This is the complete guide to limit Omaha high low poker. There are 4 sections on this page; to navigate this guide please use the menu on the right hand side to skip to the relevant section you are interested in, or read to the bottom of the section to continue to the next.
Texas Hold 'Em is all the rage at the moment. More than 95% of poker that is televised is Hold 'Em, usually no limit, but occasionally if you're lucky there will be a limit game on.
Given that a large proportion of the fish that you find in Hold 'Em poker games are graduates of the televised poker school, you may wonder why you'd want to play Omaha Poker or Omaha 8/b, as it's hardly ever televised, barring the odd WSOP broadcast. People who play Omaha 8/b must play because they know what they're doing and not because they've been lured in by "all-in" WPT-philia, right?
Most low limit Omaha 8/b tables contain players who've filtered in from Hold 'Em. Either they're getting a little bored and want a change of scenery so to speak, or they've lost money at Hold'Em and want to gamble ("hey, you get 4 hole cards in Omaha Poker so it's basically just gambling!" is one of many great comments you may hear the fish say). The great thing about low limit Omaha 8/b is once you have the basics down it's incredibly easy to win at it because the other player's play is generally absolutely awful, even more so than at the same levels of Hold 'Em.
If Hold 'Em is a game of strategy, then Omaha 8/b is a game of maths. At low limits, with lots of players seeing flops, reading other player's hands is largely irrelevant. Reading your own hand, and the possibilities that your hand has in the future are far more important. One of the many incorrect assumptions people make about Omaha 8/b is that it's a complicated game - it isn't. In fact, once you have the basics down, it's a lot simpler than Hold 'Em, primarily because more of your decisions are automatic and obvious. Anyway, enough of the hard-sell introduction. I'm going to assume you're a Hold 'Em player with absolutely no idea how to play Omaha 8/b. If you have a basic grasp of the game rules you will most likely want to skip this section of this guide.
Basic Omaha Poker Rules
Omaha 8/b, also known as Omaha High/Low, Omaha H/L, Omaha Split and more similar names is a split pot game. That is, in many hands, the pot is split between the best high hand (for which the usual Hold 'Em hierarchy applies) and the best low hand. Qualifying low hands and their hierarchy will be described in more detail shortly.
The game is similar to Hold 'Em in that each player is dealt cards, there is a round of betting, a 3-card flop is dealt, then a turn card and finally the river, with betting rounds in between and at the end (with the betting increments doubling after the turn card is dealt). The big difference is that each player is dealt four hole cards in Omaha 8/b, as opposed to 2 in Hold 'Em.
Players must combine two and only two (no more and no less!) of their down cards with three of the cards on the board to make the best five-card hand they can. This is another difference from Texas Hold 'Em, you cannot "play the board" or play just one of your hole cards with four cards from the board, you must play exactly two of your hole cards. For example if you hold four spades and one more pops up on the board, you don't have a flush because you can only use two of your hole cards in making your hand.
The mechanics of the "low" hand seem complicated at first but are actually very simple. Essentially, your low hand is the five lowest unpaired cards in your hand (with Aces counting as low, and with straights and flushes not counting against a low hand - A2345 of hearts is a perfectly fine low hand, for example). A player can use 2 different hole cards in making a low hand to the cards he/she uses in making a high hand. To qualify for a low hand, the highest card in the low must be no higher than an 8 - hence the name Omaha 8/b - "Omaha Eight or Better".
So if you have A4678 as your lowest 5 unpaired cards, you have a low hand, if you have A2349 you don't, as the 9 is too high. What this means is that if there are not 3 cards lower than a 9 on the board by the river, it is impossible for anyone to have a low hand (as you must use 3 cards from the board in making your hand, remember?). The lower the cards in the low hand, the better the low hand is. Low hands are specifically ranked by taking the highest card in the low first and working backwards, with the player who shows the first lower card than his opponent(s) taking the low. Imagine this scenario, which is helpful in understanding both high and low hands in OmahaPoker:
Here, Player A wins the high pot with QQQJ7 for three queens. Player B does not have a straight - if he was allowed to use 3 of his hole cards he would, but of course he isn't, so the best hand he has for high is AKQJ7 for Ace-high. Player C has JJAQ7 for a pair of Jacks as his high hand. As for the low hand, Player A has no low as 24679 is his lowest hand, and this doesn't qualify as a low as the 9 is too high, Player B has A2347, and Player C has A2457 (again, not A2456 as he can only use 2 hole cards!). To determine the best low hand, simply reverse them...
...and check the numbers from left to right. Both players have a 7, so move to the next card. Here, Player B has a 4 and Player C has a 5. As the 4 is lower than the 5, Player B has the best low hand and takes the low pot. If both players had the same second card you would move to the third, and so on. In fact, Player B has the "nut low" here, that is he has the best possible low hand. If the board shows three low (8 or lower) cards, and you have the lowest 2 cards that are not on the board, you have the nut low. If the board shows KK678 and you have A2xx, you have the nut low. Similarly if the board shows A237J and you have 45xx, you have the nut low. Recognising what the nut low is and whether you have it or a strong draw to it is important to being successful when starting out with Omaha 8/b, as you will find out in Part III of this Omaha Poker Guide.
To recap, essentially the basic rules of Omaha Poker are:
- Use 2 and only 2 of your 4 hole cards in making a hand.
- You can use 2 different hole cards to make your high and low hands.
Pick up a deck of cards and deal some hands out at home as practice or play some free games at online poker sites if you're not confident in your ability at reading your own hand - things like reading what you have with A256 on a 23578 board can be quite nightmarish at first. With practice, the ability comes easily after a while.
Low limit Omaha 8/b is a game of the nuts. Either holding the nut (best) hand, or having a strong draw to the best hand is crucial if you're going to stay in a pot, as in low limit games more than half of a full 10-person table will routinely be seeing flops, and with players holding 4 hole cards each there are obviously going to be strong hands out there. Better hands are needed to win pots at Omaha than at Hold ‘Em, obviously. Your biggest edge in low limit Omaha 8/b games will come from your preflop hand selection. Most players who've "graduated" from Hold ‘Em to Omaha have no idea what makes a good Omaha 8/b starting hand, and so they will have a tendency to play junk hands thinking that they're actually good, or just to play junk hands because they think Omaha is just plain "gambling".
There are three basic rules that govern sensible starting hand selection. If you don't remember anything else from this guide, remember these three things:
- Your 4 hole cards need to work well together and have lots of favourable flop potential.
- Any hand with a "middle" (7 through 10) card in it must have three very strong other cards accompanying it, as middle cards are practically worthless.
- As in Hold ‘Em, your position is important and you can loosen up your starting hand requirements slightly in late position if nobody has shown strength.
Let's examine the most important of these rules in more detail. Rule 1 states that your 4 hole cards "need to work well together". What does this mean? Let's take a look at two starting hands which demonstrate this pretty well:
Hand 1 is exactly the sort of hand that a fresh Hold ‘Em fish who is trying Omaha 8/b will invariably think is great. "I have Ace-King and two suited cards - woo-hoo!" he'll scream to himself. In reality, Hand 1 is a standard preflop fold for me almost all of the time. If we look at the hand more closely we can see why it's crap. Yes, we have A-K, but neither the Ace nor the king have any flush or backup straight possibilities. By "backup straight possibilities", I mean there is no other high card in the hand that makes part of the nut (Ace-high) straight. The only way for AK84 to make the nut straight is with a board involving QJT, and even then if there are three suited cards on the board or the board is paired you may well not have the best hand.
Hand 1 has two suited cards, but they are the 8d and 4d, and playing an 8-high flush against any action is a sure recipe for going broke quickly.
Hand 1 may also get Mr. Fishy excited because it has A4. "I have a low draw!" he will exclaim (usually silently). A4 alone is no reason to play a marginal hand. In low-limit games other players will play A2xx and A3xx religiously, even hands like A388, which are invariably easy folds. If you play A4, you are relying on a 2 and/or a 3 to flop, and relying on a low number of certain specific cards flopping in Omaha 8/b is not a good idea. An A4 would be a decent backup to a strong hand such as AhAs4sKh, where you have a very strong hand to contest the high pot with, but once again it alone is no reason to play a "nothing" hand.
In essence, the cards in Hand 1 do not work well together. Very rarely will you flop the nuts or a good nut draw with Hand 1, which is what you are looking to do.
Now look at Hand 2. This is a good starting hand, superior to Hand 1 in many ways. Firstly, the nut straight possibilities are better. Hand 2 can make the nut straight with AJT, KJT, QJT, or JT9 on the board. Also, if you're lucky enough to flop a straight, you will with the first three cases have outs to a runner-runner full house, which may not sound like much, but if you're in a hand with someone who also has the nut straight but doesn't have the full house or any flush outs (for example if someone has Hand 1 on a QJT board with no diamonds), then you're basically freerolling for the high pot. This exact situation won't happen very often at low limits, as people will be staying in with all sorts of draws, but the basic lesson remains - it's often crucial to have outs to an even better hand if you flop a good hand, even if you have the nuts in some cases.
Hand 2 also has Ace-high and King-high flush possibilities. In Omaha 8/b, you do not want to be drawing to anything less than a King-high flush without any backup possibilities if there's big multiway action, as you may well be drawing dead or near-dead to a player with a made hand and another player with an Ace/King-high flush draw.
Finally, Hand 2 has A2 for low. A2 alone is no reason to play a hand, but when combined with other good cards, for example another low card or a good high hand such as Hand 2 it only makes a good hand even stronger, as it gives you a chance of scooping both the high and low pots if three low cards flop.
You will be limping in preflop a lot more in low-limit Omaha 8/b than in Hold ‘Em, mainly because you will often want to see a flop cheaply. However, the advice some people give, "Never raise preflop" is nonsense. If you are sure you are holding the best hand with the best drawing potential at the moment, getting more money in the pot while you have the best hand is obviously a good idea. Sometimes you will have to fold after the flop comes out unfavourably, but when the flop comes out good, which it will do more often for good starting hands than for bad ones, your preflop raise means you're on the way to maximising your profit from the hand. One final note about raising preflop - sometimes in limit Hold ‘Em even at low limits raising to eliminate others from the hand is possible. In low limit Omaha 8/b, you should only be raising preflop for value, and you should never raise preflop to try and eliminate people from the hand (say if you have AA99, a hand you‘d like to be heads up with), as the majority of people just do not fold, even with KJ84.
So what sort of hands should you be playing? Hands with good nut drawing potential, hands where all 4 of the cards complement each other. Double-suited hands (i.e hands with 2 of one suit and 2 of another suit), hands with 3 or 4 Broadway cards (Ace-to-Ten), hands with 3 or 4 Wheel cards (Ace-to-Five), hands with high pairs (KKxx and lower is dangerous to play without other good cards though, and middle pairs are always muckable), hands with A-2 and A-3. The more of the above features a hand has, the better it is. There is no equivalent to an AA-style powerhouse hand in Omaha 8/b, however there are a lot of hands which are equivalent in power to AK, and these are the hands you want to be playing. Stick to these guidelines and you'll have an edge over your opponents even before a flop is dealt. I could give you a list of good starting hands, but taking this information and making the list yourself would be much more helpful to you.
Once you have the basics of starting hand selection down, you're getting somewhere. However, a player who picks all the right hands to play with but has no idea how to play it after the flop is giving up the edge that he or she has gained by tightening up with regard to starting hands.
Much as there are a few basic essential rules governing starting hand requirements, there are a few basic rules which essentially tell you when to stay in a hand and when to fold:
- If you don't have a strong drawing hand to the nuts or the nut hand one-way at the moment, fold. If you do, call or raise depending on how strong your hand or draw is.
- If you just have a low draw (nut or otherwise) with no realistic chance of making a good high hand, fold. Chasing for one half of the pot will lose you money in the long run. With a made nut low hand but no hand or draw for high, call one bet in a multiway pot but be very careful if you have to call two bets or more - there are risks associated with playing a low-only hand which will be discussed later.
- Much like preflop, only bet and raise for value and to swell the pot if you think you have the best hand (or a very strong draw). Don't bet/raise to eliminate players, as many people will chase with poor draws.
- There will usually be much more action on flops with 2 or 3 "low" (Ace-to-Eight) cards than there will be on flops with no or one low card(s). You can loosen up your requirements for calling one bet with a high hand or draw slightly when 2 low cards flop, as people will hang around with silly low draws. If a third low card flops or comes later on, you actually want to tighten your hand requirements slightly if you're playing for high only, as you're realistically only playing for half the pot.
As stated at the end of Part I, being able to read your own hand is essential here. Just as important on a flop is not only being able to read your own made hand, but to read your own drawing possibilities.
Taking a look at an example of a strong drawing hand will help here:
Here you only have Ace-high as your made hand, but this is a situation in which you should be raising and re-raising. It can be difficult for someone who has been playing Hold 'Em to understand that many draws in Omaha are favourite over the nut made hand - in Hold 'Em this situation very rarely occurs. Here the nut hand is JJJ54 (i.e. someone has JJxx as his hole cards), but you have a nut low draw (any A, 2, 3, 6, 7, or 8 will give you the nut low) coupled with a straight draw (any A, 2, 3 or 6 will give you a straight, though you can only make the nut straight with an A), and a nut flush draw (any heart will give you a flush). You have such a large number of outs here that you are actually a favourite over a made JJJ54 hand with two cards to come. Yes, the JJJ54 hand has a draw to a full house, but your draws are stronger, and you have a chance of escaping with the low even if you are unlucky and a 4, 5, or J comes on the turn. Therefore, you have no made hand, but actually have the best hand in terms of chances of winning the pot or half of the pot, and should jam the pot with bets and raises, as if someone is reraising you they likely have something close to the nuts, which you are a favourite over.
The above is a prime example of rules 1 and 3 in action. You have a very strong draw and are a favourite over practically any given hand, so you bet/raise. You are not betting/raising to eliminate people from the pot, in fact you want them to call and build up a pot that you know most of the time you're going to walk away with at least half of. Slowplaying is not an effective tool in low limit Omaha 8/b, as people will not respect your bets and raises anyway, so there's invariably nothing to be gained by slowplaying. Even if you've only ever shown down the absolute nuts over a long session, players at low limits will not notice this, so don't get in a habit of thinking such things as "Oh my, he's raising me and I've only shown down really good hands so far - he must have a monster hand!" Pay attention to the player and his actions - if he bets and raises a lot even with weak hands then you can reraise him more freely than you can with someone who is a "caller" and very rarely raises.
Also, don't worry too much about callers. If one person bets on a flop, then 3 players call and a fourth person raises, it's almost guaranteed that all 4 player will call the second bet. The three players who called the initial raise will often be on very weak draws, maybe a nut low draw with no high potential. It's generally the player who opens the betting and the raiser you want to pay attention to if the turn card makes a possible flush or pairs the board making a full house possible.
The other danger is that of a low hand being counterfeited. Take this example:
You have a made nut low hand, A2568. However, there is a danger of this nut low being counterfeited if an A or 2 appear on the turn or river. If an A or 2 appear your A2568 is no longer the nut low, A2356 is. This is not a major concern as long as you understand that there is a slight possiblilty your nut low on the flop may not be good after the river. This and the quartering risk are why overplaying a low hand with no high possibilities is invariably a bad idea. Counterfeit protection is important in some cases, for example if you held A23K in the above example, you would still hold the nut low even if an A or 2 turned. This is counterfeit protection, and a protected low is obviously somewhat more valuable than an unprotected low with 2 cards still to come.
Turn card play is often very similar to play on the flop. If you have a huge draw to the nuts and it hits on the turn, bet/raise. If you have a huge draw but it missed, often betting and raising is still a good idea unless your draw is no longer to the nuts (for example if the board has paired and you have a flush and straight draw), in which case either calling one bet (fold for more than one bet, as this is a huge sign the full house is out there) or just plain folding to the first bet is in order, depending on your reads on players and the number of players in the pot (the more players in the pot, the more likely it is that someone has made a full house when the board pairs). With a good low hand you can be more free in what you call with, but any non-nut low hand with no draws for a nut or near-nut high hand is always an easy fold in a big multiway pot.
Your decision at the river is the easiest of them all. Either you have the nuts or the near-nuts for high and/or low, or you don't. With the nut high, you obviously want to pump more money into the pot. With a nut low and a near-nut high, betting and raising is also the best option - you will find your opponents end up on the wrong end of a quartering. Anything you're unsure about, usually calling one bet but almost always fold to two is best, unless you have a decent high hand and the better and raiser are known to raise with low hands, in which case your odds are always good enough to call a second bet if you're confident there won't be a raising war on the river. If you miss your draw(s), you fold and live to fight another day. Don't make crying calls with obviously no good hands like top pair if your draw misses on the river just because "it's only one more bet".
Obviously this is not all there is to Omaha 8/b. There are a category of advanced plays which one can make, but using these at low limits is akin to reading Shakespeare to a group of 4-year old kids - if the people barely understand the basics, there's no need to get fancy-play syndrome. Maybe I'll deal with more advanced strategy in a later guide, but for now, enjoy what the goldfish bowl of low limit Omaha 8/b has to offer.
It's been too long since I wrote the first three parts of my limit Omaha Hi/Lo (henceforth "LO8" to save me from Repetitive Strain Injury) guide. I look back on them and see a few things I could have added here and there, although as a beginner's guide, which it was intended to be, I feel it "does a good job", so to speak. This part is a little different, and more in-depth and specific. It contains a little bit of maths, but it's not overly complicated and you should not be daunted by it.
One thing I didn't mention in parts 1-3 which is absolutely crucial to LO8 is the importance of 'scooping'. Scooping is essentially taking the whole pot, as opposed to just half the pot with a high or a low hand. It is of course obvious that scooping is 'good', but what might not be quite so obvious is precisely how 'good' it is in many scenarios that occur especially in low limit LO8 games. Let's look at a quick example...
You are playing $1-$2 LO8 We are dealt 4 cards which don't matter. Your opponents stacks (aside from assuming everyone is deep enoug to cover all the bets that go in), cards, our reads and suchlike do not matter for the sake of this example.
A player from early position raises. Someone in middle position calls, you call from the button, the small blind folds, big blind calls. The pot is $8.50 before the flop. You have invested $2 so far.
Three cards which don't matter come on the flop. The preflop raiser bets, middle position and you call, the blinds fold. The pot is now $11.50 and you have invested $3 so far.
A turn card which also doesn't matter is dealt. Early position and middle position check, you bet, early position calls, middle position folds. The pot is now $15.50 and you have invested $5 so far.
You already guessed the river card doesn't matter. Early position checks, you bet, he calls. The pot is now $19.50 and you have invested a total of $7.
Why does this all actually matter then? Well, let's take a look at what we gain if (a) we split the pot, and (b) if we 'scoop' the pot.
If we split, we win $9.75 from the pot (imagine the game is rake-free for the sake of simplicity). As we invested $7, our profit is $2.75.
If we scoop, we win $19.50 from the pot. As we invested $7, our profit is $12.50.
See what's happened here? Scooping is worth twice as much in terms of the pot we're winning, but in terms of profit, because of the money we have invested, scooping in the example above is actually about 4.5 times 'better' than splitting the pot.
Working through it in terms of purely proportions of the pot may help a little in understanding this.
We have invested 7/19.5 = 0.359 of the chips that are in the pot by the close of action on the river.
If we split, we gain 0.5 of the pot. Our profit in terms of proportion of the pot is equal to the proportion of the pot we've won less the proportion of the pot we invested. In this case, we win half (0.5) of the pot, having invested 7/19.5 (~0.359) of the pot. So we've profited to the tune of 0.5 - 0.359 = 0.141 of the total pot.
i = our investment in the pot
t = total pot
v = scooping value compared to splitting value
If we scoop, we win the whole pot, so we just subtract our investment from the whole pot to get our profit. In this case, that would be 1 - 0.359 = 0.641 of the total pot.
The latter divided by the former gives us the same figure of roughly 4.5, of course.
Mathematically, we can express this as follows.
What does this all mean? Well it means we should play to scoop, obviously. Scoop outs (i.e. outs that can win you the whole pot) are far more valuable than outs to only half the pot - and in fact they are worth many outs to half the pot. In the example above on the turn, if we assume our opponent will call a river bet if we hit, any outs we have to scoop are worth 4.5 outs to split. It follows on from this that it is usually a bad idea to call down with no scoop and only split outs - in some cases even a couple of scoop outs can make the difference between an obvious fold and a very clear call.
The effect of scooping is magnified even further in heads up hands, considering that we have invested a larger proportion of the pot. In a blind vs. blind battle, assuming everyone else has folded to the small blind, scooping is literally infinitely better than splitting, as if we split a pot we of course only get back our money we invested in the pot (again, assuming no rake), whereas if we win the whole pot we get back double our investment.
Mathematically, using v = (1-[i/t])/(0.5-[i/t])...
We have invested half the pot, so t = 2i, and i/t = 0.5.
v = (1-0.5)/(0.5-0.5)
v = 0.5/0
Anything divisible by zero is "undefined" in mathematical terms, but here, for the purposes of this example, the answer is infinity. Hence, scooping is indeed infinitely better than splitting.
The opposite applies somewhat to games with many players seeing flops and proceeding deep into the hand. The lower our proportion of money invested in the pot, the less of a difference there is between scooping and splitting. Obviously it is still far better to scoop - taking an extreme example of all nine players at a table going to the river, we will gain a net profit of 7/18ths of the pot if we split (essentially [1/2]-[1/9]), but we will gain the whole pot, and a net profit of 8/9ths of the pot if we scoop. Hence, scooping even in this extreme example is (8/9)/(7/18) = ~2.29 times better than splitting the pot, still more than the general 'twice as good' that you may have expected before reading this. In these very loose games filled with weak players who will go deep into a hand with very weak holdings, it can often be worthwhile to draw to half the pot without any 'scoop' outs - just be sure that you are drawing to the nuts as getting scooped having gone all the way to the end of a hand is the single worst thing that can happen to you in LO8.
This all may seem quite daunting at first, especially given that in an online environment we only have about 30 seconds to make a decision but with practice, working out (or even accurately estimating) the actual value of your scoop and split outs becomes surprisingly simple, just as pure pot odds calculations should be to an experienced player. If you take one thing from reading this article though, make sure it's "Play to scoop, not to split".
Until next time, good luck at the tables - Article Written by Dorkus Malorkus.