Basic Omaha Hi strategy

My specialty is no limit Texas hold em. No surprise there right? After all, just about every article I write has to do with the “Cadillac of poker games” as Doyle Brunson calls it. However, I do like to play all kinds of poker such as 7-card stud and Omaha Hi. I thought it might be a good idea to branch out into the other forms of poker for those of you that like to play these games also. Today, I will get into some basic strategy for Omaha Hi. In the future, I will write about some pitfalls to avoid as well as favorable vs. unfavorable starting hands, but today’s articles is geared toward the Hold em player who’d like to play some Omaha.

Omaha is similar to Hold em except that each player is dealt 4 cards face down instead of the customary two. Keep in mind that the betting structures for Hold Em and Omaha are the same so there’s no need for me to explain them here. Then 3 cards are dealt face up on the board. After another round of betting, a 4th card, the turn, is dealt face up to the board. Then a 5th card, the river, is dealt. At this point all the remaining players reveal their hole cards and the winning hand is determined.

Here’s where it gets slightly tricky. Each player chooses exactly 2 of his hole cards and combines them with exactly 3 of the board cards to form a 5-card poker hand. The player with the best poker hand wins. Unlike Texas Hold’em, the players cannot choose how many cards they want to use from their hole cards. They cannot use 3 cards or 1 card; they must use exactly 2. For example, if there are 4 diamonds on the board, and you hold the Ace of diamonds, you do NOT have the flush. This is very important to remember. Unless you hold two suited cards, you can not draw to a flush.

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Let’s look at another example. Suppose a player has AA96 as his hole cards, and the board is KQJT6, the best hand he can make is AAKQJ, or a pair of Aces. He can not use his only on of his Aces to make a straight. Also, say a player has AQJ2 in his hand and the board is 777AQ, the best hand he can form is 777AQ, or trip 7’s with an A Q kicker. He cannot pair his Ace or Queen with the board without destroying the trip 7’s he has. You must keep these things in mind when you sit down to ply Omaha. Otherwise, you are just throwing your money away.

One aspect that is different for Omaha than Hold Em is that winning hands are usually higher than winning hands in Texas Hold’em, since players have 4 hole cards to choose from. Often times the best hand is a straight or flush and when a pair is showing on the board, a full house commonly wins. Of course, the number of players in the game affects the quality of the hands, but in general they are better than Texas Hold’em hands. It’s very rare that a hand such as one pair will win a pot against multiple opponents. So if you make it to the river with a pair of Aces and face a big bet, you should probably fold.

A vital skill for novice Omaha players is to recognize what the nuts are for a given board. Knowing that you have an unbeatable hand means that you should raise as much as you can. Otherwise, play cautiously, even if there is only one card that can beat you because chances are, someone has that card.

One thing that I commonly see at the low-limit tables is that one player has a King-high flush and another player has an Ace-high flush. The King-high player will keep raising even though he knows the Ace is out there. This can you a lot of money over time, so it’s best to limit your raises when you have second best. On the other hand, a player can make a lot of money if he has the Ace and his opponent has the King.

Another tricky example is the case of the full house. When the board pairs, there are several full-house possibilities and there are several types. Let’s say the board has AQQ52, and you have AAK3 in your hand, giving you Aces full. This is called the big full house and it is usually a winning hand. Another possibility is the small full house. If your hand was K553, then you would have 5’s full of Queens. This is a decent hand but will probably lose to any other full house(someone holding A Q beats you as well as Q 5, so you should play it with caution. Finally, you could have AQ33 in your hand, giving you Queens full. This hand will beat the small full houses, but it will lose to the big full houses.

The difference between poor players and good players is that poor players are unable to see the differences between similar good hands, such as the big and small full house. You can win a lot of big pots by using this edge over them.

A related issue to the fact that high hands usually win is the notion of knocking out people who are drawing. If you have trips, you should try to knock out people on the flush draw. If you have the flush, you should knock out people with two pairs, because they might catch a full house on the river. Even more so than in Hold Em, it usually doesn’t pay to slowplay in Omaha unless you have the big full or better. When the river does come, don’t come out raising if the flush draw hits and you have only two pair or trips. Alternatively, don’t come out raising with flush when the full house shows. Just call a bet, and even consider checking if no bet comes to you. Saving big bets really adds up over time.

Another point of interest is pre-flop play. Your hole cards by themselves do not tell you much about whether or not you will win. In Texas Hold’em, AA is an excellent hand, but holding AA in Omaha doesn’t mean nearly as much, because flushes and straights win so often. Overpairs are also weak in Omaha, because one pair is almost never enough to win a hand, unless the game is heads. If you have AA, your best hope is to catch a third ace on the flop and take it from there.

This is not to say you should be docile pre-flop. You should still raise pre-flop with good hands. Many players make the mistake of not raising because the hand difference is not as large. But think about it – KQJT, with KQ of hearts and JT of spades, is much better than K,10,7,2 of different suits. The best hands are hands with AA or KK, which give you big full possibilities, and hands like KQJT, which will give you both drawing and pairing possibilities; if the flop comes KJ, then you have top 2 pair and a straight draw.

Lastly, it’s also important to have the nut draw if possible. Having Ax suited is much better than having two small suited cards; as explained above, small flushes lose to nut flushes all the time. Small pairs are trash for the same reason. If you hit trips, you’ll lose to flushes fairly often. Even if you hit a full house, you almost certainly have the small full house and can be punished by a big full house.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Remember to start off in low-limits until you get a good feel for the game. Next time I write about this subject, I will discuss some common pitfalls and drains to the Omaha player’s bankroll.

Until next time, may the chips fall your way.