It’s easy to get sucked into seeing a lot of flops with four hole cards, but careful preflop hand selection in Omaha is crucial to winning
This is part two of Michael Piper’s guide to Pot-Limit Omaha. If you want to check out part one then just click here.
For anyone making the move from Hold’em to Omaha, the temptation when you first start out is to play too many hands. Every four-card combination seems to hold a host of possibilities and every hand seems to warrant taking a flop. However, this is a recipe for disaster, as you’ll often make the second-best hand and spew chips.
Last month I introduced the concept of drawing to the nuts. In order to avoid getting in sticky situations postflop, you should play ‘nutty’ hands preflop. This makes your decisions on the flop easier, giving yourself a good chance of having the best hand and the best draw – a surefire way to take down more than your fair share of pots.
The most profitable hands in Omaha are flushes, full houses and straights, so by playing hands that include a suited Ace, high pairs or high connecting cards, you stand the best chance of flopping the nuts or a big draw. If you can only win the pot with the second nuts your decisions become much harder, and sometimes you’ll lose a big pot or fold the best hand. By playing ‘nut’ hands you pick up a guaranteed equity edge on your opponents – having the better hand far more often, regardless of skill.
The key concept behind hand selection is having all your cards work together. With a hand like A?-Q?-Q?-5? you have two combinations that can make straights and only one flush possibility, whereas with T?-9?-8?-7? you have six straight combinations and two flush draws. The Queens are roughly a 55% favourite against the ‘rundown’ T-9-8-7 double-suited (ds), but do badly against higher overpairs. However, T-9-8-7ds has decent equity against overpairs, and is very easy to play postflop: you’ll hit the nuts a lot and big draws that are a favourite against the nuts, while if you completely miss you never need to worry about folding the best hand.
With the Queens, however, you have to either hit a set or find the delicate balance between protecting the best hand, saving money when outflopped, and picking off bluffs – very difficult with just one pair. When significant money goes in, you’re mostly a big underdog with unimproved Queens – while with T-9-8-7ds you’re almost always a favourite. However, that’s not to say you should fold Queens for one bet, as it’s still a pretty strong hand and you rate to win a decent pot if you hit a Queen.
Having all your cards working together is important for another reason: it offers you more ways to win the pot. When you flop two pair with an un-gapped rundown, you always have a straight draw with it – like 5-6-7-8 on a K-6-7 board. If you’re up against one pair, you have the best hand and the best draw. By folding hands with ‘danglers’ – cards that don’t connect well with the others in your hand – and playing those where all four cards work together, you’ll win pots you’d otherwise lose, and sometimes even bigger ones when a backdoor draw hits on the river. In summary, stay out of trouble, let the fish play the danglers and you can clean up.
Position and aggression
As discussed last issue, playing position well is key to winning at poker. In position you gain more information, minimise losses in bad spots and maximise your equity. It gives you the option to bluff, semi-bluff, make thin value bets and get paid more with genuine hands. When you’re out of position, your opponents have those options available, so it stands to reason that you should only play your best, say, 15% of hands in early position. In late position, meanwhile, you can open up your range and play as many as half your hands given the right circumstances.
There’s a lot of money to be made with good preflop play – push your positional edge, raise with solid, dominating hands, and the rest should take care of itself. If you’re going to play a hand and it’s folded to you in late position, don’t limp in – raise. You must give those still to act a decision to make. If there are limpers in front of you, you have to balance your play. Raise your strong hands but sometimes limp along with them. Mostly limp your weaker hands but sometimes raise with them.
It’s said that 90% of your profits in Omaha come from playing with and against Aces, and it’s true. They’re easy to misplay, but very profitable if you know what you’re doing. Clearly, with the preflop nuts, you should raise for value and to protect your hand. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Against four random cards you’re only a 70% favourite with the best Aces (A-A-K-K double-suited) and only about 60% with the worst (A-A-2-7 offsuit), whereas in Hold’em you’re usually about an 85% favourite with bullets. However, if you always raise with Aces, you’re effectively turning two of your cards face-up for observant opponents. That’s why you need to raise with other hands, too, and use position as a guide to raising rather than just the strength of your hand.
How do you play Aces facing a raise though? Well, if you’re re-raising with other hands you can do the same with good Aces. You can, of course, re-raise with bad Aces too, but you’re getting less of an overlay and dominating their hands less often without Ace-high flush draws. Aces aren’t necessarily easy to play after the flop if you just call, but you can’t just avoid tough decisions altogether – there’s nothing wrong with calling and seeing a flop. Even if you’re revealing the strength of your hand by re-raising it’s still profitable, as long as you’re getting in at least a third of your starting stack – and that’s for the weakest Aces. With the strongest Aces, you can happily get only a quarter of your stack in and bet pot on most flops.
Your mantra, as always, should be balance: play other quality hands like you would Aces, and Aces like you would other hands. A good player will be taking down these raised and re-raised pots on the flop a lot of the time, but you certainly want a strong hand in case your opponents elect not to fold. If you’re playing weak opponents you’ll find they don’t fold very often, so try to be in there with the best hand and best position, and your results are sure to improve.