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PLO: Pitfalls & Possibilities

When players start with pot-limit omaha, they tend to think about pre-flop hands in a hopeful way. They tend to think about all the times they may hit straights and flushes, and tend to be very hopeful in their assessment of hand values. When advanced players think about hands, they think about avoiding trouble spots… those hands that might produce second-best results. I’m going to teach you to think about omaha hands in this advanced way. When I started playing pot-limit omaha for the first time, I was like many other people making the conversion from no-limit hold ’em.

Really, they’re entirely different games. In no-limit hold ’em, you have only 169 different starting hands. Typically, the strength of those hands doesn’t change too much when the flop comes, so if you take super-premium hands like Aces, Kings or Queens. Typically, those hands will stay very strong, regardless of the flop that comes out. In omaha, it’s not always that clear what makes a strong starting hand. Every hand appears to have potential because essentially, you have six hold ’em hands embedded in your four cards. So every hand seems to have strong potential. The progression of an omaha player is moving from seeing the potential in a hand to seeing the danger. The way I progressed was by analyzing all the different flops and moving backwards to determine what starting hands I should be playing. Specifically, which hands hit these boards in a very strong way. That is, which hands avoid trouble. What follows is how I broke down omaha boards. I started by looking at disconnected boards. Boards with no or very few straight draws possible. Then I looked at paired boards and boards that had made straights or straight draw potential. Then I looked at boards that had made flushes or flush draw potential.

Here we have an example of a disconnected flop. This is a Queen-7-deuce rainbow flop.

This is a completely disconnected board like a 3-8-King where you have no straight draw possibility or flush draw possibility. On these boards, if someone bets it’s pretty obvious that they’re bluffing or have a strong made hand. Usually, a strong made hand on a board like this is a set or top two pair. Depending on the pre-flop action and number of players, you have to make a judgment call about how good top two pair is on a board like this. The important thing to recognize on boards like this is typically, you’re either buried or well ahead. If you play strong starting hands that tend to be dominating when you and your opponent hit the flop, you tend to be on the upper end of all in situations on these types of boards. If you play like small pairs before the flop, you tend to be on the wrong end of boards like this. The lesson for before the flop is that you want to play pairs that are high in rank. You want to see lower pairs as trouble hands or hands that should be played cautiously before the flop.

If you call a raise with deuce-deuce-3-3 before the flop and the flop comes like this with only 1 or 2 other players in the hand, you’re going to have to put in a lot of your stack. You could have just thrown away the hand before the flop to a raise. When players are just starting pot-limit omaha, I often advise a super nitty strategy.

Especially on flops like this one where you have a very uncoordinated board. A super nitty strategy works because you avoid getting in your stack when you have a set of deuces and your opponent has a set of Queens.

People will often play a set of deuces aggressively because they strongly figure to be the best hand. The problem is, when they’re not the best hand, they have very little equity in the pot. The super nitty strategy tends not to work in higher stakes games because if you have one or two players who see the flop, it’s likely no one hit a board like this. You’ll get a bit of fighting and a lot of bluffing and so forth.

Low paired boards differ from high pair boards, because a board of Ace-Ace-X is very likely to have hit someone.

A lot of the pre-flop holdings in omaha have an Ace in them, so it’s very likely that someone hit an Ace-Ace board. A low paired board like deuce-deuce-10 is unlikely to hit anyone because a deuce is kind of a hand killer in pot-limit omaha.

Solid players tend not to play a deuce unless it’s part of a very strong hand like Ace-Ace-deuce-x double suited or something. In this example, a deuce-deuce-10 board, neither of us is likely to have hit this board. But neither of us like this board because if our opponent hit, they have dominating equity in the pot.

In this case, my job would be to determine how likely it is my opponent hit this board given his pre-flop tendencies. I have to decide if my opponent would continue in this pot if he didn’t hit this board.

If I check and Dave bets, then I have to figure if he’s a player who won’t hit this board often given a bet, but won’t proceed unless he’s improved, then I’ll raise him. If I check and Dave bets, then I have to figure if he’s a player who won’t hit this board often given a bet, but won’t proceed unless he’s improved, then I’ll raise him.

Small paired boards represent great bluffing opportunities, especially against overly solid players. Your opponents are unlikely to have hit such boards and will be cautious about proceeding unless they’ve hit it in some way.

Here we have a high paired board. As I mentioned, these are different than low paired boards because they’re much more likely to have hit your opponent.

Most Aces are played before the flop so on a board like this, or a board like King-King-X or Queen-Queen-X, your opponent is likely to have hit. On this board, when you check and your opponent bets, it’s reasonably likely that he has an Ace. Again on the high paired board, we have an example of you reap what you sow. If you play higher ranking cards before the flop, you’ll be in a dominating position given that both you and your opponent hit. If I have Ace-King-Queen Jack and my opponent has Ace-4-5-6, there’s a good chance all the money goes in and I have a dominating position. He really only has about 27% equity in the pot, and it’s likely that we’ll play an all-in pot.

Even if he has a made full house, say he has Ace-9, I still have 9 outs to win the hand and 1 out to tie the hand.

The next board we’ll look at is a flush board where three of a suit are on the flop and flush is possible. Here we have an example of a three flush board. These are uncomfortable to play unless you have nut holdings, specifically if you’re out of position. In this case, Paula played a bad hand before the flop and hit one of the best possible boards given her holdings.

However, it’s not a nut holding. It’s the third best flush and she’s out of position. Really, there’s no comfortable line she can take with this hand. If she were in position, the hand wouldn’t be that hard to play. You skip betting on a street. If your opponent checks, you check behind and control the size of the pot. Out of position, you have a very tough time playing it. You can play passively and check call, getting no value from worse hands and losing a lot of value to a better hand. Of you can play it actively and be uncomfortable on the river when you have to reveal the strength of your hand.

In pot-limit omaha, you’re frequently playing non-nut flush draws before the flop.

If you’re playing a hand like 7-8-9-10, the hand is much stronger if you have two flush draws rather than four different suits.

The reason it’s more powerful to have these hands double suited has to do with redraw ability rather than with made flushes. If you actually flop a flush, like a 9-high flush, you don’t love it because you’re not going to get a lot of value from worse hands. But, you get a lot of value when you flop a strong straight draw and a flush draw to go along with it. So we’re going to look at a hand that shows the power of redraws.

Here, both players have flopped the nuts with 6-7, but Paula has huge equity because she has two redraws – a higher straight and the flush redraw. The flush redraw alone is worth about 35% equity. These hands come up often where two players have flopped or turned strong hands, but one has redraw ability that gives them a lot of equity in the pot. The only way you get that redraw capacity is by playing suited hands before the flop. For instance, if you have 6-7-8-9, having some discipline and making sure you have one or two suits to go along with it.

The next type of board we’re going to look at is straight boards. Boards where a made straight is possible. Then we’re going to think about which hands play well when making straights on straight boards. One problem beginners have on straight boards is another issue of you reap what you sow. Pre-flop, beginners look at a hand like 7-8-10-Jack double suited as a monster and value it pretty close to a hand like 7-8-9-10 double suited. In fact, those hands are very far apart. The 7-8-9-10 hand is much more valuable than the one gap hand. The main reason is that it’s much easier to play on the flop. You’re much less likely to hit the bottom end of a straight. Specifically, if you’re looking a board where there are two straights possible, like when Queen-10 is the nuts. A Jack-8-9 board. You have Queen-10 as the nuts and 7-10 as the second nuts. 7-10 has zero equity against Queen-10.

You’re much more likely to hit that non-nut straight if you’re playing hands with a gap or two in them before the flop. A one gap straight holding before the flop is significantly more likely to produce that second best result then a no gap holding. My advice for pre-flop holdings is that it’s very important to play hands without a gap in them. Look for the 7-8-9-10 double suited. You’ll still play the 7-8-10-Jack doubled suited, but you’ll recognize that it’s a significantly lower holding than 7-8-9-10 double suited.

We’ve looked at four kinds of boards so far; uncoordinated boards, paired boards, boards where straights are possible and boards where flushes are possible. This isn’t a full look at all of the boards. A lot of boards will have both straight and flush draws possible. Really, all the concepts we’ve looked at apply to these types of boards. We want to play hands of high rank so we’re likely to dominate our opponent if both of us hit. When we’re playing hands with straight and flush draws, we want hands on the high side of the straight and that produce nut flushes.

If you stick with the types of hands we’ve talked about – strongly dominating pre-flop hands. Hands that have high rank and tend to produce best results on the flop. You’ll find it easy to play hands of the character we haven’t discussed so far, but that have similar characteristics. For instance, boards that provide a straight draw or a flush draw, but not a made straight or a made flush. I hope you enjoyed this lesson.

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