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You Can't Play Them All: Evaluating Starting Hands in Pot-Limit Omaha

Vivian Saliba

If you're the type of player who falls in love with almost every preflop pot-limit Omaha hand, this article is intended to help you learn how to stop breaking your heart over and over again.

NO... not all double-suited hands are as pretty as they might seem in PLO.

NO... aces and kings might not be as strong as you think.

The truth is, you have to adjust many aspects of your game in order to become a good and profitable PLO player. And perhaps the most important one to improve is your preflop hand selection.

Finding Four Cards That Work Together

In pot-limit Omaha you receive four cards, as do your opponents. Based on this fact, your four cards must interact with each other to create a strong combination that may contain nut draws, redraws, backdoors, high cards, high pairs, suited combos and/or connectors.

If you are dealt a hand like {a-Hearts}{k-Hearts}{6-Hearts}{6-Clubs}, you will probably like what you see. After all, you do have suited high cards with nut draws and a pair.

Sorry, but it is not that simple. This actually is not all that great of a good preflop hand. Let me explain why:

  • your ace and king are not interacting with your pocket sixes as far as straight draws are concerned
  • once you flop a set, you probably won't have a redraw
  • if you do flop a set, there are still many overcards to come, which means your set of sixes could potentially face a higher set
  • if you flop a flush draw and make your flush, players won't have the second-nut flush so you won't gain value
  • when you make a pair it will be tougher to make a second one, since you have a pair in your hand

Let's say instead you are dealt {j-Diamonds}{9-Diamonds}{8-Spades}{7-Spades}. Again, not that good of a hand. Why?

First of all, while "wrap hands" like this are usually considered good hands, in this case there is a gap and the card that is missing is extremely important in the composition of this kind of hand, since there is no straight possible in poker without a ten or a five.

Also, to have more than just a regular straight draw, you will have to flop either...

  • {6-}{5-}{x-} to have a four-card straight draw, or
  • {q-}{10-}{x-} (giving you only one nuts combination), or
  • {10-}{x-}{x-} with one of the other cards being one of the cards you currently hold.

If you didn't have the gap — say, your hand was {10-Diamonds}{9-Diamonds}{8-Spades}{7-Spades} — you would hit your hand every time the flop includes either QJ, JT, J9, J8, J7, T6, 96, 86, 76, or 65. Also, the times you flop two pair you will also have a straight draw.

Aces and Other Big Pairs

Now it's time to talk about the famous aces. These {a-}{a-}{x-}{x-} hands are always good preflop and you will play them.

You must keep in mind, however, that PLO is primarily a postflop game. That means in those cases when you aren't able to squeeze it preflop, there are other factors besides the two aces in your hand — namely your position, your stack size, and the other two cards in your hand — that might cause you to have to play the hand carefully.

For example, if you have {a-Clubs}{a-Hearts}{9-Diamonds}{4-Spades} and your opponent has {j-Spades}{10-Spades}{8-Hearts}{5-Hearts}, you're only about 52.3 percent to have the best hand by the river. In other words, these "bad aces" are basically flipping in this example.

If we were playing hold'em, {a-Clubs}{a-Hearts} would be about a 79.2 percent against {j-Hearts}{10-Hearts}, and a 79.5 percent favorite against {8-Spades}{5-Spades}.

As you can see, aces that aren't working with your other two cards aren't that strong of a hand, and depending on the situation it is even more profitable to just limp with them.

Finally, let's say you are dealt {q-Diamonds}{q-Spades}{7-Hearts}{2-Clubs}. At this point, you are probably already imagining what I am going to say — that's right, it is a bad hand.

Notice again how the four cards aren't interacting with each other. Even if you flop a set of queens, you never will have redraws or backdoors.

Against this hand, someone with {a-Spades}{9-Hearts}{6-Hearts}{4-Spades} is about a 52.2 percent favorite against you. Meanwhile in hold'em pocket queens would be a little better than a 72 percent favorite over {a-Spades}{9-Hearts}. All of which means you shouldn't be willing to invest too much money with this type of hand.


Hopefully through these examples you can see the importance of having a good preflop hand and how it will help you with your postflop play. We're only really just getting started on the subject, but I am sure that if you start to put in practice some of the principles you have seen here, your game will already start to improve a lot.

Keep on improving and good luck at the tables!

Primarily an online player, 888poker Ambassador Vivian "Vivi" Saliba has recently collected numerous live cashes including making the money in both the 2017 WSOP Main Event and 2017 WSOP Europe Main Event. Pot-limit Omaha is her favorite variant, and among her many PLO scores is an 11th place in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed Championship at the 2017 WSOP.

  • Do you fall in love with every starting hand in PLO? @visaliba shows you how to avoid a broken heart.

  • @888poker Ambassador Vivian Saliba shows why some PLO starting hands are not as good as they seem.

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