Take a shot at Omaha hi-lo

Mar 10, 2009 4:05 PM
The Inside Straight by Joe Awada |

Volatile game has plenty of betting action

As I’ve pointed out before, the popularity of Omaha has grown exponentially in the past few years, and more and more poker tournaments are adding Omaha events, both high and high-low, to their roster.

The popularity is understandable. Because you’re dealt four hole cards instead of the two you get in Texas Hold’em, you have six times as many five-card combinations to make a hand than you do with Texas Hold’em.

The result is a lot more high-end hands, such as straights, flushes and full houses – rarely will a simple pair take down a pot as it does in Texas Hold’em.

Because there are a lot more possibilities on the flop, it is common to find a lot more players staying in the hand, which increases the chip count and makes for bigger pots.

Perhaps, the best Omaha game is high-low, especially for beginners because the split pots make it harder to bust out early – you can grind along, taking half a pot here and there, while you wait for the chance to "scoop" a pot, that is, win both the high and low pots.

In the high-low version, the pot is split between the best hand and the lowest hand (8 high or lower), that is, if someone can make a low hand.

Thus aces become more important in Omaha, because of the possibility of making a high and/or a low hand.

Just like in Texas Hold’em, your starting hand is important and often times it’s essential to determining whether you’re going to play or fold.

For now, let’s concentrate on the best starting hands, and a few hands you want no part of.

The absolutely best starting hand in Omaha high-low is ace, ace, 2, 3, double suited; that is, the aces’ suit matches the other cards’ suit.

This hand opens up the possibility of the highest four of a kind, full house, two "nut" flushes and the lowest possible hand – ace, 2, 3, 4, 5 which is called a "wheel." Remember, straights and flushes don’t count against you in making your low hand.

Also, because the hand contains two aces, it limits the possibility of your opponents having aces, increasing your chances for hitting the low hand.

Obviously, this "perfect storm" of cards doesn’t materialize that often. And getting it doesn’t guarantee you’ll win anything. But the probabilities are in your favor if these cards align themselves in your pocket.

Hands that come close are very good, as well. Ace-2 and ace-3 with good connector cards (ones that will complete a straight), or aces with high cards (10 through king), preferably suited, are also good starting hands.

As far as the worst starting hands, those with middle cards, unsuited, fall into that category. Generally, the reasoning is that, if you make a low hand, it probably won’t be the lowest, and your straights and flushes will also be susceptible to a higher-ranked hand.

Based on math models, the absolutely worst starting hand is 5, 6, 7, 8, unsuited. Of course, this hand can win with the right flop, but the odds are stacked heavily against it.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to handle the flop, where the possibilities increase five-fold over the range of hands that come with the Texas Hold’em flop.