Omaha-8 Is A Low Variance Game
Low stakes limit O8 is said to be one of the lowest variance games in poker, especially when played at a full ring table. There are a variety of reasons for this. First, most players at low stakes are simply just very bad. LO8 is an action game and draws the attention of people who want to gamble and have a good time. Ironically, LO8 is also the best game for a nit (gambler who does not want to gamble). LO8 is one of the few games that can satisfy both gamblers and nits. NLHE does not qualify because the bad players bust too quickly. PLO does not qualify because that is a true gambler’s game and not very well catered for nitty players. LO8 is one of those games where bad players don’t lose their money too quickly, mediocre players can make small winnings, and good players can kill the game with relative ease.
You may ask how that is possible. It’s simple. LO8 is a high-low split game. Thus, bad players will suck out for half the pot a good percentage of the time, recouping some losses. Mediocre players will avoid the bigger mistakes of bad players (such as calling down for half the pot with a weak hand) but they still have enough smaller leaks to prevent them from becoming larger winners. And then there are the good players, who have the experience, patience, and discipline to make sound decisions.
Why did I mention discipline? Because LO8 is one of those games that if you do not have your emotions under control, you can expect to lose a lot of money very easily.
The Schooling Effect
Another reason LO8 is very low variance is because the schooling effect is opposite to that in Hold’em. The schooling effect is when many bad players combined have an edge against the good player. For example, you are dealt AA in a limit Hold’em game, you raise preflop, and get 4 callers. Against any one of these players, your AA is a huge favourite. Unfortunately, this is not how poker works. You need to win against all of your opponents, and your AA does not do very well against all of your opponents as a combined force. This is why it is important in LHE and NLHE to raise preflop for isolation so you can get it down to 3 people or heads up.
The schooling effect for LO8 is not nearly as bad, mainly because the game is one of nut hands and nut draws. In Hold’em, your AA is facing 5 outs to each of those underpairs, but your nut flush (draw) or nut low is going to make extra money when your opponents stay in with inferior flushes and lows. And thus, bad beats occur in LO8 a lot less than in holdem, as long as you are playing proper, which means playing cautiously and staying out of trouble.
A Small Note On Moving Up And Shorthanded Games
As you get better and/or start playing shorthanded, the difficulty of playing LO8 well increases almost exponentially. At a full ring table, the strategy is relatively simple: draw to the nuts. Once you get shorthanded, everything changes. Aggression goes up. Stealing pots is a necessity. And of course, calling down light, and thinly betting for value. To do this well, you need a lot of experience to be able to put your opponents on specific hand ranges. Putting an opponent on a range in LO8 is much more difficult than in Hold’em. In Hold’em, you can basically deduce two conclusions: they have a good hand or they do not have a good hand. In contrast, in LO8 your opponent could have strong high hand with no low hand, or a strong low hand with a strong high hand, or bluffing with air, etc. The split nature of the game increases the number of possibilities that your opponent can have. Also, when you play shorthanded, you can no longer expect “always draw to the nuts” to work, because if you follow this strategy you will become incredibly easy to read, and will not win. Many successful shorthanded players have a VPIP of 40%. That is considerably looser than Hold’em, and thus makes hand reading very difficult. In actuality, LO8 is one of the most difficult games to beat for anything more than trivial stakes. An aspiring LO8 player should master Pot Limit and Shorthanded Pot Limit before considering these games.
Where Profit Comes From
Much profit from LO8 comes from Hold’em players who think 2 pair is a strong hand. At best, 2 pair is the type of hand you want as a backup with your nut low. Even 3 of a kind will get beat frequently. Straights and flushes are where you want to be to win the high pot. But even then, you can still be a losing player at LO8. The key to a successful full ring LO8 player is to always draw to the nuts for both the high and the low. If you’re only drawing for half the pot, you need to ensure there are enough players in the pot so that you and the low can make a good profit. Otherwise, you are actually risking a lot of money to win a little. Lastly, counterfeit management is another essential skill.
Since LO8 is mainly a card game, and you should rarely ever be bluffing (at a full ring game.) Preflop hand selection is the most important skill that will affect your win-rate.
When you are selecting hands to play, there are a couple factors you should keep in mind:
– What’s my low potential?
– The best low combinations are A23, followed by A24, A2, and A34. Ideally you want A2+another low card.
– What’s my high potential?
– The better your low potential, the less high potential you need. In PLO8, a hand like A238 is excellent because, if you hit a top pair to go with your nut low, you have a great chance of taking 3 quarters. In LO8, that 8 is not very good at all.
– Suited Aces and High Pairs are the best high hands.
– High wraps are normally playable.
– Inferior suited cards are playable if they go with a high wrap, or a strong low, because your low allows you to draw to your flush with impunity. Often you can scoop by hitting a backdoor flush with a low already made.
– Low wraps are also premium. A234 can hit a lot of low straights to scoop.
Really, that’s all there is to it. You can go really in-depth with analyzing what hands are good, like the Hutchinson Omaha Point System. All you need to do, though, is look at your hand, look at the action that has occurred, predict the possible action that will happen, and then make a decision.
Some people will tell you that your hand needs to be coordinated, that all 4 cards must work well together. This is not entirely true. Remember, you need to use exactly 2 cards from your hand, so it is of no importance what the 3rd card is doing. A good hand in LO8 has as many strong 2-card combinations as possible. For example, AA23ds is the strongest hand in LO8 because it comes with many 2-card hand combinations: A2, A3, 23 for the nut low draw; A2, A3, 23 for the wheel straight draw; AA for the nut boat draw; and A2s and A3s for the nut flush draw.
For starters, if you are completely clueless about what hands are good and what are bad, A2 is the only hand where you can play and disregard all other combinations of the hand. Every other starting hand you need it to come with something else. If you have A3 as your low strength, you should have another wheel card for counterfeit protection, or suited to the ace for a chance at the high. High oriented hands should only be played if they are REALLY strong for the high. Remember, the majority of flops will contain low draws, and by the river a low will hit like 99.999999% of the time (OK, not that high, but it’s high). Thus, if you are going to play a high hand, it better be damn good and hit the mass majority of the time. This really narrows it down to 3 combinations: double suited to A or K, single suited with a pair, or 2 pairs. Anything less than that is junk. You may think a hand like KQJT rainbow is good, except the problem is that straights are the most vulnerable high hand, and when you hit, you are trying to avoid half the deck twice (the board pairing and a 3rd flush card), for most likely half the pot.
Examples of excellent hands:
A235s, A2KKs, A223, AA29
Examples of very good hands:
A23Q, AA46ds, KKQJs
Examples of playable hands:
A279, A36Ks, A35Js, A456s, 2346s, KQJT
Examples of poor hands:
A39Q, A47Ks, 9TJKs, AA79, 3456, 23TKs
This actually varies a lot depending on the game (ring vs shorthanded) and your objective. It all comes down to a couple points:
– Your hand has good equity, so you want to increase the size of the pot.
– Your hand has good equity, but only against a few opponents, so a raise will persuade players after you not to proceed.
– You gain initiative, which allows you to bluff (occasionally) more easily postflop.
– Blinds for breakfast.
You may notice that points 1 and 2 conflict with each other, especially at a tight table. Thus, you need to come to a reasonable conclusion and decide for yourself. For example, if you are dealt A23x UTG, decide if this is a raising or limping hand. It really depends on whether you think the size of the pot will be bigger or smaller by raising or limping. And it’s not just the size on the pot on the flop. You need to estimate how likely your opponents will call bets loosely to see a turn as well. Only experience with the players at your table will help you determine the best move.
It’s quite simple: draw to the nuts. If you have the current nuts, be very very careful. You will get counterfeited more than you can imagine. You see, LO8 will play mind games on you. When you flop a straight, it will seem like almost all the time the board will pair or flush up. To not be tempted to call down. You can be pretty sure that SOMEONE out there has a boat or a flush. Remember, everyone has 4 cards. It’s pretty likely when there are 4 people to the flop, at least one of them are drawing to the boat or flush, or both the boat and flush. And another thing, they won’t fold. You cannot check/raise or raise to protect your hand, because these players are loose! They will call. Remember that even a made straight or top set can actually be an underdog. Try KK on a board of 4s, 5s, Kd and you could be losing handsomely to As2s3c8d. So raise when you have the second hand. In a multi way pot, however, you have enough equity to jam the pot with KK.
What does this translate to? Push your edge and bet/raise when you have a very strong hand, but be willing to fold the very next street when you get counterfeited. This is a big leak for many people. For example, you have A2KK, and the flop comes 378 giving you the nut low. There are 4 other people in the hand. The action doesn’t really matter. Let’s say you bet and 3 people call. The turn is a 2, counterfeiting your hand. You may be tempted to call, but that card just made A4, A5, 45, 46, 56 better lows than your hand. Clearly, a naked pair of kings is not good enough for the high either. FOLD. Calling down for 2 bets here and there will add up and eat your win-rate. Always ask yourself, “What am I drawing to?” If it’s the same hand, then often your hand is not very good. What I mean is if you’re hoping that the board will come a blank, and another blank, your hand isn’t very strong. A hand like 789T, on a 8JQ board fits that category. You’re hoping for a blank on 4th and on 5th. Notice there is no way for this hand to be the nuts on the river unless a low hand is possible (and it won’t have a low, so even then it will only be splitting).
Now that we have addressed a common mistake for beginning players, let’s start focusing on common situations that will arise.
Postflop – Nothing
Fold. Very rarely is it proper to bluff. In fact, bluffing is not really necessary until you move up get to around $2/4, or when you’re playing shorthanded. To be honest, experience is the best way to learn when to bluff. You will learn tendencies of certain players, and exploit their weaknesses individually. A lot of your profit from higher stakes involves stealing pots from other players heads up who would have won the other half. At low limits when the flop is always 4 handed, you don’t need to worry about bluffing.
Postflop – Something
Alright, so you flopped a good hand or a good draw. How should you play it? You have one of two objectives.
1)Steal the pot from everyone.
2)Bloat the pot to split it with someone else, or scoop it yourself.
Objective 1 occurs more frequently when you move up or play shorthanded. As mentioned earlier, it requires experience to execute profitably. Objective 2 is relatively easy to achieve at loose low limit games, so let’s focus on that.
Most of the time, betting is the correct play. After all, that’s often times the surest way to get more money in the pot. Missed check-raises feel terrible. The earlier you are to act, the more you can check with confidence someone else will bet. However, most of the time, you will call to induce more calls from others, because a check-raise is much stronger and may induce folds. Remember, the more people who fold, the less profit you make, so it is in your best interest to always keep as many people in the pot as possible. Very little check raising should occur in all 08 games. Generally, check raising should only be used to balance the range with which you check – i.e. your opponents can’t just rob you blind whenever you check to them. At low stakes, optimal strategy comes close to never check raising.
The only time where you might have a difficult situation is when others raise or when you’re in middle position. If others raise, you need to decide whether flat-calling or reraising will get more money in the pot, and/or more players staying in the pot. When you’re in middle position, it is usually awkward because you will often be sandwiched between other bettors. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because you will have some sort of hand, but it means that you will be unable to control the betting as much as you’d be able to do if you were in early or late position. Your options are limited to the sequence of actions decided by your opponents.
Identifying who else has a good hand
It’s pretty simple. Who else bet? Who else raised? OK, now that you have identified who bet or raised, you need to figure out if they have a high hand or a low hand. To do this, you look at the board to see if it is very high coordinated. If not, likely they only have a low. If you have a low hand, it highly reduces the probability they also have a low hand (as good as yours), so you should adjust that now they might have a set with a weak low. Most of the time, it is wise to slow down when someone else takes charge, because if you keep reraising, pretty soon it will be heads up and you will just split the pot and not make anything.
Freerolling and quartering
Here we have a particularly interesting situation. You have a hand. Your opponent has a hand. But unfortunately, everyone else folded no matter how hard you and your opponent tried to “collude” together to get everyone to stay in. No, you are not cheating in the tradition sense of colluding. Remember, with so many split pots, you only make profit with more people in the pot. So when you only have a low hand, you need to team up with your opponent who has a high hand to trap other people.
But when it’s down to heads up, and you have a nut high or low hand, with a very strong draw to the other half the pot, you should be VERY aggressive. As far as your opponent is concerned, he or she thinks they are entitled for half the pot no matter what, so it would be devastating for them to find out they only got 25% of the pot because you had the same hand. In fact, when you’re heads up, you should be value betting and raising very thinly when you have the nuts on one side with a decent hand on the other side. For example, take a look at the following scenario:
You have A2KK, and the board is 367JJ on the river heads up. Your opponent bet the turn, and you called. On the river, they bet again. You should seriously consider raising. Not only will many players bet hands like A4 and A5, of which your low is better, they are unlikely to have good high hands on a board like this. This typically means you will quarter them for the low, and take the high for yourself. Sometimes, you might even scoop them. Thus, in this situation raising is a good play, even with just a pair of kings. Actually, the 2nd jack might have been a blessing if your opponent had a hand like A267.
Nothing has been mentioned about position thus far. That is because position is actually not nearly as important in LO8 as it is in a game like PLO or NLHE. Unlike PLO and NLHE, on the turn you can always see a showdown for 2 bets. This means people are much more likely to call you down. And unlike LHE, everyone is dealt 4 cards, thus the chances of people hitting something to call you down increase as well, so bluffing works less often. All of these things decrease the value of having position in LO8. Hence, you should just stick to selecting good hands and playing good postflop. Position does, however, become very important when playing higher stakes because games are often shorthanded and you can use your position to gain pots and bets you would not otherwise have had.
So there you have it! Hopefully this guide has been able to help out the beginner LO8 player. In any case, this guide should put them on the path to at least breaking even, where with more experience they will be able to crush the low limit games and move up.
FTR for establishing such a great and friendly poker community.