Learn Omaha High/Low

Omaha Eight or Better

Learn Omaha High/Low

Transitioning From Holdem to Omaha Hi/Lo

by Jesse Knight
Omaha High/Low Tips

Learn Omaha Hi/Low

Omaha Poker GamesMaking the transition from Holdem to Omaha Hi/Lo is difficult for many players, especially if they are unfamiliar with the Hi/Lo format. There are several reasons for this. The primary reason that most players struggle with this transition is that the two games are so radically different. Holdem players often do not realize the extent of the differences between the games, and they do not prepare themselves adequately before they sit down in an Omaha Hi/Lo game. Frequently, they end up looking like a fish out of water. They are unable to evaluate their hand’s strength and do not have the ability to read obvious betting clues from their opponents. They often misread their hand, and sometimes are unable to read their hand altogether. Much of the time they are so lost that by the time the pot is being pushed, they have no idea where the chips are going. When it is their turn to act, they have no idea whether they should check, bet, or throw their hand away. This can slow the game down to a crawl and annoy the other players. It becomes painfully obvious to everyone that the new player has no idea what is going on and can’t keep up with the action. Many new Omaha Hi/Lo players have been through this humiliating experience, and it is often enough to get them to abandon the idea of playing Omaha Hi/Lo forever.

This is a shame, because Omaha High/Low is a great game, and one that is necessary to have under your belt if you are to be considered as an all around player. There is a learning curve with the game, and it may be steeper than the learning curves on other poker games, but it is not rocket science. With a little preparation, negative experiences like these can be completely avoided. In order to make the transition to Omaha High/Low easier than what is depicted above, the novice player must master a few key concepts that make Omaha High/Low different from any other poker game. Once this is done, the player can begin to develop his game. Some players have an particular affinity for Omaha High/Low and are able to become skilled at the game rather quickly. Omaha High/Low is a game where there is typically wide difference between the skill levels of the various players in the game. This creates excellent profit potential for the skilled player. Some players are hooked instantly, and never return to playing Holdem once they learn Omaha High Low.

If you want the transition from Holdem to Omaha Hi-Lo to happen smoothly, you will need to prepare yourself with some basic knowledge about the game you will be transitioning to. After learning the Omaha Hi/Lo rules (see the How to Play Omaha article linked on the left), the first thing you need to do is to always remember the Cardinal Rule of Omaha:

When forming your five card hand, you must use exactly two cards from your four card hand and three cards from the board. No other five card combination is ever permitted.

This rule leads to problems for many new Omaha Hi-Lo players, as there is no such requirement for any other poker game other than Omaha. Most poker games allow you to form your best five card hand from the cards available to you, without many restrictions on the way in which your hand can be formed. The Cardinal rule of Omaha is significantly restrictive. New players should always double check that their hand, as they are reading it, falls into this format. Hands which are not formed in the two card/three card format are not valid Omaha hands and will not be permitted to play. In order to make sure that you are in compliance with the Cardinal Rule, always use exactly two hole cards when forming your hand, no more, no less.

In order to learn Omaha Hi-Lo, you need to understand that is a split pot game, which means that the best high hand and the best low hand split the pot at the conclusion of the hand, so long as a valid low hand has been made. If no valid low hand is made, the high hand wins the entire pot. Players may mix and match their hole cards to make their best possible high hand and their best possible low hand, in an effort to win the entire pot, which is called "scooping the pot” or a “scooper.” They may use different hole card to form their high and their low, but both hands must comply with the Cardinal Rule.

The Cardinal rule can sometimes confuse the forming of hands for players who are used to not having restrictions on the way that their hand is formed. This can happen for both high hands and low hands, but confusion is more frequent and profound on the low side, primarily because of a concept called “counterfeiting your low.” Counterfeiting is probably the concept that new Omaha players have the most trouble with. Remembering the cardinal Rule, along with a lot of practice reading low hands, will help you to tackle it.

Here is how counterfeiting works: Remember that Omaha High-Low is a split pot game, and that one of the objectives of the game is to make the best possible low hand, while keeping in mind the Cardinal Rule. Aces can count as either high or low, and the same ace may be used both ways in different combinations, making the aces extremely valuable for both high and low. Since you are only allowed to use two cards from your hand, the two card combination that will most commonly make the best low hand is A-2 (typically read as “ace-deuce”). While holding A-2 will increase your chances that you will make the nut low, it is certainly no guarantee. First, you will have to qualify for the nut low with A-2, and second, you will have to avoid being counterfeited.

Because of the Cardinal Rule, in order for a low hand to qualify, there must be at least three low cards of different rankings on the board. In Omaha High-Low, a low card is typically defined as having a rank of eight or lower. This is why people sometimes refer to Omaha High-Low as Omaha Eight or Better. If none of the low cards that hit the board is an ace or a deuce, than A-2 will make the best possible low, which is typically called the “nut low.” If an ace or a deuce subsequently appears on the board, you can be counterfeited, in which case you would no longer have the nut low, and your low holding would be at risk. For example, imagine that the flop is 4-6-7. If you held A-2-T-T, and your opponent held A-3-K-K, you would have the nut low with 7-6-4-2-A, and your opponent would have the second nut low with 7-6-4-3-A. If the hand were over at this point, you would clearly have the superior low hand, and win the low side of the pot. But watch what happens when a deuce comes on the turn, so that the board now reads 4-6-7-2. Your opponent now has the nut low with a 6-4-3-2-A. He also has the best high hand, with a pair of kings. The best low that you can make now is a 7-6-4-2-A. The arrival of the deuce on the board compromised, or “counterfeited” your low. Once one of the cards from your hand which you were using to construct a low holding appears on the board, there is a very good chance that you have been counterfeited.

Because your opponent did not pair up on any of his low cards as you did, he still holds a “two card low.” In order to make a two card low, you must play only hole cards from your hand that do not also appear on the board. Your opponent is playing A-3 from his hand for low. Since neither an ace nor a three have appeared on the board, your opponent still holds a two card low. You, on the other hand, hold a one card low. When you paired the deuce on the turn you compromised your two card low. Your low is now 7-6-4-2-A, which is the same low that any player holding an ace plus any low card from the board has also made. Now, A-2, A-4, A-6, and A-7 all make the same 7-6-4-2-A for low. All of these hands are referred to as having a “live” ace. When you have counterfeited your low, the card that you did not pair is commonly referred to as “live.” As you can see, when you counterfeit and are forced to play a one card low, you will often lose the low side of the pot entirely, or may be forced to share it with several other players.

Sometimes evaluating the low is pretty straightforward, and sometimes it is more difficult, depending upon the texture of the board. Because of the Cardinal Rule, in order for a low to even exist, there must be at least three unpaired low cards on the board. Reading the low hands is simple when the number of low cards on the board does not surpass three. When four or five unpaired low cards appear on the board, reading the hands correctly becomes much more difficult. When this happens it is important to remember that low hands are counted backwards from the highest card to the lowest, and that a six low always beats a seven low or an eight low no matter how it is constructed, or which cards are live. Keeping the Cardinal Rule in mind will also help you to read the more confusing low oriented hands.

Since you are coming from Holdem, there is a good chance that the split pot format is new to you. In a Holdem game, the high hand wins the entire pot, so it makes sense that players typically select high cards rather than low cards to play. In an Omaha Hi/Lo game, you want to try to play hands that have the potential to scoop (win both the high and the low sides of the pot). These are commonly referred to as “two-way” hands. The top hand before the flop in an Omaha Hi/Lo game is A-A-2-3 double suited. While two way hands are preferred in Omaha Hi/Lo, strong high only or low only hands are also playable in certain situations. If you want to learn Omaha Hi/Lo, you need to have a firm grasp of the split pot format. Omaha is also commonly played as a high only game in a pot limit format, called Pot Limit Omaha or PLO for short.

Omaha Hi/Lo players are dealt a four card starting hand, and five community cards ultimately appear on the board. This gives each player nine cards to create a five card hand from. This is more than virtually any other poker game, and leads to very powerful hands being made, both on the high side and the low side, even with the Cardinal Rule in play. The nuts are a frequent occurrence, especially the nut low. It is even common for two or more players to make the nut low on the same hand. When two players both make the same winning low hand, they must split the low side of the pot. This is called “getting quartered,” and it can cost you more in bets then you receive back in winnings, especially if you are heads up. You will frequently lose money or break even in the hand when you get quartered. This is why it is often unwise to raise the pot when you have the nut low, but do not have much of a high hand to go with it. Unlike Holdem, just because you have the nuts, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should raise.

Because players tend to make stronger hands in Omaha than in Holdem, as a former Holdem player you will need to recalibrate how you judge hand strength when playing Omaha High/Low. When the board pairs in an Omaha game, a full house is a frequent occurrence. You need to be careful about drawing slim or dead. In general, you want to be careful about drawing to non-nut hands, especially out of position. You don’t always have to have the nuts to win, but the nuts will win frequently. The nut flush draw is a very big draw in Omaha High/Low, especially when it is combined with a second draw like a nut low draw. Top set and a wheel wrap are the other top draws in Omaha High/Low. You can often win a very large pot by completing these types of hands. For more discussion on the importance of hand selection, read the article Omaha High/Low Hand Selection.

Anytime that you learn a new poker game, there is going to be a learning curve involved, and you are going to make mistakes. You should expect this when you make the transition from Hold’em to Omaha Hi/Lo. You can minimize these mistakes by preparing for the differences between the two games, by always remembering the Cardinal Rule, and by paying close attention. It really isn’t necessary to put off learning to play Omaha because you find it intimidating. The game is only confusing at first; as you gain experience your comfort level will quickly increase. The most important thing is to never forget the Cardinal Rule of Omaha. Here’s hoping your transition to Omaha Hi/Lo is a smooth one. Good luck at the tables.

Also see: Omaha High-Low Basics and Transitioning from Holdem to Omaha

Omaha Hi-Lo Strategy

Articles written by Jesse Knight:
Poker Game Theory
Poker Logic: Game Theory Modeling and Poker
A few in-depth definitions by Jesse Knight:
Angle, Backer, Behind
Big Blind, Floorman, Cards Speak
Value, Variance, Check Raise

Omaha Holdem Basics


(c) Shirley Rosario

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