Are you ready to take your Omaha game to
the next level? Here are some tips to help you avoid the
key dangers and win big
As in Hold’em choosing the right starting hands to play is an essential skill, but it’s much trickier with four cards. As a rule of thumb, here’s some stuff you shouldn’t be playing…
1. Three of a kind You can only use two of them, which means there’s only one card left in the deck that can give you a set. Muck.
2. Four suited cards not connected (e.g. 3♦ -7♦ -8♦ -Q♦ ).
3. Nut flush Drawing hands are not enough to carry a hand – they must have something else going for them. For example, A♣ -2♣ -J♦ -7♥ is a poor starting hand; even double-suited this hand would still be a dog as a Jack-high flush is rarely good enough.
4. Low cards Don’t call a bet when you’ve got three or four cards Five or lower (e.g. 2-3-3-6 or 3-4-5-9), as they tend to get you into serious trouble. Imagine you hold 2-2-3-4 and the flop comes down A♥ -4♦ – 5♣ . You’ve flopped the straight and decide to slow-play by checking. The turn comes 10♥ , bringing a flush draw. Against a few callers, you could now be in a right mess. If the river is a J, Q, K, 3, 6, 7, 8 or another heart, you no longer hold the nuts. Therefore it’s vital that you bet the flop to narrow the field. The worst thing about this type of hand is that if you’re in this pot it’s because there’s been no pre-flop raise, which means you might only be getting 2/1 or 3/1 on your investment – nowhere near enough for the risk incurred. If you play it slow to get action you could lose a lot; hit a set of Twos and it can also get you involved in a bad situation, with potentially lots of higher sets out there.
5. Low pairs Hole cards like 5-5-4-4 can be horrible. Make a full house and you’re at serious risk as any over-card on a paired board means you’re probably beat. The major drawback with this type of hand is at no time can you apply real pressure unless you gamble, and Omaha is a game where you should avoid marginal hands.
It’s much more dangerous to give a free card in Omaha than in Hold’em – and much more advantageous to get one. This rule alone can be the difference between winning and losing. You can often get away with giving an opponent a free card in Hold’em, but it can be disastrous in Omaha where every player has 60 hand combinations on the river.
For this reason, it’s worth raising with the second best hand. It sounds scary, but in some situations it’s the best move. Imagine you’re second to act in a four-handed pot and you hold 6-7-9-10 with a flop of 5-8-K. If the player in first position bets, the correct thing for you to do is to raise in order to eliminate the rest of the field. This may also get you a free card on the river, which, as I have pointed out, is a huge advantage. It may also win you the hand there and then, as a move by first position with middle or bottom set will make it very difficult for them to call. The thinking behind this is that if you hit the top end of the straight you’ll be a favourite against one opponent but a dog against three. Make it cheap on the turn and you might allow any number of big drawing hands to come into play, and the moment you hit your straight on the high side it puts your hand in jeopardy against several opponents.
Omaha also differs from Hold’em in that marginal flush draws are hard to play. In a pot involving several opponents, a Queen-high flush is often beaten, while in Hold’em it’s considered a premium hand. It does, however, have a better chance if it’s a backdoor flush, but unless you want to gamble, pushing it beyond a value bet is asking for trouble. That’s because in Omaha a bare Ace to the flush (where one player holds the Ace, but no others of the suit that can make the flush) enables a strong player to make a big reraise to your Queen flush and put you under severe pressure, because they know you haven’t got the nut flush.
Double-suited hands are approximately 6% better than a non-suited hand, which falls in line with the 3% advantage suited cards bring in Hold’em. But just because you have a double-suited hand, don’t overrate it – the hand must have something else going for it. Look at it like this – on the flop you can only possibly have a draw to one flush; if the turn is favourable and you now have two flush draws you potentially have 18 outs, but this is on a single draw.
A good way to play a second or third best flush made on the flop while in late position is to bet it. If you get smooth-called you’re probably up against a set. You were hoping to win it there and then, but if your opponent then bets into you on the turn without the turn pairing the board then you’re probably behind. So a golden rule to employ in Omaha, then, is never draw to any flush on a paired board.
When holding a pair of Aces it’s only advantageous to get your money in pre-flop if you can get yourself into a heads-up situation. If you think there’s no possibility of this then just flat-calling a raise is a good option. By flat-calling your hand will also be disguised, whereas a re-raise will often give away your hand. However, don’t get sucked into a pot (as poorer players do) with three or four players just because you hold A-A; unlike Hold’em where a high pair will frequently win you the pot, in Omaha it’s highly unlikely, so you can’t protect your Aces unless you’ve got a back-up, like a nut flush draw or top straight draw.
Cash for questions
Betting in Omaha is all about obtaining information, and the more information you get cheaply the better. I was in an Omaha tournament with four players left when the following situation arose. There was a re-raise from a tight player in the small blind, which indicated to me that he had a big hand. I had K-K and guessed I was up against A-A. However, I decided to call, even though I was certain he could well bet out on most of the hands I wanted to bluff him on. So if the flop came 5-7-8 or 7-7-5, or something similar, I would try to outplay him, as I was sure he would have missed his hand.
But as he was first to act I knew he would bet this type of flop to put me under pressure. Now comes the most important part of this play. I had to calculate that if he did bet he had enough chips to be able to pass to a re-raise. The pot was now approximately 2400 – and it’s quite possible he would make a pot-sized bet – so I quickly counted his chips and he had around 10,000. In this instance the flop came 6-6-9 rainbow, and sure enough he bet out 2000. I gave it some thought and raised another 5000. He almost called after telling me that he knew he was in front. Telling me and actually doing it, though, are two different things and he would have had to gamble his whole tournament on his hunch.
A word of caution though: only try this ploy against a decent player as a poor one will call you down, in the belief that his A-A couldn’t possibly be behind.
Master of disguise
A type of play you should try is raising or re-raising in late position with mid-range cards like 6-7-8-9 or 8-9-10-10 and similar. It means your hand is going to be well disguised if a mid-range flop appears, which will give you more action because your opponents will put you on higher cards. Another advantage is that when an Ace appears on the flop you’re able to represent it because of your strong pre-flop play.
A major part of playing Omaha at a higher level is betting to disguise your hand and betting in order to find out your opponents’ hands. If you establish yourself as a player who check-raises then your checks will be more threatening and may enable you to get a free card. This is good. Unfortunately, this means that often you may check and get no action as your opponent checks. Which is bad. But that’s the problem with Omaha – there’s no foolproof way to play the game, and like all forms of poker it’s a game of opinions.
Some top-class players may well disagree with everything I’ve written here because there’s a flip-side to almost every bet. All you can do is find a way to play that you’re comfortable with in a game where the stakes are within your bankroll.
Mark Goodwin is a professional British poker player. He won the £1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the European Poker Classics, London, in March 2006 and came 22nd out of 590 runners in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the 2006 WSOP.