From Hold’em to Omaha: Hand Value

omaha bracelet WS

More and more players are making the move to Omaha, and if you want to follow suit you must understand the key differences between the two games.

The poker world always has been, and always will be, in a state of flux. New games come in and out of favor as the game progresses and changes. Years ago Stud was the main game being played across North America.

It wasn't until relatively recently that Texas Hold'em took the poker world by storm. The simplicity in rules but complexity in strategy allowed all players to play and enjoy Hold'em from day one, but after a few years of non-stop play, Hold'em has begun to hit a wall.

People play poker for different reasons, two of the main ones being:

  • Making money
  • Learning, progressing and honing your skills

Since the world has spent years focused on just one game, the average skill level of a Hold'em player is far beyond what has been considered "average" for poker. It's easy to see that this is going to make it harder to gain a big edge.

Also, many players have begun to feel like they're no longer learning or progressing in their game. They've read all the books, clicked through the web's poker strategy articles, played countless hours yet are still playing the same games, making the same money they were four years ago.

For all of these reasons, many people feel it's time to move on.

This article assumes you're coming into Omaha with a base set of Hold'em skills. If you've never played any poker, this article is not for you. If you're brand new to poker you'll want to start with the basic rules of poker.

Ilari Sahamies
The Europeans have been playing Omaha seriously for years now: Time to catch up.

If you're a Hold'em player thinking about making the change you're in the right place.

Relative Hand Value

The biggest thing you need to understand to play Omaha with any competency is the shift in relative hand value.

Most poker players don't know all the math, or theory, behind the inherent probabilities of poker.

A good poker player understands that a full house is more valuable and less likely than a straight; they might even know the odds of making either hand. But very few poker players can tell you how to calculate these odds, and more importantly exactly what they mean.

Feeling lost? Don't worry, this is all about to make sense. The bottom line is this:

Unless you have a mathematicians' understanding of all probability and odds, you'll approach Omaha by using your collection of poker knowledge and experience, applying and adapting what you know to the new game.

This is good, but there are a few pitfalls to this approach you should be aware of. One of the biggest is understanding the differences in relative hand value between Omaha and Hold'em.

When you flop top-two on a rainbow board with nothing more than a possible gutshot draw, you're probably willing to bet the farm in Hold'em. Your hand is second only to a set: you're in a good spot.

Unfortunately, if you've played a lot of Hold'em, this understanding of your top-two hand value is as much of a feeling as it is a basic understanding of the principals of poker. When you sit in an Omaha game and flop the very same thing, chances are you're going to feel almost the same about it.

Before you lose your head, and your stack, you need to take a second to re-evaluate the situation, rather than relying completely on your Hold'em mindset and experience.

Although flopping top two is a very good start, you are by no means holding the nuts. In fact, it's possible for your opponents to hold wrap-draws with no pairs, but still be  treading water at even money.

Factor in the much greater possibility of running into a set, and you're now in a very vulnerable position.

When you allow yourself to feel comfortable and confident with your hand, when you're actually vulnerable and weak, you're setting yourself up for a massive mistake and loss.

To be clear, you do not need to throw out everything you know about poker and start fresh, but you do need to understand that you need to build on your Hold'em skill-set.

Josh Arieh
The hardest thing in Omaha: Looking at your 4 cards.

Having countless thousands of hands of Hold'em under your belt will help you at the Omaha tables, but it can also give you a false sense of confidence. Understand this before you begin playing the game, and don't over value your hands.

In the end the nuts remain the same, just be aware of all possible draws, re-draws and even backdoors. In Omaha, you're never as rock-solid as you may think.

Rather than evaluating your hand on the flop, then adjusting your evaluation as the turn and river come out, you want to think of it as running a preliminary evaluation on the flop, only really cementing your view of your hand after seeing the turn.

The flop gives you an idea if you want to continue with the hand and a basic idea of the size of pot you're willing to play.

After the turn is out, there are only made hands, and draws. Backdoor draws are out of the question, making things far more straight forward. If you hold top set on the turn, it's very straight forward to see if and how you can be beat.

Your Hold'em instincts and poker intuition at this point are going to be far more valuable, as calculating your opponents outs to draws becomes far more Hold'em-esque, and straight forward.

If you want to succeed at Omaha, you need to stop assuming you can just use your Hold'em experience and everything will be just fine.

Instead, take the time to think through each hand as if you've never played poker before, and then use your Hold'em knowledge to understand and evaluate the situation as best you can. In the end, remember the golden rule of Omaha: If you don't have the nuts, chances are someone else does.

Stay tuned for the second half of Moving from Hold'em to Omaha, where we will discuss the fine edge of Omaha, large outs and faulty odds.

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