The 'Other Games' of Poker: Pot-limit Omaha
In Europe, the most popular poker variant isn't Texas hold'em, despite the worldwide media saturation of televised no-limit hold'em events such as the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker. Europeans continue to prefer the drama and action of pot-limit Omaha (or PLO for short) and it is spread live in most casinos across the continent. Though PLO won't be winning a popularity contest over hold'em anytime soon on this side of the pond, it is game with a rapidly growing player base online, as no-limit hold'em players looking for a change of pace are turning to PLO as a second game with increasing frequency. More live PLO games are also popping up on the Las Vegas strip, including a $2-$5 game that goes of frequently at the Wynn and a nightly $60 buy-in tournament at the Paris Las Vegas. Though it has some of the highest variance of any poker form out there and is often cited as an "action game," pot-limit Omaha is a serious mental challenge as well. I once heard a player refer to it as "3-D Chess" and I couldn't agree more.
Pot-limit Omaha is dealt exactly like hold'em, except for the fact that players receive four hole cards to start with instead of two. Two and only two of those hole cards are used to combine with three and only three of the five board cards to form a player's best five card poker hand, with the best high hand taking the pot. All bets and raises are capped at the size of the current pot. Pot sizes in PLO tend to be larger than their NLHE counterparts. As most players make their bets and raises the size of the pot in PLO, the number of chips in the middle can inflate very quickly.
Basic Strategy/Starting Hands
First rule of PLO pre-flop strategy? Always make sure your four cards are working together. Omaha is a game of drawing to the nuts. In hold'em you have exactly one two-card combination your hole cards can make. In PLO, you have six. This dramatically increases the possibility that the nuts are out there, so when considering whether or not to play a starting hand, it is crucial to examine what "nut potential" it has. It is often debated whether the best starting hand in PLO is A-A-K-K double-suited or A-A-J-T double-suited. I get more butterflies when I see the latter, but both hands have the potential to (a) flop high sets that can develop into full houses (b) make the nut flush and (b) make the nut straight; all things you want to do in PLO–where hand values are much higher than in hold'em. So, be on the lookout for big pairs, big suited aces, suited/connected broadway straight cards, and suited aces with three connecting straight cards (i.e. ).
Here's the thing, though, and it's a big part of why PLO can be such an action junkie's paradise. No four-card hand is that significant a favorite over another before the flop. Even the mighty A-A-J-T double-suited is only a 2-1 favorite pre-flop over a junk hand like the 2-4-6-8 offsuit. Take two playable hands and stack them against each other and the edges are even slimmer. Take the against the and the K-Q-J-T is actually a 53% favorite over the ace high. Therefore, when it comes to pre-flop raising, well, there isn't a whole lot of it in PLO. When dealt premium hands, players should certainly raise, if only to thin the field, but otherwise it's fine to limp in with your playable hands. Whatever edge you have or do not have in the hand will develop almost entirely on the flop.
On the flop, you're looking to hit it hard, or be prepared to dump your hand. The best flops will give you both a made hand with one or two re-draws to the nuts. For example, if I'm holding the and the flop is the , I've flopped top two pair, a gutshot to the nut straight, and the nut flush draw. A monster indeed, and it's those re-draws that make it so. In Omaha, vulnerable made hands, like bottom two pair are frequently underdogs to strong drawing hands on the flop. If I have a hand like the on a flop of , the two pair has very little hope of holding up to the bigger drawing hands that will be out there.
So, play for the nuts, get ready to jam with your monster draws and get ready for the wild ride that is pot-limit Omaha. Tables with limits as tiny as a $5 max buy-in are available around the clock on Poker Stars and Full Tilt to get your engines running.