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All of our discussions so far at Elite Poker have been focused on Texas Hold’em, but there is another “community card” game (one that has hole cards and a flop-turn-river board) that has become quite popular in recent years, especially in online cardrooms, and that is Omaha Hold’em or, more commonly, just “Omaha”.
How to Play Omaha
Texas Hold’em (just “Hold’em” from here on) and Omaha are very similar in that players are dealt hole cards and then participate in four betting rounds (preflop, flop, turn, and river) before revealing their cards to determine the winner. The games differ, however, in two major ways:
1. In Omaha, players are given four hole cards instead of Hold’em’s two.
2. In Omaha, players must use two of those four hole cards when making their final 5-card poker hand. Note the use of the word “must“. They can’t use just one, nor can they use three or four. They must use two. No fewer, and no more. TWO.
Got it? Good. You just got better than 10% of the players you’ll meet at low-stakes Omaha tables.
Other than those two differences, everything about the play of Hold’em and Omaha is identical, although the most popular form of Omaha is Pot-Limit, not the No-Limit of Hold’em. The two extra hole cards present in Omaha provide players with far more drawing opportunities, so attempting to play Omaha with no limits leads to frequent gigantic “all-in” bets by players who are trying to discourage opponents from chasing those draws. This turns most No-Limit Omaha games into a bit of a circus, so moving to Pot-Limit — making each players’ max bet the size of the current pot — forces them to employ more sophisticated and judicious strategies.
Omaha Starting Hands
The most important part of good Omaha play is your starting hand selection. In a future lesson, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of Omaha strategy, including a detailed discussion of starting hands, but for now I’ll leave you with a few bullet points telling you what types of hands you want to be playing.
1. You want your hand to be capable of becoming “the nuts” (the strongest hand a player could make given the cards that end up on the board). Because each player has access to so many cards, it is much easier to make a strong hand in Omaha than it is in Hold’em, and most pots are won by someone holding “the nuts” or something close to it. The worst thing you could do is regularly play cards that tend to make the second-best hand, like low suited cards (that make flushes and lose to bigger flushes) or unsuited middle connectors (that make straights but lose to bigger ones). Hands that you really want are ones with pairs (the higher the better, obviously) suited aces (so if you make a flush, it will always be the highest flush possible), and cards Ten and above (so any straights will always be the nut straight).
2. You want your hand to have connecting cards. Being able to make straights with all of the two-card combinations in your hand (meaning even your highest card and lowest card still connect to each other, like the 5 and the 9 in 5-6-8-9) is big in Omaha, as it gives you the ability to flop “made” hands like two pair that also give you straight draws that could improve your hand.
3. You want your hand to have suited cards, preferably two sets of them, like in As-Ac-5c-3s (you have the suited A3 of spades and the suited A5 of clubs). Having a hand with three or four cards of a single suit is bad, as you’ll only be allowed to use two of them, making the others completely useless and making it even less likely that you make a flush (since you have four of the thirteen cards of that suit in your hand).
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