Players new to playing Pot-Limit Omaha are often unsure about how to play two pair in the game - especially if they have experience in Texas Hold'em.
One of the first things you need to understand when trying to learn how to act in specific PLO situations is that you can't directly relate what you know of Hold'em to PLO and expect to succeed.
Every player who plays both games knows that the odds of hitting larger hands are higher in Omaha than in Hold'em.
Many players greatly underestimate this disparity, which is a big mistake.
Odds of Flopping Two Pair in Omaha
The odds of flopping two pair in Hold'em are 2.02%. Without doing the math or looking it up, what do you figure the odds of flopping two pair in Omaha are?
To find out you need to use the following equation (this is with no pair on the flop):
( (12/48)*(9/47)*(40/46) ) + ( (12/48)*(38/47)*(9/46) ) + ( (36/48)*(12/47)*(9/46) ) = %
(0.25*0.191*0.87) + (0.25*0.809*0.156) + (0.75*0.255*0.156) = %
0.041 + 0.0312 + 0.0298 = 0.102
0.102 = 10.2%
The majority of people, poker players included, are less than proficient at math and probability. Because of this people tend to assume that having twice as many cards translates into exactly twice as great of a chance of hitting a specific hand in Omaha.
In reality the odds of flopping two pair in an Omaha game are over 5x greater than in Hold'em.
Although the math isn't exactly this simple it's a strong argument for thinking about two pair like this:
If you have 9 players at a table in Hold'em there's an 18% chance of someone having flopped two pair (2% per person * 9 people).
So if you flopped two pair the chances of someone having flopped better than you are fairly small.
Apply this simple formula (which, again, is not meant to be perfectly accurate, just to give you a general idea) to a nine-handed Omaha game, and the chance of someone having flopped two pair is almost 91%.
What are the Odds You're Outflopped?
If you flopped two pair the chances of someone else having out-flopped you is significantly greater in Omaha than in Hold'em.
A simple test: Take a deck of cards and deal nine Omaha hands face-up. Burn one card and deal a flop.
Take a look at how many players connect with the flop. You'll see two pairs, trips, straights, flushes and plenty of draws.
Shuffle the deck and try it again: you may be amazed how often multiple players connect with the flop in Omaha.
Not only are the odds greater because more cards are in play, but in a typical Omaha game, you have more players seeing flops in an average hand than you do in Hold'em.
The more hands you have to the flop, the greater the chances of another player having connected with what has fallen.
Straight Draws in Omaha
Omaha is a game of redraws. Even if your flopped two pair is the best hand on the flop, chances are you're only slightly ahead - or even behind - in the hand.
Unlike in Hold'em, where the vast majority of all draws against a two pair will consist of eight or nine outs, Omaha draws can have 25 outs on the flop to a better hand.
Aside from the standard gut-shot and open-ended straight draws, Omaha has three more straight-draw possibilities:
13-out draw: You have three cards above or three cards below the connectors on board.
- Hand: K-Q-J-x
- Flop: T-9-x
- Outs: 13
Wraparound: You have two cards above the connectors on board, and one below (or vice versa).
- Hand: Q-J-8-x
- Flop: T-9-x
- Outs: 17
Double Wrap: You have two cards above and two cards below the connectors on board.
- Hand: Q-J-8-7
- Flop: T-9-x
- Outs: 20
A player sitting with a double wrap with a single flush draw holds a total of 25 outs to either a straight or a flush. In a scenario with a player having 20+ outs, they are statistically ahead of a made hand on the flop.
Many beginners will think that they are ahead in such a context since the player with the draws has to hit a specific card to take the lead. Unfortunately there are only 45 cards left in the deck. If the player has 20 outs, that means they are 44% (20/45) to hit their hand on the turn.
If they miss on the turn, they are now 45% (20/44) to hit. The chances that they will hit their card on either the turn or the river are in the neighborhood of 68%.
To see the numbers for yourself, plug cards into our online poker odds calculator here.
In Omaha You (Almost) Never Have It Made
The actual true math for finding the 68% involves binomial distribution, the Probability Mass Function and the Cumulative Distribution Function ... basically, unless you're John Nash or have actually studied calculus, the odds calculator is the way to go.
The upshot is, even if you flop two pair there's a chance you can be statistically behind a hand that hasn't even hit yet.
The most important idea to take away is the inherent vulnerability of an Omaha hand. In Omaha, you almost never have it made until after the river has fallen.
Edges in Omaha are Razor Thin
So how do you begin evaluating the true strength of your two pair? If you ran the test above and dealt out nine Omaha hands with a flop, you'll have a firm understanding of how often multiple hands hit the flop in a nine-handed Omaha game.
So even if you go to the flop heads-up and flop top two pair, it's still possible to be behind another hand - even that of a player holding only a draw.
To evaluate the strength of your hand you need to take into consideration the number of outs your opponent may hold.
Equity is finite, meaning there are only 100 possible percentage points you can own. When multiple forces are competing for shares out of the same finite pool, the acquisition of a single unit is worth two units relative to your opposition.
In simpler terms, if you and your opponent are even, you each have 50% equity.
If you gain one point of equity (bringing you up to 51%), you had to gain that point by forcing your opponent to lose it; your opponent now holds 49%. And 51%-49% = 2%. Your one percentage point gain has given you a two percentage point lead.
This concept is important in poker, especially in Omaha, where the edges in equity are razor-thin at best. Omaha is a very equity-liberal game, as opposed to Hold'em, in which one player will commonly hold a vast majority share.
What Are Your Blockers?
One of the strongest ways to acquire hidden equity is through blocker cards. The more blockers you have, the more equity you'll have in the pot. More importantly, the more blockers you have, the less equity your opponent will have.
Still more crucially, the more equity you hold from blocker cards, the more equity your opponent will falsely believe they hold.
A blocker is simply one of your opponent's outs. Here are two versions of an Omaha hand, one with blockers, one without. Take a look at how the equity changes between the two hands:
Flop: 9 9 8 8 K K
Hand 1: K K 9 9 3 3 4 4
Hand 2: J J 10 10 Q Q 2 2
In this scenario, hand 1 holds top two pair with no draws. Hand 2 holds a 13-out straight draw and a flush draw.
This setup illustrates a situation in which hand 1 has almost no blockers. Unfortunately, Omaha hands are typically very intertwined, and hand 1 holds one blocker (K).
If hand 2 was to make his flush with the K, he would lose to a full house. This effectively lowers his outs to 18. Even though he's still drawing, his massive amount of outs brings his equity to a total of 63.07%. Even though hand 1 has flopped two pair, it holds no more than 36.93% equity in the pot.
Take the same example above, but substitute hand 1 for this hand: 9 9 K K 7 7 Q Q
With hand 1 now holding blockers to the straight and flush, it has gained almost five points of equity, bringing it up to 41.71%. That makes the hand worth a 10% equity shift to the player holding it.
Even though it may seem small - 36% or 41% is still behind - just imagine if your bank decided to raise the interest on your mortgage by 5%. This shift in equity will translate into thousands of BBs over a long-term sample of cards.
The Redraw in PLO
Even more powerful than a blocker is the redraw. If you change the queen of diamonds in hand 1 to the Q (giving hand 1 the higher flush draw), you've now given yourself a strong redraw.
Since hand one does not have to improve to win this pot - it only has to stop hand 2 from improving - it's irrelevant whether hand 1 hits the flush or not. This means a redraw is not so much a draw as a super blocker.
Holding the Q in conjunction with the seven of hearts doesn't just give you one more blocker against your opponent; it effectively blocks all possible flush cards, meaning this Q is actually as strong as holding seven blockers in your hand.
When looking at your two pair, there is a very decent chance you're behind in equity, unless you're holding redraws and blockers. Omaha is a turn and river game: your goal is to play your hand for the future streets, not for the flop.
You need to be playing for draws, redraws and redraws on your draws. In fact, single points of equity are so valuable in Omaha that serious players will even consider blockers to rare hands such as straight flushes. For example, a player may say, "I had the nut flush redraw with a blocker to the straight flush."
If you want to be successful in Omaha, you need to play a strong drawing game. Play hands that will allow you to be ahead on the river, regardless of where they stand on the flop. Simply put, a naked two pair will rarely work out well for you in the end.