If you’ve only ever played Hold’em it’s time to take your first steps into the exciting world of Omaha
|One thing that all the top PLO players possess is aggression|
If you look for the biggest cash games on the internet, you’ll find they’re almost all pot-limit Omaha rather than no-limit Hold’em. Why? Because it’s so much more fun, challenging, and, above all, rewarding – after all, where else can you get it in with the nuts on the turn and still be an underdog? Or get all your chips in with only 8-high and be a favourite over the nuts? If you want to navigate the wraps, flush draws, two pairs and runner-runners that make PLO the game of the future, this guide will see you best prepared to handle the swings and come out a big winner.
In Omaha there’s a very simple but crucial concept: always draw to the nuts. It’s not so important heads-up, but if there are eight other guys at the table the odds are that someone has a better draw, unless you are pulling to the nuts yourself. Let’s say the aggressive player at the table bets a T?-9?-5? flop, you call with J?-8?-6?-A? and someone behind you calls too. The turn is the Qd; the bettor checks, you bet, the other player calls, and the original bettor check-raises, and now you don’t know what to do. If you call you might be paying off the obvious nuts (J-K) with few outs yourself, and if you fold you’ll be shown a stubborn set some of the time. You’ve put yourself in a tight spot, and it soon becomes clear that folding on the flop is usually best in these kinds of situations, especially as the active player behind you means you’re not even guaranteed to see the turn. Even if it looks like you have lots of outs, make sure they are to the best hand, otherwise you may well lose your stack.
If you’re not playing position well, you’re liable to lose a lot of money without quite knowing how. Position is like water – you don’t need to know why it’s good for you but you know you need it to survive. In a nutshell, poker is a game of incomplete information.
When you’re in position, you can see how everyone has acted before you and make a more informed decision than your opponents. Given the importance of draws in Omaha, position is especially important. If you raise in late position and then fire at the flop, your lone opponent doesn’t know whether you’ve missed and are folding to a raise, have a massive draw and are shoving over the top, or have the nuts already. No matter what he does, he’s in trouble, unless he has a big hand himself. The difference is, he needs to have one and you don’t – you make money when your hands are close in value, more when you’ve got the best hand, and lose less when you’re beaten.
The same goes when your opponent raises and you call in late position. When he fires at the flop you can call or raise with impunity, choosing to outplay your opponent on later streets when scare cards come, or just fold if you decide it’s not your spot. By playing in position more often than your opponents, you give yourself more options and dictate how you want the hand to proceed.
One thing that all the top PLO players have in common is aggression. When it’s checked to them, they need a reason to check rather than a reason to bet. Why? Put simply, by betting they’re more likely to win bigger pots and more of them. They might get caught bluffing from time to time, but they’ll usually have outs.
Betting or raising gives you two ways to win – by having the better hand or making your opponent fold. Of course, if you’re too aggressive you’ll find opponents snapping off your bluffs more often, so the strategy requires balance and refinement. Getting the right balance is tough but the rewards are huge.
So how do you know when to bet and when to check? Easy. With big draws, you want to take the pot straight away. If you get called, you will win a bigger pot if you hit. When you’ve got a good made hand you should bet to charge your opponents to outdraw you. When your opponent has shown a tendency to fold too easily you should bet almost always, regardless of your hand, until he catches on. Against a calling station that can’t fold an overpair, you bet everything that beats it and pretty much nothing else. If your opponent likes to chase draws, you should sometimes bet with just top pair or an overpair. You should tend to bet more often in position than out, with the caveat that aggressive opponents will sometimes raise you off your draw, so balance your bets with checks when you can’t stand a raise. It’s a pretty simple strategy that will reap rewards. Add in some hand reading, game selection, tilt control and a bankroll, and you’re well on your way to being a massive winner.
With no hand-reading skills you’ll never know when to bet or check – you’ll pay people off when they have the goods and fold the best hand often enough to see your stack dwindle away without ever seeing a showdown. Improving your hand-reading is simple in theory and requires three things: practice, experience and study. If you practise reading hands when you’re not involved, play more often and digest poker books, you can – with a little dedication – master the art.
When it comes to game selection, just make sure you seek out players who are worse than you and only play in games you expect to make money from (and are bankrolled for). This doesn’t require a deep understanding of the game, only some level of self-awareness and humility.
Tilt control is essential and merely means recognising that Omaha is a game of ridiculous variance. At the worst times the only thing you can do about it is choose not to play. Also, just be happy to get your money in with the best equity – if you keep on doing that, the results will come, assuming you’re bankrolled for the game of course. If not, you’re giving variance a chance to catch up with you. And no one wants that.