Alex Scott introduces Courchevel and looks at how to adapt your Omaha game to cope with the additional pre-flop preview card
The Aviation Club de France has been well known for poker since its flagship tournament, the Grand Prix de Paris, was featured in early seasons of the World Poker Tour. But the Aviation Club isn’t France’s only contribution to poker. Besides the club and a string of successful players, such as EPT all-time money leader Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier and high-stakes legend David Benyamine, France is also home to a small ski resort called ‘Courchevel’.
Legend has it that late one night, a game of poker broke out at that ski resort – a new kind of poker nobody had played before, where the first flop card was exposed before the action began. We Brits aren’t used to naming poker games after places in Britain – after all, nobody wants to play a game called Scunthorpe – but in typical poker fashion, the new game was named ‘Courchevel’, after the place it was first played. Courchevel is also popular in other parts of the world, particularly Eastern Europe and the UK, and is part of the dealer’s choice game at the Vic and some other British casinos.
Courchevel is a variant of Omaha. Each player is dealt five hole cards, and must use exactly two of them in combination with the board to make their best five-card hand. The unique selling point of Courchevel is that the first community card is exposed before the action begins. It’s dealt immediately after the hole cards, before the under-the-gun player acts. Essentially, the first card off is a preview of the flop.
After the first betting round, the remaining two cards of the flop are dealt, and from then on the game proceeds as per regular Omaha. Courchevel, like most games of European origin, is usually played pot-limit. If Courchevel is called in your game, you should consider asking about the exact rules, because there are many slight variations from place to place.
In part nine of this series, we looked at five- and six-card Omaha. The advice about hand selection detailed in that article also applies to Courchevel. In particular, remember that with five hole cards, the number of two-card combinations that are available to you increases to 10. This is almost double that of regular four-card Omaha. As a result the typical hands shown down by your opponents will be stronger than in regular Omaha, and you should expect to see the nuts quite often.
In regular Omaha, you are looking for a co-ordinated hand with high cards, suited cards and connectors. The more your cards work closely together, the better. For example, a hand like Ad-Ah-Jc-7s-2s is particularly weak, and it’s a common mistake to get attached to a hand like this simply because it has a pair of Aces in it. Much stronger is something like Ac-Kd-Ks-Jc-10s, in which all five cards work together.
However, the absolute overriding factor of hand selection in Courchevel is whether you connected with the preview card or not. It doesn’t matter if you have As-Ad-Ks-Qd-Jc or some other supposed monster, if the preview card misses you completely you cannot stand any substantial action before the flop. Conversely, a hand that may seem relatively weak at first may become a lot stronger if you hit the preview card, for example if you have Kd-9c-9s-5d-2h and the preview card is a 9h.
If your starting hand has not connected with the preview card you should be very wary of getting involved even with a very strong starting hand
Clearly, if the preview card gives you a set you will want to play. A small set is, however, a dangerous hand after the rest of the board is dealt, as you’ll need to hit quads to be 100% comfortable. For that reason, it’s to your advantage to either be playing a heads-up pot or to keep the pot small, so you should try to manipulate the pre-flop action to that effect. As most Courchevel games tend to be very loose, it will be difficult to push opponents off the pot with a single raise. Therefore, if you’re in early position you might consider simply limping in, hoping that somebody will raise behind you so that you can make a large re-raise and shut out most of the opposition.
If you can’t get that second raise in then you may want to see the flop cheaply and let the hand develop a little further before you commit the big money. Big sets are much easier to play, as they’re less vulnerable. It’s much more likely that a set of Kings, for example, will still be the nuts once the flop is dealt. With these hands you can afford to let a few more players into the pot if you want, hoping to get a little action later in the hand.
Some hands that pair the preview card are playable too. If the preview is an Ace, and you hold A-K-J-8-7, then you have a fairly promising hand because there are 14 cards you can hit on the flop to improve further. Some flops will also develop into a combination hand, such as a pair plus a straight draw, which can be playable in certain circumstances.
Lastly, combinations of straight and flush draws around the preview card are also playable. For example, if the preview is 9s, and you hold As-Js-10c-8d-7h then there are many flops that will hit your hand nicely. The biggest mistake that is made over and over again by poor Courchevel players is getting attached to a seemingly-strong hand which has missed the preview altogether. If you have not connected with the preview card, you simply can’t get involved unless your plan is to bluff your opponents off the pot. Calling off your chips with an overpair to the preview, a flush draw in a different suit, or a far-away straight draw, is a losing strategy.
PLAYING THE FLOP
After the flop, Courchevel plays very similarly to Omaha, with just one or two key differences. The first difference is that you will tend to have more information about your opponents’ hands before the flop arrives, because you have seen their reaction to the preview card. If your opponent has put in a lot of action before the flop, for example, it’s quite likely that they have a set already. Knowing that, you can play accordingly, and save yourself a lot of money if the board pairs.
You can also plan some elaborate bluffs, in situations where you know your opponent connected strongly with the preview, but the board then becomes very threatening. For example, if your opponent bet aggressively when the preview was a 6, but then backed off when an Ace and a King appeared on the rest of the flop it may be a good spot to bluff.
The second difference is that your opponent will tend to have a stronger hand than they would in regular Omaha. Most opponents won’t enter the pot with random cards, so you can safely assume that the preview card helped, or at a very minimum did not hinder, their starting hand. You should be prepared for more action on the flop, and to be up against some big draws, particularly if the second and third flop cards are closely connected to the preview.
Remember that Omaha variants all have one thing in common – it’s easy for someone to make the nuts. Don’t get attached to one-pair and two-pair hands, remain cool when your big hands miss, and apply some of the other advice in this article and you’ll have a big edge in Courchevel.
Post flop expect a lot of action, especially from people chasing strong combination draws. Courchevel is a game where you need the nuts more often than not