With the recent explosion of non-Hold’em games such as Pot-Limit Omaha and mixed games, there are many players realizing there are profits to be made outside of NL Hold’em. With television shows such as the FullTilt Million Dollar Cash Game broadcasting heads-up PLO matches between Tom Dwan and Patrick Antonius, it is only a matter of time before even more players test out the game. Currently the player pool at lower-stakes PLO is large but nowhere near as big as its NLHE counterpart. On sites such as PokerStars and FullTilt there are always 15+ tables running at $100PLO and below which is a great sign for the growth of the game.
If you are new to the game and have a NL Hold’em background you will automatically notice some major differences in the two. There are many aspects of PLO that new players miss out on which can help to improve their winrate. Players will misinterpret the strength of starting hands, not understand about manipulating pot-sizes, draw to inferior hands, and overall have a poor feel for hand ranges in certain situations. The following is meant to pinpoint these key points and help players with their transition to PLO.
Repeat after me, NUTS! NUTS! NUTS!
If there is one major difference between PLO and NLHE (besides the number of cards) it is that the average winning hand is much stronger in Omaha. In order to make stronger hands you clearly need to play better starting hands. We could go as far to say that for beginners in PLO you should never play a hand that does not have at least some nut-value. The nuts (for those unfamiliar with the term) is the best possible holding at any point throughout a hand. Making the nuts should be our #1 priority and it all goes back to the type of hands we decide to play before the flop.
The hands which make the nuts are:
– Big pairs
– Suited Aces
Suited Axyz hands speak for themselves; they can make the nut flush which is a huge advantage in a game where "coolers" are prevalent. Making the nut flush is even more important in lower-stakes games where bad players are chasing worse draws and will always pay you off when you both get there. Big pairs are slightly different, while strictly an overpair will never be the nuts they do very well when flopping a set. Typically a "big pair" will be JJxy+ and for the most part will make top set. Anything lower and you will start flopping middle or bottom set which are extremely difficult to play. Finally, rundowns, or hands such as 5678 are great for flopping huge straight draws including many to the nut end. When playing rundowns we always want to gap to be at the bottom. For example, 689T is better than 678T. A gap at the top tends to lead to second best hands which are difficult to play.
The reasons for wanting nut hands are fairly obvious. The nuts are easy to play, allow you to get value from 2nd best hands, and will make you a lot of money in the long run. Playing 2nd/3rd nut hands will force you to either play pot control poker or create a lot of interesting situations where you find yourself scratching your head. Those new to the game should make an effort to stick with nut holdings until they improve their hand-reading ability and post-flop skills.
Manipulating the Size of the Pot
Pot-Limit Omaha is just that, a pot-limit game. For those unfamiliar with PL games, you can only bet/raise the size of the pot. This can lead to some difficult situations where you find yourself wanting to shove more than the size of the pot due to the presence of multiple draws. There will be a lot of situations where even with the nuts you will have no idea how to play the turn/river if there is still a lot of money behind. Some boards will have so many scare cards that you may "slow-play" a flopped top-set just to wait for a safe card before committing more chips. Let’s look at a few ways to manipulate the size of the pot in PLO:
—Using short-stacks to your advantage—
This might be the most overlooked aspect of pot-size manipulation and it is a very critical element in being able to stick a lot more money in the pot on a certain street than you would be able to otherwise. A common mistake players make is making a bet size (when short-stacks are involved in a hand) that will close the action. The rules of Hold’em games are the same; if a short-stack cannot make a full-raise (i.e. minraise or greater) then players cannot re-raise when it comes back to them. Let’s set up an example:
Playing $50 PLO there are five $50+ stacks and a $12 stack at the table. The $12 stack raises to $1.75 before the flop and 2 players call. We look down at AA63 and need to decide between raising for calling. Typically, if all players were full-stacked, the best play would be to just call as these are pretty bad aces that will not play well post-flop. However, if we were able to get a large % of our stack in PF we will certainly be making a +EV play. The mistake I see players make is full-potting a re-raise here, to what is around $8.50. The problem with this is if the short-stack goes all-in the betting is over, our opponents can call and we will have only gotten in $12 of our $50+ stack PF. However, if we were to raise to ~$5 we can allow the short-stack to shove his remaining $12 which will keep the betting open. Now if 1-2 opponents call we will have a big enough pot to shove and make an immediate profit whether or not they call. The same principles can be used post-flop when we flop the nuts or a similarly strong hand on a dangerous board. Instead of closing the action we can keep it open with the proper bet-size which will allow us to get all the money in with the best hand.
—Slow-playing the Nuts—
This is a very typical situation in PLO where we flop the nuts on a dangerous board and instead of getting in our stacks on the flop/turn we wait for a safe card to roll off before committing. There are many reasons why this is a good play including balancing our range, avoiding free-rolls, and using scare cards to bluff players off the same hand later. This will typically occur with straights more so than flushes or sets, but this idea can be used for all hands. The best example is flopping the nut-straight on a two-tone flop without any redraw to a stronger hand. Let’s say we open AA78 and get two callers and the flop comes 4s 5s 6c and we do not have a flush draw. We are in position and the SB leads out and the BB calls. Now, if we get all of the money in on the flop we can actually find ourselves in really bad shape if say our opponents have
6s 7h 8c 9c
5h 5c Kd Kc.
In this case we only have 25% equity three-ways, which is much less than the 33% we’d need to break-even. If we add in a flush draw to either hand our equity falls all the way to 13%! Yes, we have flopped the nuts and could only have 13% equity. Calling on the flop and waiting for a safe turn card can really help our equity, as we see if the turn is the harmless Jh. In the non-flush example we now have 32% equity and still only have 22% equity if someone also has a FD. At this point the pot will be quite large and we can stack-off. We could also be the only player with the nut straight if one of our opponents has the second nut-straight and a flush draw and the other has a set. In that case, we now have nearly 50% equity three ways which is a great result and will lead to profit.
In other situations it might be prudent to slow-play the nuts against aggressive players who are prone to bluffing. This can be done when we have a lock hand like the nut flush with the 2nd nut flush blocker, i.e. AsKsTc9c on a 4s 8s Js board. If our opponent is showing a lot of strength it is likely he/she is bluffing as the best flush they can have is the 3rd nut flush. By playing this hand slower we allow them to keep bluffing or believe their baby-flush is the best hand. It can be a bit nerve-wracking in Omaha to slow-play because there seem to be so many bad cards for our hand, but it will pay dividends in the long-run when done in the correct situations. You should never slow-play top-set (on a non-straight/flush board) when you have a chance to get all the money in. There are only a few crazy situations where top-set is an underdog and that would involve a big wrap and a flush draw.
—Nutty vs. Chewy—
This is one of the more intriguing PF strategies in all of poker and was first brought to light by a high-stakes winner a few years ago. The idea behind nutty vs. chewy is that there are certain hands before the flop that play very well in multi-way pots and others that fare much better in heads-up pots. The hands we want to entice others into the pot with are hands that make the nuts, in this case, getting players to fold second best hands before the flop is actually a disaster as those are the hands that will pay us off down the road. These "nutty" hands in earlier position can be min-raises or even limped in with to stop from knocking out 2nd best hands. The "chewy" hands are ones that appear to be strong holdings but tend to make 2nd best hands. Rundowns with a gap at the top that are suited are great examples of chewy hands that are quite tough to play in multi-way pots. These hands should either be pot-raised, limp/re-raised (when possible), or just folded before the flop if table dynamics are working against us. This strategy is great at exploiting our opponent’s leaks and should lead to some nice post-flop situations where we are able to make a lot of money due to our opponents either holding weaker hands than they are used to or by getting pots heads-up and being able to play well in position against a weaker player.
Using Position to Our Advantage
While position is fairly important in NL Hold’em. its significance in PLO cannot be understated. There are so many advantages that having position throughout a hand gains that we should always be striving to achieve being in position before the flop. This means that hands you might typically limp behind other players with can become raising hands if you are in later position, but not on the button. Acquiring/stealing/buying the button is key and is worth the extra money spent before the flop. Once we have position we want to make sure we are not wasting it.
Position affords us many benefits including seeing our opponents actions before we act, being able to close the action on each street, and taking free cards when it is appropriate to do so. All of these concepts will lead to bigger profits at the PLO tables and should be a great place to start when looking to plug some basic leaks.