Hold’em players are flocking to pot-limit Omaha tournaments, but many are making the same basic mistakes
I began making the transition from Texas hold ’em to pot-limit Omaha (PLO) after returning from the World Series of Poker in 2007, determined to be able to go back the following year and play some events with fewer than 10,000 runners. With only 12 months’ experience under my belt, I don’t profess to be able to offer a definitive PLO strategy guide here. Instead, what I aim to do is give good hold’em players a headstart in PLO tournaments. There’s a dearth of good material on PLO and even less on tournament strategy. Considering such events are now appearing in almost every festival schedule, this article should prove to be a source of excellent value.
Assuming you’ve never played the four-card version of hold’em before, let’s start with some general PLO advice. While in structural terms the game is near identical to Texas hold’em, the strategies required are very different. First and foremost you need to get a solid understanding of relative hand strengths in PLO, both pre-flop and post-flop. Unfortunately this is where our hold’em knowledge misguides us slightly and is, without doubt, the biggest problem area for newcomers. Nevertheless, anyone with good card sense will quickly pick this up and while there’s no substitute for learning through playing, there are a couple of key points to watch out for.
1. BIG PAIRS
Essentially, PLO is a post-flop game. While no-limit hold’em (NLH) also involves post-flop decision-making, big pre-flop confrontations are much more common. Pre-flop hand strengths are more clear-cut and big pairs are very powerful. With four cards things aren’t so simple. Not only is no hand going to be a huge favourite over any other hand pre-flop, but the pot-limit nature of the game usually prevents all of the money going in before the flop.
This is not to say that pre-flop all-ins don’t occur (they become increasingly common as the blind-to-stack ratio increases), and in certain situations the correct play will be to get all your money in before the flop. However, this is usually not the aim. PLO centres around making solid post-flop decisions and this is where your edge should lie.
What all of this means is that hands containing a big pair must not be overplayed pre-flop. This serves only to (a) reveal your hand to your opponent and (b) make you overly committed when you completely miss the flop.
A bare overpair is not a hand that you want to be getting your money in with after the flop, as when you do get action you will likely be in very bad shape.
The ultimate overpair is of course Aces. Beware though: Aces in PLO can be more trouble than they are worth, and, as a new player, you will undoubtedly go broke with them more times than you care to imagine. Try to get in the mindset of only playing your big pairs in PLO for set value, and learn to ditch them immediately if you face any sort of resistance post-flop. Doing so will immediately improve your game 100%.
A solitary big pair like Aces or Kings is not necessarily a hand you want to go to war with in PLO. Try to get into the habit of only playing them hard if you flop a set
2. NO DANGLERS
This is, in essence, an extension of point 1, but applies to all of your starting hands. Since you’re given four cards, you may as well use all of them. By this I mean try to restrict the hands you play to those containing four connecting cards, maximising your chances of hitting the flop hard. ‘Run-down’ hands such as J-10-9-8 are highly desirable in PLO, particularly if double-suited. You should usually pass hands like Jacks and Queens in early position if the hand has nothing else going for it. A hand like J?-J?-7?-2? really doesn’t play that well post-flop. You’re really only playing it for set value and you’re not going to make your hand often enough to make it profitable.
Furthermore, sets are so vulnerable that you’re not a guaranteed winner even if you do hit your hand. You really need to have as much going for your hand as possible – lots of ways to win, and lots of favourable flops to hit.
PLO is all about connecting hard with the flop, so it’s imperative that all your cards work in harmony – look out for connected cards and double suits
3. DRAWING TO THE NUTS
This is something that you can either recognise from the outset or learn through bitter experience. PLO is a game of the nuts. Straights, flushes, sets, full houses – they’re all commonplace, so don’t be too surprised to see your Queen-high flush or your bottom straight drawing dead when the cards are turned over. With this in mind, you should only chase draws if you are confident you are drawing to the best hand. You don’t want to pay to hit a card that may lose you a big pot, so make sure that when you draw it’s always to the nuts.
For the same reason, small pocket pairs should only be played as part of a strong combo hand with both straight and flush potential. These lower pairs are unlikely to make top set when they do connect with the flop. Small sets can be some of the most costly hands in PLO, as the danger of someone having a higher set is much, much higher than we are used to in hold’em.
If you do see the flop with a small pair, proceed with caution. As a general rule, I don’t look to play pairs lower than nines or tens for set value.
Drawing to the second and third nuts might cut it in no-limit hold’em, but in PLO anything less than going for the nuts is a long-term losing prospect
This is important in all forms of poker, but in PLO its importance is magnified. Firstly there is much more post-flop play. The other reason is that bets, calls, checks and raises give away much more reliable information in PLO. There are very few hands that can afford to give free cards. With four cards in each of your opponents’ hands, the chances of being outdrawn are high, meaning that only the strongest of hands or the safest of boards is suitable for slow-playing. The information you receive from betting decisions made by the players who act before you is therefore much more reliable than it is in no-limit hold’em, where people will look to set more traps and slow-play their hands.
Pot-limit Omaha is a post-flop game and information is key. Being in position will help you win more when you have the winning hand and lose less when you don’t. Therefore you should always be looking to build pots in position, while controlling the size of the pot when you are out of position.
PLO is predominantly a post-flop game, so positional advantage is more important than ever. Also, because outdraws are so common, slow-playing and trapping are dangerous, which means every check, bet and raise contains reliable information about your opponents’ hands
With all this information firmly in mind, the next step is to put it into practice. When playing PLO, situations will arise where you will have to consider things that you’ve never encountered in Texas hold’em, so it’s vital to start racking up some hours and gaining experience.
Although PLO tournaments are increasing in popularity, you will still struggle to find a cheap live tournament to enter, which can be highly frustrating for those who are new to the game. Thankfully, there are plenty of good, small tournaments online that provide an ideal learning ground for new players.