Omaha Tips

Omaha High

Omaha Poker Tips

Transitioning From Holdem to Omaha

by Jesse Knight
Differences Between Holdem and Omaha

Omaha Poker Games

Omaha Poker TipsMany players shy away from Omaha games because they find their first few experiences with it awkward and confusing. This is not unreasonable. If you are a Holdem player, you may have already realized that Omaha is a different game which requires a completely different approach. What you may not realize is that there are a few common but unnecessary mistakes which tend to trip up novice Omaha players. Reading hands can also be confusing for the Omaha novice, because of the sheer number of cards in play, and also because they fail to remember the cardinal rule of Omaha, which is:

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.

Omaha is a fantastic game with great action and excellent profit making potential for the expert. While it may appear convoluted and confusing to the passerby, it is really a pretty straightforward game. If you can get a firm understanding of some of the Omaha poker tips offered in this article, it will make the transition from Holdem to Omaha a lot easier. For an article on the more difficult transition from Holdem to Omaha Eight or Better (Also known as Omaha Hi/Lo, Omaha Split, Omaha EOB, or O8) read Learn Omaha High/Low. To learn Omaha poker rules, check out the How to Play Omaha article, linked on the left.

Omaha Hi is a game that is most commonly played in a pot limit format (called Pot Limit Omaha or PLO), at middle and high limits. You may also see it spread as a limit game, and it enjoys a fair amount of popularity in certain regions of the country, predominantly in the South and the Midwest. It is also sometimes included in the rotation in a Mix game or a Half and Half game. Except for the Cardinal Rule, the game is similar to Hold’em in many ways. They are both flop games and are both straight high games. Many Hold’em players make the transition to Omaha Hi because the action is frequently better. It is also a game where there tends to be a large gap in playing ability between the best players and the worst players, opening the door for excellent profit potential.

While the similarities between the games are striking, it is the differences which are most important, and I will discuss some of those differences here. Omaha and Holdem are two different games, and they require significantly different approaches. The first and most crucial thing to understand is that the power dynamic between made (but not necessarily completed) hands and drawing hands is completely different in Omaha than it is in Hold’em. In Hold’em, the strongest possible drawing hand, an open ended straight flush draw on the flop, is only a small favorite over a pair of pocket aces. This just shows that most draws just aren’t that powerful in Holdem. Despite the number of bad beats you may take in a Hold’em game, it is actually fairly difficult to suck out. This brings me to a very important point.

In a Holdem game, the hand that is in the lead typically drives the betting, and forces those players who are drawing to pay to draw. This approach will not work in an Omaha game. If you want to be a successful Omaha player, you must abandon this mindset draw hand inferiority.

In an Omaha game, the draws often drive the betting, and correctly so. The reason for this is that, unlike Holdem, The best draws are huge favorites over weak or moderately strong made or even completed hands. One simple reason for this is the difference in the number of cards you are dealt preflop between Holdem and Omaha. In a Holdem game, you are dealt a two card starting hand from which you typically use either one or two cards. That adds up to three possible one or two card combinations. In an Omaha game, you are dealt four cards before the flop. Even with the Cardinal Rule (that they must be played two at a time) it amounts to six possible combinations. This opens up the possibility for a single player to frequently have two or three different draws, or to have a super draw, known as a “wrap” (a straight draw which can be completed by several different cards). The extra power afforded the draw has the effect of making the draw the dominant force in Omaha, exactly the opposite of Holdem.

In addition to giving the draw dominance, the four card starting hand also leads to higher ranked completed hands in Omaha than are typically made in Holdem games. This leads novice Omaha players with Holdem backgrounds to frequently make similar mistakes when valuing their hands. One mistake that former Holdem players frequently make is that they fail to bet their big draws aggressively enough. Many of the top draws in an Omaha game are worthy of capping the betting all the way to the river, especially if there is multi-way action. If you are a tight and solid Holdem player, you are probably not accustomed to jamming it with big draws all that often when you are sure that you are up against a made hand. Learning to jam it with the right draws is a major adjustment, but one that you will absolutely have to make if you want to have success at Omaha.

A second mistake that former Holdem players make is that they overvalue their made hands, because they are evaluating their hand’s strength by Holdem standards and not Omaha standards. For example, if a player were to flop top and bottom pair in a Holdem game, they would have a strong hand and would be correct to bet and probably raise with it aggressively. In an Omaha game, top and bottom pair on the flop is often trash. If you routinely jam with it, it will not turn out well for you in the long run. To have success in Omaha, you need to recalibrate how strong of a hand that you will need to bet, to raise, and ultimately to win the pot with.

One thing that will help you recalibrate this is for you to understand that in an Omaha game, it is often necessary for you to complete your hand if you want it to have a good chance of winning the pot. A Holdem player knows that when they make two pair or a set, or even top pair, they have a good chance to win the pot without improving. In an Omaha game, two pair or a set will often not hold up if a full house is not completed. In many cases, you will be up against a completed straight or flush when you are drawing to fill. In an Omaha game, top set is often just another draw that frequently loses when you do not complete a full house. Obviously, straight draws and flush draws must also be completed if you are to win the pot. This makes Omaha a game of completed draws much more so than Holdem.

A third mistake former Holdem players make is that they forget the Cardinal Rule of Omaha. When forming your hand you must always use exactly two cards from your hand. This means that you will not be able to form your hand in the same way you do in a Holdem game, where the use of zero, one, or two hole cards are all permitted. For example, if you were playing Holdem, and held A♠K♦, and the board read 4♠8♠T♠2♠5♦, you would play only the A♠, and hold an ace high flush. If you were playing Omaha and held A♠K♦8♦2 ♦ with the same board, 4♠8♠T♠2♠5♦, you would not have a flush, because of the Cardinal Rule. Instead, your hand would be read as eights and deuces (8♦8♠2♦2♠T♠). Similarly, if you held J♠T♦ in a Holdem game, and the board read J♥J♣4♥4♣2♠, you would be able to play only one card, the J♠, and would hold a full house, Jacks full of fours. If you were playing Omaha with the same board, J♥J♣4♥4♣2♠, and held A♠J♦K♥Q♥, you would not have a flush, again because of the Cardinal Rule. In this situation, your hand would be read as three jacks with an ace (J♥J♠J♣A♠4♥), and you would lose to a player holding 2♦3♦4♠5♠, who hand would be read as fours full of deuces (4♥4♣4♠2♦2♠).

These are some of the most common mistakes that Holdem players make when switching to Omaha. These types of mistakes can be easily avoided by familiarizing yourself with major differences that exist between the games, by always paying attention, and by never forgetting the Cardinal Rule of Omaha: Always, always, always, use two cards from your hand and three cards from the board. If you can utilize some of the Omaha poker tips offered here, you should be able to maximize your winnings at the tables.

Also see: Omaha Hi-Low Basics, Scooping in Omaha High/Low and Omaha Hand Selection

Omaha Poker 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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