Introduction to Omaha - Do the luckiest always win?
Tony is a regular on-line and card room player living in England. He mostly plays Texas Hold'em and Omaha (High and Split) at fixed, pot and no limit, at both cash and tournament tables.
I played a game recently of $2/$4 limit Omaha High and also talked afterwards about it to another player at that game. Our subject of discussion was whether Limit Omaha, at the lower levels, is one of the toughest games to beat on-line. We asked the question because it seemed from that session that the winner of each hand almost invariably was way behind at the flop or before it. The cards on the flop, turn and river seemed to "suck out" the player betting strongly with a premium hand.
Fishing Or Drawing?
The first point to emphasise about Omaha in general is that it is a "drawing" game, far more so than Texas Hold'em. This is a point that is frequently lost on players starting out playing Omaha having previously spent hundreds of hours on the Hold'em tables. You know this is so because of the frequency with which players use the chat box to register their disapproval about another's play or the bad luck they are themselves encountering. You've seen the guy with a set or top two pair at the flop bet the bank to the river only to be busted out by a rivered straight. Cue the bad vibes and accusations of incompetence.
Omaha is not Texas Hold'em! Yes, there is a flop of three cards; yes, there is a turn card; yes there is a river card; but, no, there are not two cards in the hole! Because there are four, the mathematical and statistical landscape is changed. No longer is a pocket pair a strong hand in isolation, nor is AK or AQ suited in the hole a strong hand by itself. If you make a set at the flop with your pocket pair in Texas Hold'em, you are looking good. In Omaha, the field is littered with dangers especially if the flop contains cards with straight or flush draws. This is where Omaha comes into its own.
A starting hand like Jd Tc 9c 8d is a potential monster, relative to a hand like As Qs 8h 3d. The latter hand has only AQ suited going for it. A8 and A3 are weak hands even in Texas Hold'em, multi-handed. The other combinations, Q8, Q3 and 83 are regular folding hands at a full table of Texas Hold'em. In contrast, the Omaha hand of Jd Tc 9c 8d contains four consecutive cards which generate a huge combination of alternatives for making a straight with the right cards on the community board ranging from 6 upwards through A, a large part of the remaining deck. In addition, the cards are double-suited giving a valuable back-up of two alternative flushes, albeit not the nuts. Before the flop, the odds heads-up, are 53.5% against 46.3%, with 0.2% for the tie. So, even pre-flop, J high beats A high for the expectation of a win!
Two Paired Dog
Say the flop comes down Qd 8c 7h. Many players new to Omaha, having been dealt the AQ83 hand, find their eyes popping out on a flop of Q87. Two pair, Queens Up - looking good. Let's raise and re-raise! Meanwhile, our experienced Omaha player sitting opposite with JT98 and a flop of Q87 will be busy adding up the draws on offer to make a straight. He is very happy because he knows that he has another two cards to draw for a straight and a large pool of cards to draw from. They are; any J; any T, any 9 and any 6. This gives him an initial 13 possible cards from the deck twice over (turn and river). This doesn't include the additional straight possibilities arising if the turn is an A or a K. If the turn is a club or diamond, this introduces flush draws too. Meanwhile, the opponent has four cards to make a full house (which could become six if an A or 3 hits the turn) and no way of making a straight or a flush.
At the flop, the respective hands stand at a pair of 8's and a 2-pair Queens Up. Yet, the match-up odds are now: 54.9%: 45.1%, still in favour of the "inferior" hand. This demonstrates the nature of Omaha as a drawing game where made hands are often not favourites to win.
If the turn card makes the straight, say the 6s, the odds change to 92.5%: 7.5%. It is almost over, yet many players holding AQ83, with the cards Q876 on the board will call a bet on the turn because of the full house draws. That player should realise there is a maximum of four outs (being the two Q's and two 8's he cannot see; he would not know one of them is in his opponent's hand) so a call would almost certainly be the wrong decision on the pot odds. Of course, at pot limit Omaha, a strong player might put his opponent to a decision by a semi-bluff re-raise if the money is deep enough. However, this column is for relatively new Omaha players and I do not advocate those kinds of moves unless you have a trust fund to spend!
Back to the cards; the holder of the made straight can see there is no flush draw nor a made full house in evidence, so he might feel inclined to seek to check-raise, but it is a big risk to allow someone in to pair the board on the river without paying for the privilege. The Q876 on the board might slow up and prevent the 2-pair player from betting into your check before the river.
This also brings into relief a major difference between pot limit Omaha and fixed limit Omaha. In a pot limit game, with the cards dealt as above to the flop, it is likely a good pot limit player with the straight draws and favourable odds will try to re-raise the pot, perhaps getting all his chips into the middle, and thereby removing any decision after the turn. He knows at the flop that he has two cards to make his draw. Getting your money in the middle while favourite is never a bad thing. It might also eliminate most, if not all, of your opponents from the betting.
In fixed limit, that luxury is not an option. If the turn misses, it alters the odds halfway through. Now, the drawing hand may well be some way behind. However, because the final bet after the river is limited to a fixed sum (which might be raised to a known extent), the pot odds are likely still to be favourable to make the final bet.
This one happened to me!
This takes me back to my opening paragraph. In that game of limit Omaha, I had strong hands busted several times. One I remember being by someone who had called my pre-flop raise with QJ74 of different suits (which should be an automatic fold as it is unlikely to win more than a small fraction of the time at a multi-handed table). I had raised with Kd Ks Js Th. The flop came down As Kh Ts giving me a made set; four outs for top straight, five outs for a full house, one for a four-of-a-kind, eight for a nut flush and one for a Royal Flush. The strong betting told me my opponent held QJ for the top straight (reducing my outs by one) but how could I lay my hand down? Sometimes, hands play themselves. I would have been "satisfied" to have lost to a hand like QJT9 which would have merited the pre-flop action but when I saw the relative junk I lost too, I was not best pleased. The session contained a lot of these examples.
So, yes, luck does have a bearing in Omaha but it is temporary luck for those who will not wait for the strong starting hands. In my example, the starting odds of my KKJT hand (one suited) against a rainbow QJ74 was approximately 73%:27%. After the AKT flop with all the draws against a made straight, it was still 60%:40% in my favour.
If you are a regular Texas Hold'em player and are attracted to Omaha for its wider action appeal, then it is essential you adjust your mind away from the mentality that made hands on the flop make you a strong favourite at Omaha. It just is not so because your opponents are very likely to have a combination of draws in their four hole cards.
This is not to say that you should be seeing the flop with any old collection of cards. You really need to get the odds in your favour at the outset, as my example with the Royal Flush draw showed. But, even after the flop, you have to adjust your mindset. In that example, you would not know you were a 40% dog at the flop with the top straight. Yet after the turn, which might have shown a third spade or a paired card, could you switch from joy and confidence to being ready to fold? If you cannot handle this, Omaha might be a costly game for you.
Statistics are raw and brutal; they are the law. In Omaha, a two-pair, a set, or even a top straight after the flop is not the monster it is at Texas Hold'em. In many cases, you will be a statistical dog. While pot odds may favour your continued betting in some cases, especially at fixed limit Omaha, you ought to kiss goodbye to your chat box insults!
25 August 2005
Ed Note: Heads up is the purest form of poker. Great heads up action always at Pacific Poker