Playing Omaha/8 for the First Time

As in most split-pot games, lots of chips may be on the table because some players are trying to make the best low hand, some the best high one, while others are trying to scoop the entire pot.

Omaha/8 also creates action because each player is dealt four cards rather than the two that Texas Hold’em players receive. Naturally, with four cards to choose from, many players don’t have any trouble finding a hand they think is worth playing.

Although you may get confused at times trying to ferret out the best five-card Poker hand from among the five community cards in the center of the table and the four private cards in each player’s hand, don’t worry — if you can play Texas Hold’em, you can play Omaha/8.

Omaha/8 is a high-low split game, which means more players in each pot, more chips in the center of the table, and more action.

Each player must make his best five-card Poker hand by using exactly two cards from his hand and three communal cards. In Texas Hold’em, you can form the best hand using two, one, or even none of your private cards. If you are playing Texas Hold’em and you hold the ace of spades when the board contains four additional spades, you have a flush. But in Omaha, you have nothing at all. That’s because you must play two cards — no more, no less — to make a valid Omaha hand.

Because you have four cards to work with, you can form six different starting combinations. In other words, by receiving four private cards, you have six times as many potential starting hands as you do as you do in Texas Hold’em. As a result, the winning hands tend to be quite a bit bigger than they do in Texas Hold’em.

Straights and flushes are common; and two pair, which is often a winning hand in Texas Hold’em, seldom wins in this game. Regardless of how powerful a high hand you make, whenever three unpaired communal cards with a rank of 8 or lower are on the board, someone probably made a low hand and that big pot you were hoping to win has effectively been chopped in half.

Blind bets

Before any cards are dealt, the first two players to the left of the dealer position are required to post blind bets, which are used instead of antes to stimulate action.

In a $6–$12 Omaha/8 game, blinds are usually $3 and $6. Each blind is considered live. Because blinds represent a forced first bet, the players forced to post those bets can raise (but only on the first round) after the betting has gone around the table and it’s their turn to act again.

Unlike Stud Poker, where position is determined by the cards showing on the board, the player with the dealer button acts last in every round of betting — with the exception of the first one.

The deal and betting structure

Four cards are dealt face-down to each player, and a round of betting takes place. On the first round, players may either call or raise the blind bet or fold their hands. Most casinos allow a bet and three or four raises per betting round, with one exception. When only two players contest the pot, the number of possible raises is unlimited.

When the first round of betting is complete, three communal cards, called the flop, are simultaneously turned face-up in the center of the table. Another round of betting follows. On this and each succeeding round, players may check if no one has bet when it’s that player’s turn to act. If there is no bet, a player may check or bet. If there is a bet, players must either fold, call, raise, or reraise.

A fourth communal card — called the turn — is then exposed. Another round of betting takes place. Then the fifth and final community card — known as the river — is placed in the center of the table, followed by the final betting round.

The best five-card high Poker hand and the best five-card low Poker hand split the pot — with these provisos:

A player must use exactly two cards — no more, no less (from among his four private cards) to construct a Poker hand.

To have a low hand, a player must combine any two unpaired cards with a rank of 8 or lower with three unpaired communal cards with a rank of 8 or lower.

A player can make a high and a low hand by using different cards from his hand to construct the two hands. For example, if your private cards are A♣ 2♦ 3♥ K♥ and the five communal cards are Q♥ 9♠ 7♥ 6♥ 4♠, you have a flush. The flush is made by mating your K♥ 3♥ with the communal Q♥ 7♥ 6♥. You’d have a low hand too, which would be created by combining your A♣ 2♦ with the board’s 7♥ 6♥ 4♠.

You’d have a terrific two-way hand. Although it’s possible for an opponent to have made a bigger flush if she held the A♥ and any other heart in her hand, no one could have a better low hand than you do. You could be tied for low by anyone who also has an ace and a 2. In that case, you’d simply split the low side of the pot. But take our word for it — this is a terrific holding, and one that doesn’t come around all that often.

Beginning players often have difficulty in determining the best Omaha hand. Before you plunk your money down and get in a game, we recommend dealing out some hands and trying to identify the best high and best low hands.

A sample hand

Figure 5-1 shows a sample hand of Omaha, with all cards dealt.

So, at the end, when all the common cards are dealt out, the hands are as follows in Table 5-1:

You can see that Player 1 will win the low and Player 5 will win the high. Player 8 has a good low, but may lose a lot of money.

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