Going Deeper in Omaha/8

Nearly endless combinations are possible with four-card starting hands, but you need not be concerned with too many of them — most are easily recognizable as hands you’ll release with neither remorse nor regret.

The best Omaha/8 starting combinations are coordinated, and they work together in some way. Many of your opponents will play hands in which only three of the four cards are coordinated, and others will play any four cards that look good.

Starting hands

The following sections offer examples of Omaha/8 starting hands; of course, these aren’t the only possibilities. In the first example, a hand like A-2-3-5 is just about as good as A-2-3-4.

The very best

These hands are considered excellent:

A♣ 2♣ 3♦ 4♥: A suited ace with three low cards can make the nut low, as well as a straight, and the nut flush. By having sequenced low cards, you have protection against being counterfeited if one, or even two, of your low cards hit the board. You are said to be counterfeited if one of your low cards is duplicated on the board, thus weakening your hand considerably. For example, you hold A-2-7-9, and the board is 3-4-8. At this point, you have the best possible low hand (8-4-3-2-A). Suppose the turn card is a deuce. Now your low hand is 7-4-3-2-A, but it is no longer the nut low, and if an opponent holds A-5 in his hand, he will have an unbeatable low hand, as well as a 5-high straight (called a wheel or bicycle for a high hand, too).

A♣ K♦ 3♦ 4♣: A-K double-suited offers two flush combinations, two straight combinations, a draw to a very good low hand, and protection against making a low and having it counterfeited.

A♣ A♦ 2♦ 3♣: A pair of aces, two nut flush draws, a low hand with counterfeit protection, and a draw to the nut low are the features of this hand.

A♣ A♥ K♣ K♥: No low possibilities here, but a double-suited A-K is a very powerful hand, because you can make a straight, two flushes, and sets of aces or kings that can become a full house if the board pairs.

A♣ 2♣ 3♦ 9♥: Only three of the cards are coordinated, but with a large number of players in the pot, you have a draw to the nut low with counterfeit protection.

Very good hands

These hands are pretty good:

A♣ 2♣ 5♦ 5♥: Flush draw, nut low draw, straight draw are some of the possibilities. You might also flop a set to your pair of 5s. A-2 suited with any pair can be counterfeited for low and is not as strong as the very best hands, but it’s a good hand nevertheless.

A♣ Q♣ J♦ 10♥: You’d like to see either all picture cards on the flop in hopes of making the best possible straight, or three clubs. If you flop a flush and two small cards are present, you must bet or raise at every opportunity to make it as costly as possible for low hands to draw against you. If a low hand is made, you’ve lost half your equity in this pot.

2♣ 3♦ 4♥ 5♠: You’re hoping an ace falls along with two other low cards. If it does, you’ve made the nut low and you probably have a straight draw, too.

A357: Although this is good low draw along with nut flush possibilities, you won’t make the best possible low hand unless the community cards include a 2. But you can easily make the second best low hand, which often spells trouble. Suppose that David holds A-3-x-x, Karen has 3-4-x-x, and Abby has A-2-x-x. Suppose that, at the end of the hand, the board is K-K-8-7-5. All three players made low hands, but Abby made the best possible low hand. David’s hand is the second-best possible low hand, and if he were to bet and Abby were to raise, David would lose the low half of the pot.

Other playable hands that aren’t ready for prime time

These hands aren’t the best:

K♣ 2♣ 3♦ 4♥: This hand offers a draw to a flush, though it’s not the nut flush, and a draw to a low hand that won’t be the best low unless an ace hits the board. Nevertheless, it’s playable in late position, although this kind of hand often must be released if the flop doesn’t fit it precisely.

K♣ K♦ 10♦ 10♠: Here’s a hand that can make a straight, albeit with great difficulty, and can make a flush, although it’s not the best flush. The hand can improve to a set or a full house, too. It’s playable, but it’s the kind of hand that looks a lot stronger than it really is.

8♠ 9♥ 10♦ J♣: This is a straight draw with no flush possibilities. If you make a 5-6-7-8-9 straight, any low hand will take half of this pot. If you make a big straight, you run the risk of losing the entire pot to a higher one. Midrange cards are dicey holdings in Omaha/8, and this is another of those hands that looks a lot better than it is.

KQ23: This is a good-looking hand that can also lead to trouble. On the plus side, it’s double-suited, providing two flush draws. And two straight draws are also possible, as well as a low hand. But the down side is that neither flush draw contains an ace, and you can’t make the best possible low unless an ace appears among the communal cards. This hand and many others like it are what Poker players call trouble hands. They’re seductive, and even when you catch what appears to be a good hand, it might be more trouble than it’s worth. Hands like this are always treacherous and often can be disastrous.

5♣ 6♦ 7♦ 8♣: Midrange cards spell trouble — even double-suited, as in this example. With midrange cards, you stand very little chance of scooping a pot. On the other hand, you can be scooped, particularly when you make a straight and your opponent makes a higher card straight.

Getting good at hand selection

Every form of Poker requires a blend of skills. But in Omaha/8, hand selection far outweighs other skills. Because any hand that is possible is also probable in Omaha/8, you need not be an expert at reading your opponents. Just reading the community cards to ascertain the best possible hand is usually enough. Bluffing, too, is not nearly as important in Omaha/8 as in other forms of Poker.

For example, if you’re playing Texas Hold’em and all the cards are out, you may be successful if you try to bluff against one or two opponents. But not in Omaha/8. With four starting cards in their hands, each player has six starting combinations. Trying to bluff two players is like trying to run a bluff against a dozen starting hand combinations. The tactic’s not going to work most of the time.

In fact, if you never bluffed at all in Omaha/8, you’d probably be better off.

Because one does not need to bluff, or even possess the ability to read his opponents, the critical skill required to win at this game is hand selection.

Some players start with almost any four cards. If you can exert the discipline to wait for good starting cards — hands that are coordinated, with cards that support each other in some discernable way — you can have an edge over most of your opponents.

Acting last is a big advantage

You can afford to see the flop with weaker hands when you’re in a late position. The later you act, the more information you can expect at your disposal, and Poker is a game of information — incomplete information, to be sure, but a game of information nevertheless.

Looking for a flop

Before you decide to call with the four cards you’ve been dealt, ask yourself what kind of flop would be ideal for your hand. And when you see the flop, determine which hand would be perfect for it. This kind of analysis will help you ascertain how well the flop fits your hand.

Here are eight convenient ways to characterize Omaha/8 flops:

Paired: When a pair flops, the best possible high hand is four-of-a-kind (which players refer to as quads), unless a straight flush possibly exists. Although flopping quads is a rarity, a full house is a distinct possibility.

Flush or flush draw: Three or two cards of the same suit.
Straight or straight draw: Three or two cards in sequence, or gapped

closely enough so a straight is possible.

High: Three or two cards above an 8. If three cards higher in rank than an 8 flop, no low hand is possible.

Low or low draw: Three or two cards with the rank of 8 or lower.

These groupings are not mutually exclusive. Some of these attributes can appear in combination. For example, if the flop were A♣ 2♣ 2♦ it would be both paired as well as low, and contain a flush draw as well as a straight draw.

It’s important to recognize when a flop has multiple possibilities and to understand how your hand stacks up in the pecking order of possibilities.

Suppose you called on the first round of betting with A♦ 2♦ 3♣ K♠, and the flop is Q♦ 5♦ 4♠. You don’t have a completed hand at this point. But you do have a draw to the best flush and the best low hand. In Poker parlance, you have a draw to the nut flush and the nut low. Any diamond gives you the best possible flush. Of course, if that card happens to be the 4♦, someone else could make a full house if that player holds a pair of queens or a pair of 5s in his hand, or he would make four-of-a-kind if he is holding a pair of 4s.

If any card with the rank of 8 or lower falls and it does not pair one of the low cards on the board, you have the best possible low hand. You also have a straight draw, and if a third diamond shows its face and doesn’t pair the board, you also hold the nut flush.

If a 2 falls, then the 2 in your hand is said to be counterfeited because that 2 on the board belongs to everyone. Nevertheless, you still have the best possible low hand. That third low card in your hand provides insurance against being counterfeited.

The unpleasant experience of being quartered

When you win only one-fourth of a pot because you’ve split the low half of that pot with another opponent, both of you are said to have been quartered.

If only three players contest a hand, and two of them tie for low, each of the low hands loses money even though each wins one-fourth of the pot. Here’s how to figure it: Suppose each of you put \$40 dollars in the pot. If you are quartered for low, the high hand takes half of the \$120 in the pot for his share. The remaining \$60 is then divided in half. Each of the low hands receives \$30. Because each of you contributed \$40, the return on your investment is only 75 cents on the dollar — if you keep winning pots like that, you’ll go broke.

With four players in the pot, you can be quartered and break even. With five or more players, you come out a bit ahead if you’re quartered. Nevertheless, being quartered is anything but a journey down the primrose path.

Worse than being quartered is playing hands that don’t have much of a chance to make the best hand in one or both directions. If you play midrange cards, like 9-8-7-6, you may make a straight but wind up splitting the pot with a low hand. If you make the bottom end of a straight with Q-J-10, you don’t have to worry about a low hand taking half the pot, but you do have to worry about losing the entire pot to a bigger straight.

Playing low draws that don’t contain an ace and a 2 is an invitation to make the second-best low hand, which is how many Omaha/8 players lose money. They play hands that look good, but aren’t good enough to become the best hand in their direction.

Beyond the flop

As a general rule, you shouldn’t continue beyond the flop without the best possible hand or a draw to the best possible high hand, low hand or both.

With six conceivable two-card combinations in each player’s hand, a lot of hands are possible, so make certain you’ll have the best hand if you catch the card you need.

Here’s an example: Suppose the flop is K-8-7 of mixed suits, and you hold 2- 3 among your four cards. If 4, 5, or a 6 hits the board, you’ll make a low hand but so will your opponent who was drawing to an A-2. After you see the flop, here are some things to think about before deciding whether to keep playing:

Draw quality: If you make your hand, will it be the nuts? Suppose you have Q♠ J♠ among your starting cards and the flop contains two other spades. Although you have a flush draw, two higher flushes are possible. This is a dangerous hand. Drawing to the second or third best straight, drawing to the second or third best low hand, or thinking you have this pot won because you flopped the third best or second best set are common variations on this theme. Omaha/8 is a game of drawing to the nuts.

Pot percentage: How much of the pot are you hoping to win? Do you

have a hand that might scoop the pot if you make it? Are you drawing for the top half of the pot or drawing for low only? More than one player can have a draw to the best low hand, and unless you have at least four opponents, you can expect to lose money whenever you are quartered.

Opponents: Some hands play better against large fields; others play well short-handed. With a flush draw or a straight draw, you need five or six opponents to make the draw worthwhile if you figure to split the pot.

Pot size: Determine how much money you’ll win if you scoop the pot, if you take half of it, or if you are quartered.

Raised or not: When the pot is raised before the flop in Omaha/8, the raiser usually has a superb low hand, such as A-2-3-4, or A-2-3-K, with the ace suited to another of his cards. If the flop contains all big cards, you probably have nothing more to fear from the raiser.