Online pro Michael Piper shows you how to maximise your profits by identifying and exploiting the PLO fish
This is part five in Michael Piper’s expert guide to pot-limit Omaha. You can view the previous parts of this series here;
No matter what variant of poker you play, most of your profits will come from bad players. Games with passive players, players who are disillusioned and think they’re just unlucky, or players on tilt – these will always be the profitable ones. The good news is, there are a lot of exploitable foes on the pot-limit Omaha tables, whether it’s Hold’em regulars dabbling in the four-card game or just plain donks who love the action of PLO. In many ways, the principles of exploiting the fish in PLO are the same as in Hold’em, but the opportunities to do so are if anything even more numerous. With four cards, bad players tend to chase more draws, overplay more hands and generally make more mistakes.
The first skill in exploiting fish, of course, is finding them, and key to this are your own observations. In live poker, judge everyone on sight. People tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves – if he looks like a rich businessman, there’s a good chance he’s a fish; not so much if he’s a quiet mid-30s gent who looks like he lives in the cardroom. Online, look at screen names and avatars. If anyone has anything to do with Rounders in their screen name, or a picture of a baby, they’re likely a fish. Yes, that’s a sweeping generalisation, but you’ll often have to make these early on in a session.
Beyond such snap judgements, the most important step in discerning if someone is a fish is looking at what hands they show down, how often, and what they do with made hands and draws. Do they call more than they bet or raise? Are they playing most hands, or only a few? Are they playing their draws super fast, or check-calling with them? When they quickly bet pot on the river, is that always a bluff? Playing live, all you can do is observe consistently, concentrating on the two players to your left and the one to your right – the people you’re going to be involved with the most. If you’re playing online, good software is a must – Omaha Manager (www.tinyurl.com/qstham) is the best product on the market, and regular, efficient use can give you a better understanding of the language of Omaha, as well as shortcuts to understanding other players’ games.
Once you’ve identified an opponent as a fish, the next step is to work out how they think and use that to extract money from them. Although everyone plays differently, and some are just plain erratic, most fish fall into the following categories…
The calling station is someone who never folds made hands or draws and will also limp a lot with weak hands. Beating a calling station is easy. Bet lots of made hands, even weak overpairs sometimes, and expect to be called by worse. Bet good nut draws as well, preferably with pairs. Never try to bluff them – they will call you. Try not to pay them off when they hit either. Since these guys are passive and bluffing less often, they’re more likely to have a hand when they bet. Calling stations aren’t so bothered about what you have – they’re just playing their own cards, so feel free to bet bigger with the nuts and smaller with draws.
The LAG Fish
Loose-aggressive fish play too many hands preflop and are willing to stack off if they hit any part of the board. When playing loose-aggressive foes, think about stack sizes more often – if you’re calling bets on a draw, make sure they can pay you off when you hit. When these guys bet, pay attention to bet-sizing, as they will often give away valuable information by varying their bets badly. Don’t play more hands against LAG fish as it negates your edge, which mostly comes from having the best hand most of the time. Play great hands slower after the flop, allowing villains to bluff you on multiple streets or catch up to second-best hands. Bluff and value-bet thinly on later streets, as LAGs often have nothing themselves.
The TAG Fish
The tight-aggressive fish may play a good mix of starting hands preflop, but puts too much money into the pot before folding. Some fish are tight and aggressive but only with a very narrow range – the nuts. They call on good draws, occasionally pushing hard with two-way nut draws (like an open-ended straight and nut flush), but fold a lot of live draws as well through fear of making a non-nut hand. They may even call with a second-nut draw, make their hand, and still fold to any real pressure. Basically your strategy should be to bet, with or without a hand, and keep betting until they fold.
The Tilting Fish
Every poker player, even Phil Ivey, tilts sometimes. The best players train hard to avoid tilt and recover quickly; the fish, however, have little interest in self-control. Tilt manifests in a variety of ways, but the most common form is ‘full steam ahead’ – the loose-passive player plays every hand, chases every draw, and refuses to fold even one pair on the river. The loose-aggressive player bets or raises pot at nearly every opportunity. The tight, folding fish usually started off in one of the previous categories and reverts to type, tending to call or bet too much. Exploiting a player on tilt should be easy, if you know how he plays – keep things simple, bet your great hands, and spot opportunities to grab some of the chips flying around.
Many bad players don’t neatly fall into any of these categories, but that’s okay, because it often means they’re making even more mistakes, even if it is harder to identify them at first. As long as a bad player doesn’t mix up his play too much, each one should be easy to play in his own right. Watch out for the most common mistakes – limping weakly, calling too often, chasing too many draws, and so on – and exploit them accordingly.
Finally, remember that not all fish are equal. Some may only have small leaks, while others will be happy to donate their entire stack in the name of gambling. In general, loose-passive fish that call too often and bet too rarely are the most profitable, as they let you dictate the action and the size of the pot. Against more aggressive players, even very bad ones, you will face tougher decisions and bigger pots.
Now get out there and find yourself some fish – unlike in Hold’em the PLO waters are still full of them.