All Aces are not the same in pot-limit Omaha, and overplaying dry Aces can cost you a lot of money in the long run
Hopefully I have illustrated in previous articles that pot-limit Omaha (PLO) is much more of a flop-matching game than no-l imit hold ’em. As such, pocket Aces are not as powerful. However, it’s sti l l desirable to go into battle with the best troops available, and we know that A-A-10-J and A-A-9-10 double-suited will win more showdowns than any other combination.
A-A-K-K double-suited is, of course, a cracking starting hand, but notice that the straight-making combinations will win more pots than the pair of Kings. To follow this logic, we find that 9-9-10-10 double-suited or 7-8-9-10 double-suited will also win an awful lot of showdowns.
More surprisingly, I find that gap hands, such as 5-7-9-J double-suited, also have a high success rate especially when playing short-handed or seeing flops heads-up. This hand has other advantages in the way that it can be used to generate fold equity, but I will come to that later.
Regarding how to play Aces in Omaha cash games, you have to consider the following points:
- The depth of your stack and those of your opponents.
- The nature of the whole hand (your other two cards).
- The style of your opponents’ play.
If we discuss the first point we are going back to the basics of any poker game. It never ceases to amaze me in cash games when an opponent picks up a good hand and automatically raises. If I were to ask them ‘why have you raised?’, the answer would be, ‘because I have a good hand.’
In my opinion, this is just too simplistic and I suggest you always know what you want from your raise. Do you want everyone to pass and you pick up the blinds? To minimise your opponents to one or two on the flop? Just to build a bigger pot? Or a combination of the above?
Once you know what you want, you can gauge the size of your raise more appropriately. If you don’t know what you are trying to achieve, you may accomplish the opposite.
RAISING WITH ACES
A classic example of not knowing what you wish to achieve comes with playing Aces pre-flop in PLO. Let’s consider A?-A?-9?-10? (a premium or ‘platinum’ hand) and A?-A?-2?-7? (a more difficult ‘bronze’ hand). I would suggest the platinum hand is so strong that we just want to build a pot and aren’t too worried if one opponent or three opponents join us on the flop. We will win more pots against one opponent, but we may win bigger pots against more opponents. The hand is strong enough to combine well with a high percentage of flops.
However, I would consider it a waste of a quality hand if we raised under the gun, everyone else passed, and we just picked up the blinds. As such, we have to consider our opponents’ style of play as well. If they are all loose players, this is not an issue. In fact if you have several raising machines behind you then an early-position raise may be the best tactic, in the hope of being re-raised.
Now let’s go back to our bronze hand, often referred to as ‘dry Aces’ in Omaha circles. This is a more difficult hand to play, and we have to consider our opponents’ play more carefully. The problem is that this hand will be favourite in a heads-up situation but is nothing but trouble in multi-way pots, unless you flop an Ace. Even with the Ace on board, the flop can be pretty nasty and you may end up trying to get all your money in on a flop where you are a 2/1 dog and need the board to pair.
So what are we trying to achieve with our pre-flop play? With this hand, we want to manufacture a situation where only one opponent sees a flop or they all pass pre-flop. With this in mind, I will either raise, limp re-raise or simply call, depending on my opponents’ style of play.
If I don’t think I can minimise my opponents pre-flop then I will just call and hope to flop the Ace. This also has the bonus surprise factor. If you do flop A-Q-6 against an opponent with a set of Queens they can rarely take you for the Ace because you didn’t raise pre-flop.
Raising with dry Aces (pocket Aces with few alternative draws), is likely to get you into trouble on most flops. If you can’t get the pot heads-up, you may be better just limping or calling
HOW DEEP IS YOUR STACK?
Another crucial factor with our bronze hand is how deep the money is. On this point I often quote Rob Hollink, who has been one of the most successful European high- stakes PLO players of the past decade. Rob believes you should only re-raise with Aces if you can get at least 60% of your money or your opponent’s money in pre-flop.
The inference is that you will nearly always follow through and put the other 40% in on the flop because you are pot-committed. This thought process returns to the original point that PLO is generally a flop-matching game.
Let’s assume our pre-flop re-raise has eliminated all our opponents bar one. We see a flop of 9-9-7 heads-up. This is dangerous three-handed, but we are heads-up. If the money is deep and our re-raise has only committed 25% of the money pre-flop, we’ve got a problem. If we follow through with a continuation bet now, our opponent has the upper hand. If they have no part of the flop, they can just pass without losing any more money. If they’ve got a 9 then they have us by the short and curlies.
If they have a hand such as 7-8-10-J they may now re-raise us with a semi-bluff draw. Worse, if they have no hand whatsoever and are so inclined, they may just re-raise us with nothing at all on a stone-cold bluff. If our pre-flop re-raise has told them we have two Aces in our hand, our opponent has every right to believe we have no part of it.
If we are playing with good aggressive players, we may get into a lot of trouble on a lot of flops. I would even suggest that at the six-handed $5/$10 PLO online tables where players sit down with $1,000, more money is lost with this ‘bronze’ hand than is ever won.
I have also noticed in the biggest online PLO games a lot of the great players buy in with the minimum amount. A key reason for this may be to enable their pre-flop re-raise to be a much higher proportion of their stack.
If you want to play a different style of poker you want the opposite to be true. When I play PLO I always look for the following factors:
- I want the stacks to be as deep as possible.
- I want to raise with hands such as 7-8-10-J.
- I want to be re-raised by a tight opponent who only ever re-raises with Aces.
- I want to be looking at flops where we only have between 25% and 30% of our money in the middle and
- I am holding all the information.
If you are short-stacked then raising with Aces is always a good idea, so long as you can get at least 60% of your money in pre-flop. Deep-stacked play, however, favours connected hands rather than big pairs
Let’s return to playing a similar hand with our platinum Aces (A?-A?-J?-10?). If we hit the flop of 9?-9?-7? here the scenario is different. Although we haven’t hit the flop smack in the face, there is enough of it to give us confidence to follow through. Hopefully our opponent has missed the flop and we can pick it up. But if they have caught a 9, then we have to rely on our outs:
- Two Aces for a full house.
- Approximately seven clubs for a flush.
- Three eights for a straight.
- A 23/1 back-door flush if you are an optimist.
This isn’t good shape if you run into an opponent drawing to a full house, but I feel there’s enough equity here to justify a follow-through bet. I hope the difference between ‘Aces’ and ‘Aces’ in PLO has become clearer.