Pot-Limit Omaha Beginners Guide Part 1

This is part one of a detailed three-part guide to getting started in Pot-Limit Omaha.

All introductory aspects will be covered, beginning in part one with basic theory, key advice and common mistakes.

For a basic introduction to the rules of Omaha, check out this article: More to Poker than Hold'em Part 1: Omaha.

Pot-Limit Omaha is the second-most-common form of poker in the world today. Before the 2003 poker boom, Omaha was much more prevalent in American cardrooms, and was the most popular cash game in many rooms around Europe.

Texas Hold'em has become the poker standard across the world, leaving Omaha the most popular alternate game. Every major tournament tour brand (WPT, WSOP, LAPT ...) regularly spreads Omaha events, with buy-ins ranging from small to championship level.

The rules of play for Omaha make the game into much more of a "drawing" or "action" game than a typical Hold'em game at the same limits.

Because of the nature of the game, Omaha is rarely if ever played as a No-Limit game. Action/drawing games require more structure than Hold'em, making the game work best as a Limit- or Pot-Limit-only endeavor.

Scotty Nguyen
Scotty Nguyen doing what he does best.

In Hold'em, the first two betting rounds (pre-flop and flop) are the most important, while in Omaha pre-flop is far less important than the flop and turn.

In fact, when comparing Hold'em to Omaha, it's common to refer to Hold'em as a "flop game," while Omaha is characterized as a "turn game" and a "nut game."

While the previously linked article on Omaha provides a very brief introduction to the game, this article acts as an in-depth resource.

It contains all the necessary tips and statistics to allow players new to the game to acquire enough knowledge and confidence to play Omaha competently - that is to say, to make educated, lucid plays, rather than just play "by feel."

After reading this article, the best way to get a true feel for the game is to play it. I highly recommend jumping onto an online site to play the game for free, or at micro-stakes.

To see a list of rooms that spread Omaha as an option, check out our list of poker rooms sorted by games here.

Key Skills for Good Pot-Limit Omaha Play

  • Strict hand selection (patience/discipline)
  • Good table selection (very important in all poker games)
  • Discipline (the ability to wait for a good hand and not chase with second-best hands)
  • Ability to read your opponents
  • Courage to bet/raise (to be aggressive with draws or perceived best hands)
  • Lack of vulnerability to going on tilt

A Comparison: Pot-Limit Omaha vs. Texas Hold'em

  1. More players will consistently see the flop in Omaha. The gap between premium and marginal starting hands in Hold'em is not reflected in Omaha. Because PLO is a drawing game, suited and connected cards are more powerful than in Hold'em, making the coveted pocket aces not nearly as much of a powerhouse.
  2. With more players seeing flops, the average pre-flop pot size is typically much larger than in Hold'em. The bigger the pot going to the flop, the bigger the bets will be post-flop, making Omaha play much larger.
  3. You need a stronger hand to win at Omaha. The majority of Hold'em pots are won by a two pair or weaker hand. These types of hands do not hold up as often in Omaha, meaning there is a paramount need for made hands with redraws.
  4. Omaha is a more hand-driven game, affording you far fewer opportunities for bluffing. If there are three to a suit on board, you can almost always assume someone has the flush in Omaha, and a paired board yields a very high probability of someone holding a tight (full house), whereas that would only be a minor concern in most Hold'em hands.
  5. With the multiple combinations of draws being played in every hand, value betting properly becomes far more crucial in Omaha. If you are not able to fully exploit the situations where you have the most equity, you're going to have a hard time beating the game consistently.
  6. Position is just as important in both forms of poker, but for different reasons. In Hold'em the player with the best position will win the pot the most often, while in Omaha success is more hand-driven. However, the player with position in Omaha is best situated to properly modulate and control pot sizes.
  7. Tight-passive players are less likely to be steamrolled in Omaha than in Hold'em. Reduced opportunity for bluffing reduces how effectively you can bully a passive player. It's not impossible; it's just far more difficult.

Pot-Limit

If you're unfamiliar with Pot-Limit, there are a few key differences in how it plays compared to a No-Limit game. Before we explain the differences, you need to know how Pot-Limit actually works.

The maximum bet you can make in Pot-Limit is the size of the total pot, including your call. Confused? Let's break it down:

First to act:

Pot: $1,000

Max. bet: $1,000

Second to act:

Pot: $2,000 ($1,000 pre-flop + $1,000 pot bet from first to act)

Max. bet: $4,000 ( $1,000 pre-flop + $1,000 bet from first to act + $1,000 your call of the first bet. This makes the total pot $3,000, that being the amount of the pot-sized raise. The $3,000 raise plus your $1,000 call makes a total bet of $4,000.)

It's sometimes hard to do the math in your head. If the pot is $424 and someone bets $68, how much can you bet? Don't waste time by attempting to calculate the answer beforehand - just announce "Pot," then figure it out, put in your call first, and then add up the total pot with all bets, adding that to your bet. (In case you're wondering, the answer here is $628.)

Remember, if you don't announce "Pot" first, you'll be called on a string bet if you put the $68 in first, then try to add a raise amount. Always vocalize your intended action.

If you don't want to figure it out yourself, asking the dealer what pot (or your maximum bet) is is also an easy way to go.

Size of the Bets

Now that you understand how betting works, let's look at the differences. First off, you will find that people will bet larger in Pot-Limit than they would if the game was No-Limit.

In a pot of $1,000 on the flop, a pretty standard Hold'em bet would be $800. In Pot-Limit, a player with the same hand will commonly bet the pot of $1,000. The reason for this is the strength of the bet.

Contrary to what may seem obvious, moving all-in is a less threatening bet than betting three-quarters of your stack. When you're playing Pot-Limit, betting the pot doesn't have the same counterintuitive stigma, making a pot bet a very strong-looking one.

Gus Hansen
Gus Hansen's a fan of Omaha, and it's easy to see why for an action junkie like him.

In Pot-Limit, check-raising is a more commonly used play. The reason is simple:

In a pot of $1,000, if you're first to act and would like to get it all-in for your $2,000 stack, you are unable to do so with the $1,000 betting limit. Check-raising a player who bets $500 allows you to move all-in.

The final main difference between the betting structures is the inability to protect strong holdings in the early stages of a hand. In an unopened pot with $1/$2 blinds, your pot raise is $7 ($1 + $2 + $2 = $5, making your total bet $2 + $5), whereas that would be around half the "standard raise" in a live No-Limit game of the same stakes.

Key Advice for Pot-Limit Omaha

  1. Be very selective with your starting hands. It's easy to get overzealous looking down at four cards, seeing all of the possible combinations of draws.
  2. "Play the players." Be sure to quickly assess the opposition: who plays inferior hands, who folds at aggression, who bets with draws, who calls big bets with weak hands and draws, who can be bluffed, who bluffs, etc. This is good poker advice for any variation, really.
  3. Respect displays of strength. Average to good players making large bets in Omaha are far less likely to be bluffing than the same caliber of players in a Hold'em game.
  4. Do not get "married" to an eight-out straight draw: in Omaha, it is possible to flop 13-out, 17-out and 20-out straight draws. It is best to wait until you hold one of these draws before you heavily involve yourself in the pot.
  5. Do not overplay unsuited aces: when all you hold are a pair of aces and two unsuited, unconnected rags, there is little you can flop to improve your hand. If you do not flop your set, you're not going to hold up often in a multi-way pot.
  6. Omaha is a nut game; it's almost never a good idea to be playing any draw that's not to the nut in this game.

Common Mistakes in Pot-Limit Omaha

  1. Overplaying "Hold'em strength" hands.
  2. Calling with weak holdings and low-outs draws when facing a bet.
  3. Playing too many starting hands.
  4. Not raising pre-flop with premium hands.
  5. Giving free cards or under-betting the pot without the nuts.

General Pre-Flop Advice

The most important skill to master when playing Pot-Limit Omaha is knowing which starting hands are profitable to play. Poker is a situational game, meaning that what you play, and how you play it, will change depending on the situation at your table:

  1. Is the table tight or loose?
  2. How many players are sitting at the table?
  3. How many players are in the pot when it is your turn to act?
  4. Has the pot been raised? If so, from what player and position?
  5. What is your current position?

1. The table. The tighter the table, the looser your starting hand requirements can become, and vice versa.

2. The number of players. Generally, you must play tighter at a full table and looser at a short-handed table.

3/4. Who has raised the pot? If many players are in the pot ahead of you, you're only going to want to enter the hand with multiple card combinations that have nut draw potential.

5. Your position. This will greatly affect the hands you play. In general, you have to play tighter from an early position and then add hands as your position improves.

Part Two

The second part of this detailed guide continues on the topic of pre-flop play, going more in-depth with what hands to play, and when and how to play them.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

View Best Rooms to Play: Omaha Poker

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Rudolf 2012-02-20 03:37:02

How is it possible that you loose a game with a flush in hands from someone who has just two pairs?