Beginners guide to H.O.R.S.E. Part 2. Omaha Hi-Lo

2. Omaha Hi-Lo

The best possible hand you can receive is A-A-2-3 double-suited

The second of the H.O.R.S.E. games is limit Omaha Hi-Lo, an extremely popular alternative to Hold’em. It shares the same structure and betting as Hold’em, so it comes as no surprise that it’s frequently the next game poker players learn. However, although the mechanics are the same the rules are completely different (see rules, right) and so, too, is the feel of the game, which gives gamblers the chance to play plenty of hands while wily pros can sit and wait for situations in which to pounce.

This is because in Omaha Hi-Lo there are usually two sides of the pot to play for – the high and the low (although sometimes there will be no low and the high hand will win the whole pot) – which requires meticulous starting hand selection in order to give yourself the best chance of ‘scooping’, i.e. winning both halves. What this translates to is playing hands with strong interconnectivity; in Hold’em your two cards only make one combination, but in Omaha – with four cards – you have six two-card combinations, so you want as many of them to have a chance of winning as possible.

Therefore, most players will initially look for good low combinations that also have a chance of winning the high, with the best possible hand you can receive being A-A-2-3 double-suited. This is the best hand, because if there’s a low possible (which there usually is) you can win it with A-2, A-3 or 2-3, and you may also make a wheel (A-2-3-4-5) for high, or win with one of your flush draws, or even win by using your Aces.

Note that with A-2-3 you have what is called ‘counterfeit protection’ – i.e. you can still win the low if one of your cards pairs, whereas if you have only A-2 and an Ace or deuce hits the board your chances of winning the low are very slim. For example, if the flop comes 6-7-8 then you would have the nut low with A-2 by making A-2-6-7-8, but if the turn brought a deuce then a player with A-3 would now beat you with A-2-3-6-7 as the lowest two vacant low slots would have changed.

Lower your expectations

The trouble is you won’t be dealt a hand that powerful very often, so you will have to settle for playing inferior hands that share its characteristics. The most important thing to look for is hands that can win both ways (high and low) with nut outs in at least one direction – so any A-2 is usually playable and so is an A-3 with a nut flush draw, as are hands with very strong high potential and a low draw like A-A-x-x or A-K-Q-4 double-suited. Low wrap hands with three or four cards to a wheel (including an Ace) are also very strong as they are harder to counterfeit when they hit and will sometimes make a straight as well.

In late position you can open up significantly and raise with weaker hands (providing they have some merit) in the expectation of only facing off with the blinds with position and momentum; in the blinds (especially the big blind) you can defend with even weaker hands – although paradoxically you should be more inclined to play very marginal holdings against one player only where your chances of being scooped or jammed in by the betting are small.

As this all might suggest, hands with middle cards like 6-7-8-9 or 7-7-8-8 should be avoided as they will hardly ever scoop, since the cards that help them will usually also make a low possible. However, high-only hands are of more debatable worth in Omaha Hi-Lo and are frequently a subject poker experts disagree on. What isn’t in doubt, though, is that only being able to win the high from the outset is a major disadvantage in a Hi-Lo game. Consequently you should look to play high cards when in position or in cheap multi-way pots, and only continue if you hit a very favourable high flop. Also, whereas in pot-limit Omaha all sorts of combinations are playable, in limit Omaha Hi-Lo, when you’ve got no draw to the low, you need to have a much stronger high hand, so only premium groupings like A-A-K-Q or K-Q-J-10 double-suited should be considered.

Aggression pays

After finding playable starting hands your next decision will be whether to limp or raise preflop, which will depend on a variety of factors (although you should note that in Omaha Hi- Lo many players prefer to limp with most hands in order to see cheap flops and keep their variance down). However, providing you don’t mind the ride, raising most hands you intend to play, at least when you open the betting, has a number of advantages over and above other games – namely that in Omaha Hi-Lo winning the blinds uncontested is a good result as so many pots are split, and it makes you harder to read than a player who only raises with A-A or A-2 combinations and limps with other hands. When there are already limpers or raisers in a pot, you can revert to a more straightforward game and simply raise with strong hands and limp with speculative ones. Multitude of options

In Omaha Hi-Lo the flop is the key moment and can make an average hand or break a great one. The permutations for how your starting cards can match up with it are almost incalculable, although in simple terms you should be aiming for the nuts (or draws to the nuts) in one direction with some kind of shot in the other, and if you’re getting odds of 10/1 or better on the flop you may even take a card with good back-door draws to see what develops. Turn and river play follow on from your flop aims in a similar manner, though remember that when you face a single bet on the river in a large pot you should often call with very little in the hope of winning half.

Throughout the hand you should also try to work out from the betting what your opponents have and whether you want to fold, escalate the betting, hang back, trap or check-raise accordingly. Most of this will be routine to even beginner poker players, but in Omaha Hi-Lo there are a few quirks. For example, betting aggressively with only the nut low in a multiway pot is rarely a good idea as, if other people have it too, you may get quartered (win half a split pot) or worse. However, you shouldn’t mind escalating the betting with a strong two-way draw, or if you have the nut low and counterfeit protection plus any chance at the high.

A final thing to remember is that hand reading is also easier in Omaha Hi-Lo than in other games as there’s less tendency to bluff or for players to check-raise, unless they’re very good or very bad. For this reason, if a solid player leads out the betting on a high-only board, you can be fairly sure he has the nuts or close to it. Similarly, if he’s escalating the betting when the low is out he’ll usually have the nuts with additional outs, so you can just fold and wait for a better spot. In Omaha Hi-Lo, patience is a virtue…

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