Poker Strategy - Omaha Poker Strategy

Many players seem to draw the wrong conclusions from the greater certainty that is part of Omaha. They think because their nut flush on the turn gets beaten on the river when the board pairs that Omaha has some mystical randomness to it. The opposite is true. There are a precise number of cards that pair the board, and make you lose. There are a precise number that do not pair the board, and make you win. On the turn, if you have the nut flush, with no cards in your hand paired on the board, and your opponent has a set, with no other cards paired on the board, there are exactly forty possible river cards. Exactly ten pair the board to make you a loser. Exactly thirty do not pair the board and make you the winner. That's it -- pure, simplistic math. In the long run, you win three out of four. This is known. This is Omaha.

Do not let yourself be confused by irrelevant concepts. What matters in any form of poker, but particularly in Omaha, is the probability of winning -- not who is temporarily in the lead. Whether you flop a made hand or a draw or a backdoor draw is irrelevant, what matters are your prospects, your probabilities, of having the winning hand on the river. What counts is how many cards, in what combinations, make you the winning hand. Know how many cards make your hand, and then know that in the long run you will win pots in the mathematically appropriate percentage: if you have x% chance of making the winning hand, you better be getting at least the correspondingly appropriate pot odds.

Omaha is a game of accuracy, clarity and concrete information. Sure, sometimes you will get unlucky, and since Omaha edges are so huge, when you get unlucky it can be pretty hard to swallow, but since the edges are usually so big, if you play good starting hands in Omaha, and get unlucky, you can still win. You just have to keep your discipline.

Starting hands... Unlike Holdem, where post-flop play is far more critical, winning Omaha fundamentally begins with starting hands. Starting hands exist before the flop, which is where you get enormous edges in Omaha against a field. On the turn you will often have times where some players are even drawing dead, and that is clearly the juiciest money in the game, but the simplest, most direct, most necessary way to beat these games is to not play crap hands and to get more money in the pot when you have A255 and several of your opponents have hands like K965. Getting garbage hands with a low winning expectation to pay before the flop when they are enormous dogs is a big part of winning Omaha.

Not counting AA and perhaps KK, in looser, multiway games Holdem hands run much closer in value than Omaha hands do -- urban myths not to the contrary. If you don't know and appreciate this basic concept, you are going to be in trouble in Omaha. Omaha has a fairly large group of hands that will win at double the rate of randomish hands. Few Holdem hands can say the same. Only playing good starting hands, and raising before the flop with many of them, is the basics of winning in loose-game, low to middle limit Omaha.

Schooling in Omaha... "Schooling" is a common phenomenon in loose-game Holdem. When several players play badly by calling with weak draws, like gutshot straights or backdoor flushes, these players partially protect each other by making the "price" on each of their calls better. If only one player calls with a gutshot draw, usually that is a significant mistake, but if several players make similar calls, now the pot is big enough to make the calls profitable, or at least much less bad. Properly understanding the strategy involved in schooling is a key skill in loose-game Holdem. (See article on Holdem Schooling here.)

There is no parallel schooling phenomenon in Omaha -- quite the contrary. In Omaha, schooling benefits the favorites, not the underdogs. This reverse schooling phenomenon is what makes Omaha often mindlessly profitable. Players with four outs or less call bets from players with twenty outs, and no matter how many people call, the twenty outs player continues to have twenty outs. Despite the definite reverse profitability of "schooling" in Omaha, poor players engage in it all the time. They look at a big pot and call bets hoping to get lucky, even though they may be drawing totally dead.

Suppose you flop a top set of three kings against seven opponents. The true enemies of your KKK (or any strong Omaha hand) are the first two callers (meaning the two opponents with the most outs). On a flop of KsQd7c for example, we are afraid of AJTx wrap-straight draws. That's the first caller or two. Then we have open-end straight draws. We are the favorite over those (and all the rest of the draws). Next are backdoor flush draws. Then we worry about the lame backdoor straight draws around the seven. Naturally, many of these longshot draws overlap each other. For instance, if the Ace-high spade flush draw calls us, we certainly love the five-high spade flush draw to call, drawing dead. Yes, they may win sometimes, but we love these sixth, seventh, and eighth callers!

With the KKK, if we assume we won't win unless we fill up, and we don't fill up on the turn, we will have ten outs of the forty-four possible cards, meaning we will fill up 23% of the time. Even if we lose to quads the 3% part of that, that's still a one out of five win percentage, for a scoop, while getting six, seven or eight way action. Additionally, we'll normally have our own backdoor draws. If we have two backdoor King-high flush draws, this will further destroy what little power the sixth, seventh and eight callers have, as their backdoor baby flush draws in our suits are contributing totally dead money on that aspect of their hands.

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