Omaha hi-lo

How to win a Omaha hi-lo tournament, featuring poker legend Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow

The high hand is the best hand under the normal rankings, the low is the worst possible

Omaha hi-lo, also known as Omaha eight-or-better, is a game most amateur players will be unfamiliar with, although it’s easy to pick up the basics since it is a cousin of hold’em. The two games share the same betting structure and community cards with betting pre-flop, on the flop, turn and river.

Unlike hold’em – where you can use all fi ve community cards – in Omaha you must use two of your four hole cards together with any three of the community cards to make a hand. For example, if you have 10-10-5-7 as your hole cards and the board reads 2-3-4-A-A;, you do not have a straight because you must use two cards from your hand. In Omaha hi-lo, there are two halves of the pot: half is awarded to the ‘hi’ hand and half awarded to the ‘lo’ hand. And you may use different hole cards for high and low hands.

The high hand is the best hand under the normal rankings. The low hand is the worst possible unpaired hand, although straights and flushes do not count. In order to qualify for a low hand, the highest card must be an 8 or lower. For example, a hand like A-2-3-5-9 would not qualify as a low, whereas AÚ- 2-3-4-5 would. Also, if there are only two low cards on the board, then the high hand scoops the pot. If there is no qualifying low hand, the high hand wins the entire pot.

Hand selection is key in Omaha hi-lo. Bad players can often fi nd excuses to play almost any combination in the hope of winning at least half the pot. A player playing a lot of middle cards, weak ‘high only’ hands or bad low hands is the type of player you want in the hand. Observe their post-flop play closely to see if they are making errors, like playing a low hand too aggressively when they can only win half the pot.

The middle game

In the early stages of a tournament you will be under no real blind pressure as you will only be betting a small percentage of your stack on any hand. As the blinds rise, however, you need to make some adjustments and in Omaha hi-lo these are somewhat different to other games.

Unlike hold’em, you should not be waiting for strong hands and committing a lot of chips pre-flop. The flop is such a defi ning part of the game that it’s hard to predict where most hands will stand afterwards and you may fi nd yourself pot-committed with only a marginal post-flop holding. This applies most when you have a stack of around fi ve or six big blinds. At this point it often becomes preferable to limp pre-flop a lot of the time, unless you have a real powerhouse hand with both high and low strength – or a good chance of stealing the blinds. That way, you can still see the flop and get away cheaply – or commit if it is favourable to you.

The added pressure placed on short stacks in these circumstances is only bad news if you have one however, whereas being a big stack when the blinds start to bite is a great position to be in as you will be able to loosen up. As a big stack, you should be raising before the flop most of the time, putting pressure on short stacks, knowing that a lot of the time you’ll be able to win at least half the pot.

Aggression is a very useful tool around the bubble. This is because it’s very hard to scoop a pot. Most players will consider the risk of putting their tournament life on the line to only share a pot as a poor return and play conservatively; unless they have a hand certain to win at least half the pot.

Final table frolics

As so many hands are split in Omaha hi-lo, the blind-to-stack ratio will often be very low as the late stages of a tournament are reached. Because of this – and the payout structure – you may want to hang back with anything but a big stack until people start to get knocked out. However, as the game gets short-handed, you will need to change strategies or risk being blinded away.

In short-handed play you need to up your aggression factor signifi cantly; remember, playing the nuts is no longer an effective strategy. This may require some tough decision-making, but remember, if you are facing off with one opponent you’re much less likely to be scooped than in a multi-way pot, so be prepared to call them down with weaker hands.

If you are lucky enough to succeed and reach the heads-up stage, this strategy needs to be kicked into overdrive, where you should be prepared to see the flop with almost every hand. You also have to remember this fi nal thought: at this point you have nothing left to lose, but everything left to win!

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