PLO Poker: A Beginner’s Guide to Pot-Limit Omaha

PLO Poker: A Beginner’s Guide to Pot-Limit Omaha
  • Introducing pot-limit Omaha, the action-filled hold'em variant that's become a favored game for many.

Omaha hold’em, often called simply Omaha, is an exciting poker game that is strikingly similar to Texas hold’em, although it does have a number of differences to set it apart.

Unlike Texas hold’em, a game in which the preferred betting structure is no-limit, the most popular betting structure of Omaha games is pot-limit. Games of this type are referred to as pot-limit Omaha, abbreviated as PLO poker.

The first major difference you’ll instantly be aware of when playing PLO poker instead of hold’em is that each player is dealt exactly four hole cards instead of two. However, players don’t use all four hole cards to make a hand because they can only use two of them. In fact, players must use exactly two of their hole cards along with three of the community cards to make a five-card poker hand.

For example, if a player holds {A-Hearts}{K-Clubs}{Q-Spades}{J-Clubs} — a strong starting hand in pot-limit Omaha — and the five community cards read {K-Hearts}{10-Hearts}{6-Spades}{3-Hearts}{2-Hearts}, the player does not hold a flush despite holding the {A-Hearts}. Neither does the player have a Broadway straight. The player actually only has a pair of kings with an ace-kicker. This may seem a little confusing when you first sit in a PLO game, but it quickly becomes second nature.

What is PLO?

Main Differences Between PLO Poker and Texas Hold’em

Besides starting with four hole cards rather than two, there are a few more differences between PLO poker and Texas hold’em. One such difference is that preflop hands in pot-limit Omaha run much closer in terms of equity than they do in hold’em. In hold’em, a hand such as {A-Hearts}{A-Spades} is an 82.36% favorite over {K-Hearts}{K-Spades} before the flop, but in PLO poker a hand such as {A-Spades}{A-Hearts}{7-Diamonds}{6-Diamonds} will only beat {K-Hearts}{K-Spades}{Q-Hearts}{J-Spades} 59.84% of the time.

This closeness in preflop hand strength is one factor leading to players playing more hands, seeing more flops, and PLO being more of a drawing game than hold’em is, which in turn creates larger pots with the majority of the chips often going into the pot after the flop is dealt.

Another key difference is the fact you generally need a stronger hand at showdown to win at pot-limit Omaha than you would in a Texas hold’em game. In hold’em, it is not uncommon to win a hand with two pair or even a single pair, but in PLO poker these hands are rarely the best by the river.

The other significant difference between pot-limit Omaha and no-limit Texas hold’em is the betting structure. In no-limit hold’em, players can bet any amount they wish, up to the size of their stack. PLO, however, is “pot-limit,” meaning players can only bet the total size of the pot including their call.

Imagine a PLO poker hand that is contested between two players. The pot has $100 in it, which means the maximum the first player can bet is $100. When it is the second player’s turn to act, that player can only bet a maximum of $400. This is worked out by adding the initial size of the pot ($100), plus the size of the opponent’s bet ($100), plus the second player’s call of the first bet ($100). This equals $300, which when added to the $100 call makes the maximum bet $400.

While this can be confusing until you are used to playing the game regularly, when playing PLO online you can simply click the “pot” button and the software figures out the correct amount for you. In a live PLO game, if you announce “pot” before betting the size of the pot, the dealer will assist with the calculations.

Basic Pot-Limit Omaha Strategy

Pot-limit Omaha is a complex game, which makes it difficult to come up with the perfect strategy for playing it. However, there are a number of pointers that you can remember that can form the basis for a solid PLO strategy:

  • Be patient with your starting hand selection. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any four cards are worth playing.
  • A bare pair of aces isn’t as good as in hold’em. Two aces can help form a strong preflop hand in PLO poker, but unless they improve on the flop you’re unlikely to win the pot, especially in a multi-way contested pot.
  • There is less bluffing in PLO poker. While bluffing does occur, it’s less prevalent in most players’ PLO strategy than happens in hold’em; a show of strength in PLO is likely to be a strong hand.
  • Draw to the nuts. Although there are times when you can play a weaker draw aggressively, drawing to the nuts is the best idea.
  • Stop thinking like a hold’em player. Many PLO players come from a no-limit hold’em background and play the game as such. They’ll overvalue one-pair and two-pair hands, as well as open-ended straight draws (with eight outs). The latter is particularly problematic, since in PLO it is possible to have “wrap” draws with up to 20 outs with the perfect hole card and community card combination!

A Crazy PLO Hand in Action

Best Starting Hands in PLO Poker

Like other variants of poker, PLO success begins with solid starting hand selection. The very best PLO players in the world play a wide range of hands, but those new to the game should stick to hands that are stronger and therefore easier to play.

The best PLO poker starting hands are those that have a big pair in them and some connectedness that allows them to improve preflop. Ideally, your hands will be what is known as “double-suited,” meaning you have the chance to flop two different flush draws. E.g., {A-Spades}{A-Diamonds}{7-Spades}{6-Diamonds} is a nice double-suited starting hand with a big pair.

Computer simulations show that {A-}{A-}{K-}{K-} double-suited is the best pot-limit Omaha starting hand. Flopping a set with this hand means you’ll always have top set, while any flush draw will be to the nuts. Other strong hands containing a pair of aces include {A-}{A-}{J-}{10-} and {A-}{A-}{Q-}{Q-}, while double-suited run-down holdings such as {J-Spades}{10-Diamonds}{9-Spades}{8-Diamonds} are also very playable.

Final Considerations

As you have probably gathered, PLO is an exciting game that creates big pots, and sees players make big hands regularly. As great as this is, the big thing you need to consider is playing PLO requires a larger bankroll than hold’em variants mostly because of the closeness in strength of hands both preflop and postflop. It’s common to not have more than 60% equity on the flop against a single opponent, which can and does lead to some crazy swings! When you run good at PLO, you usually run very good, but the flipside is also true.

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PLO Poker: A Beginner’s Guide to Pot-Limit Omaha 101

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