In Omaha, play with the nuts!

By Kenny Smith

Omaha continues to be one of my favorite community-card poker games. It is a game that is flooded with action—pots average 12 to 20 big bets at showdown. This type of action can be enticing to any poker player.

But with that adrenaline rush, also comes frustration. Too many times I get to showdown and see that my made flush or low hand is second best. After my first three sessions I left the table scratching my head, trying to figure out what had happened. I took a day to review the hands that I lost, and why I lost them. What I learned helped to sharpen me up for the next time I sat in the game.

There are variations of Omaha—Hi/Lo, Pot Limit (PLO), and PLO 8 (for this article I will focus on Hi/Lo). Within these variations one thing remains constant: Omaha is a nut game.

Simply stated, if you don’t have the nut high or low when you get to showdown, you probably won’t win a share of the pot. This can make the game very difficult to master.

However, with appropriate discipline, an intermediate (or even novice) player can be turned into one of the most feared players at the table who crushes the game continuously.

There are three fundamental disciplines that can help with this change.

Pre-flop. Look for a reason to fold your hand. As stated earlier, Omaha is a game that you want to play for the nuts. This means that when you look at your hand pre-flop you want to try to play hands that can scoop the whole pot. This is especially important when playing Hi/Lo, where pots are split quite often.

Playing hands that may only gain you half of the pot at showdown can be a long-term losing proposition. I won’t get into the strategic element of the best starting hands to play, so you will have to do that research on your own. But if you don’t have a starting hand that has scoop potential, you are better off saving chips and waiting for a better spot.

After the flop. If you can’t make the nuts, GET OUT! This is a level of iron clad discipline where many players fail and is what contributed to my early frustration. Many players don’t like to fold because it turned out to be a hand that would have won a portion of the pot.

Because of the high level of action that is associated with Omaha, it is easy to be distracted from the right decision. You can end up trapping yourself in a hand because “the pot’s too big.” Instead you should let go of a hand when logic and pot odds dictate that you should fold.

Remember, in any form of poker, you’re not trying to win the most pots. You’re trying to win the most money! If you do see the flop, you have to be brutally honest with yourself and ask, “Can I make the nuts with this hand?” If the answer is not a resounding “yes,” you should fold and wait for another opportunity.

Making hero calls with substandard hands is not profitable in the long term. These types of calls will cost you more money than you will end up winning.

Never chase a draw when the board is paired. All too often players find themselves drawing to a straight or flush on a paired board only to be drawing dead to a made full house. There are only a few reasons to deviate from this rule, and unless you are an expert player it would be wise not to let yourself fall into this trap. Consider any draw that you have, even a low draw, to be dead in the water once the board pairs. It’s not worth the risk.

Omaha can be extremely addicting, especially with the amount of action that is attached to it. Once a player becomes comfortable with the game, along with understanding how to either build a pot when the edge is on their side or to dump a hand, that player can find themselves in a game where they can make a tremendous amount of money.

My personal advice would be to do some study on the game to get a clear understanding of how to play. After that, stand over a table for a few sessions and watch all of the action from the moment the cards are dealt, all the way to showdown.

Once you feel comfortable with seeing how players are approaching the game, take the plunge and jump in. Give yourself about two to three buy-ins for separate sessions to play, because the first couple of outings can be a little rough. The road will be a little smoother though if you play strong, tight poker from the start. If you do that, odds are you will discover a great deal of enjoyment from the game.