How to Make the Switch from Hold'em to Omaha

Jason Mercier 1

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

There are countless variations of poker but only seven of them are really spread in card rooms with any sort of regularity.

The simplest game to learn post-Hold'em is Omaha.

How to Play Omaha Poker

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:

Board

2 6 J 8 3

Hold'em Hand

A K

Omaha Hand

A K J K

In Hold'em you have the nut flush with the A but in Omaha you have a pair of kings. You must use two cards from your hand in Omaha so since you only have one heart in your hand you're forced to use a non-heart as your second card.

Basic Omaha Poker 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, which greatly increases the strength of the majority of winning hands.

holdem to omaha

The most common way to sum it up is by saying:

  • 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. 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.

How to Play Omaha Hi-Lo

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 Low 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:

Board

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.

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Basic Omaha Hi-Lo 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.

how to switch to omaha

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.

Further Reading:

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.

Even though they're similar in structure and play, playing Omaha as you would Hold'em is going to cost you a significant percentage of your roll. This is a little bit like comparing apples to oranges, but it's close enough to give you a solid idea of the numbers:

Big Pair % Versus %
A A K K 59 7 8 9 T 41
Big Pair % Versus %
A A 77 7 8 23

The difference in equity in these two hands is a total of 22%. I chose these hands to compare large pairs against large drawing hands. To not give the Omaha hand an advantage, I purposely left it unsuited.

If you'd like to run the numbers in any sort of other configuration, including multiway pots (where big pairs lose even more equity in Omaha than they do in Hold'em), play around with our poker odds calculator.

How to Not Get Quartered in Omaha

Firstly, getting quartered is only possible while playing a hi/lo split game. In O8 (Omaha Eight-or-Better/Omaha Hi/Lo) half of the pot goes to the worst hand,if you only win half of half of the pot, you get quartered.

omaha poker from holdem

Hold'em players without Omaha experience don't even think about the concept of getting quartered. As soon as a Hold'em player get the idea of "having the nuts" into their head, they stop thinking about everything else.

In case you didn't know, in a hi/lo split game, half the pot goes to the winning high hand (the best hand) and the other half goes to the best qualifying low hand (worst hand).

When a Hold'em player first begins playing O8, they will commonly find themselves holding A-2 in their hand for the nut low. What these players don't seem to understand is that A-2 most commonly makes the nut-low hand in O8. Because of this, most every player dealt A-2 plays A-2.

Holding an A-2 made nut low without a chance at the high will commonly pit you against another player (or players) with the same hand.

To keep it simple, if you get heads-up with your nut low against a player with a winning high and the A-2 nut low as well, you put in 50% of the pot to win back 25%. Your "nut" hand has cost you 25% of the pot.

Win the High with Shot at Low

Hold'em players need to learn that the goal in O8 is to win the high, with a solid shot at the low. If you have the nut high, you're a lock for half the pot, meaning you're freerolling, or making money to draw at hitting the low as well. This is the only way to make a profit long-term at O8.

Hold'em players can be seen losing very large amounts of money when they get quartered on the high. Even Hold'em players who understand getting quartered well enough to not get trapped with only a low will forget about getting quartered with the high.

Holding T-J on a 7-8-9 board gives you the nut straight. If any other player also holds T-J, you're now in line to get quartered without a low draw. The worst scenario is holding this high, no low, against a second player with the same high, and a third with a set. This sort of scenario is much more common in Omaha games than in Hold'em.

In this scenario you're getting quartered, with another player drawing at scooping the whole high out from under you. I can't stress this enough: in O8 you need to be playing both sides of the pot, with your emphasis on the high.

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Don't Chase Less Than Nut Draws!

Outside of an amazing read or very deep stacks, it's extremely rare for a player to get away from a flush-over-flush situation in Hold'em. The odds of hitting a flush in Hold'em are low; running into another player with a higher flush than you is a rare enough occurrence that you don't have to worry about it.

holdem poker omaha poker

Most Hold'em pros treat a situation like this much like that of a set-over-set - when it happens, they just pay the guy.

Unfortunately, this is not the situation in Omaha. With every player being dealt four cards the chances of another player having the same draw as you more than doubles.

This isn't the odds of another player being dealt the same draw; this is another player playing the same draw to the flop with you.

In Hold'em, many suited hands will be folded pre-flop if the high card is accompanied by a rag. For example, few players will be playing K-2, especially under a raise. Many players will fold A-2 in the same circumstances.

In Omaha, having A-2 suited is ideal for O8. In straight high Omaha, aces with a suited rag often become playable thanks to the second two cards. For example, A 2 A K will be played by almost every player, regardless of a raise or not.

For reasons such as this, you should almost never be chasing a non-nut draw.* If you don't have the nuts, you won't get the pot. If you're playing O8 and have a lock on half the pot, a less-than-nut draw at the scoop is better than no draw at all.

* The fewer players you have at your table, the more weight your non-nut draw will hold.

Approach Omaha Like a Beginner

These are the main leaks Hold'em players suffer from when stepping into an Omaha game. The best way to avoid all these leaks is to approach the game with the mentality of a total beginner.

Learn the game from the ground up - that way you won't fall back on Hold'em strategies that harm your game.

Even if you are more used to Hold'em play, your general poker skill and experience will greatly speed up the learning process, allowing you to become a competitive Omaha player in a short amount of time.

If you haven't played much, or any, Omaha and are looking to get into it, sign up to any of our top online sites to play for free, or a few bucks.

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