Omaha: Playing the River

Because of all the straight, flush, and full house possibilities generated when each player’s four-card private hands combine with five board cards, an Omaha/8 game is frequently decided on the last (or river) card. Omaha/8 is very different than Texas Hold’em in this regard. Texas Hold’em is a flop game, and the best hand on the flop is frequently the best hand on the river.

But that’s not the case with Omaha. If there are five active players going into the river, you can be sure that at least three of them have one or more drawing combinations in their hands. Even the two players currently holding the best high and low hands also might have draws to better hands. With so many possibilities, you might imagine that almost any card will help someone.

Although the suspense can be frustrating, just imagine your joy when your draw comes in and you scoop a big pot. But the river can be treacherous, and here are some tips for navigating it safely.

When you make the best high hand

If you have the best high hand after all the cards have been dealt, you can bet or raise without fear. You are assured of capturing at least half the pot, and may scoop it if there is no low.

This is the time to be aggressive. Get as much of your opponent’s money in the pot as you can; at least half of it will come back to you.

When you have the best low hand

Having the best low hand is not as simple as holding the best high hand. If you’re absolutely sure you have the only nut low, you can bet or raise just as if you have the best high hand. But if one of your opponents has the same hand — and this is very common in Omaha/8 — you will be quartered. Making money when this happens is difficult. You need at least five players in the pot to show a profit, and it won’t be much of a profit at that.

Suppose that five of you each has $20 in the pot. If you are quartered for low, you and the other low hand will each receive $25 — a scant $5 profit on your investment. The high hand will take $50, for a profit of $30.

If you have a two-way hand, you can be aggressive with it, particularly if you know you have the best hand in one direction. In the $20 per-player example, you would have won $100, for a net profit of $80, if you were able to scoop the pot.

That’s why Omaha/8 and other split games are somewhat slippery slopes. Scooping the pot is not merely twice as good as winning one side of the confrontation — the win is usually much better than that.

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