Essential tips to help no-limit hold’em players adapt to the hot new game
In the early part of this decade, I was a regular at the top of the European pot-limit Omaha (PLO) rankings and a regular final-tablist at the World Series of Poker Omaha events. For a while I entered Omaha tourneys with an expectation of winning. Likewise, my confidence was high in PLO cash games, where I earned a steady income from weak players.
Unfortunately, the poker world has a habit of changing just when you think you have it cracked. Five to ten years ago my trips to the US were a source of amazement. PLO was not widely played, and top American players would routinely overplay their pairs post-flop. However, the online poker revolution soon brought an end to that gravy train.
Nowadays everyone has a dabble at PLO in cyberspace and there are games running around the clock in Vegas. On top of this there has been a wide sharing of ‘the knowledge’, thanks to internet forums, books and training videos. I had previously tried to resist giving away the trade secrets, but it appears to be a lost cause. So what the heck, let’s get into it.
TAG VS LAG
My first thought or disclaimer on the subject of pot-limit Omaha is that there is definitely more than one way to crack an egg. Many players appear to adopt directly opposite styles of play with an equal degree of success.
In the tight cash games of yesteryear I used to be considered ‘a bit wild’. At the time I felt I was just playing a ‘bet your draws as you would the nuts’ style. Nowadays though, if I watch Ben Grundy play short-handed PLO online I am gobsmacked at his wild aggressive style – though I can only admire his consistent online success.
Conversely, somebody like Shar Kuomi adopts a super-tight style in live cash games with an equal amount of success. Where Ben gets his stack in once a minute, Shar is only looking to get his stack in once every couple of hours or so. Both are huge winners, though their styles are probably best suited to short- handed play or full-ring games. I’ll leave you to guess which way around.
The number of players at the table is possibly the most important factor in a PLO game. The starting-hand selection and how you play these hands should vary hugely depending on the number of opponents. Generally, in this series I’ll try and concentrate on the six-handed game, as this is where most of the money is these days, but let’s look at a quick example of how you should adjust for nine-handed play.
If you pick up a hand like A?-Q?– Q?-2?, it is an automatic raise short- handed or heads-up. The pair of Queens alone, or hitting the Ace will often be enough to win the pot. However, in a nine-handed ring game I would hardly ever raise with this hand, as it is now more difficult to win at showdown.
You probably have to make a set of Queens or a top straight. My thoughts are that the real equity in this hand is if you can get in cheaply (and let as many opponents as possible in cheaply) and flop set over set. This may be over 10/1, but when it happens it’s possible to reap big rewards.
The number of players in the game should drastically alter your starting-hand selection. Hands you would never raise with in a full-ring game become much more playable with fewer players
This brings us to the next key point. The most important factor in how you should play a hand is in fact the number of players that see the flop. Let’s say the flop is 9-3-3 rainbow. If just you and one opponent saw the flop, there is a good chance you have the best hand with A-Q-Q-2 (but you certainly don’t want to go to war with it). However, if you and three opponents saw the flop, you probably don’t have the best hand.
To follow the logic through, if the number of players seeing the flop is such an important factor, then maybe our pre- flop decision on whether to call or raise should also consider its effects on the likely number of opponents that will see the flop. Obviously raising makes a pot bigger so we can win more money, but with PLO it isn’t always the best idea to make the pot bigger at this stage.
Of course the new game has brought a completely different outlook to the way poker is played and often ‘fold equity’ is god. In short-handed games the cards are less important than raw aggression, and I often wonder if Ben Grundy can see his cards past his huge raise button.
Grundy’s style of play is better suited to heads-up play and if the stacks are deep. In six-handed PLO it’s not so easy to get away. There are an awful lot of playable hands in pot-limit Omaha.
One of the biggest mistakes no-limit hold’em players make when dabbling in PLO is over-valuing their hands. Pre- flop, players may look at hands such as K-K-3-7 or Q-Q-9-2 and raise, thinking they have a strong hand. However, these will not win as many Omaha pots as they think. PLO is more of a flop-matching game. In no-limit hold’em if players have a big pair in their hand they will often follow through regardless of the flop. This is not recommended in Omaha.
For example, with K-K-3-7 the flop may come 5-9-10 with two of the same suit. I don’t want to put another penny in the pot. I may take a stab against a weak opponent but it is dangerous ground. There are a plethora of hands that may well raise back here, such as a set, two pair, the flush draw, a wrap draw such as 8-J-Q or 7-8-J, a complete wrap (7-8-J-Q) or a mix of these hands.
Ignoring that though, if the no-limit hold’em player should somehow end up all-in with Kings on this flop, let’s look at some of the odds…
- Holding Kings against a set, our hold’em player has only two outs and will win the pot around 10% of the time.
- Holding Kings against two pair, our hold’em player picks up some outs and his chances improve to over 26%. However, it’s the situations where the Kings are actually ahead that may be the biggest surprise…
- Against a nut-flush draw with no pair, the Kings are slightly worse than evens. They are not a favourite! If the opponent holds a 9, 10 or 5 with his flush draw, then the Kings drop to less than 40%.
- An opponent with a three-card wrap has between a 55% and 63% chance of out-drawing the Kings (depending on how many of the straights require a King). Interestingly, the worst three-card straight draw in this example is J-Q-K, which is in fact a dog against the Kings.
- The complete wrap where your opponent has 20 cards to hit (minus one 7 and two Kings) is a 65% favourite.
- A combination flush and wrap draw may get close to a 75% favourite.
The point that should come across is that a good no-limit hold’em starting hand is of limited use in deep-stack PLO. An Omaha hand is made up of four cards. K-K is only half a hand.
If the money is deep for post-flop play then there is a very good argument that pot-limit Omaha hands containing K-K or Q-Q should never be raised. The real equity in these cards is on flops such as K-4-7 where an opponent has a set of fours or sevens, and a pre-flop raise would probably scare these hands off.
As you can see, the key to winning at Omaha lies in varying how you play your starting hands. There is much more subtlety to this than in no-limit hold’em.