Position in pot-limit Omaha – and why reckless play in the blinds could undo all your good work
In a six-handed online pot-limit Omaha (PLO) game, most problems typically start in the blinds. When you are playing a $25/$50 PLO game, many pots will have been raised to $175 by the time the action returns to the big blind. Even if there is only one opponent, you have to pay $125 when there is already $250 in the pot. Now, there are an awful lot of Omaha hands that are not a 2/1 dog even against a quality Aces hand.
Following this logic, I found I was often making up the $125. That was until I installed PokerTracker. This handy piece of analysis software revealed my profit and loss in every position. I was making a loss in the small blind, a huge horrific loss in the big blind and profit in every other position. You just can’t argue with those stats. I immediately tightened up in the big blind and went from being a break-even player to a profitable player online. It made that much difference.
The tracker tool also pointed out that each position closer to the button was progressively more profitable. No surprise there either I suppose. The later your position the more information you have. Information is gold dust in PLO, so adjust your game accordingly.
THE VALUE OF POSITION
A few years ago, Daniel Negreanu was taking on anybody for any amount in heads-up challenges in Las Vegas. A friend of mine, Tony ‘The Lizard’ Bloom, challenged him to a $500k PLO match, and the night before the match we had a practice session discussing each hand as we went and asking each other why and how we had played the big hands.
One thing that became very clear was that the way a hand was played always depended on whether we were first or second to act. Just to emphasise this, when Tony played Negreanu the following day, Negreanu proceeded to raise every single time on the button. Daniel has more high-stakes heads-up experience than just about anyone on the planet, and he had decided that position alone was much more important than the cards he was holding.
Although we are discussing six-handed play, the principle still stands to a lesser extent, as in most online games only two or three players generally see a flop. So we have to strike the right balance between good cards and good position. Another friend of mine, Marc Goodwin, says that one of his golden rules is that he never raises from the blinds under any circumstances. This is a good rule, but if I am entering a pot from any position apart from the big blind then it is because I like my cards, so I will raise to grab control of the hand, build the pot and gain information on my opponents’ holdings.
If I am under the gun or in the hijack seat (UTG+1 in a six-max game), I might only raise double the big blind or half the pot, whereas in the later two positions I will normally raise the pot with similar types of hand. However, you have to consider the outcome of your raise and take that into account. Will you lose all your customers? Are you happy with just picking up the blinds? It’s all a question of balance and it’s hard to give any hard and fast rules.
Most of the discussion so far has been about pre-flop raising. However, with PLO most money goes in after the flop, so we should discuss some post-flop play.
When playing a pot out of position it is imperative to check-raise flops you are happy with. The player in later position will quite correctly try to steal many of the pots that are checked to him and the only way to slow him down is by making it clear that you will often be trapping.
However, as with all things in Omaha, this isn’t quite as straightforward as we’d like it to be. Let’s consider a hand where we are dealt J?-J?-9?-9? under the gun and raise half the pot. The button is the only caller. We have put $125 each into the $325 pot and we both have roughly $2,000 stacks behind.
The flop is J?-10?-4?, so we currently have the nuts. However, we have to be aware of how dangerous that flop is. Our opponent may have the flush draw, he may have a 9-Q-K wrap draw or he may just decide to float and attempt to steal on the turn. Therefore on this flop we must know how our opponents play.
Ideally, against normal aggressive internet opponents, I would check-raise this flop. My opponent would bet about $325 and I would raise to $1,300. If my opponent called I would be pretty much committed to betting my remaining $700 on the turn, as I have the correct pot odds even if my opponent hits his card.
The problem with continuation-betting $325 is that your opponent will often call. There are an awful lot of scare cards that may appear on the turn and then you have a dilemma. Do you bet straight into an opponent who may be holding the nuts, or do you check and let your opponent steal from you?
However, there is clearly one big problem with trap-checking. A more sophisticated opponent who has a draw in this position may simply check and take the free card. A careful opponent who doesn’t like to steal on the flop may do the same, and again the scare card on the turn freezes your action. Generally though when out of position a check- raise is the best play.
Let’s turn the tables and say we are the player on the button in this hand and our opponent has checked to us. The natural inclination is of course to bet and steal the pot. However in this case, I would not. You need to learn to read the texture of flops and in this case the turn is quite likely to change everything. I would check the flop and hope for a 7, 8, 9, Queen, King, Ace or a heart on the turn. If my opponent checked again, I’d certainly bet representing a nut straight or flush.
If the flop was Q?-7?-2? on the other hand, the flop is less likely to have hit your opponent and the turn cannot produce a nut straight or flush. If you want to steal this pot then it should be done on the flop not on the turn.
BLUFFING AND RAISING
However, just to complicate matters there’s another basic concept I like to adhere to that can sometimes affect my post-flop betting. It’s an idea I first came across years ago in Doyle Brunson’s Super System. The book didn’t even mention pot-limit Omaha, but hidden within the no-limit hold’em section were a couple of paragraphs on playing aggressively that were actually more suited to PLO than to hold’em.
Doyle’s basic idea was to bet your draws in much the same way as you bet your nut hands. Playing this way meant you would win a lot of pots uncontested. (I think they call this ‘fold equity’ nowadays.) Let’s say I had a draw that would hit 40% of the time. If I bet it like the nuts and my foes passed half the time, I would win 70% of the time.
This is simple stuff in this day and age, but it made me a little revolutionary in Birmingham or The Vic in 1990. And I still like to follow this basic concept if possible, provided I am not on a table of weak calling stations.
Let’s consider a hand where you hold Q?-Q?-10?-9? and the flop is J?-10?-4?. If we are first to speak there are three options available to us? check- call, lead out or check-raise. Needless to say, I don’t like check-calling because it is too weak. So you’re left with a choice between leading out and check-raising, and your decision should be determined by which you feel will generate the most fold equity.
If you keep in mind the principle of playing out of position that I outlined earlier, you should check-raise this flop. Notice that in this case, the trap-check is less of a risk than when you have trips, because it is you that gets the free cards if your opponent opts to check behind you. For this reason I prefer to check-raise draws more often than top set.