How to overcome positional disadvantage in pot-limit Omaha
|The key to playing big hands out of position is understanding when the board is favourable to you and when it is not|
Poker is a game of decision making. If you are better at making decisions than your opponents, you will win. Good decisions are made by maximising the information our opponents offer us at the table. This information can come from betting patterns, tells and player profiles. You have control over all of this information as long as you are paying attention. But while you can control your decision-making advantage in terms of information from betting patterns and the like, positional advantage is something that you have little control over since the button moves around the table.
The person who gets to act last in a hand has an automatic advantage over his opponents since he is acting with the most information at each decision point during the hand. When out of position, you are acting in the dark; you don’t know what your opponent is going to do so your decision is more difficult. Learning how to control action when you are out of position and how to maximise your earn in this spot is the key to successfully playing heads-up Omaha out of position.
Flopping big made hands out of position
The key to playing big hands out of position is understanding when the board texture is favourable to you and when it is not. Understanding the importance of board texture will allow you to maximise your profits with big hands and avoid situations that can create difficult decision-making. Let’s take an example of a hand like top set (or any set since we are playing heads-up). When you have top set the key is to figure out how dangerous the board is to you. It is a very different proposition to flop top set on a board of K-J-8 with two spades than on an unsuited board, like K-8-2.
In the first case of K-J-8 with two spades, the board is very badly textured. There are a lot of cards on the turn that will make you unhappy: any Ace, Queen, 10, 9, 7 or spade is going to create a tricky decision for you on either of the next two cards. One of those cards is a favourite to hit on the turn or the river. If you allow a bad card to come off on the turn, you might lose the hand to a suck out or, even worse, open yourself up to a bluff. If a card like the 10… falls off, it is going to be very hard for you to continue in the hand if you face any bet from your opponent. Avoiding being bluffed is tantamount to winning play in heads-up since bluffing frequency is much higher.
Playing big draws out of position on the flop
Let’s take the K-J-8 board with two spades again and give you a hand like Q-10-9-x, with two spades. When headsup, this is a huge hand to flop, but at the same time, you still only have Queen-high. This creates an ideal poker situation because you are happy if you win the pot right there and happy if you get your money in. You should play the hand the same way you play a set on a badly textured board. With a set on a poorly textured board you are also happy if you win right there – avoiding the bad cards on the turn – and you are happy if you get your money in the pot with the best hand as well.
So, against an aggressive opponent, particularly one who has raised pre-flop, you can check to check-raise the whole pot on the flop when your opponent bets. When your opponent is passive, particularly if he has not raised pre-flop, you can lead out. Notice that on these textured boards you end up playing sets the same way you do big draws. This creates the appearance of unpatterned play to your opponent.
On the unsuited board of K-8-2, there is no texture, as the cards on the flop are unrelated to each other, so there is little danger to you. You want to stop the action and play the hand in a more cagey manner to extract maximum value. Stopping the action all depends on your opponent’s betting profile.
Against a more passive opponent (especially if you raised pre-flop), leading out the whole pot will stop the action. If you can’t count on your opponent to bet, you can’t risk letting a free card fall off by going for the check-raise. Against an unreliable opponent, you should lead out the whole pot to stop the action. If he has a big hand – like a wrap – he will raise you and you will get a ton of money in the pot anyway. Otherwise he will fold and that is fine by you since there are so many disaster cards that can be hit.
Against the aggressive opponent you have a number of choices: you can lead out small to induce a bluff from him or you can check with the intention of just calling to check the turn, depending on the next card. It really depends on what kind of aggression your opponent has displayed up till that point.
If you are playing against an extremely aggressive opponent who you can always count on to take a shot at the pot when you check – especially if he has raised prefl op – then checking is the play to stop the action; check and let your aggressive opponent bet, so you can checkraise the whole pot. When faced with this play only the strongest hands will call; hands like big wraps. Against the big hands, you are going to get a ton of money in on the flop no matter what you do. But, against all the other smaller hands, you will win the pot right there and not open yourself up to disaster on the next card.
If you are against an opponent who bets a lot, but does not raise on bluffs (an uncreative aggressive opponent), then you also want to check. Even if your opponent checks back it is no big deal since there is no card that you are unhappy with. If he had Aces he would bet anyway, so you don’t even need to worry about the Ace. If he checks, then you can check again on the turn as long as it’s an untextured card. I know very few opponents who are willing to check on the turn when their opponent has already checked the flop and turn in front of them. So, if the card does nothing for the board you can go ahead and check to induce the bluff. If the card is more textured – let’s say a suited Queen or Jack – you can go ahead and lead out small on the turn.
If you are against a super creative opponent who raises to bluff a lot, you can lead out small – say half the pot. This lead out is one you will use with a lot of weaker hands as well. You would make the same bet here headsup if you only flopped top pair alone. The lead out is meant to induce a bluff from your opponent. This play is particularly potent if your opponent has not raised before the flop. If the hand was checked before the flop your bet will look like you are just trying to pick up the pot against an opponent who has shown weakness.
Notice that by playing these hands correctly, your play becomes perceptually unpatterned to your opponent. When you flop a big made hand you sometimes check to call, check to raise or lead out. Your play depends on the profile of your opponent and the texture of the board, but that is information your opponent will have difficulty processing. To him it will just look like you play sets randomly. You won’t need to ‘mix it up’ because by playing properly you will already appear mixed up.