Omaha Hi/Lo

David Tuchman looks at the value of playing high-only hands in limit Omaha hi/lo ?and why they can still be a great route to profit

Depending on who you talk to, Omaha hi/lo is either a crazy action game that requires immense skill to master, or one that requires no talent and in which the best players leave their creativity at the door. There is an element of truth to both summations. At the lower limits it probably is correct to play fairly tight, wait for the nuts and rake in the chips. If you take that gameplan into a bigger, tougher game, you’ll find you’ll rarely get paid when you make a hand and you’ll often get pushed off hands you shouldn’t be folding.

One constant in almost every split-pot game is this: always look to scoop. That’s the phrase you should be repeating to yourself, because to be a big winner in any split-pot game you’ll want to be playing hands that have the chance to win both the high and low halves of the pot.

There are many ways to scoop the pot in Omaha hi/lo. Most players think of ‘scooping hands’ as hands that can win the low half and make some sort of a flush or straight for high. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is another way to scoop the pot. Remember, this game is also known as Omaha ‘8 or better’. If nobody makes a low, the entire pot goes to the high hand. I know this is quite basic, but for some reason people seem to forget this while they’re playing.

Some players shy away from playing high-only hands when they shouldn’t. They are giving up far too much value simply because when they hit their hand, it is more likely that nobody will make a low and they can scoop the pot. Splitting the pot is nice, but scooping is what it’s all about and those high-only hands are deceptively valuable because of this. There is an art to playing high-only hands and for this article, I enlisted the help of my good friend Bart Hanson. Bart is one of the best limit Omaha hi/lo cash game players out there and currently does a cash game podcast for Deuces Cracked.

Key point
Scooping the pot in Omaha hi/lo doesn’t have to mean winning the high and the low, as the eight-or-better qualifier often means there is no qualifying low. Don’t be scared therefore of playing high-only hands

Playing High-only

If you’re playing in a typical low-limit game where most of the pots are multi-way and the play is less than stellar, don’t be afraid to play high-only hands. Here are a few tips to keep your head above water. A good basic general rule of thumb is that four cards above nine are playable, but look to play them in position. You want to try and see a cheap flop so you can get away quickly if the board comes out with two or three low cards.

Generally speaking, you should avoid playing high-only hands out of position unless your table is very loose-passive. First off, you don’t want to be putting in two or three bets pre-flop with a hand you’ll have to toss in the muck when the flop comes out 2-3-8. On top of that, if you flop something marginal, like top pair with a backdoor flush draw, you might want to continue as long as it only costs you one small bet. If you’re up front, you won’t know – someone behind you could easily raise the pot.

For example, you limp in early position holding 10s-Js-Jc-Qh and five players see a flop of Qs-7d-2c. The player in the big blind bets and the action is on you. What do you do? There are six and a half small bets in the pot so you really should take one off and see what falls on the turn. Now let’s say you decide to call and two players behind you also call. The turn is the 5s, completing the low, and the big blind once again bets. Now what do you do?

You see the trouble playing out of position puts you in. If you call with top pair and a flush draw, you could easily get raised and re-raised by someone who has A-3.

Key point
Always try to avoid playing high-only hands from out of position when in multi-way pots as you can end up putting a lot of money in when drawing thin or drawing dead

Keeping it cheap

Put as little money in as possible with high hands. But there are exceptions. If you’re on the button and you’ve got 10s-Jc-Qs-Kc, it won’t kill you to put in a raise. But in most cases, I’d rather see a cheap flop and then make my opponents pay. Now this is specifically for a loose game where many players are seeing the flop. In a tighter game, I’m open-raising most pots hoping to buy myself the button.

Middle hands are garbage. With 7-8-9-10 it makes no difference if they are suited or not. These are awful hands and really can’t be played if you’re looking to make money. If you make the nut straight, a low is out there and you’ll be splitting the pot. If you make the idiot end of the straight, it’ll be an expensive way to learn not to play those hands. This is a game where you want to make the nuts and scoop pots. Middle cards just can’t do that.

In multi-way action, if you’re only going for half the pot, you’d better be drawing to the nuts. Don’t get caught drawing to a Queen-high flush when two low cards are out and there is heavy action on the flop. There is a good chance someone might be going for a higher flush, not to mention the likelihood of someone making their low.

Key point
Steer clear of middle-ranking hands as they are unlikely to scoop the pot or even win you the high-only part of the pot

When facing a raise

To call a raise, I’m going to need a super premium hand and I’m rarely isolating unless I have A-A or am trying to target a heads-up confrontation against a particular player. The one thing that’s great about re-raising an early position raiser with A-A is that it’s likely he has an Ace and it’s very unlikely anyone behind you can call without holding an Ace. In a normal tight and aggressive game, you should be able to isolate the early-position raiser and play him heads-up which is where your Aces work best.

I am not looking to re-raise with K-K because I don’t want to isolate someone who has already raised. I could be getting myself into a heads-up battle with someone who has A-A, and on top of that it’s more likely there are Aces behind me yet to act. And if indeed there are Aces behind me, I’m more inclined to get a third caller. In fact, as much as I like K-K, I’m only calling an early-position raiser when the other two cards are working.

I prefer another caller or two when I have a high-only hand, because the more callers, the more likely it is they also have low cards. Think about it, if everyone has low cards, what cards are more likely to hit the flop? You can make a lot of money playing high-only hands if you can establish the correct times to become involved and know when to stay out of the fray.

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