Sick of folding hand after hand, without any action? Give Hold’em the elbow and sample Omaha
They say that adrenaline is the champagne of all drugs, and if it’s a rush you want then fasten your seatbelt, hold on tight and jump aboard the Omaha Express.
This is a game to sort the men from the boys, viewed by all who play it as the only action game in town. But before you leave the relative safety of two hole cards, and take the plunge into four-card territory, it’s vital you do some research or watch a few games to get a feel for the pace of the game, as it’s fast and furious, and if you’re not careful it can decimate your bankroll in no time. I’ve seen great Hold’em players lose fortunes in their early stages of playing Omaha.
As you may or may not know, Omaha is played with four starting cards, which makes it a much more complex game. The problem probably stems from the fact that many newcomers to the game find it difficult to pass pre-flop with four cards in their hand. This is backed up by a conversation I overheard the other day. A player asked to go on the Hold’em £5-£10 waiting list and was told it would probably be ‘at least a one-hour wait. I have a Omaha seat available right now if you want it’. ‘Okay,’ came the reply. ‘That’s the game with four cards isn’t it – how hard can that be?’ Half an hour later he was borrowing money off a friend on our table with the words: ‘What a game! I’m playing with a bunch of mad gamblers – they call with anything. I had A-A-A-4 and got all my money in pre-flop against four callers.’ I knew I must be ahead as who else could have a pair of Aces? How much money have you got? I can’t lose at this game!
The most common error made by Hold’em players new to Omaha is calling with poor hands, invariably connecting with the flop and then becoming involved in a pot they can only split at best.
For example, here’s a typical situation that occurs regularly in a game of Omaha. The flop comes down 7? -8? -9? . You’re holding 10? -J? -J? -A? . Nice flop, you bet it and get raised. Many Hold’em players now proceed to re-raise, as it appears they have the nuts AND two Jacks, so surely they’re out in front… So all your chips go in and your opponent has 10? -J? -Q? -K? and you have to sit and pray you get a split. So the first main difference is an obvious one, and that is the quality of hands is much higher. Holding the nuts on the flop is often never enough, as opposed to Hold’em where it rarely gets beat.
Now it starts to get complicated, as you’re probably thinking you need the absolute nut hand with a draw in every pot. Wrong. You will find that good Omaha players bluff more in this game than good Hold’em players do in Hold’em. In fact, the most successful Omaha players are also the most aggressive. Dave Colclough and Ram Vaswani fall into those categories and both are big winners at the game. They have the ability to call bets on the flop, put you on a hand and play the remaining hands that develop. For example, you hold J? -Q? -K? -6? and the flop comes down 10? -9? – 4? ; your opponent bets, you raise, he re-raises, and you might now assume your opponent’s got top trips. You call anyway and play the straight draw, which makes you favourite to win the hand. If you hit the straight then you’re probably going to win the hand. But if not and another heart comes down, you can still bet or raise again to represent the flush. The reason this can work is because with four cards your hand quality is higher and players are more likely to believe you’ve made your hand than compared with Hold’em. Therefore, your bluff is less likely to get called.
So you’ve got another facet to Omaha that is not so prevalent in Hold’em, which is that you can bluff more at Omaha than you initially realise. To counteract this, good players play their hands out of character, in other words reraising with the drawing hands. This works both ways: firstly, it can often knock your opponent off top two-pair or bottom trips, whereas in Hold’em you’d probably get called with either of those hands; and secondly, when you hit your straight or flush you can check and let your opponent bluff you. So I guess you’re now totally confused and that’s the beauty of the game: loads of action, plenty of bluffing and consistently bigger pots, with masses of winning permutations. After all, if you love to gamble, then this game is the dogs.
Omaha is always played as a potlimit game as the pots are big enough as it is. Often you’ll find three or more players calling a pre-flop raise. In fact the pots are consistently so big that many online sites are cutting back on Omaha games or erasing them altogether, as players are getting wiped out quickly when trying to play. Party Poker now only has two tables of $10-$20 Omaha, even though there’s often 10 players or more waiting to play on each table. Why? Well, because it makes bad business to lose players who go broke so fast. And that means less rake!
When looking in depth at starting hand selections and preflop raises you’ll find that they’re significantly different to Hold’em in many ways. I rarely re-raise with A-A-x-x as it gives your hand away and allows you to get bluffed on a low flop, because unlike Hold’em you need to hit your hand. But I often re-raise with good combination cards. By that I mean that if you hold A-A in Hold’em a low flop is fine, but if you’ve re-raised in Omaha it can be a killer; there is an exception to that – if you can get someone all-in pre-flop, heads-up, then by all means re-raise.
You’re dealt four cards in Omaha so make sure your starting hands allow you to use all four. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? After all you’d be looking for two good cards to play a Hold’em hand. But this is probably the biggest mistake made by newcomers to Omaha – only having three useful cards in their starting hands.
Good starting hands are suited connectors such as 7? -8? -9? -10? . Bad starting hands when calling a raise are ones that are disconnected, such as 9-9-3-3, A-5-9-J or 2-3-3-4, the latter being more complicated. This hand can only hit the nuts with a flop of A-4-5 or 3-3-x-x. And even the A-4-5 flop is a killer if you’re up against 5-5-6-7 or 5-6-7-8 with a flush draw; or worse still, you decide to trap-check it and the next card is a Ten, you bet, get called and the river comes Queen – now you can get beat or bluffed by someone representing the top straight. Even worse still is calling on the flop with 2-2-3-4 to hit a bottom straight, for example an A-5-J flop, as even if you hit on the turn someone holding a top wrap with a flush draw would rarely be bet out of this pot.
It’s a wrap
Wrap, there’s a new word for Hold’em players, as all you can have in Hold’em is an open-ended straight draw with a maximum of eight outs. In Omaha with four cards to use you can have 20 possible outs with a wrap, making you a huge favourite. Imagine the flop is 8-9-2 and you hold 6-7-10-J. You may win with a 5, 6, 7, 10, J, or Q. Huge hands in Omaha are not like huge hands in Hold’em though, as you’re rarely going to be more than a 70% favourite in a hand.
Position is, therefore, much more important in Omaha as nut hands are more likely and you can’t continually bet into people without coming unstuck. So even more so in Omaha than Hold’em, the button is heaven.
So how should you play in your first Omaha game? Well, the best piece of advice is to play with money you don’t mind losing and with players you feel you can beat. And do I follow my own advice? Well, a typical Omaha game I used to play in many years ago included: Mickey Wernick, Dave Colclough, Lucy Rokach, John Shipley, Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott, Surinder Sunar, Paul Maxfield and Derek Baxter. And to make matters worse we used to play six-card Omaha! And that really is a sick game.
So how come this brilliant game has such a minimal presence on the tour? Omaha tournaments are few and far between and casinos state they’re not well supported. As such opportunities are limited for people to learn the game cheaply. But even though you’ll find hardly any tournaments you’ll ALWAYS find an Omaha cash game and they’re often the first game to be started. Once you’ve played Omaha for cash you’ll struggle to play a cash Hold’em game of any size as it seems so boring. I can often play 10-15 hands of Hold’em and pass them all; in Omaha, I would’ve played at least five hands by comparison, and being as though I play to gamble it’s the main game for me.
Marc Goodwin is a professional British poker player. He came third in the Monte Carlo Millions in November 2005, and won the £1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the European Poker Classics, London in March 2006
Omaha is a complex game and you should gen up on the basic strategies before you start out. Here are three good guides to the game:
Championship Omaha £19.95
Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier
How Good Is Your Pot-Limit Omaha? £12.99
Omaha Hold’em Poker £12.99
You can order these books from www.highstakes.co.uk