5 Must-Know Tips for Switching from Hold'em to Omaha

Jason Mercier 1

Believe it or not, Texas Hold'em is a not the oldest poker game in the world.

In fact, for decades in modern card rooms and for over half a century before that, most people played other poker variations.

If you've spent most of your poker-playing life playing Hold'em and have become a bit uninspired with the same old game, we've got great news for you.

Omaha is an absolute blast to play. And it's not that far removed from Hold'em when it comes to rules, game play or even strategy.

If you're looking to make the leap into a new poker variation Omaha is the way to go and we're here to help make that transition quick and painless with our complete guide.

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.

If you'd like a full breakdown of all the Omaha Rules and Game Play, check our dedicated page here:

How Does Omaha Strategy Differ from Hold'em?

After playing a few thousand hands of Hold'em you'll start to see that the 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," or the best possible hand given the community cards on the board, 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) will cost you in Omaha. Remember, in Hold'em having any straight or flush will 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 will 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 in every Omaha hand than in a Hold'em

It doesn't translate into exactly twice as many chances to be beat, but if it will help you to think about it that way no one will fault you for it.

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Approach Omaha Like a Beginner

If you're making the jump from Hold'em to Omaha, the traps we outline below 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 Omaha with the mentality of a total beginner - even if you've been playing Hold'em for years. Learn the game from the ground up - that way you won't fall back on Hold'em strategies that harm your game.

Your general poker skill and experience will greatly speed up the learning process, though, and let you become a competitive Omaha player in a shorter 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.

1. 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.

This is not the case in Omaha. With every player 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 after a raise. Many players will fold A-2 in the same circumstances.

In Omaha having A-2 suited is ideal for Omaha 8 or Better (more on this Omaha game below).

In straight 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.

2. Relative Hand Value Changes in Omaha

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

$2,000 Pot Limit Omaha w/re-buys final table.

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. 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 rely completely on your Hold'em mindset and experience.

Although flopping top two is a very good start, you're by no means holding the nuts in Omaha. 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 some big losses.

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3. Build on Your Holdem Skill Set

When you switch over to Omaha from Hold'em you don't need to throw out everything you know about poker and start fresh. But you do need to understand that you need to build new skills into your Hold'em skill set.

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.

The Final Table - Event 24 Omaha Hi-Low Split

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. You only really cement your view of your hand after 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 will be far more valuable as calculating your opponents is 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.

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In the end, remember the golden rule of Omaha:

  • If you don't have the nuts, chances are someone else does.

4. Omaha is a Game of Small Edges

To the Hold'em player, Omaha seems like the same game with twice as many cards. Without understanding the odds of Omaha a Hold'em player will default to their two-card knowledge and assume that the numbers they know simply need to be doubled (or halved) to work with Omaha.

It seems logical, since 4 cards are twice as many as 2 cards, so the odds should be twice as good. Not so.

In Omaha you're dealt a four-card hand, not two 2-card hands. Because your cards can all work together, like in a wrap draw, the odds increase (and decrease) exponentially.

In the simplest explanation possible: two plus two does not always equal just four.

Poker is an odds game. You wait for a situation in which you have favorable odds and then you bet as much as you can. On the flip side, when the odds are against you, you try to bet as little money as possible.

omaha vs holdem
Player

That's the very foundation behind poker strategy.

In Hold'em you will commonly find yourself in cut & dry situations where you're either dominating or dominated. If you have aces against anything else you're a massive favorite to win and know it.

Hold'em is full of these scenarios which makes the game (at times) very easy to play.

The best Hold'em players are not the ones who make the most when they have the best hand; they aren't even the ones who lose the least with the worst.

The best players are the players who consistently make a profit when they're playing hands in the grey areas, where the facts are unclear at best, and the edges are fine.

Unlike Hold'em, Omaha is almost exclusively a game of fine edges.

With the most dramatic examples aside, almost any hand vs. hand matchup you can come up with will have the better hand at about a 60:40 favorite.

You will play almost every hand of every session of Omaha in this grey zone of fine edges. To be successful in a game like this, you need to be relentless in your value bets, a super nit when you're on the losing end, and absolutely dead on with your reads.

This is why Omaha is such a fun, action-filled but dangerous game. Even when you flop the nuts there's almost always someone with a legitimate chance of catching up by the river.

This is why Omaha doesn't function properly as a No-Limit game. If the game was No-Limit the player who flops the best of it would be all in on the flop and turn the game into a gamble filled, two-betting round shit show.

To play Omaha successfully you need to understand that you're almost always only a 60:40 favorite at best ... but at your worst you're only behind by the same margin.

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5. Large Outs & Faulty Odds in Omaha

The final point every Hold'em player needs to drill into their head before playing Omaha is the faulty odds associated with a large amount of outs.

If you find yourself with a big wrap draw, sitting on 20 outs, an average Hold'em player will put their odds of winning at 80%.

Player

The full-time grinder will put their odds at "Ship it," not caring about where the actual numbers come in at. The astute Hold'em player will use the formula:

  • (20*4)-(20-8)=68%

While you have a huge hand with a big wrap, you can't count your outs and your odds as you do in Hold'em and assume that they'll be correct and accurate most of the time.

If your one opponent has just a single over pair to your wrap draw, you're sitting at around 73% to win. If your opponent happens to have a set though, your odds drop to around 54%.

Once you factor in other players, especially other players with blockers and higher draws, your equity can absolutely plummet. With 36 cards dealt out to players pre-flop (at a 9 handed table), chances are another player is holding your outs.

This doesn't mean your wrap draw is weak; in fact your hand is probably the best hand at the table. But you need to understand that even the most promising of a draw hand can still be dominated.

In short, as a Hold'em player you need to take a step back and shed the confidence that comes along with hitting a big flop. You need to separate yourself from the confidence that comes with holding a massive draw, and you need to understand that often, regardless of how the situation may appear, you're sitting at about even money.

Omaha Not for the Faint of Heart

Omaha poker isn't for the faint of heart; it's for the players who are willing to be aggressive enough to put their money behind their hand.

The best Omaha players understand all of the concepts in this article and will put their entire stack on the line knowing that the odds of you folding, along with the 60:40 rule, makes betting anything a decent proposition.

If you're not willing or able to play back at someone throwing pot bets at you all night, on every street, you should probably stick to Hold'em. Omaha is not a game to play super-tight; if that's the only style of poker you're comfortable with, you'll have a hard time turning a profit.

Making the Switch to Omaha Hi-Lo

Officially called Omaha Eight-or-Better, Omaha Hi-Lo 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 is 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.

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.

Related Reading:

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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's never a good idea to play 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.

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 8 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

How to Not Get Quartered in Omaha 8

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, that's called getting "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 gets the idea of "having the nuts" into their head they stop thinking about everything else.

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, Try for 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 - that means you're freerolling to draw at the low as well. This is the only way to make a profit long-term at O8.

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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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