Pot limit Omaha: the ABC strategies that can turn you into a four-card winner

Learn the ABC strategies you need to tame the craziest game around

The key thing that makes pot limit Omaha different to hold’em is the strength of hands. If you go into a game of Omaha expecting top pair or an overpair to win the pot at the showdown, then you’re going to make some costly mistakes! Each opponent has six two-card combinations working against you, compared to just one in hold’em, so the hands tend to be much stronger, and in multi-way pots the chances somebody has made the nuts are much greater.

The ABC approach is to assume that if you are in a multi-way pot, somebody has either made the nuts, or they have something close. Consequently, you should be reluctant to get heavily involved unless you have the nuts yourself, or a draw to the nuts. It’s very important to always be aware of what the nuts is so you can properly evaluate your hand strength. Don’t draw to a hand, such as a Queen-high flush, which is likely to be second best if you make it.

Because of the huge number of possibilities every hand presents, and the fact that few starting hands are big equity favourites over others, the typical Omaha game is much looser than the typical hold’em game, especially before the flop.

What’s more, the pot-limit betting structure contributes to this looseness by making it more difficult to price an opponent out of the pot. When you raise the pot, you offer your opponent 2-to-1 odds and there are very few Omaha hands that are a 2-to-1 underdog in a typical preflop scenario. Pots can also get very large, as big hand versus big hand confrontations are relatively common, as are pot-sized bets. All of this means that bluffs you would make as par for the course in hold’em won’t work in Omaha, and you need to be careful in controlling the size of the pot.

Starting hands

Starting hands in Omaha run much closer in their preflop equity than hold’em hands. In hold’em, pocket Aces will typically have at least an 80% chance to win the pot when all-in preflop. However, the very best Omaha hand  (A-A-K-K double suited) will typically be between 60% and 70% to win, and may not even be the favourite to win the pot at all if up against multiple opponents. Players tend to refer to Omaha as a ‘high variance’ game because it is so easy for a good starting hand to be beaten.However, this doesn’t mean you can start playing any old hand willy nilly.

It’s time we introduced the important concept of reverse implied odds. We touched on this subject in an earlier article on hold’em ring games. If implied odds represent the potential to win big, by making a small investment now that could pay off big time later in the hand, then reverse implied odds are the exact opposite – that is, the potential to lose a large sum of money by getting involved with a hand that costs you a fortune when it is second best.

In Omaha tournaments, sizing up the preflop equity of your hand might be the most important skill going, as quite often you will find yourself involved in preflop all-in confrontations. However, in ring games, the concept of reverse implied odds is hugely important. You don’t want to enter the pot with weak hands, even if the hand’s percentage chance of winning might be good enough, because weak hands will tend to get you involved in extremely difficult and costly situations later in the hand. A no-no.

For example, let’s say you entered the pot with A-8-7-2, and your opponent has T-9-8-7. The flop is 4-5-6, giving both of you an eight-high straight. You have the nuts, and you will inevitably end up committing a lot of money to the pot, but you are actually a big money underdog because there are so many cards that can arrive on the turn or river which give your opponent the best hand (any heart, Seven or Eight). You got involved in the pot with a dodgy hand, and even though you made the nuts it cost you money because your opponent had a strong redraw to beat you.

The ABC approach is to play starting hands which are highly co-ordinated, with all the cards working together to provide multiple postflop possibilities, and plenty of back-up if you get involved in a big confrontation. For example, a hand like A-A-J-T can make straights, nut flushes, and top set. When it does make a hand, it will tend to also have redraws because the cards work closely with each other. Contrast this hand to A-A-7-2. Now your only real hope is for an Ace to come on the flop so that you make a set, And you will still need that set to hold up against the many straight and flush possibilities that will present themselves by the river.

All of this brings me to the next key lesson, which is to not get attached to big pairs. In hold’em, big pairs like pocket Aces are very strong and will often be the best hand after the flop even if they don’t improve. However, in Omaha a big pair is extremely vulnerable. The ABC strategy says that A-A-7-2 is a weak hand, and no hand to go to war with.

Preflop Play

ABC Poker is about avoiding difficult decisions that might cost you a lot of money. In Omaha, the most difficult decisions come when the pot gets large before the flop, but not so large that you can simply get all-in straight away.

This creates a flop decision which involves committing a large portion of your stack with not a great deal of information about what your opponent can hold (especially if you are in early position).

Consequently, your approach to preflop play should be to avoid creating medium-sized pots. Think big, or think small – but never think medium!

Avoiding medium-sized pots means when you enter the pot, you’re hoping for one of two things. Option 1 is you can get in cheaply by limping, meaning you get to see a flop before deciding whether to commit a large chunk of your stack. This approach works well in games where your opponents are passive and like to limp in, as you can simply limp too. Your superior hand selection will mean you get into favourable postflop situations where you can win a lot of money.

Option 2 is that you can get most or all of your stack in before the flop as a favourite. This high-variance approach can work in aggressive games, where you can make a big pot-sized re-raise with your strong hand against an opponent who might have entered the pot lightly. This will usually narrow the field and allow you to cut out difficult postflop decisions, because you’ll be committed to the pot whatever happens.

What you should look to avoid is opening for a pot-sized raise in early position on what is a passive table. Typically, this will result in a few opponents calling your raise and creating a medium-sized pot against multiple opponents, with you to act first postflop. Betting out might cost you 15-20% of your stack, and you’ll be committing that money with little information about what your opponents might hold.

Postflop play

Omaha is a very flop-dependent game. If the flop doesn’t improve your hand, then the chances are it is no longer best, and the ABC play is to be extremely cautious with it. A frequent mistake made by players is to get too attached to a strong preflop hand which has not improved after the flop. It’s very common for players who are used to the hold’em hand values to get attached to a big pair like pocket Aces, for example. Don’t be one of these people – always be cautious if the flop doesn’t improve your hand.

Besides the overpair to the board, other common trap hands include bottom and middle two pair (which is regularly beaten by a higher two pair), bottom and middle set (often beaten by top set), non-nut straights and flushes (often beaten by the nut straight or flush) and even the under full (a non-nut full house, which can be beaten by the nut full house). These are the kind of hands which tend to win small pots when they hold up, but lose big ones when they are beaten. It’s difficult to exaggerate how careful you should be with hands which are not the nuts if you are facing big bets from your opponents.

In hold’em, continuation bets are a standard, profitable play. C-bets in Omaha can work on occasions, but they tend not to do as well because in the typical Omaha hand, there are usually more players seeing the flop, and each one of them has more draws than in hold’em. For this reason, you should always be more cautious in making a c-bet when holding absolutely nothing. For the exact same reason, you should be much more willing to bet out with the nuts because you’re less likely to scare off your opponent!

Because of the six two-card combinations available to each player, Omaha is a game of huge draws. It’s possible for hands to have as many as 20 outs to a straight, and it’s not at all rare for a player who is holding a draw alone to be a favourite over the field or even against the current nuts.

As an example, imagine that you have J-T-7-6, and the flop is 9-8-4. You have twenty outs to make a straight (four Queens, three Jacks, three Tens, three Sevens, three Sixes and four Fives) and five outs to make a flush (the Ace, King, Four, Three and Deuce of clubs). That’s 25 cards that make the draw, compared to 20 that do not, meaning that you’re a 1.25 to 1 favourite to hit the draw on the next card.

One of the ways that you can compensate for being cautious with marginal made hands (like two pair and non-nut trips) is to play these big draws in aggressive fashion. The other way is to look for made hands with re-draws and play those aggressively, too.

A re-draw is a back-up plan. For example, if you have Q-J-J-T, and the flop is J-9-3, you have the current nuts with three Jacks. However, there will be many turn cards which make a straight, flush, or higher set possible. But your hand is stronger than it looks, because the Q-10 combination acts as a re-draw.

By hitting a King or Eight, you make a straight which will be the nuts. Also, if the turn does bring a straight or flush, then your two Jacks will become the re-draw, with which you can make a full house if the board pairs.

One of the great money-making opportunities in Omaha is getting your entire stack in against an opponent when you both have the nuts, but you have a re-draw while your opponent does not. This type of situation usually arises because your hand selection is better than your opponent’s, and you’ve stuck with a co-ordinated hand while they are messing around with sub-par holdings. This situation is a freeroll, and it’s one of the clear bread-and-butter Omaha situations for a winning player.

ABC Omaha doesn’t involve much bluffing, because of the loose nature of the typical game. However, the best way to start introducing bluffs into your strategy is to identify those opponents at your table who are aware of the volatile nature of Omaha, and are scared off by dangerous cards on the turn and river. One of the best bluffing opportunities in the game is to spot cards that make obvious straights and flushes, and take advantage of them by being aggressive.

Poker has changed a lot in the last ten years, but the standard of play in Omaha hasn’t increased nearly as quickly as it has in hold’em. Consequently, even straightforward ABC play can get the money at higher stakes, making it much more profitable. Branching out into Omaha is a great way to improve your poker game and potentially boost your bankroll. Give it a try!

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