However alluring it may seem, resist the temptation to slow play your hand in pot-limit Omaha – it could get you into big trouble
|By playing the flop fast, particularly in terms of manipulating the action, you ensure protection by chasing out weaker draws|
Playing after the flop in Omaha is much trickier than playing after the flop in Texas hold’em. This is mainly because most of the pots in Omaha are multi-way and draws are much more powerful, which makes bluffing much more difficult. In order to give post-flop strategy the detailed analysis it deserves, I will deal with just one or two topics at a time. Over the upcoming months you can expect to learn advanced tactics including how to control the action, knowing the right situations to make a big bluff and having the discipline to lay down non-nut hands.
For now, however, let’s concentrate on the single most important component of post-flop play – extracting maximum value from your big hands. The first thing to ask is, why is it so important? Well, in most PLO pots, big hands will win and opponents tend to pay off less in the game. Contrast this with hold’em when a flush hits the board but you can still get paid off by hands like top pair and two pair and even sets. In PLO this is generally not the case – you need to have the nuts or near nuts, particularly in multi-way pots. As a result, you generally have to get your money in the pot when you are the favourite but before your hand is made.
Game, set and match
A typical situation is where you have top set – a hand which is probably the most interesting hand to play well and also the most misplayed. Let’s consider a situation where the board flops relatively dry, like Q-8-3 rainbow and you have Q-Q-x-x. Most players have a tendency to slow play this hand thinking there are not a lot of bad cards that can hit the turn. However, this is a big error for three reasons.
REASON 1 First and foremost, the difficulty with top set in PLO is that when the board pairs the action generally dies. Consider an opponent who has a hand like K-J-10-9 here. This is a hand that you are a favourite against. But while you are a favourite, your opponent will view his hand as quite strong since he can hit a 9, 10 or Jack on the turn and will have a redraw to the bigger nuts on the river if any of those cards hit.
Most opponents will not lay down a baby wrap like this on the flop, even if it might be mathematically correct to do so since with your kill cards you are nearly a 3/1 favourite with two cards to come. Even so, draws will generally want to play with you on the flop, even if you bet the pot, only giving them 2/1 odds to call. But what happens if you slow play the hand and now the board pairs, threatening to kill the action? All of a sudden an opponent who might have gone to the wall with a hand on the flop will fold the turn on a paired board and you have lost your chance to get his money. Not only that, but if the board hits a blank, say an off deuce, a good player will again fold the turn to a potsized bet. If you want to make your money with this hand, playing fast on the flop to avoid action-killing cards on the turn is the correct move.
REASON 2 Play fast on the flop and you can make weak draws fold, protecting your hand. Let’s say you have the same Q-Q-x-x and the board comes Q?-J?-3? By playing the flop fast, particularly in terms of manipulating the action, you can ensure protection by chasing out the weaker draws in the hand, such as smallfl ush draws or baby-straight draws or hands that are merely an up-and-down straight draw like K-9-x-x. Manipulating and controlling the action is such a key component in PLO that we come onto in future articles.
REASON 3 The final reason to raise with top set is that you will often be raising with big draws as well, and it is sometimes important to play both your draws and your made hands similarly in order to avoid your opponents picking up patterns on you. If you only raise with your made hands but play your draws soft, then everyone will know what you have. Similarly, if you only raise with your big draws but slow play your made hands, the same thing will happen. Once your opponents pick up these kinds of patterns, you might as well turn your cards face up for all to see.
This brings us to how to play big draws, specifically big wraps or big wraps with a flush draw. Firstly, let me clarify that a wrap without a flush draw is only ever big if the board isn’t flushing. There’s a big difference between holding A-Q-10-9 on a K-J-x board when the board isn’t two-suited and when it is. The hand is only big when there is no flush draw since the flush cards generally take away four of your outs.
Let’s take the biggest hand you can have, A?-Q?– 10?-9? (a nice double-suited hand) on a K?-J?-8? board. You have both flush cards covered and make a straight with any Ace, Queen, 10, 9 or 7. On the flop this gives you nine spades and 13 straight cards for 22 outs twice. If you miss and pick up a club on the turn, you can pick up those extra outs. This makes you a favourite even if you are against a set. In fact, it’s the only kind of hand that is a favourite against a set.
There are two problems in playing this hand – the first is similar to that of holding a set as when you make your hand on the turn the card is generally an action killer. If any card but the off-suited 7 hits, the board will become so scary to your opponent that generally a bet will cause them to fold. Therefore, you should play the hand similarly to your sets, and for the same simple reason. Since making your hand will generally kill your action, you should get your money in the pot when there is action to be had: on the flop.
The second problem is how to chase out tie hands. A pot-sized bet here will generally chase away hands like the dry 10-9 or the dry Q-10. If you allow multiple people into the pot with you, the chances are at least one of them, if not more, will have some piece of your wrap along with you. Allowing them in the pot can set you up such that multiple opponents are drawing at a tie and you end up giving away half the pot. While a good-sized raise might cause a non-nut dry draw to fold, not raising might let the full wrap in the pot. By this I don’t mean the full wrap in one person’s hand but spread out over several people’s hands, so that you might be drawing dead to the whole pot unless a spade hits – which will tend to kill your action anyway. Therefore, it is important to chase people away.
When not to go slow in PLO
Even more importantly, with a big bet you can often chase out baby sets, hands like 8-8-x-x in the case we’re talking about. Getting those hands out of the pot on the flop is particularly important since they can kill your hand if the board pairs. In the case of the set, the hand can’t be killed as long as there are cards to come (assuming no straight flush is available). But in the case of large draws that isn’t true. Removing hands from play that can cause you to draw dead is never bad in PLO. Execution of isolation with big draws works the same as it does for sets. Lead into the raiser to your left, checkraise a raiser to your right, raise the field when you are in position. Notice that you then play wraps and top set the same way, which will confuse your opponent. And we always like confusion in our opponents since it causes them to make poor decisions against us.
If I can instill in you one thing only it is this: slow playing big hands in PLO is generally a poor choice. The slow play is overused and poorly used. Avoid that trap.