Introduction to Omaha - One of Those Nights
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 do not play particularly high stakes levels on-line. This is because I am a conservative type of player who tries to win steadily rather than spectacularly. I will be aggressive at what I feel are the right times, but aggression is not my natural game. It is something I have to work at so I don't frequently raise and re-raise with very little unlike some players I come across. But I do sometimes (in case you are reading this and we meet at a table one day)!
I also sometimes enjoy watching - not playing against - the big money players competing at the high stakes pot limit Omaha tables on-line. It is a sight to behold. Here, there is not often a full table so it is short-handed. More to the point, it is manic! I watch it and wonder whether the players have so much money, they can easily absorb losses of many thousands one day before recovering it the next. The aggression is immense and I sometimes struggle to justify the plays I see as a guide for my own play at lower stakes.
Similar "rash" play is not confined to the high stakes. Only the other day I took a good pasting with successive river beats from people who would not fold to the big bet.
Is this what they call fishing?
"The beauty and the beast" probably sums up poker nicely. At pot limit Omaha, both individuals surface regularly but when it is the beast in the ascendancy, it makes you wonder why you bother studying the game for a consistent profitable strategy. Theory is fine until it seems to fall down in practice.
At fixed stakes, it is impossible to shake off the players who are chasing draws. Firstly, they often have excellent pot odds to draw to open-ended straights, flushes or even full houses. Often the number of potential winning cards is 8, 9, 10 or sometimes a lot more. With a fixed limit bet and an ever-expanding pot, it is a "no-brainer" as they say in Britain. But, there will also be those players calling bets only because they need one of three cards in the deck to make a strong hand. The pot odds after the turn are probably very poor but you won't lose these players even if you raise. They see the pot and hope to strike lucky.
Now, it is one thing for your opponent to be doing that at fixed stakes, but when it is pot limit and you have just bet the pot, you generally expect the caller to be drawing to quite a large number of outs. Most crucially, when pot bets are involved, there is rarely a full table still active. The big bet generally reduces the field to you and one or two game "punters". Consequently, the pot odds should persuade the player to fold to a pot bet if all they have is a small number of drawing cards.
And what if they do have a flush draw? At the flop they have two cards to come and a maximum 9 cards to hit. If they merely call a bet at the flop and miss, they now have to revise their position because they now have 9 cards to hit and only one card to come.
The justification to call on the flop using the odds of making one of the flush cards on the turn or the river is flawed. You should only use that argument if you are prepared to re-raise the pot (perhaps going all-in) so you have no further decision to make after the turn card has come down.
Calling at the flop seems a flawed policy to me, yet the majority of drawers do it despite the poor odds of hitting the turn card. That said, as a pot limit player, you want to get calls from opponents who make such calls when the odds are against them, meaning the odds are with you, at least over time. This should ensure you make a profit and your EV is positive, as they say in theoretical circles.
So, it is mightily frustrating to get royally turned over and cleaned out because of reckless play by an opponent. In the two cases that stand out, it was doubly frustrating because in each case, the flushes being chased were nowhere near the nuts!
That is another danger that many players rarely take on board. They have two of a suit to match two of the same suit on the flop and that is the end of the decision for them. They WILL call bets to draw and WILL bet out having hit the draw despite being at the mercy of possible higher flushes.
So, what of my hands? The first saw me make top straight at the turn with two spades on the board. One card to come and my wish was for the board not to pair or make the 3-flush. I pot bet the turn to eliminate the odds for my opponent. I had the nuts at this point. He called and the river was a third spade. Stacks were getting low so I bet the balance. It was called and he showed a 10-high flush!
The next hand was even worse in some ways. The field limped in pre-flop. I had AK97 with the 9 and 7 being hearts. The flop came down Ah Kh 4c. Top two pair and I felt confident to bet out to narrow the field. Only one player called. The turn was another low non-heart. I bet the pot again and was called again. The river was a low heart. That meant my top two pair was redundant but I had a flush which could only lose to my opponent if he held the 10h, Jh or Qh together with another heart.
I had to consider whether that was the reason for his calls. I would have expected a raise before now if he had a set so I discounted that. The alternative was drawing to a straight with QJ, QT or JT or the flush. I made a part-pot size bet figuring that a low flush would pay me off and a high flush would re-raise at which point I would have to fold relatively, but still painfully, cheaply. Being out of position doesn't help in situations like this!
The player called and showed a rag-bag of cards which included 10h 8h. It was good enough to beat my 9h but I was betting the AK two-pair so the flush element was only ever a back-up for me. Again, the flush coming on the river validated, in his mind, the poor calls by the player with a weak flush draw. Almost certainly it will have mentally reinforced a bad habit and he will surely go on to lose money playing pot limit Omaha.
I guess the point of this piece is to act as a place to let off some frustration on my part, but also to emphasise that Omaha is a game of wide variances so you will sometimes lose when it was not apparently deserved, and other players will win playing a reckless game.
The main point is that you have to understand that you will lose if you make a habit of chasing mid-level flushes by calling pot-sized raises. The law of probability will see to it that you do over a period of time. Unfortunately for you, it is also true that the cards will behave irrationally every now and then and that such a run can be prolonged. That is a good a reason as any to make sure you are playing stakes that are well within the tolerances of your bankroll.
1 December 2005
Ed note: Great Omaha action at Doyle's Room