How to play omaha poker

Value starting hands in Omaha

Don’t waste your chips betting every hand. Instead, learn the value of starting hands.

Low limit Omaha 8/b is a game of the nuts. Either holding the nut (best) hand, or having a strong draw to the best hand is crucial if you’re going to stay in a pot, as in low limit games more than half of a full 10-person table will routinely be seeing flops, and with players holding 4 hole cards each there are obviously going to be strong hands out there. Better hands are needed to win pots at Omaha than at Hold ‘Em, obviously. Your biggest edge in low limit Omaha 8/b games will come from your preflop hand selection. Most players who’ve “graduated” from Hold ‘Em to Omaha have no idea what makes a good Omaha 8/b starting hand, and so they will have a tendency to play junk hands thinking that they’re actually good, or just to play junk hands because they think Omaha is just plain “gambling”.

There are three basic rules that govern sensible starting hand selection. If you don’t remember anything else from this guide, remember these three things:

  • Your 4 hole cards need to work well together and have lots of favourable flop potential.
  • Any hand with a “middle” (7 through 10) card in it must have three very strong other cards accompanying it, as middle cards are practically worthless.
  • As in Hold ‘Em, your position is important and you can loosen up your starting hand requirements slightly in late position if nobody has shown strength.

Let’s examine the most important of these rules in more detail. Rule 1 states that your 4 hole cards “need to work well together”. What does this mean? Let’s take a look at two starting hands which demonstrate this pretty well:

Hand 1: AhKs8d4d

HAND 1: AhKs8d4d

Hand 2: AcKsQc2s

HAND 2: AcKsQc2s
(the lowercase letter denotes the suit, for example Ah = Ace of hearts)

AhKs

+

QdJhTc

Hand 1 is exactly the sort of hand that a fresh Hold ‘Em fish who is trying Omaha 8/b will invariably think is great. Yes, we have A-K, but neither the Ace nor the king have any flush or backup straight possibilities. By “backup straight possibilities”, I mean there is no other high card in the hand that makes part of the nut (Ace-high) straight. The only way for AK84 to make the nut straight is with a board involving QJT, and even then if there are three suited cards on the board or the board is paired you may well not have the best hand.

Hand 1 has two suited cards, but they are the 8d and 4d, and playing an 8-high flush against any action is a sure recipe for going broke quickly.

Ah4d

+

AsKh

Hand 1 may also get Mr. Fishy excited because it has A4. “I have a low draw!” In low-limit games other players will play A2xx and A3xx religiously, even hands like A388, which are invariably easy folds. If you play A4, you are relying on a 2 and/or a 3 to flop, and relying on a low number of certain specific cards flopping in Omaha 8/b is not a good idea. An A4 would be a decent backup to a strong hand such as AhAs4sKh, where you have a very strong hand to contest the high pot with, but once again it alone is no reason to play a “nothing” hand.

In essence, the cards in Hand 1 do not work well together. Very rarely will you flop the nuts or a good nut draw with Hand 1, which is what you are looking to do.

AcKsQc2s

+

AdJsTh

or

KhJsTc

or

QdJhTc

or

JsTd9c

Now look at Hand 2. This is a good starting hand, superior to Hand 1 in many ways. Firstly, the nut straight possibilities are better. This exact situation won’t happen very often at low limits, as people will be staying in with all sorts of draws, but the basic lesson remains – it’s often crucial to have outs to an even better hand if you flop a good hand, even if you have the nuts in some cases.

Hand 2 also has Ace-high and King-high flush possibilities. In Omaha 8/b, you do not want to be drawing to anything less than a King-high flush without any backup possibilities if there’s big multiway action, as you may well be drawing dead or near-dead to a player with a made hand and another player with an Ace/King-high flush draw.

Finally, Hand 2 has A2 for low. A2 alone is no reason to play a hand, but when combined with other good cards, for example another low card or a good high hand such as Hand 2 it only makes a good hand even stronger, as it gives you a chance of scooping both the high and low pots if three low cards flop.

Limp more in Omaha

Sometimes it can be worth seeing a cheap flop.

You will be limping in preflop a lot more in low-limit Omaha 8/b than in Hold ‘Em, mainly because you will often want to see a flop cheaply. However, the advice some people give, “Never raise preflop” is nonsense. If you are sure you are holding the best hand with the best drawing potential at the moment, getting more money in the pot while you have the best hand is obviously a good idea. Sometimes you will have to fold after the flop comes out unfavourably, but when the flop comes out good, which it will do more often for good starting hands than for bad ones, your preflop raise means you’re on the way to maximising your profit from the hand. One final note about raising preflop – sometimes in limit Hold ‘Em even at low limits raising to eliminate others from the hand is possible. In low limit Omaha 8/b, you should only be raising preflop for value, and you should never raise preflop to try and eliminate people from the hand (say if you have AA99, a hand you‘d like to be heads up with), as the majority of people just do not fold, even with KJ84.

So what sort of hands should you be playing? Hands with good nut drawing potential, hands where all 4 of the cards complement each other. Double-suited hands (i.e hands with 2 of one suit and 2 of another suit), hands with 3 or 4 Broadway cards (Ace-to-Ten), hands with 3 or 4 Wheel cards (Ace-to-Five), hands with high pairs (KKxx and lower is dangerous to play without other good cards though, and middle pairs are always muckable), hands with A-2 and A-3. The more of the above features a hand has, the better it is. There is no equivalent to an AA-style powerhouse hand in Omaha 8/b, however there are a lot of hands which are equivalent in power to AK, and these are the hands you want to be playing. Stick to these guidelines and you’ll have an edge over your opponents even before a flop is dealt. I could give you a list of good starting hands, but taking this information and making the list yourself would be much more helpful to you.