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Talking Omaha: The Two Pair Dilemma

Talking Omaha: The Two Pair Dilemma 0001

Lately, I've been giving Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Lo a good bashing on-line with very consistent results, occasionally skipping across to an Omaha High table for a change of scenery. I am enjoying the Hi/Lo sessions and benefiting from that apparent ability to read what my opponents are betting with that comes with a bit of confidence and a good run of results. Some people call it running hot and it will probably end! My poker charts are telling me I've achieved around 30% ROI for the last month, so I shall not complain.

This week though, I don't want to dwell on Hi/Lo, but rather a feature of Omaha High that regularly crops in games I play - the dreaded 2-pair.

Because I have been playing mostly Hi/Lo, the odd occasions I have played High stand out when I make a good return. One of the reasons I came away from one of these sessions chipped up was down to one of the classic confrontations - Aces versus 2-Pair.

At the low levels I like to play at, I feel I can secure good returns due to the indifferent nature of the opposition who tend to follow predictable patterns of play making life easier when deciding how to bet against them. A frequent situation is when a passive pre-flop player suddenly fires out a pre-flop pot raise. No subtlety here! He or she might just as well have typed in the chat box "Hey, look here. I have been dealt a pair of aces!"

This happened at a short-handed table I was playing. My hand was nothing special, something like QT95, suited queen. The pot raise to my left was three times the big blind, which I called after the other three players before me also called. It was an easy call for value with the amount I had to bet being about 12% of the pot.

The flop came down Q52 rainbow, giving me a 2-pair, Q over 5. I was out of position but decided to make a decent bet to represent a piece of the flop. My opponent to the left immediately pot raised and the others folded. I dwelt a short while to gather my thoughts but my first and most trusted instinct was that the player had AAxx, judging by the uncharacteristic pre-flop raise. If so, I could not be behind at this point unless his AA was accompanied by QQ or 55.

Players often bet the bank with AA regardless of their other two cards, as it never occurs to them that all they have is a single pair. It was therefore feasible he could also have some rags that might catch the flop cards in unexpected ways. I didn't especially want to let him draw a dangerous card on the turn as I thought it likely he would pot-raise again at the turn unless a paired card hit the board which could scare him. It would also put me behind unless it made me a full house.

So, I decided to turn the tables and put my perceived leading 2-pair to work. I re-raised the pot and committed almost all my cash, enough to put my opponent all-in if he chose to call (we held similar sized pots). His call was immediate and I prayed for two nondescript cards that wouldn't pair the board outside of a Q or 5. They came down unpaired and my opponent failed to improve his AA single pair.

A volley of abuse followed before my opponent ungraciously left the table. I was happy with that play. I believe I was correct to re-raise as it adds the third possibility of the opponent folding to the re-raise. It would be difficult to call in many cases. There was probably a good case for folding with AAxx with an unhelpful flop, but few players can do it. Naturally, I would be caught with my pants down if he held QQ where the other cards were AA, KK or AK, the only other type of hand that my passive opponent might have tried a pre-flop raise with.

So, that is when 2-pair can be a blessing, when it hits you on the flop and a certain AAxx hand has pot-raised. The benefit is to be heads-up to minimise too many people outdrawing your 2-pair. Make no mistake, in Omaha, 2-pair is usually outdrawn if more than two people are competing and often when it is merely heads-up.

I see more people call off their chips at Omaha chasing a 2-pair down to the river hoping to fill up, than any other horrible mistake. Usually this is done three or four-handed so the 2-pair is up against the field.

The great problem with 2-pair where you hold two different denominations and match them on the board is that there are only four remaining cards in the deck that can possibly improve you. Even then, you are still vulnerable to being outdrawn by higher cards matching the board.

Take for example the hand As Js 9d 8d. This has nice potential but the flop comes Kc Jc 8h. You have made 2-pair J over 8. You bet and get three callers. No-one has raised so you feel there is no set betting. The turn is a safe 4s. You bet a bit more and get three callers again. The river is 8h giving you the full house 8 over J. You bet out strongly and get re-raised by one player. Do you call?

It's a nasty situation because some players are capable of re-raising with any full house. For all you know, the caller was holding 84 or perhaps being cautious with a set of 4's. Equally he may have been slow playing a set of J's or quite feasibly held K8xx, which beats you. 2-pair is dangerous because of this. In fact, I would say you should only be bold with top 2-pair to avoid this kind of out-kicking scenario and never be afraid to fold them if you are re-raised.

In the above situation, the player was leading with the betting to get a feel for his opponent's cards. That is fair, although a check on the river might have been wise allowing for a moderate cost of calling if a bet came back. Better to spend the budget to see a showdown than to see a re-raise in this situation.

What is a lot less forgivable is calling chips off down to the river when all you have is a 2-pair. You could only justify it if the board cards were so disparate as to render the possibility of straight and flush draws minimal. It's not often this happens. If you must stay in the hand, have some plan to fold before it gets too expensive or take the bull by the horns and re-raise to try to take the pot.

Unfortunately at lower level stakes, shaking a player off isn't always possible, although a re-raise of a sizeable pot can be effective so long as the opponents stand to lose a great deal of their stack which is not already in the middle, and you also have a deep enough stack to pot raise with a vengeance. Re-raising a big pot holding nothing more than 2-pair and needing four possible out cards takes a considerable amount of guts and that will depend on your table image, should anyone have taken notice of it!

2-pair is usually folding material for me but the AAxx counter-attack is an exception if I am sure I will get heads up after the flop.

There is never a dull moment in Omaha!

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