The nine-card game of Omaha is often overlooked by new poker players, but look again, as it offers one of the best routes to profit around
Texas Hold’em is the television poker game of choice, but for players seeking profit rather than fame, there’s another game that offers far more potential, Omaha. While hold’em can see huge betting pre-flop, Omaha is a game played after the flop, when odds can be accurately calculated and risks of bad beats minimised. Good players have the chance to earn a significant return for their stake. For poor players, of course, the opposite applies.
Omaha is played with nine cards per player, which can throw up a huge range of possible hands. This complexity makes the game a tough one to master, which is the bad news. The good news is that once you’ve mastered the game, the opportunities to turn your skill into hard cash are plentiful.
Players coming fresh to an Omaha table may be surprised to find they’re dealt four hole cards face down. Despite being dealt two more cards than is the case in Texas hold’em, from there on in the game takes on all the betting features of the Texan variety.
After an initial round of betting, there’s a flop of three community cards, which are dealt face up, followed by a round of betting. The dealer then deals a fourth community card (the ‘turn’), after which there’s another round of betting. Finally, the fifth card (the ‘river’) signals the final betting round.
Each player still in the hand at the showdown has nine cards from which to make the best poker hand. Importantly, two of the player’s hole cards must be combined with three from the board. It’s this last stipulation that makes Omaha such a special game, as with so many possible combinations, the value of your hand can fluctuate enormously from minute to minute.
Omaha beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944, was the scene of the one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. It was the beach where the Allied Forces almost lost, but, ultimately, superior forces and superior tactics won the day. This triumph of strategy is also a critical feature of the Omaha versions of poker.
First, let’s consider your hand before the flop. The best starting hands contain two high-ranking pairs, ideally double-suited (for example, A♥-A♣-K♥-K♣) and a good high draw, ideally to an Ace-high flush. Double-suited hands with four cards in a row at least as high as a six are also respectable hands. A hand such as K♠-Q♦-J♠-10♦ is a nice hand, as is 9♠-8♦-7♠-6♦, albeit less so. Beware, though, drawing to the low end of a straight is a potential recipe for misery. One pair of Aces or Kings is also playable, while a pair of Queens is just about debatable.
Basic strategy after the flop is to fold any hand that doesn’t include the top two pair or a draw to the best possible hand (the ‘nuts’), or close to this such as a draw to a King-high flush (where the nuts would be the Ace-high flush). Within this general framework, you can play a little more loosely if you’re up against a small number of opponents.
After the turn, basic strategy dictates you should bet strongly if you hit a flush or straight. You mustn’t give a free card to someone with a potential winning draw. After the river is revealed, you should bet hard if you have the nuts, and bet as strongly as you can if you think you’re ahead. Otherwise, check.
More sophisticated players calculate the number of ‘outs’ (cards that will complete your desired hand). Fortunately, this is a straightforward calculation. After the flop, seven cards have been revealed to you (including your starting hand), which means 45 cards remain unseen. After the turn, this decreases to 44. This means the probability that any given card will be revealed next is 1/45 after the flop or 1/44 after the turn – that is, a little over 2.2% and a little less than 2.3% respectively.
So, for example, the probability of completing a one-card draw to a diamond flush on the turn card with 9 diamonds remaining after the flop (you have access to the other four in your starting hand or on the board), is calculated as 9 x 2.2% – that is, about 20%. The probability of completing the flush on the river, with 9 diamonds remaining after the turn, is a touch more than 20%.
Play by the rules
To summarise, you can apply a rough-and ready ‘Rule of 2’ to calculate the probability of completing your hand with one card remaining: 2 x the number of outs. If there are two cards remaining, you can apply a similarly rough-and-ready ‘Rule of 4’ – that is, 4 x the number of outs. Be careful, though, as achieving your desired hand doesn’t necessarily mean winning the hand. Your King-high flush may do it for you, but if it’s not the nuts, you need to discount something for the chance of it losing to a better hand.
Superior tactics are critical in Omaha and luck is less of a factor in success. So if that’s the sort of game that appeals, Omaha is probably for you. Why not try it and see?