentiment towards Omaha, which is “I have no idea what I’m doing”. The good news is that, since so many players feel this way, PLO can be extremely profitable if we follow some very basic guidelines, in order to exploit our weak opponents. I’m no expert myself—I don’t have an outstanding win-rate, or a huge hand sample— but I understand how to put myself into good situations, and I’d like to share that information with all of you. If you’d like more information, I’d suggest reading Jeff Hwang’s “Pot Limit Omaha Poker” or Bob Ciaffone's "Omaha Poker".
First, PLO is not a game of coin flips. It is true that no starting hand has a huge equity advantage over any other hand. For example, AAKK double suited is only a 60/40 favorite over 9876 double suited pre-flop. However, it is very uncommon for two players to get all-in pre-flop in PLO, and a hand’s equity can change drastically based on the texture of the flop. In addition, there are situations where a hand that is a mathematical underdog will likely bluff out opponents with stronger holdings. In his book “Pot Limit Omaha Poker”, Jeff Hwang estimates that QJ52 is a 2:1 favorite over KQJ4 on a flop of T95. Here, the first player has bottom pair with an eight card straight draw, while the second hand has a thirteen card straight draw. The first player, while being the odds-on favorite to win the hand at a showdown, will likely fold to any bet or raise from the second player. There are too many hands that already have him beat or have his draw dominated for him to continue with the hand. The moral of the story is that certain hands, while they may not be a huge favorite pre-flop, are huge favorites to take down the pot post-flop.
When one first sits down at a PLO table and is dealt his/her first hand, our imaginations can run wild, dreaming of miracle flops for our hands, where we flop sets, big straights, flushes, etc. While it is true that pretty much any hand can flop a winner, we have to consider that for every time that does happen, there are countless times where we find ourselves in hopeless situations. For example, say that we have a hand like T965, and the flop comes 872, which gives us a monster twenty-card straight draw. We are actually a small favorite in this situation against a hand as strong as AK88. Now let’s compare our equity against a hand like AJT9, which has a thirteen card straight draw. Here, we only have seven outs (three 5’s and four 4’s) that will give us the best hand—any of the thirteen other outs we had before will give our opponent a straight greater than or equal to ours. Should we hit any of those seven outs on the turn, we will still lose or chop the pot about 25% of the time. Another situation where this happens is when we have QT98, and our opponent has AKQT. The flop comes KJ2. We have a thirteen cards to fill our straight, but again, our opponent has our draw crushed. The issue is further complicated when flush draws are involved.
This attitude is also necessary with hands such as top two pair or bottom set. Say we have 7766, and the flop comes A87. In hold’em, this is a hand where we want to get all of our chips in. But in Omaha, our hand is only a 60% favorite against JT92. This percentage drops to 52% if our opponent has a flush draw. Worst of all, we have 9% equity against a hand like AAQJ. In these spots, where we are only slightly ahead or getting completely romped, it’s crucial to play cautiously. It takes a much bigger hand in Omaha to get to the river than it does in hold’em.
In case it isn’t already obvious, we want to put ourselves in situations where we are the ones dominating the odds. We can do this by 1) focusing on the number of clean outs, not just the number of total outs, and 2) choosing starting hands that are have the potential to dominate. When players ask what type of hands they should play pre-flop, the answer is usually “play hands that work together”. This is a pretty vague description. Obviously, JT98 is a hand that “works together”, but why is something like QJT7 better than a hand like 8654? The answer is that the former will more often flop draws to the nuts, while the latter is likely to flop a draw that can be crushed. The flaw with 8654 is two-fold: first, the rankings are lower, so it is less likely that we will hit something top two pair; second, the gap at the top, instead of near the bottom, makes it more likely that we will end up with sucker draws. So, when we evaluate a starting hand, we want cards with gaps at the bottom, like QJT8, QJ98, QJ97, etc., and we prefer that they are high in rank. Being suited also adds a ton of equity to these hands.
There are tons more hands in Omaha that are playable, perhaps more than hold’em players are used to. I am not going to spend more time on this, though, because it would take forever. Generally speaking, as I said previously, we want hands that can dominate once we get to the flop. This goes for hands like AAxx, also. Most players who are new to Omaha play AAxx hands too strongly, and end up going broke. If an AAxx hand does not connect with the flop—with top set, the nut flush draw with an overpair, an open-ended straight draw with an overpair, etc.—we need to strongly re-evaluate where we stand in the hand.
This is really just touching the surface of the strategy in Omaha. If we try to remember these things while we’re playing, we should be in much better shape than the plethora of weak opponents we will find. To reiterate:
-While hands have similar pre-flop winning percentages, this changes once the flop hits, and the big draws will often bluff out the weak hands
-The hands we take to the river are ones with mostly (if not entirely) outs to the nuts; also, hands like bottom set that are profitable in hold’em are less so in Omaha
-Good starting hands in Omaha do more than just “work together”—they are hands where, if we connect with the flop, we will be in a dominating position
Again, there are many more complexities to Omaha than what I’ve stated here, such as post-flop play and bluffing, playing weaker hands with position, etc. Hopefully, though, this should help a person with a limited understanding of Omaha get started in this profitable game. I will leave the rest for discussion, and I encourage all players to share their ideas and their questions here.