Aggression in Omaha

Top tips on the importance of position, stack sizes and aggression after the flop in PLO

This is third part of Michael Piper’s guide to PLO. You can find part one here and part two here.

Poker, as I’m sure you know only too well, is a game of information. The more you have, the better equipped you are to make good decisions. The less your opponent has, the more likely he is to make a mistake. It follows, then, that it’s better if your opponents act before you do, which is why it’s vital you fold all but premium hands in early position and open up your range the later you are to act. You might not see the benefits in any individual hand, but your turn and river decisions will generally be much easier this way, and you’ll rarely be out of position in tough spots.

If anything, position is even more important in pot-limit Omaha than it is in Hold’em. PLO is much more of a postflop game, and with the lead often changing hands on every street it’s crucial to see what your opponent does before you act. 

Using position in PLO

Playing position well, though, doesn’t just mean being tight in early position and aggressive on the button. It means taking advantage of your position fully on every street, extracting every last penny from opponents when ahead and saving your stack when behind. Both balance and judgement are required to do this well.

When you have position in a heads-up pot, your default play should be to bet the flop when checked to, as this will give your opponent a tough decision. However, like any play, this needs to be balanced to avoid becoming exploitable. Simply betting every flop when checked to ultimately transfers the positional advantage to your opponent, as he can now choose to act first or last. Even the loosest opponents are usually observant enough to take advantage of this, either by calling light or raising as a bluff. So, while you should generally bet the flop when checked to, you should also check behind occasionally, especially when you have a thin draw to the nuts or expect your opponent to check-raise quite often.

Sometimes you’ll have a hand with some showdown value but one that can’t beat your opponents’ calling range, so a bet would effectively waste your hand’s value. At other times you’ll simply find yourself up against a calling station who won’t fold anything, so check it back and look to bet the turn if he checks again. Obviously you will sometimes check and be forced to give up on pots you could otherwise win, but don’t fret – this will be balanced by the times you make the nuts on the turn and your opponent bets into you drawing dead.

Stack Size

Optimal use of position also requires an appreciation of stack depth. Have a look at how much money is left to play with before you make any decision. If the pot is big relative to the remaining stacks you probably won’t be able to bluff your opponent, even if an obvious draw is completed. If the pot is small you can call on thinner draws, as you expect to be paid off when you hit. The deeper the stacks relative to the pot, the more value position has: you can bluff more pots, get paid off more with the best hand and get away more cheaply when you’re beaten.

The power of stack depth also hinges on the number of streets left – heads-up on the flop, against an opponent checking and calling the whole way, you can bet three times the current pot on the turn and another nine on the river, making a total of 13 times the pot before showdown.
Another concept you should have at least a rough grasp of when playing PLO is that of ‘reverse implied odds’. This basically pertains to situations where you could lose a lot of chips later in a hand, usually with a marginal holding or one that could easily be outdrawn on later streets. For example, if you’re facing a big bet on the flop with a medium strength hand that can’t improve, you would usually do well to fold, as you may have to pay a lot more on later streets to find out if your hand is good. Position will mitigate this factor, as your opponent will often check either the turn or the river, allowing you to get to showdown cheaper.

Playing Out Of Position

While position is a huge factor in PLO, it’s also true that some people overuse position, calling with bad hands, always betting when checked to and folding everything but the nuts in early position. PLO is a showdown-driven game – hand values and equities are much closer than in Hold’em, so despite what I’ve just said, you can play out of position when you have a good shot at winning the pot. Here are a few ideas to help you maximise your PLO profits when out of position…

  •  Play defensively when out of position – you will usually want to either get it all-in to nullify your positional disadvantage, or keep the pot – and your exposure – small.
  • Against aggressive opponents, check and encourage them to bet, so that you can use their position against them, training them to check when you want a free card and bet when you intend to check-raise.
  • Check-calling the flop is a weak play and should be used with caution, but can be of value when you have a decent drawing hand.
  • If you are check-calling occasionally, you must balance this by check-trapping occasionally. In other words, check the flop with strong hands as well as drawing hands, or observant opponents will exploit you.
  • Similarly, in position, call sometimes with draws or made hands that you’d otherwise be happy to get all-in with. You may not have the best hand now, so you’re saving money when beaten, plus you’re hiding the strength of your hand from your opponent.
  • Sometimes you’ll need to lead out when first to act on the flop. If you’re looking to keep the pot small, you can make a smallish ‘blocking bet’. You can also lead out in scenarios where you have a strong but vulnerable hand and don’t want your opponent to check behind with a draw.
  • You can’t just fold every time you miss the flop, and you’ll want some free turn and river cards sometimes, so occasionally check-raise, preferably with outs, even if it’s just a gutshot with a pair.

Don’t use position as an excuse to play badly, but do remember to consider it beyond merely playing more hands in later positions. Remember that position allows you to control the pot size, and you generally want to correlate the size of the pot with the strength of your hand.

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