Poker Strategy: Four or Five Cards are Better Than Two
Why Omaha is Best
As the game of poker gained more widespread popularity around the world, the most common variant was the traditional Texas Hold’em. Initially played in the limit variant, it was soon toppled by no-limit as it unleashed far more excitement. Since then, several dozen other poker variants have been established, each with their own unique poker rules.
The most well-known live poker events are still No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) such as the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, as well as the flagship tournaments of the European Poker Tour, the World Poker Tour and many other international poker tournaments and online poker. Other poker variants have waxed and waned in popularity, including the newest up and coming variants, like Short Deck, thanks in part to the live stream action of the Triton (Super) High Roller series.
The Great Game
While I do enjoy some different variations on occasion, one specific poker variant has become my run-away favorite. Often labeled as “the great game”, Pot-Limit Omaha has a special place in my poker heart and I always request to cover the Pot Limit Omaha poker games during the World Series Of Poker.
What exactly makes it so special, how does it differentiate itself from NLHE and why should you definitely try it? I will try to answer that and hopefully spark some interest for my favorite of all of the common poker games. Hopefully I’ll see you at the PLO cash game tables or tournaments on GGPoker.
The Poker Game: PLO & NLHE Differences
The first thing anyone would notice when they play poker at a PLO table, and the most obvious difference between the two most popular poker games either live or online poker rooms, is the number of hole cards each player is dealt. In No Limit Hold’em you are dealt two hole cards – with some variants dealing three cards and forcing a discard. In Omaha, players are dealt four hole cards. Some Omaha variants have the players dealt five cards or even six cards, but unlike the Hold’em variants, players keep all their hole cards. In addition to the extra cards, players, when making their poker hand, must use exactly two cards from their hand and three from the community cards.
This opens up a far more complex game tree as you suddenly have to consider significantly more combinations on each street. The ultimate goal should always be making the best possible hand but even if you hit that on the flop, there is no guarantee that your hand will still be the best on the turn and river.
Simplifying PLO as ‘Hold’em times two’, because you have four hole cards, would be like calling a diamond ‘just a dense piece of coal’. The increased variations in combinations can lead to trouble, mistakes and is a roller coaster of emotions all while you sit stunned trying to figure out what just happened. But don’t worry, the poker game is not as complicated as it may sound at first.
Common PLO Scenarios
A sudden preflop raising war results in all the chips going into the pot. Most of the time when you play poker at a PLO poker table, you can expect a pair of aces to be involved, but in PLO not all aces equal. To increase equity for various scenarios, it is always useful to put everything at risk before the flop when you have various straight or nut flush combinations. For cash poker games, many players knowingly get it all-in with double-suited connectors because those have a decent chance to crack plenty of ace combinations despite starting as the underdog.
There are other scenarios where you hit the nut flush on the flop, with the suited ace in your hand, and your opponents keep raising. Getting it all-in with the best hand is great, but if there is no way to improve your own hand when you play poker, the outcome could be disastrous. In PLO, it makes more sense to control the pot and see the next community card than risking everything with a mediocre flush and no possible improvement.
Many of these clashes, especially when you play online poker, will be up against a worse flush that has more potential, like two pair or a made set. An opponent with that many outs is very dangerous. Repeating this thought process should be on your mind for every betting round; however, the river action will be slightly different.
All of the community cards are dealt and you have the best possible hand combination. How do you get the full value from your opponent, what is the sweet spot on this last bet to further build your stack? What do you do with the nut flush or a straight on a paired board when you lead and get reraised? Are you able to lay down a full house when facing the same resistance?
Complexity of Poker Strategy in PLO
These are just some of the questions that should always be at the forefront on every betting round when playing PLO poker games. The potential combinations become even trickier when playing the 5-card variation. And on the topic of variations, Pot Limit Omaha can also be played as a hi-lo poker game where everyone competes for both a low hand and a high hand.
Diving into more advanced strategies would require tens of thousands of words and, to be honest, while I have played tens of thousands of online poker hands at PLO tables, I don’t have the knowledge or wisdom to properly explain all of it. Phil Galfond and the Run It Once team have online poker courses for that if ‘The Great Game’ has managed to pique your interest.
Participating in NL Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, sit & go, or cash games, whether you play live or online poker, gives a chance to pretty much every poker enthusiast. The most sophisticated card sharks, with thousands of hours studying game theory, may have a strategic advantage in this poker variant, but the average poker player can run very well, even with just a basic understanding, and find themselves the recipient of a massive payday.
PLO Poker Variance and the Players
When playing PLO, this random victory by the lesser known participants can still happen, but it is, in my experience covering some of the most prestigious international poker tournaments, far less frequent. There are undeniably specialists for every mixed game and variants including Omaha, and these live and online poker specialists tend to consistently run deep in major PLO poker tournaments. This has never surprised me and appears to confirm that a more dedicated knowledge base will lead to consistent success.
One example is Californian businessman Tommy Le. He has reached numerous PLO final tables at the WSOP and only comes to Las Vegas to compete in the four card variant. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has several appearances on live-streamed final tables at various tournaments.
The UK’s Robert Cowen is another strong contender who claimed his second title this past summer at the World Series of Poker to double his bracelet tally. He defeated Dash Dudley, another PLO specialist, the WSOP bracelet in the $25,000 High Roller poker tournament. Dash Dudley wasn’t completely shut out as he ventured into some NLHE poker tournaments and won his third career WSOP bracelet.
Is all of that just sheer coincidence? Possibly, but personally I don‘t think so. These specialists are on the right side of variance too regularly for it to just be luck. Of course there is a certain bias involved because far fewer players take part in PLO competitions when compared to the overwhelming popularity of NLHE. But it’s also far more exciting and complicated to keep all card combinations and all of the backup options in mind. Risk management becomes even more important while you can also gamble more with the right odds at stake.
If any of the above has sparked your interest in Omaha, you can try it on GGPoker, just remember to have fun. Poker is just a game.