Omaha: Knowing When to Hold ’em and When to Fold ’em

Although Omaha looks confusing, you can take solace in the fact that even professional casino dealers sometimes have trouble determining the best hand. Having to look for high as well as low hands with so many card combinations probably leads to brain-lock on occasion. Don’t worry. When you get used to the game, you’ll be able to quickly spot potential draws and winning combinations.

With four cards in their hands, many players can always find something worth playing. These players are, of course, playing far too many weak hands that really don’t warrant an investment and should be discarded rather than played. Even beginning Omaha/8 players can be considered a favorite in lower-limit games simply by playing better starting cards than their opponents play.

Even experienced players often fail to realize that split-pot games are illusory in the sense that it appears as though one can play many more hands than they can in a game where only the high hand wins. But winning players are more selective than their opponents, and they enter pots only with hands that are superior to those that their opponents play most of the time.

Omaha/8 seems even more confusing when you have a two-way hand and must determine whether you have the best low hand as well as the best high one.

Although determining the best high and low hands (see Figure 5-1) requires concentration, Omaha/8’s underlying precept is simple: The ideal hands are those that can capture the entire pot. That usually means beginning with low hands that also offer an opportunity to grow into a straight or flush. You can also start with big, high cards and hope for a flop containing nothing but high cards. When this happens, the pot will tend to be a bit smaller. But it won’t be split either. Whenever the flop contains three big cards, all the one-way low draws have to fold. Their investment is dead money in the pot, and the pot will go to the winning high hand.

Position, position, and position

Position is fixed for the entire hand in Omaha/8, just as in Texas Hold’em. This means that if you’re in late position and the pot hasn’t been raised, you can see the flop with hands that are a bit weaker than you normally would consider playing because you have less chance of being raised. Position can give you an opportunity to get lucky with certain hands that can’t profitably be played in a raised pot.

In a typical nine-handed game, early position includes both blinds and the two players to their left. The fifth, sixth, and seventh players to act are in middle position, and the eighth and ninth players are in late position.

The flop should fit your hand

Poker writer Shane Smith coined the phrase, “fit or fold.” It’s particularly true in Omaha/8. The flop must fit your hand by providing you with a good, strong hand or a draw to the best possible hand. If the flop doesn’t meet those criteria, you likely should release your hand.

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