Introduction to Omaha - Playing (and Fearing) The Nuts
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.
Omaha attracts new players for a variety of reasons and a desire for fast action is one of them. When a game offers a regular supply of straights, flushes and full houses, this is no surprise.
By now, regular readers will know that it is an illusion to assume making bigger hands than you are used to in Texas Hold'em makes for easier winning hands. Your opponents are just as well-armed with four hole cards. This brings me on to the tendency of players to bet a strong hand in an unrestrained fashion whenever they make one. This can be mightily expensive if the hand is not in that most desirable of categories - "The Nuts"! Your hand cannot be beaten unless certain cards emerge on the turn or river.
In The Nut House
When playing Omaha, you must always be able to read the board and be aware of the dangers it is signalling. One of the classics is the "paired board". How many times have you confidently bet with the nut straight or flush only to find that your prayer - "Please Lord, don't let the river pair the board!" - goes unanswered?
When faced with a paired board, you have to play it carefully. In limit, you will probably still bet to avoid any suggestions you are scared of the board. However, raising is only recommended if you are confident your opponents were not drawing to the full house before the pair came. In pot limit, a bet of say 1/3 of the pot is often enough to smoke out the weak hands and also to elicit a raise from a genuine full house. You can then extricate yourself cheaply.
So far so good, you know straights and flushes can be vulnerable to a paired board. But what happens if you make a full house yourself? Do you punch the air in front of your monitor and proceed to bet and raise any takers? You would at Texas Hold'em if the callers were willing because you know (if you hold two of the full house cards in your hole cards) that you are almost a certain winner. In Omaha, hold those horses!
Let's say you are dealt Js Jd Ts 9d, a suitable starting hand at Omaha High in most people's books. The flop comes down Qs Jh 8s. You are pleased because you have the temporary nut straight and also a flush draw including a straight flush draw. You also have a set of J's that could become a full house on a paired board, or even a quad hand if the case J arrives. Ideally, you would like to see a 9s or Jc but, accepting this is unlikely, what do you really want to see? A spade or a pair?
The answer at this point is neither! You already have the nuts so why would you want to improve your hand if it takes you off the nut hand? You will have lost your position. Your hand may improve but it might be overtaken by a faster model. In this example, no spade (bar the 9s) will give you the nut flush. If the As dropped, a player with Ks plus another spade has you dominated. Likewise with As and Ks reversed.
You have the nut straight, so bet it out. And re-raise with it. You have so many re-draws as a back up, you have to do all you can to get the loose money in the pot now and make those players who habitually stay in to see the turn card pay a good price for their draws. Ideally, you want to see two unpaired low cards that cannot improve on your hand, being non-spade cards of 7 or less.
OK, this might be asking too much but if you do get one of these ideal cards on the turn, bet strongly again. Push those nut hands to the limit. It is even less economical for the drawing hands to pay top price, although you can expect one or two to hand the chips over. In any event, you still have plenty of re-draws.
But what if the turn gave you a full house and why would that be bad? It may not be all bad but it takes you off the nuts in our example and that is not necessarily good news. Say the turn is Qc. The board has paired to give you a full house J's over Q's.
Do you bet out again? At pot limit, it is often a good policy to have a consistent response to paired boards, especially at the turn. Whether or not the pair helps you or hinders you, it may pay to bet modestly, such as the 1/3 of pot mentioned above. This way, when you have no full house, you may still take the pot uncontested; whereas, if you do have the "boat", you might be handsomely paid off by a lesser hand who interprets the small bet as a sign of weakness. At fixed limits, you probably want to carry on betting out but perhaps not re-raising.
But, wait! Here you have made J's over Q's but someone has come over the top of you with a re-raise. Do you stop to think? How often in Omaha does it happen that a player with a full house in this position is still in "Nuts" mode and re-raises the re-raiser? The betting then gets capped both at the turn and at the river. Result: Pot lost because our opponent was holding Q886 or some other nonsense! He's made a full house Q's over 8's and your J's over Q's is consigned to the scrapper.
You have to refine your attitude to what I would call "Low Ended Boats". These are full house hands that have their primary element of three cards lower than the secondary element of two cards. In the above hand, your full house spells a strong hand but the pair of higher cards on the board leaves the door wide open for two hands out there to beat you. On a flop of QJ8, both hands holding a Q will be interested if one of their other cards matches the flop for a 2-pair. Many players at lower limits will probably hang in there with just the top pair on the flop. It happens all the time. The chances are that their three other hole cards are being teased by the other flop cards for draws to straights or flushes.
It is a nasty fact in Omaha that a Low Ended full house is beaten by a bigger one more often than the strength of the hand would suggest. How preferable it is to hit the nut straight on the flop and have it stay that way!
When playing Texas Hold'em, 7-card Stud and other forms of poker with a small number of cards, making a strong hand like a straight or better is an occasional event. When one is made, we are usually confident of a betting result. Not so in Omaha High. The fluctuations in relative hand strengths between players as each stage of the betting progresses are volatile. What this means is relatively strong hands can fall behind quickly and so your betting patterns need to adjust for this. The key to betting strongly in Omaha is knowing what "The Nuts" is at each stage. It is better to have The Nuts in your hand at every stage. That is why it is so vital to restrict your involvement to starting hands that give you every chance of finding The Nuts at every level, if at all possible.
If you haven't got The Nuts, you must fear The Nuts!
13 September 2005