Aggression isn’t always the answer! In heads-up pot-limit Omaha, slowplaying
your big hands after the flop is the key to success
|One of the most disastrous mistakes in poker is to alert an opponent that he has the worst hand when you have him buried|
Playing heads-up pot-limit omaha after the flop is a very different matter from playing post-flop in ring games. In pot-limit Omaha ring games the pot is almost always multi-way and any raise will give a tremendous amount of information about the players’ hands, whether the player is calling a raise or raising the pot himself.
In heads-up play, however, you don’t get this quality of information. Your opponent is going to be entering the pot pre-flop with the majority of his holdings, whether to a raise or not. So you are left relatively in the dark about his hand from his pre-flop action.
The range of hands your opponent will be taking to the flop is much wider than in a ring game, leaving you much less certain about both the strength of his starting hand and the probability that the board relates to his hand in any significant way.
If an opponent in a ring game raises from first position and the board hits something like 3-4-7 rainbow, it is very unlikely that the board relates to his hand at all.
A reasonable player will almost never raise from first position with an Omaha hand that contains a 6-5 unless there are a couple of Aces to go with it. However, in a heads-up game this is not the case. A hand containing 6-5 is always a possibility, even from a raise, as are hands containing 3-3, 4-4 and 7-7. Indeed, no two-card combination can be ruled out, and this fact alone changes drastically the way the game is played post-flop.
Strength = Weakness
We can combine this element of uncertainty with the fact that players tend to play weaker hands much more aggressively in heads-up play.
As an example, in a large multi-way pot an opponent holding J-J-6-5 (including the J♠-6♠) on a 7♠-4♥-3♠ board will tend to play the hand with caution. They are well aware that in a multi-way pot they have no redraws to the higher straight if a 5 or 6 falls. If a spade falls, it is likely someone will make a higher flush and if the board pairs they will have to fold on the turn. Most good players will, in fact, fold this hand to a raise on the flop in a multi-way pot in a ring game.
Not so in heads-up play. Now the strength of the flush redraw goes way up in value. The likelihood that the board pair would kill their hand goes way down. Also the player is much less worried about the draws to the higher straight. The player will, therefore, tend to play a hand like this very strongly, perfectly happy to go all-in and gamble in a heads-up match.
It probably comes as no surprise to hear that heads-up pot-limit Omaha becomes very much a game of position. When on the button, you need to maximise your winnings when you have the best hand, pick up pots when the other player misses and minimise your losses when you have the worst hand. When out of position, it becomes a game of knowing when to check-raise, when to induce bluffs and when to lead out.
How to player sets
Aside from position, it is very much the slow play where the power lies in heads-up pot-limit Omaha. In ring games, most hands get played very fast. This is because generally you get your action when the hand is not made, as making your hand will usually kill your action. Hands like sets need to be played fast both to make weaker draws pay and to get money out of your opponents before the board pairs and kills the action.
In heads-up play sets can slow down, as pairing boards tend not to kill the action any more. The risk of betting your opponent out of a pot is much worse than the risk of the board pairing and your opponent folding. Players in heads-up play will tend not to be as spooked by the paired board.
Let’s say you have Q-Q-x-x and the board hits Q-8-3. In a multi-way pot you would play this hand very fast both to chase away partial straight draws and to ensure you get action on the hand before the board pairs. In heads-up play, if your opponent checks to you, you can make a weak bet at the pot, hoping to get action from your opponent. If your opponent bets into you, you can flat-call – a play you would never make in a multi-way pot.
The gamble makes sense for two reasons: if the board pairs it will be nearly as scary to your opponent, and it’s much less likely you’ll be hurt by the straight cards. Also, you allow your opponent to bluff into you by playing the hand weakly. If you over-call in a multi-way pot-limit Omaha pot, your opponents will immediately be aware that you might have a huge hand, particularly if the board has no obvious draws to it. In heads-up, flat calling when your opponent bets into you – or making a small, scared looking bet when he checks – gives him the opportunity to bluff into you on the turn.
One of the most disastrous mistakes in poker is to alert an opponent that he has the worst hand when you have him buried – to let an opponent know he can’t win a pot. By playing your huge hands weakly on the flop under certain circumstances headsup, you will maximise the number of times your opponent bluffs into you on later streets.
Taking note of texture
The time to play your made hands strongly is specifically when you would rather not make any more decisions on the hand, and this has much more to do with board texture than the quality of your hand. A key concept in poker is that every bet you make should be designed to make your decision-making process going forward in the hand easier.
Raising pre-flop in a multi-way game, for example, is largely an information-gathering play designed to narrow down your opponents’ holdings and make it easier to evaluate your position in the hand later. Sometimes, making the decision-making process easier means stopping decisions altogether and this situation arises when you hate the texture of the board.
No-limit hold’em offers a clear example of this decision dilemma. Say you’re holding a hand like A-9 suited and the board comes A-10-9 with two clubs. Here is a situation where you likely have the best hand, but you’d rather not have to make any further decisions. The number of bad cards that will make your decision on the turn or the river difficult is very high. If any club or 10 hits you will be unhappy and any Jack, Queen or King will – at the very least – make you uneasy. In all there are 21 cards you won’t like on the turn or the river, so you are a favourite to have a difficult hit in the next two cards.
Essentially you’d rather make a big move on the flop, either just winning the pot right there and then or getting it all-in and making sure you can see the next two cards, avoiding a bad fold if a bad card hits.
In pot-limit Omaha, a similar situation arises when you flop a big made hand in heads-up play, like top set, but the board texture is horrific. Let’s say you have Q-Q-x-x and the board is Q-10-3 with two spades. This is a situation where you are 100% certain you have the best hand on the flop but there are a lot of cards that might spook you on the turn. If your opponent bets into you, this is the time to make a full pot-sized raise. If you win the pot right there you’re happy because you’ve avoided opening yourself up to the bluff when a terrible card hits. If you get your money in there that’s okay too, as you know you are getting your money in as favourite.
In poker, one of your goals should be to create a win-win situation, a situation where you are equally happy if your opponent folds or calls. The nice thing about varying the size of your bets according to board texture rather than the quality of your hand is that opponents tend to disregard board texture when evaluating the patterns of your play. All they’ll know is that sometimes you play your big hands fast and sometimes you play them slow, confusing them and making it difficult for them to put you on a hand.
Positional betting with big made hands is the most profitable situation in heads-up pot-limit Omaha. Knowing when to play those made hands aggressively on the flop and knowing when to play them weakly is what will maximise your profit in the long run.