Dave Colclough takes a more detailed look at starting hands in pot-limit Omaha cash games, and cautions that playing by the book is likely to cost you cash
Hopefully over the last few months we have established that Omaha is a real poker game. By that I mean it is not just a game of patiently waiting to be dealt Aces or Kings and then getting your whole stack in. It’s much more of a post-flop game than no-limit hold’em, with a huge range of playable starting hands. What’s more, the flop has to be matched in some way, so all hands can instantly be ruined or turned to gold. To add to the complexity ever ything is likely to change on the turn and river. Doyle Brunson once said that no-limit hold’em was the Cadillac of poker. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. PLO is different gravy.
The way you should play various PLO hands will vary hugely depending on the number and style of your opponents and of course the relative depth of the stacks. Hopefully the last few articles have given you a good grounding on these concepts, so this month I’m going to discuss some of the myths you may have encountered regarding PLO and suggest how to avoid playing in an ABC Omaha style. I’m sure I’ve read something in Super System about ‘mixing it up’ so perhaps Doyle got something right after all…
Ten or twenty years ago I read a book by Bob Ciaffone that discussed PLO cash games. Although it had some very good points, it was perhaps a little too cautious for today’s aggressive six-handed games. However, one relevant idea it covered is that of the ‘gaps’ in starting hands.
If we compare the starting hands 7-8-9-J and 7-9-10-J, we can see that one has a gap at the higher end and one at the lower end. Both hands have enormous straight and two-pair potential, but the hand with the gap at the lower end has a huge advantage. This is because it has the potential to make a higher straight against a lower straight.
Holding a non-nut straight is just the sort of situation where you may end up losing your whole stack, so I think this is certainly something to be aware of in PLO. However, when playing six-handed online I would still suggest playing both hands equally strongly. This is because the online game is a lot faster and you need to play all quality hands to maximise opportunities and equity. In this case you should be aware of the principle but ignore accordingly.
Hands with good straight potential but gaps at the higher end (like 7-8-9-J) should be played with caution in full-ring games. In today’s aggressive six-handed games, however, they should not be played too cautiously as they are still quality hands. However, always beware of drawing to a non-nut straight
Hands such as J-K-A-6 or 2-10-J-Q both contain a card known as a ‘dangler’. They are effectively three-card hands, as the 6 and the 2 respectively will be of no use on 99.9% of flops. Most experts will correctly point out that PLO is a four-card game and as such starting hands with danglers should be binned. Again I don’t entirely agree with this and I would suggest that it is too tight for six-handed online play. If I pick up such hands in late position I will still probably raise if there aren’t any limpers. I want to pick up those blinds and will have plenty of continuation potential even if I get called. Again, be aware of the principle but ignore as appropriate.
Don’t be too scared of playing hands with danglers in short-handed games. These hands still have some post-flop value and continuation-betting potential, and you should always be looking for an opportunity to steal from late position
Having said danglers can be okay, I’ll now contradict myself (this is allowed in PLO). Regarding ‘rag’ cards, I do have one personal rule in that I don’t play any hands with two cards lower than a 6. I immediately bin hands like J-Q-3-4 or 10-10-4-5. Cards like 3-4 or 4-5 will only ever hit the bottom end of straights or help you make a smaller two-pair hand. They simply get you into too much trouble. The only possible exception is something like A-A-2-5, or I may possibly limp call if I have a nut-flush draw with two low cards.
And now here’s the next contradiction. I like to raise with low hands such as 6-7-8-9 but love to call re-raises with this sort of hand, especially if I put my opponent on Aces. With a hand such as Aces my opponent will be looking for a flop on which he can successfully continuation-bet. But there are an awful lot of flops that hit a hand like 6-7-8-9 that will make the continuation bet with Aces suicidal. Hopefully he will bet right into us when we have a made hand or a huge draw.
This sort of hand has an added bonus in the fact that your opponent (if he has re-raised) will struggle to bet on flops such as 9-10-J. In this case we have hit a low straight but are in a dangerous situation because of the possibility of a higher straight. However if our foe has raised with Aces and is looking at a scary flop like 9-10-J he will probably not put us to a difficult decision by betting.
The other good news is that our foe is going to be more confident and more likely to follow through on flops that we are very comfortable with. Remember though, for this to be profitable we need to be playing with deep stacks and preferably not in a capped game.
I am sure that the PLO player who invented the myth around ‘blocker’ cards must have been some sort of religious preacher, as he seems to have inspired total faith among his devotees. It doesn’t seem to matter how much money PLO players lose while holding blocker cards – they just continue to believe. However, I’m proud to say I am a fully-fledged atheist on this one.
Here is the principle in its purest form. You have a starting hand of J-J-6-6 and the flop comes down 9-10-Q. You have two Jacks in your hand so it is highly unlikely that anyone else has a nut straight because there are only two other Jacks in the whole pack. So you now feel you can bet to represent the straight and proceed to lose all your money.
Let’s look at why this is a losing play – we’ll even pretend you are lucky and that the other two Jacks are in the muck. If you wish to persist with your quasi- religious beliefs there are several points you need to bear in mind.
Firstly, Omaha is a drawing game. If anyone has flopped a set, they are unlikely to pass on the flop. They may pass on the turn or river, but don’t count on it. If the flop contains two of the same suit, again don’t be surprised if someone holding the nut flush draw decides to re-raise.
Let’s also look at a different flop of say 6?-8?-9?, where you hold the ‘blockers’ 7-7. In this case, the sevens are quite useless. On this sort of flop (with the gap at the lower end) players will raise or at least draw if they have 10-J-Q in their hand. If you want to persist with blockers, the gap MUST be at the high end.
Playing aggressively with blockers is generally a losing play in online PLO. If you are going to persist with this bluff, you need to have other good reasons such as position and/or a tight opponent.
Avoid playing blockers too strongly as it will rarely force out a good hand on the flop. If you must play this style then at the very least ensure your blockers are at the high end of any potential straight