Pole position

You’ve mastered hold’em tournament play, now turn those new-found skills into pot-limit Omaha gold

For me pot-limit omaha is by far my favourite form of poker to play at the cash tables. In fact, outside of tournaments, I would say that 99% of my online play is spent playing pot-limit Omaha cash games. I will play wherever there is a good game, generally at $10/$20 or $25/$50.

With the huge interest generated by the $50,000 World Series of Poker H.O.R.S.E. event, more and more nolimit players are trying their hands at pot-limit Omaha – a game that at first appearance looks similar to hold’em. But whilst it’s certainly true that Omaha and hold’em share many similar principles, they are very different games and simply rushing in is a recipe for disaster – and one that I’ve noticed many players make before. For this series of articles I’ll be outlining what you need to know to successfully transfer your hold’em know-how to the Omaha cash tables. To ease you in, I have picked out four crucial ideas you need to take heed of.

1. Focus on the flop

Possibly the single biggest factor in adjusting your hold’em game for playing Omaha is the need to shift your focus to the flop. In hold’em, playing well before the flop is a key ingredient in developing a solid game. Big hands such as high pocket pairs are generally big favourites pre-flop in hold’em, but in Omaha, whilst your starting hand selection is very important (especially in early position), you’ll find that the flop itself defines what really makes a big hand. With four cards in the hole, pocket pairs are much more common and as a result, bigger hands are needed to win most pots.

Here’s an example of the different emphasis on prefl op strength in Omaha. A-A is a 75% favourite over suited connectors like 5-6 in hold’em (heads-up), but in Omaha, A-A-K-K is only a 55% favourite pre-flop over 3-4-5-6. And, because more hands can make big hands in Omaha, you’ll find that there’s a lot more action than in hold’em games. If someone has the nuts on the flop, it’s pretty common for at least one or two other players to be drawing to a better hand, if not the stone cold nuts. After the flop you can often find yourself with nut flush and straight draws, knowing you’re up against someone with a big set. All these possibilities mean that you’ll definitely have a chance to play more hands and show down some real monsters, but you have to be ready to gamble.

2. Bankroll

So with more frequent and bigger draws, Omaha is more of a gambler’s game than hold’em. If you have a wrap straight draw you can be drawing to 13, 17 or even 20 outs, which means you can have a straight draw that is a favourite over top set – but even if you’re looking at this many outs, you still have to hit those cards and miss the board pairing to win. This raises an important consideration when deciding to play pot-limit Omaha: because you often get all your money in as only a slight favourite, the swings can be huge – so you need to ensure your bankroll can take a few bad beats before switching from hold’em. I’m not one for hard and fast rules, so I won’t tell you what percentage of your bankroll you should be playing with in any game, but you definitely need to play at a level you feel comfortable at. If losing a big pot will really affect your game, it’s time to drop down a level; just go by whatever you feel happy with.

3. Choose the right game

As with all forms of poker, table selection is extremely important to squeezing out maximum profit from your playing time. In hold’em, short games involve more action and you can steal more, but more action equals more decisions and requires a good knowledge of how your opponent plays, so I would recommend starting out at a full table.

The post-flop nature of Omaha means you’ll still be plenty involved in a full ring game, but it gives you a chance to sit back and watch the action, learning the game and waiting until you hit flops. Also, because there will be more players, you have a better chance of somebody else making a second best hand when you do hit the flop. As with hold’em, if you have a choice, pick the looser tables, for example, where players are seeing a higher percentage of flops. When you’re playing at lower levels, this is an indicator of players that don’t really know the value of playing solidly. Personally I still play full ring games most of the time; they are easier to multitable and you can play the cards a little bit more than worry about your opponents. But, as usual, the key is to play at a table you are comfortable with.

4. Position

Position is another factor that will be familiar to hold’em players and is of even more importance in Omaha. I mentioned previously that you can play more hands in Omaha and this is true to some extent, but let me make this very clear: you should be passing weak and marginal hands if you are in early position in pot-limit Omaha. I have played enough Omaha to be confident playing four rag cards if I can get in cheap from the button, but I still pass up marginal hands when I am playing from early position. If you pass a hand, you cannot lose money on it, but if you choose to play with marginal hands and without position, then you are opening yourself up to a whole world of pain.

Finally, despite all my earlier encouragements that pot-limit Omaha is an action game, this is probably the single biggest lesson I can give: you have to choose your starting hands carefully and in accordance to your position. Since there are so many ways to hit a big hand on the flop, you need as much information as possible to gauge the strength of your hand before making decisions; and you don’t get that in early position.

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