More to Poker than Hold'em Part 1: Omaha

chips and cards

Believe it or not, Texas Hold'em is a recent game. For decades in modern cardrooms, and over half a century before that, people played other variations.

There are countless variations of poker, with only seven of them being spread in cardrooms with any sort of regularity. Personally, I think a lot of the other variations are a lot more fun than Hold'em. I've come to realize that most players don't know how to play these variants, or aren't confident in their abilities outside of Hold'em.

This goal of this article is to teach you the basics of the other six common variations of poker. The simplest game to learn post-Hold'em is Omaha. So that's exactly where we'll start.


Are they Dealing Yet?
Negreanu has been known to do very well in Omaha.

The Basics

Imagine a game of Hold'em, but instead of getting dealt two cards, you get four. Other than the number of cards, there is only one additional rule to separate Omaha from Hold'em.

You need to use two cards out of your four to win a hand of Omaha. Exactly two, not one, not three and four is right out. Here's an example:


2 6 J 8 3

Hold'em Hand


Omaha Hand


In Hold'em you have the nut flush by holding the A, while in Omaha you have a pair of kings. You have to use two cards from your hand in Omaha. Since you only have one heart in your hand, you are forced to use a non-heart as your second card.

Some Strategy

After playing a few thousand hands of Hold'em you'll start to see that majority of hands are won by two pair or less. Omaha puts twice as many cards in play, greatly increasing the strength of the majority of winning hands.

The most common way to sum it up is by saying simply that Omaha is a nut game. If you don't have the nuts, there's a good chance you're not going to win the hand.

This translates into having to tighten up your game both pre- and post-flop. Playing low cards, connected, suited or not, is going to cost you considerable money.

Remember, in Hold'em having any straight or flush is going to win you the pot the majority of the time. This is what makes suited connectors so powerful in Hold'em.

Losing to a higher flush in Hold'em is a rare enough occurrence to not be a cause of much worry when playing. While playing Omaha, a low flush is going to lose to a higher flush far more often, reinforcing the need to play a strict nut-only game.

Remember, twice as many cards are dealt every hand. It doesn't translate into exactly twice as many chances you're beat, but if it will help you to think about it that way, no one's really going to fault you for it.

Omaha Hi-Lo

Daniel Negreanu
Daniel Negreanu playing O8.

The Basics

Officially called Omaha Eight-or-Better, Hi-Lo Omaha is also known as O8. O8 is currently one of the more popular alternate poker games these days. The game itself plays exactly the same as Omaha, but the pot gets split between the winning high hand and the winning low hand.

The Hi: The high hand is the same as in Omaha.

The Lo: A qualifying low hand consists of five cards (two from the player's hand, three on the board) all with a face value at or below 8, without any pairs. Straights and flushes do not count against you, making the nut low A-2-3-4-5.

The Lo hand is counted from the top down. That means the A-2-3-4-5 hand will be referred to as a 5-4 low. Take this example:


2 A 8 4 3

Omaha Hand 1

A 2 J K

Omaha Hand 2

5 7 K K

Which hand wins the low? One player has ace-deuce as his two lowest cards, while the second player has 5-7. You'll even see professional dealers get this wrong. (I said professional, not good.)

Hand 1 low: A 2 3 4 8 ,making for an 8-4 low.

Hand 2 low: A 2 3 5 7, making for a 7-5 low.

O8 is a simple transition from Omaha in theory, but it can be a little bit more tricky in its execution.

Some Strategy

The most important thing to understand in this game is you should always be playing for the high, with low potential. It is never a good idea to be playing a hand with nothing but a low draw.

The low is won a majority of the time by players holding A-2 as their low cards. Because of this fact, every player dealt A-2 is usually found playing it. If the only draw you have is to win the low, and you have to share that with a second player also playing A-2, you're going to get quartered.

Winning a quarter of the pot almost always translates into you losing significant money. You play to take the high. Winning half the pot will make you money, or at worst you break even. Playing the high with a low draw allows you the opportunity to scoop the whole pot, making a pretty penny.

The best O8 starting hand is A-2-A-3 double suited. It has the most possibilities for scooping both the high and the low.

If it's your first time playing O8 and you don't know what to do, you should just stick to playing any hand with an ace and a deuce, where the ace is suited to one other card in your hand.

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