Learn the basics of five-card Omaha

CardRunners pro Matthew Janda explores one of the most exciting new games to emerge online: five-card Omaha

As poker players continue to improve, it’s a safe bet new variants will be introduced and will increase in popularity. There are already a vast amount of games on offer and this number is likely to rise – new variants will always spring up. This is especially true if ‘bots’ were to ever become problematic. It’s a huge investment to design a new bot and some variants may be much harder to solve than hold’em.

When playing a new game it’s often useful to be able to compare it to a game you already understand at a deeper level. When it comes to poker variants, the chances are you’ll end up comparing that game to hold’em. The game we are going to discuss in this article is five-card Omaha. You can now find this on PokerStars and it’s a popular game in live casinos too.

The basics

In five-card Omaha every player is dealt five cards and normal Omaha rules apply. Since each player is dealt five cards and must use two, 10 combinations of two card hands are possible. An easy way to visualise this is that when making a two card hand, there are five possible cards to pick as your first card. Then there are four cards remaining to pick as your second card. Of course, five times four equals twenty but, we don’t want to double count the same hand. In other words AK is the same thing as K-A, so we have to divide by two.

Hands will often be very strong at showdown since each player has access to so many cards. Adding just one more card gives each player access to many different two card hand combinations. Hands at five-card Omaha will be significantly stronger than regular PLO.

Comparing five-card Omaha to hold’em    

Similarities between hold’em and five-Card Omaha:

  • Both have a preflop street and three postflop rounds of betting. This alone makes the games really similar in many ways! 

  • Ability to make very large and small bets. For the most part betting over the pot size is rare so the pot-limit aspect of omaha doesn’t change too much. 

  • ‘Polarised’ betting ranges on the river – you want to make the opponent indifferent to calling. in both games when you bet the river you want to do it with a balanced range of both value hands and bluffs. 

  • Easily established parameters, such as certain percentages that you should defend to a raise preflop from the blinds. 

Differences between hold’em and five-card Omaha:

  • Very rarely will a range be polarised on the flop – this makes the game exceptionally hard to model. 

  • Hands usually have multiple equities. This is unlike in hold’em where a hand is usually for value, a bluff or a draw. In five-card Omaha you will have a mix of these components all the time, such as when you have two pair and a ton of draws. 

  • It’s impossible to count the combination of hands (as there are too many), so you must think in percentages. One of the great things about hold’em is that you can actually sit down and count the hand combos in most situations to figure out an opponent’s range. It’s impossible here. 

Comparing the polarisation of ranges

Let’s imagine a typical cutoff versus button spot in NLHE. Suppose the cutoff opens and the button calls. if the cutoff continuation bets, what typical hands do you think the button will raise with on a 96-4 flop? Here is a possible range…

Value hands = 9-9, 6-6 and 4-4. Bluffs = Gutshots, three to a flush and three to a straight etc. and you’ll also raise some draws such as 8-7 and 7-5, and flush draws.

This range is pretty polarised, right? In other words, the button’s range consists mostly of really strong hands which want action, and bluffs which want to make better hands fold. This makes most hands in the cutoff’s betting range ‘bluff catchers’. To simplify, they are currently ahead of bluffs but will likely lose to any value hands that the button has. it’s very easy to know what we want to accomplish when we raise with a polarised range. If you’re in the cutoff’s shoes it really doesn’t matter whether you have K-K or K-9 here, both hands are either way ahead or way behind due to the polarised nature of the button’s play.

The whole concept of a polarised range allows us to make pretty little ratios and frequencies on the flop, turn and river. remember, a polarised range includes mostly strong value hands with a ton of equity (around an 85% favourite to win the pot often) and bluffs with very little equity (such as 15% when you are bluffing with a gutshot). These ratios, however, are estimates. raising ranges in hold’em aren’t perfectly polarised, so assumptions need to be made. As bluffs can improve and value hands can be outdrawn on the flop and turn, ratios will change based on the board texture and be less accurate on the flop. 

So how does this work in five-card Omaha? 

Imagine the same example where the cutoff is continuation betting on a 96-4 flop. How close is the button’s raising range functioning to a ‘perfectly polarised range’ here? In other words, how likely are value hands (such as top set) to be outdrawn by the river? The answer is obvious – and it’s really likely. There are draws everywhere! A lot of the time a draw is going to get there on the turn or the river. I can’t imagine many hands in a bet-calling range that won’t have a significant amount of draws.

So if the cutoff bets and calls our raise from the button he’ll probably have some sort of draw – maybe he has two pair and a straight draw and a flush draw – he probably has lots going on! When you have five cards you simply have so many possible combinations of hands that you’re unlikely to be that low on equity. How likely then are bluff raises to improve by the river? If we raise with a bluff on the flop we will improve a lot. It’s really likely. 

Putting it all together

The terms ‘value bet’ and ‘bluff’ really don’t work very well for five-card Omaha. You need to think in terms of equity and not just assign a binary label to hands. In other words, there are strong hands, weak hands and everything inbetween. This forces you to go back to the basics and think, what is my bet trying to accomplish? In hold’em it’s often very obvious what hands should be raised, called and folded. In five-card Omaha this is much trickier, as you’ll often be in an unfamiliar spot.

When you are value betting you are usually trying to do two things – get worse hands to call and get your opponents to fold hands that have a high amount of equity. That’s ideal. A lot of times people will be confused and think that you really need action when value betting but this is actually wrong. Even in hold’em if you bet the flop with top pair and you make an opponent fold two overcards you should be pretty happy with that! You made him fold a hand that had 25% equity to beat you.

In five-card Omaha always think about what your bet is trying to accomplish. 

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