Omaha Hi-Lo Strategy: Part I - The Basics
Posted by Anthony Martino
Omaha hi/lo is a great game for those looking to expand their poker skillset, or even to just take a break from the hyper-aggressive NL Hold Em games.
This series of blogs will cover Limit Omaha hi/lo cash game strategy. It is not meant to assist you with tournament play, or NL/PL games.
How Omaha Hi/Lo Works
Players transitioning from Hold Em will find that this game has a familiar community card feature. There is a three-card flop, a turn and a river.
But unlike Hold Em, every player starts with four hole cards instead of two. What confuses many players transitioning is that you can only use two of your hole cards and three of the community cards to make your hand.
Compounding the confusion for first-timers is that you may be able to make a high and a low hand. Low hands qualify as 8-high or less and you can use different cards to make your high and low.
For example, if your hole cards were:
And the board was showing:
Then you have both a high and a low hand as follows (note the cards in red are your hole cards)
Your low: A2378
Your high: A2379
In the above example you have what is known as the nut-nut. The absolute best hand for both high and low. This is a great situation to be in, and can be very profitable.
Like all lowball games, your low hand is counted from the top down. This means that:
would lose to
Because you count from the top down, the first low is an 8-4 low while the next is a 7-6.
While this is a split-pot game, your objective is to try and scoop the pot as often as you can. Here's why:
Assume we're playing a 5/10 limit Omaha hi/lo game where 5 players went to showdown. You were leading the betting post-flop and everyone called. On the river the pot size would be:
25 (preflop bets) + 25 (flop bets) + 50 (turn bets) + 50 (river bets) = $150
With five players in the hand you have contributed $30 of the pot. If you split this with one other player you get $75 for a net profit of $45. If you happen to scoop your net profit is $120, almost 3x better!
Basic Pre-Flop Strategy
for full tables with 5+ players seeing the flop, loose/passive games
If you are in early position you want to be entering the pot with hands that include A2 or A3 in them.
These can make the better lows and there are plenty of opponents dumb enough to put money in with the 3rd or 4th "best" lows.
Ideally you would like your Ace suited so you can also make the nut flush. Other cards in your hand will hopefully complement one another and work together to give you the potential to make straights, flushes or full houses.
It also helps if you have low backup/counterfiett protection (i.e. if you have a hand like A299 and the flop brings a 2 then your low is counterfietted and you have no other low cards in your hand to help you around this)
Here are some hand examples you could play from early position:
(this hand has a suited Ace giving you potential to make the nut flush. The A3 combo works for the low half of the pot. The A3, 36 and AK work for straight draw possibilities)
(the above gives you two flush possibilities, the AJQ all work together to make broadway and the A2 gives you a shot at low)
Now compare that with a hand like this:
(notice in the above we have no flush possibilities. Our low potential is worthless with A7 and no backup cards. The only cards that work together are the 79 and they make a straight which could very well be beat by a higher straight)
Playing A4 or A5 starting hands can get a lot of players in trouble. Generally they will not make the nut low, and can cost you money paying off better low hands.
It can be profitable to play A4 and A5 hands from early position if the following criteria are present:
A hand like A49T can be acceptable to limp in from early position if you don't expect to be raised and do expect to get paid off when you make your hand.
- Game is loose/passive with little raising preflop
- Players are calling stations who will pay you off when you hit
- Your Ace is suited for flush possibilities
- The other cards in your hand work together for straights, flushes, etc
But if you have A559 it's best to not even enter the pot. Your small pair is relatively worthless, your cards aren't suited and they don't compliment one another all that well.
Folded To You In Late Position - Wheel Cards
Most players enter preflop with an Ace in their hand. If you are in late position and it's folded to you, it may be correct to raise with low/wheel type cards.
For example, if you're in the CO or on the button and it folds to you and your hand is
2357 you should raise.
While your hand strength is awful in the grand scheme of things, it's the situation that is profitable. Because you're at a full table and it folded to you, most likely the Aces are still live in the deck, and could very well flop. This gives you greater chances at making a wheel for the nut low and high.
Had there been raises before it got to you, you'd probably want to fold this hand, since the Ace you're looking to hit the flop is likely in other players hands.
Playing High Only Hands
Usually you'll enter the pot with hands that have low and high potential. But there are situations where playing hands with no low possibilities can be correct.
Generally you want to be in late position. If lots of players have entered the pot already, there's a good chance they all have low-oriented hands.
This is great for you because it increases the liklihood that a high flop will be coming. So if you have a hand like:
you should consider playing. Hell, you could even consider raising in that spot. The reason for raising if there's already a lot of limpers with what are likely low-oriented hands in the pot is that you want to get more money in the pot now, before they all see a high flop that they'll likely fold post-flop on.
You also want more money in the pot for the times you hit because you'll likely scoop if there's no low, when you do connect with your high hand.
I do not recommend newcomers limp high only hands from early position too often. In addition, hands that have 9's in them are weaker than those with more broadway oriented cards, so excercise caution with a holding like 99KT.
It can still be played, but be careful not to get too tied postflop as you can make your hand and still be beat by higher straights or flushes.
If it's folded to you in late position and you have a high-only hand, I recommend folding. More than likely the flop will bring low cards, and then you're in a spot where you're only playing for half the pot at best.
Alright, don't want to hit everyone with too much all at once, I think this is enough to get one started understanding the game.
In upcoming blogs we'll touch on playing AAxx hands, KKxx holdings, table selection, common mistakes, odds calculations as well as playing in short-handed and more aggressive games.
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