The wild ride
of Omaha Hi-Lo

Mar 27, 2006 11:28 PM

With all the focus on no limit Texas Hold’em brought about by tournaments and TV, many of the other great poker games seem to be falling by the wayside.

They shouldn’t. Seven Card Stud is still the class of the field. Omaha remains a favorite with regular poker players.

And then there’s Omaha Hi-Lo. What a volatile game this one is!

Omaha Hi-Lo players are the bungee-jumpers of poker. They’re all over the place: up and down, in and out, ricocheting between fright and delight.

Through shrieks of glee and groans of disgust, few poker games create so much anxiety. It’s like Willie Nelson sings, "Sometimes you’re high, sometimes you’re low, and sometimes you don’t even know."

A lot of players swear by the game. A lot of players swear at it. They either love it or hate it (usually from hand to hand).

Omaha "Split" is the age-old battle between the little and the large, the puny and the powerful. Every player hopes for a scooper-dooper, a double-dipper.

But the road through Omaha Hi-Lo country is not paved with good intentions. Everyone is trying to hurt everyone else. A player never knows whether it’s coming from above or below ”¦ and it’s always hit and run.

It’s a violent environment. Chip-jackings, drive-by shootings, extortion, fraud and robberies, are a constant occurrence. Cash and casualties can run high. It’s wonderful!

With more than one way to win, you know right away there’s a lot that can go wrong.

It’s not a good game for paranoid players. You’re never really sure where the other person is, what they’ve got, or what they’re going to do with it.

According to Bernie Salter and Gwen Pham ("The Dragon Lady") of Seattle, they invented the game. Originally, they called it "9-Card Hold’em" when they started playing it years ago. Eventually it spread and became known as "Omaha," to distinguish it from Texas (7-card) Hold’em.

Writer/player John Vor-haus calls Omaha H/L "the optimist’s game."

On the other hand, author and expert Shane Smith, says, "It is far better to be an opportunist than an optimist in this deceptively simple game."

Smith, in Omaha Hi-Lo Poker, describes the game as "a hard way to make an easy living."

Omaha Split features action (and, some say, a total disregard for reason). On the other hand, it is a most complex game. Possibilities, probabilities, position, odds, and outs, come in multiples.

Very often, the most difficult part of the game isn’t determining what your opponent has, but what you have. Then, you’ve got to decide what to do with it!

Occasionally, a tournament will feature an event that is half Hold’em/half Omaha High-Low. Now, there’s a contest designed to test your floppage! In "Half ’n Half" the cream usually rises to the top.

About the only thing more difficult than playing Omaha High-Low is dealing it. It’s a dealer’s nightmare. There are often several people in a hand and sometimes as many different pots. What’s more, everyone is a "table captain."

No advice could be better suited for the game of Omaha H/L than what Puggy Pearson passed on to Bob Stupak many years ago when he was teaching Stupak to play world-class poker. Stupak recalls, "The thing Puggy taught me was that there is nothin’ stronger than the arm. He was talking about the willingness to push all your chips in."

The author of Omaha Split, 8 or Better for Low, John Payne confessed that "My love affair with split games pointed me toward Omaha H/L." He characterizes the experience as "a record of sweat, frustration and some silent cursing along the way."

In Omaha Hi-Lo Poker, Shane Smith offers us a quote that anyone who has played the game can relate to: "Omaha high-low is a game invented by a sadist and played by masochists."

Jim Nelson seems to agree. Contemptuous of the game, he compares it to professional wrestling and thinks both should be abolished.

In his condemnation, Nelson writes: "Omaha players tend to dress in whatever was on top of the stack in the corner of the bedroom" and they are "from places like Sneaky Pete’s Casino and Rupture Clinic."

But, Nelson reveals his true colors when he concludes: "How can such a game exist in the ”¦ world of poker? And, why is it my favorite game?!"

In fact, Omaha Split has become the third most popular poker game in the country, after Hold’em and Stud. It attracts champs and chumps, experts and perverts, pros and cons.

Inexperienced players like the game because they get to look at a lot of cards. They see lots of possibilities.

Experienced players like the game for the same reason. They see occasional opportunities.

The two types have what biologists call a "symbiotic relationship," meaning they feed off each other.

In any case, they’ve all come to Omaha Hi-Lo for the same reason: the cash! Some prey, some pray, and some just give it away. Bet on it.