Posted by Dr Fro 7:39 PM
I recently wrote this to an aspiring poker player looking for advice on Omaha 8. I have to caveat the following advice by noting that my O/8 advice is not worth the same as my hold’em advice in absolute terms. Relatively though, I think I have quite a bit to say. Huh? Well, I think that most people that read our site have the fundamentals of Holdem down. On a scale of 1 – 10, if they are a 2 and I am a 5, then I have something to teach them. In Omaha 8, I am probably a 2.5, but I suspect that most of the readers are close to a 1.
I started playing O/8 before I played holdem. I had read a book on holdem and was invited to a cardroom to play O/8. I figured, “how different could they be?” The answer is “Very” and my massive losses in late 1998 prove as much.
It has been said that while Holdem is a post-flop game, O/8 is a pre-flop game. Too many people can’t accurately assess good starting hands in Omaha. If you can master that tiny piece of the game, you are a mile ahead of other otherwise-Holdem-players-taking-a-hack-at-Omaha types.
Lesson #1: You essentially have 6 distinct 2-card hands in your 4 cards.
Take Hand #1: 2h3hKcKs and
Hand #2 Ac2cKdTd
In Hand #1, you only have 2 hands that are worth playing, the 23 and the KK. That is not to say that the hand completely sucks, it has potential, but you want to see the flop for cheap, since you have to connect well with the flop. Four of your 6 hands don’t do you much good.
In Hand #2, you have four hands that could help you out.
Ac2c AcKd AcTd KdTd
Lesson #2: High is better than low.
In Hand #2, not only do you have four hands, but three of the four are shooting at the high hand. High hand always qualifies and sometimes doesn’t split the pot. Low hand sometimes doesn’t qualify and always splits the pot if it does. High is better than low.
Lesson #3: Counterfeit-protection is a good thing
Let’s say you have A23 and the board shows 87K. Now you have a nice draw to the nut low. The beauty is that if an A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 hits, you win. A guy holding only A2 can only hope for 3, 4, 5, 6 because if a A or 2 hits, his hand is counterfeited. Thus, Hands 1 and 2 have no counterfeit protection on the low.
Lesson #4: The Super Draw (aka the high end’s answer to counterfeit protection)
With Hand #2, if the flop comes QJ you hit a draw the Broadway straight, needing A, K or T. Compare that to a turkey with only AK in his hand. Only a T on the turn or river help him. You are 3 times better off with your 3 draws on the turn and river
Also with Hand #2, you hit a draw to the Broadway straight with flops including QAx, QKx, QTx, JAx, JKx, JTx. So 6 types of flops give you a draw to the Broadway straight. Compare that to a guy with only AK. Only the flops of QJ, JT, and QT give him a draw to the Broadway straight. You are twice as likely to see that draw on the flop.
Lesson #5 Hedges are good
Hand #1 has a special property that Hand #2 doesn’t have. Lets say a flop comes 78Q. Great, you have top pair and a draw to the low. Ordinarily KK hate to see an A, but in this case, that A gives you the nut low. Conversely, if the A never comes, you have an overpair. It is a nice hedge. Although this is a characteristic you should look for in a starting hand, it is very difficult to spot it pre-flop.
Those are my lessons on starting hands. After the flop, I just focus on the most sound piece of advice I know regarding O/8 which is oft repeated: If you don’t flop the nuts or a draw to the nuts, fold. Remember, O/8 is a game of the nuts. And when it comes turn and river time, remember that if you are using A2 to make a nut low, you will likely quarter the pot. Play appropriately.
Most of my strategy comes from Steve Badger and Rolf Slotboom. These guys know what they are talking about much more than I do, read their articles (not just the ones I linked). Now when it comes to Holdem, I have some real nuggets I have been too busy to post, but I’ll get you the goodies soon.
I think "high is better than low" is the best advice there is for Omaha. Lots of fish like to play it because it seems that there are more playable hands and thus more action. In O8, the focus should be on scooping the entire pot, and there is always a high hand which will automatically scoop if the low doesn't qualify, and the high hand will typically get extra value because some players will be drawing to a hand that will never come. After high hands, combo high+low hands should also be considered for the same reasons, and playing low only hands is the realm for suckers.
Thus, you are also correct about A2 - it is really a sucker hand in O8 - you should only be playing it if the other two cards in your hand add to the possibilities. There are a lot of guys who play hands like A27J rainbow just because of the A2 and that's where a lot of money comes from in Omaha. They are essentially drawing for just half the pot and will indeed usually get quartered, yet guys who are craving action are usually too blind to see the negative expected value here.
One way that I explain O8 strategy to beginners is to simply say that all you should play are "Aces and Faces". Those hands will always give you draws at the nut straight, top pairs (and trips and boats, hopefully), and if they are suited, the nut flushes (or at least those with the best chance of winning).
Omaha is a game that looks like bingo and is instead more like chess with cards. It's much more complicated than holdem and is nothing like the Booray or Bingo image that people want to associate with it.
If someone sits down for the first time in a holdem game in a cardroom and plays for an hour, he might get lucky and win money. If someone sits down in an Omaha game for the first time and plays for an hour, he is almost guaranteed to lose. It's quite a difficult game.