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Breaking Down the Non-Hold’em Games Part 1

As the No-Limit Texas Hold’em games continue to get harder post-UIGEA it is only natural for players to branch out into other forms of poker looking for softer tables. In the past, online poker sites just offered Hold’em and Omaha; however, there are now a wide variety of games offered at most major sites including Stud (including razz and 8b), Omaha Hi/Lo, Draw (2-7, 5-card draw, Badugi), and mixed games such as PokerStars’ 8-game and FullTilt’s 7-game. The most well known mixed game is HORSE due to the air time it gained on ESPN during the $50k HORSE championship.

All of these games have their own set of rules that are quite different from one another. The same can be said for basic strategy. It is imperative to understand the rules and general tactics before entering these games. It might seem simple, but at the smaller stakes you will see a lot of players making mistakes due to not understanding the rules of the game they are playing.

The most popular non-Hold’em game is Pot-Limit Omaha. Practically every poker site runs a large variety of stakes generally starting as low as $2 buy-in PLO.

Pot-Limit Omaha Rules

The major different between Pot-Limit Omaha and Texas Hold’em is quite obvious from the moment you take your seat. Instead of being dealt two hole cards, each player at the table will receive four cards. The biggest mistake players make is when it comes to using these cards. You can only use up to two cards in your hand and up to three cards on the board when creating a five-card poker hand. Everyone who has played a significant amount of PLO has undoubtedly run into a player who thought they had the nut flush with just one card in their hand and four on the board. The same can be said for players who thought they had a full house with three of a kind on the board, and one of their hole cards pairing another board cards. Let’s look at some common hand mistakes.

Player A holds: As Kc Jd Td

Board: 8s 9s 4h 7s Ks

In this example a player new to the game might feel he/she is holding an ace-high flush. This is not the case, as you can only use three of the five boards cards. The only way Player A could have made a flush in this hand is if three diamonds had come on the board. While this player does not have a flush, they do have a straight. Unfortunately, if a lot of money goes in the pot in this scenario they will usually be up against a flush, which beats their hand.

Player A holds: Ac Kc Qh Jh

Player B holds: 2s 2c 4h 5h

Board: Ad 7s 7h 9c 7d

In this example player B wins the pot with a full house, sevens over deuces. This is another commonly missed scenario where Player A might feel he/she has a full house when they really have three-of-a-kind with an Ac Kc kicker. On the flop and turn Player A was way head but the rive card counterfeited their hand and gave Player B a full house.

The betting rules and structure follow that of a Pot-Limit Hold’em game. There is a betting round before the flop as well as after the flop, turn, and river. Players can only bet or raise the size of the pot on each street which is calculated automatically when playing online.

Pot-Limit Omaha Basic Strategy

At lower levels the best strategy is going to be a tight-aggressive one where we look to make nut hands and get a lot of money in the middle of the pot. This involves playing hands with nut-potential like big pairs, rundowns (i.e. 6789), and suited-Axxx hands. Making the nut flush on an un-paired board will generally net you a lot of money because a lot of bad players will draw to inferior hands and never fold once they get there. You can also make money in these spots by betting your better draws and having opponents chase when they are drawing nearly dead.

Identifying the type of opponent you are up against will go a long way in determining the optimal strategy. Against tight players like yourself you will need to give a lot of respect to their pre-flop re-raises and post-flop betting. These same players will turn their hands face-up a lot and give up on contested pots. The best strategy to employ against the tighter opponents is to bet/fold a lot where you can win a lot of pots by bluffing and then just give up when these opponents offer resistance. Against looser players you will want to play a tighter range and play aggressively when you make a strong hand. You do not necessarily need a nut hand to make a lot of money off of the fish as they typically call with weak hands. In order to make life easier just continue value-betting against these players until all of the money is in the middle. If scare cards do come you will need to slow down (unless you just made your hand) because these players will typically be drawing against you.

Where to Play Pot-Limit Omaha

It’s safe to assume that nearly every online poker site will offer PLO in their Lobby. Most sites will start as low as $.01/$.02 blinds and go up to and above $25/$50 blinds. For those who enjoy playing SNGs and tournaments, it is not uncommon for poker sites to offer PLO in these structures as well. PLO is typically played in a ring game but sites do offer heads-up PLO which is one of the more exciting forms of poker. The other form of Omaha typically spread online is Limit Omaha Hi/Lo which is a split-pot game.

Omaha Hi/Lo Rules

The only difference between Omaha Hi/Lo (commonly referred to as Omaha 8b or Omaha Eight-or-Better) is as showdown the pot is split between the best high hand and the best low hand, which is five unpaired cards eight or lower. In this game the Ace can be used both as a high card and as a low card. Players can use only two cards to make their high or low hand BUT they can use three or four in making both. For example:

Player A: Ac 2h 5s 5d

Board: 3h 5c 8d Jc Qd

In this case Player A would use the Ac 2h combination to make the best low hand possible, A-2-3-5-8 and would use the 5s 5d combination to also make three-of-a-kind. This hand could very easily win both sides of the pot as the only way to lose the high is to be up against 9T for the straight or a better set.

Most Omaha8b games are played using Limit Hold’em rules where players can bet a fixed amount on each street. Before and after the flop players can bet/raise the size of the Big Blind while on the turn players will be able to bet/raise the size of the Big Bet which is typically what you see listed in the Lobby. For example, a $20/$40 game does not have $20/$40 blinds. In these games the blinds are only $10 and $20 and players can bet/raise $20 at a time before and after the flop. Once the turn comes players will now bet/raise $40 on both the turn and the river. In some casinos there is no limit to how many raises can go in on each street but in most online games only 4 bets can occur before the action is said to be "capped". The rules to winning the low-end of the pot can be quite confusing. Here are a few examples to help clarify some common situations.

Player A: 2c 4c Jh Th

Player B: Ac 6h Ks Qs

Board: Ad 5h 7d Kc Tc

In this scenario player A will win the low half of the pot with A-2-4-5-7 low. Player B does not make a low as you must have five unpaired cards 8 or below. Player B does win the high with Aces-up so the pot would be split between the two. The best low hand starts at the top and works its way down, for example:

2-3-4-5-7 beats A-2-3-4-8, because the 7 is lower than the 8.

The wheel, or A-2-3-4-5, is the nut low and cannot be beat. There are some situations where more than two players are involved and in this case the pot is still split two-ways between the high and low, but each half can be split as well. For example:

Player A: Ac 2h 5d 7s

Player B: Ad 2d Jc Jh

Player C: Kc Kd Qh Qd

Board: Qc 3c 8d 4d Ts

In this hand both Player A and B make the nut low possible, A-2-3-4-8 and Player C wins the high with three queens. In this scenario A and B just got "quartered" which means they only win 1/4th the pot while player C still wins half. This will typically cause Players A and B to actually lose money in the hand even though they held the nut low.

Omaha Hi/Lo Strategy

Just like in PLO the name of the game in Omaha8b is to make the nuts on either end. However, be careful about playing one-way hands, that is, hands that typically will just win the high or low. In a perfect world you want to play two-way hands that can win both sides of the pot, or what is known as "scooping". In order to scoop you need a hand like AA23 that can perhaps make the nut low and an overpair, or even top set as well as the nut low. When dealt a hand like AA23, AK23, AA2x, etc… you should be raising and trying to build a large pot before the flop. Making a bigger pot early helps to commit your opponents to pot on later streets as well as gains immediate value for the strength of your hand.

You should also avoid playing any marginal strength hands when you will be out of position. In Omaha Hi/Lo the strength of your hand means a lot as most pots tend to go to showdown. Semi-bluffing does occur, but in the end you are playing a fixed limit game where players will ultimately be receiving a great price on their calls on the turn and river. Being in position allows you to take free cards when necessary as well as always get in the last bet/raise when you feel you have the best hand or draw. You should play your nut draws aggressively when they have some two-way equity, as in the nut-flush draw as well as a good low draw. It’s never a great idea to try to build the pot when all you can win is half.

Where to Play Omaha Hi/Lo

Most sites that offer PLO will also offer Limit Omaha Hi/Lo. The major sites such as PokerStars, FullTilt, and Party Poker offer micro, small, and high stakes games and some sites even have Pot-Limit and No-Limit varieties of the game. For the most part all of these games are quite fishy at the smaller stakes levels, but are populated by regulars at the mid-stakes games and above. The best place to start would be a level or two below where your bankroll allows and move up as long as you are beating your current stakes.

Stud, Stud8b, and Razz

HORSE stands for Hold’em, Omaha8b, Razz, Stud, and Stud8b (E). This is one of the most popular mixed-game formats in the world and is played for some of the biggest stakes in Bobby’s Room in Las Vegas. A lot of the more famous players in the world did not start out playing Texas Hold’em. In fact, Texas Hold’em was not all that prevalent in card rooms until the past decade. Players like Phil Ivey grew up playing Seven Card Stud which is one of the easiest games to learn but toughest to master.

In all three games above, the betting structure is the same. Players are first dealt two cards face-down and one card face-up. A single round of betting occurs and then another card is dealt face-up to each of the remaining players. Once again a betting round occurs and another card is dealt face-up. This happens once more before another round of betting and a 7th and final card is dealt face down. There is one last round of betting before the cards are shown. This might seem a bit confusing, but it is really quite simple. There are five betting rounds after you are dealt your 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th cards.

There are a few nuances to each game including what is known as the "bring-in" bet and antes. Most players understand what an ante is, a forced bet by all players before the cards are dealt. The bring-in bet is another forced bet but instead of the entire field, just one person is required to post this bet. The bring-in bet is a fraction of the big bet, for example, in a $10/$20 game the bring-in is more than likely $3. In Stud Hi as well as Hi/Lo, the bring-in bet will be posted by the person with the lowest door-card showing. In Razz, the bring-in bet will be posted by the player with the highest door-card. The person with the bring-in responsibility can go ahead and just post their bring-in or they also have the option to raise. If they decide to bring-in the action then begins immediately to their left.

The amount a player can bet is fixed and will be visible in the lobby. For example in a $10/$20 game on 3rd and 4th street players will be able to bet/raise in $10 increments and on 5th, 6th, and 7th they must bet/raise in $20 increments. There is one small exception and that is when a pair is showing on 4th street (meaning both face-up cards are the same) a player is allowed to bet the bigger of the two amounts. Just like in other limit games, there is a cap on the number of bets allowed on each street, which is four. As mentioned earlier, some online rooms and casinos do not cap 7th street, which means players can put in as many bets as they would like on the end. All three games play completely different and it is important to understand which hands win in each game.

Seven-Card Stud

Seven-Card Stud is a high-hand game where players are looking to use their 7 cards to make the best 5-card poker hand possible. The hand rankings are the same as Texas Hold’em and players can only use up to 5 cards in their hand, but it does not matter which five. It is virtually impossible to chop a pot in Seven-Card Stud, but it can happen when two players make exactly the same straight.

The most important part of Seven-Card Stud is starting hand selection. Simple mistakes can turn winning players into losers and plugging these leaks can lead to nice profits. One basic rule is to play three-card starting hands that are all higher than the highest door card being shown. For example, if you are dealt [Kc Qh] Ts and have the highest door card this would be an acceptable hand to play because when it does improve it will likely make the biggest pair possible. Other strong starting hands are three-card flushes such as [As 5s] Ks, especially if there are no other spades visible. If four other players have a spade showing, then obviously making a flush is going to be much more difficult. Three-card straights are decent starting hands and can also backdoor into flushes. Once again, be sure that a lot of your outs have not been dealt to other players.

Being dealt a big pair or a medium pair in the hole with a high-kicker as your door card are good starting hands. These hands can sometimes win unimproved and when they do get better can win very big pots. The best starting hand is what is referred to as "rolled-up" trips or being dealt three-of-a-kind. This hand is not only a strong starting hand but it can improve to a full house or even four-of-a-kind by the river. Another positive of being rolled-up is the deception that comes with it: players will have an extremely hard time putting you on such a big hand with only seeing one of your cards!

The final starting hand which must be touched upon is the Ace door-card. You should only play these hands when you can put the first raise in and you have the respect of your table. Even still, the worst Ace door-card hands should be folded such as [2c 8h] Ad. These hands do not improve enough to make up for the times where you are unable to steal the bring-in and antes with an initial raise.

Going into post-3rd strategy is difficult and will depend a lot on the type of table and opponents you are up against. If you take the lead after 3rd it is best to continue to hammer opponents you feel are drawing against you and always note which cards are dead. Understanding the cards that have been folded will affect how often you complete your draw or might give some insight into the types of hands your opponents could be playing as well.

Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo

Seven-Card Stud is a split-pot game much like Omaha8b. Players are competing for both the high and low end of the pot. The high is exactly the same as Seven-Card Stud; the best five-card poker hand wins that half. The low is given to the player with the best low hand 8-or-better. Players can win both the high and the low and the Ace plays both ways as well. The wheel (A-2-3-4-5) is the nut low and can also win the high half as a straight. You do not have to use the same five cards for both the high and low. Here are some hand examples:

Player A: [Ac 2c] 5c 4h 7c Jd [6c]

Player B: [Kh Kd] Qc Jh Js 4s [Td]

In this example player A would scoop the entire pot as the only person to make a low and by making an Ace-high flush on the end to beat his opponent’s two pair. This is a great demonstration of how playing for just the high end of the pot can backfire. The best strategy for starting hands in Stud8b is to play hands that have two-way potential. Having an Ace in your hand is a great way to start as well as holding and 2-5 3-card combination such as 2-3-5 or 3-4-5. These hands allow you to make both a low and a straight which can scoop both sides of the pot. If you had to choose between playing a hand with low vs. high potential you should choose the hand that can make a low.

Being able to quickly identify all the door cards is important as you will want to note how many cards, 8 or lower, are out of the deck already. You want to figure out if the majority of the table is drawing to a high or low, and then play hands that look to win the other side of the pot. For example, if two or more players have face cards showing and enter the pot, this could be a great time to make a low and win half the pot against 3 or more players. You could also use this scenario to take the pot down early as most players will not chase to just the high side of the pot. If you happen to receive an Ace as a door-card this can be a great stealing opportunity even if your two hole cards are not great.

When playing big pairs you want to make sure the rest of the table is playing for the low. This greatly increases your chances to win half the flop and make a nice profit. The best pairs are when you are dealt a low door-card and a pair in the hole, this helps to disguise your hand and can lead to mistakes from your opponents on the first few betting rounds until things take shape. Playing three-card flushes should only be done when they have the ability to improve to either a high or low without making a flush. For example [5s 6s] 4s is a solid three-card flush hand, as is [As Ks] 2s.

Once you have determined the half of the pot your opponent’s are playing for, you can then begin to decide how to manipulate the size of the pot. If you appear to be in a four way pot with the only high hand, then you are going to want to find a way to get as many bets in the middle as possible. Conversely, if you are drawing to a low against another player while a third player has a high, keeping the pot smaller until you make your hand would be advantageous. Other strategies will revolve around identifying your opponent’s tendencies and using what you know against them.

Razz

The final seven-card game is one of the more frustrating games known to man. Razz is strictly a low-card game where the worst five card hand wins the pot. In Razz straights do not count against your hand and the wheel, or A-2-3-4-5, is the immortal nuts. The game follows standard Stud betting rules but the bring-in is made by the person with the highest door-card showing and the Ace in this case, is low.

Basic strategy for razz revolves around stealing pots on 3rd street and playing solid starting hands that play well against your opponent’s door-cards. There are many ways to steal pots on earlier streets and it revolves around aggression and taking advantage of bad cards rolling off for your opponents while cards that may not necessarily improve your hand scare other players. For example:

Hero: [Ac Td] 2s

Villain: [3c 4h] 8s

Let’s say we raised and our opponent called on 3rd. Then on 4th we were dealt another Ace while they received a queen. This is a great spot to continue betting because even though they have the better three-card hand they cannot possibly know this from the cards being shown. For all they know we raised on 3rd with a hand like 4-6-2 and now have four cards to a 6-low, a very strong hand. As you can see sometimes scare cards are not necessarily scare cards because if a player raised 3rd with a medium card showing and then catches an Ace it’s likely he/she just paired a hole card because they would not have raised in that spot without an Ace in the hole. Picking up pots you would not win at a showdown is a big part of becoming a winning Razz player. Do not be afraid to be aggressive and (semi) bluff when it is necessary and profitable to do so. Against looser players you should play your hands for their face value and get in a lot of bets when you make a strong low.

Starting hand selection is secondary to this but should revolve around hands that are able to make good lows that will beat what your opponents are showing. In some situations a ten low is the nuts and in others it could never be the winning hand. You must be incredibly observant to what cards have been folded and how they relate to both your hand and your opponent’s holdings as well. The key to becoming a good stud player is concentration. If you find yourself losing focus, regularly step away from the table and come back at a better time.

Where to Play Stud/Stud8b/Razz Online

The major sites will run all forms of Stud as well as HORSE games. PokerStars and FullTilt offer these games individually as well as HOSE, HORSE, and other lesser-player combinations such as OE which is great for those who enjoy playing split-pot games.

In part 2 we will dive into the more obscure games such as 2-7 triple draw, Badugi, and other draw variations.

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