This article is the first of a series intended to assist the on-line poker player who may have stumbled across the variation of poker called "Omaha", whether or not you have had a go at it! I think it highly likely that most on-line players new to the game will have discovered Omaha this way. I was one of those people myself, despite having been aware of poker in its general forms since childhood. So, a little bit about me first...
I was raised and still live in England. Although the English are certainly a nation of card-playing people, the game of poker is more likely to enter a young kid's sphere of learning in the USA, where it is so widespread and engrained in the national psyche. At least that is how it looks from England!
I was a scruffy lad of a very young age when my parents would occasionally ship me and my little brother out of the house to visit a relative in the evening. There, about 9 or 10 of our extended adult family would gather around the family table and play cards to the sound of clinking coins and laughter. My brother and I would be put to bed until being awoken at 3am and carried out semi-conscious to the car and shipped back home. I can still recall the sensation of the cold night air on my face as I lolled about in my father's arms.
The game they all played those evenings was 3-card brag, a variation of poker but very popular in English families. This was the card game featured in the brilliant English movie "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels".
By the time I was 12, I was getting to play in these games until about midnight, and it was only natural to read books about card games and play a bit of draw poker at school. Draw poker was all we knew. No-one had heard of Texas Hold'em and certainly not Omaha. I found out about Texas Hold'em when one of our English TV channels created a series in 1999 called "Late Night Poker". It featured mainly English and Continental European players but the occasional USA player also came over. Phil Hellmuth even won it one year. The programme ran in the early hours of the morning but was probably the first to feature the ability to see the players' hole cards. Now, there are many USA series doing the same thing available to us every night here in England.
Along came the internet and, for me, an unsolicited CD in the mail imploring me to try out poker on-line, real-time, real money!! I had to give it a try. The early software tended only to offer limit Texas Hold'em but, as time progressed, "no limit" games appeared. I didn't fancy throwing my cash at those at first but eventually I dipped a toe.
Then there was something called Omaha. This looked interesting, no less than four cards in the hole, surely I could play more and make bigger hands on a regular basis? This sounded like heaven! I "sat myself down" at an Omaha limit table and like everyone else on the table, put the money in, called the raises and saw those flops. It certainly makes for good looking pot sizes even at the $1/$2 limit level.
This was good entertainment, action in every hand, and every now and then a big pot headed in my direction after catching the nuts on the river. On more than one occasion, I had made over $100 in a session. I could certainly ignore the guy with the aggressive name telling me I was just getting lucky.
So was I just getting lucky? It has to be said that I was not building any meaningful pile in my account. There were times I was not winning a hand for what seemed a lifetime but it seemed such a lottery with all those cards that everyone was bound to win a hand and everyone else would lose a few. Was this really a way to make money at poker?
It was quite funny sometimes. Every now and then, a guy would pipe up after losing a big pot saying he had it won for sure. "I had kings full!!!"
Which brings us to the crux of this article. It could have been named:
"When in Omaha, do as the Omahans do."
"Read the question before writing the answer".
The point is, the basic rules of Omaha are crucially different to Hold'em!
Apart from having two more cards in your hand (in the hole), you have to know that it is not a case of making the best 5-card hand from any of the 9 cards. No, no, and no again!
At any one time in a game of Omaha, only two of your four hole cards can be used to make a hand. Only two!
At any one time in a game of Omaha, only three of the community cards can be used to make a hand. Only three!
2 + 3 = 5. Remember this sum.
Another way to look at it is to put in brackets the maximum number of cards in the hole and on the community board.
2 (4) + 3 (5) = 5 (9)
In Texas Hold'em,
0 (2) + 5 (5) = 5 (7),
1 (2) + 4 (5) = 5 (7), and
2 (2) + 3 (5) = 5 (7)
are all valid. Not in Omaha. Only 2 (4) + 3 (5) = 5 (9) is allowed.
If you are dealt 9d 9h 9c 4s, you really do not want to keep hold of them or even pay to see the flop. You do not own trips. You are not halfway to a full house. You are the proud owner of junk. Two of those cards are dead already. Meaning one of the two 9's you need for a set is not available. There is only one more 9 out there and a single pair alone is hopeless in Omaha. The muck is the place for these, as a general rule!
So many new on-line players throw everything into the pot all the way to the river because they hold a set in the hole or even because they have a pair in the hole that has increased to a set on the flop and have another hole card paired by the board.
Although I have never personally mistaken a set in the hole as valid, I have certainly in my early days playing Omaha on-line bet merrily away holding 3 parts to a full house in the hole. It is a surreal experience seeing the electronic image of "my pot" head off in a different direction when my brain had already conditioned me 100% to receiving the winnings myself. It is often the best way to learn the lesson. Bang your head hard enough and next time you will duck.
Having got your head round the limitations of your 4 hole cards, you also need do the same with the 5 community cards. As your sum "2 + 3 = 5" tells you, there are only 3 good cards in the community board for you. This can be good because it also is true of your opponents' hands.
Say you hold Ks Qs Jd 9c. This is a nice hand indeed. Now the flop comes up with 3 more spades, Js, 6s, 2s. A lovely flush and no danger at the moment of much to beat it.
Now, should you be afraid of someone holding the ace of spades when another spade hits the turn?
In Texas Hold'em, certainly; but not in Omaha. The 4th spade does nothing for you or against you. It improves your hand only the same as it improves someone else with a flush. If that someone else holds As Ts x x then you were already in trouble after the flop. If someone else holds a single spade such as the ace, they are impotent because they need two cards from their hole cards to make a hand. With only one spade, they cannot make a flush, end of story, close the book.
To conclude this piece for those new to Omaha on-line or simply puzzled by or curious about what goes on, may I suggest you start by memorising the magic sum and perhaps write it down on a slip of paper several times:
In Omaha "2 + 3 = 5"
Don't ever forget it!
Tony (Online name Exorcism)
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