Pot-Limit Omaha: What Are the Best Starting Hands?


Regardless of your playing style, success in Pot Limit Omaha depends largely on the starting hands you choose to play.

Because you're dealt twice as many cards as in Hold'em, as a beginner in Pot-Limit Omaha you need to play only the hands with the most equity possible.

Your opponents will likely always have hands that have pairs and combo-draw potential. If you don't have the same you're starting at a disadvantage and then relying on luck to make up ground.

That's not a great recipe for Pot-Limit Omaha success.

Top Pot-Limit Omaha Starting Hands

The top 30 Omaha starting hands are as follows:

1. A-A-K-K 11. K-Q-J-T 21. Q-Q-A-K
2. A-A-J-T 12. K-K-T-T 22. Q-Q-A-J
3. A-A-Q-Q 13. K-K-A-Q 23. Q-Q-A-T
4. A-A-J-J 14. K-K-A-J 24. Q-Q-K-J
5. A-A-T-T 15. K-K-A-T 25. Q-Q-K-T
6. A-A-9-9 16. K-K-Q-J 26. Q-Q-J-T
7. A-A-x-x 17. K-K-Q-T 27. Q-Q-J-9
8. J-T-9-8 18. K-K-J-T 28. Q-Q-9-9
9. K-K-Q-Q 19. Q-Q-J-J 29. J-J-T-T
10. K-K-J-J 20. Q-Q-T-T 30. J-J-T-9

*All hands in the top 30 list must be double-suited.

As you can see, as in Hold'em, large pairs still hold a lot of value. The only difference is the need for redraw possibilities.

Phil Galfond2

This is why A-A-J-T double suited is the second-best hand, ahead of AA-QQ double suited. Having the J-T in place of the QQ opens the door for far more straight potential.

It's crucial to understand how spread out the distribution of equity is in Omaha starting hands. In Hold'em the No. 1 starting hand (A A) holds 83% preflop equity over the second-best starting hand (K K).

In Omaha the best starting hand (A A K K)  is only 33% to win (41% to tie) against the second-best starting hand (A A T J). There is only a 6% edge for the best Omaha hand to win against the second-best Omaha hand, versus the 66% edge in Hold'em.

The lower down the list the Omaha starting hand is versus the best, the more of an edge AA-KK will have over it.

If you compare A A K K to K K J J, A A K K has a 69% chance of winning.

Although this 39% edge is a vast improvement over the 6% edge in the previous comparison, if you make the same comparison in Hold'em (the No. 1 starting hand A A versus the No. 10 starting hand A T), A A holds a massive 73% edge.

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How Pot-Limit Omaha Equity Affects You

This spread-out equity distribution in Omaha translates into players rarely having a strong edge over their opponents. You will rarely find yourself with more than 60% equity heads-up, with your equity dropping massively with every additional player in the hand.

This means that it is possible to get an edge in Omaha.

Patrik Antonius

So, the game can be beaten, and be profitable for a winning player. But even a winning player will suffer extreme swings.

It's easy to understand the amount of variance you should expect in Omaha by imagining a game of Hold'em in which you move all-in preflop every hand, each time holding the same hand of A-K, and your opponent calls every hand holding Q-T.

Even though you have the better hand, and are sure to make money in the long run, Q-T has a 34% chance of winning, meaning your opponent will win the pot over a third of the time. This will cause your session to suffer from massive variance.

It is very difficult to hit a flop in Omaha which gives you much more than 60% equity to win. There are simply too many possibilities for draws to be in such favorable situations.

For this reason, success at Omaha requires a player to adhere to the following three strategies:

1. Select starting hands very carefully.You simply cannot afford to play hands consistently starting you at a disadvantage against your opponents. It's too difficult to make up ground post-flop.

2. Value-bet. It's rare to have a real edge against the field in Omaha; when you do, you need to extract maximum value.

3. Minimize losses. It is imperative to lose the minimum amount, and win the maximum.

It's simply impossible to play Omaha without variance, so instead of fighting it you need to make the variance work for you. You need to make the inevitable downswings as small as humanly possible, and the upswings as steep and long as you can.

Every opportunity you miss for extracting value allows your downswings to have a greater impact on your long-term results.

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What About Pre-Flop Raising in PLO?

Some players question the value of raising preflop in PLO, as they feel that when you have a small edge at best, it does nothing more than increase variance.

This mind-set is technically correct but detrimental to your game.

Raising preflop will increase variance, as you will be playing in larger pots. But if you have a hand with an edge, no matter how small, it's profitable in the long term to maximize the size of the pot at that time.

The more money you make your opponents pay when you have any edge in equity at all, the more money you can make at the game.

You simply can't afford to forgo any opportunities to extract value when you have an equity lead; doing so will cost you serious money in the long run.

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A Final PLO Starting Hands Tip for Beginners

If you're just learning the game, or you simply want to rebuild your Omaha foundations, you should simply stick to playing only very strong Omaha starting hands. Any of the hands in the top 30 list are very strong hands even if not double suited.

Other than the hands on that list, the only hands I would recommend a beginner play would be four-way connected hands, such as 8-9-T-J. Hands like these will typically give you a very strong hand on the flop, or a very weak hand, making it difficult to make large mistakes while playing them.

As soon as you start playing weaker hands at a full Omaha table, such as A K 4 T, you're going to start losing money. It takes very strong reads on the game and on your opponents to play weak hands profitably in Omaha.

Leave the weak and marginal hands out of your game, and you'll be on the fast track to Omaha profit.

More Pot-Limit Omaha Strategy articles:

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James Sutton 2017-08-24 22:06:14

The starting hand rankings are based on a full table not heads up. QQ77 might be a favorite vs J1098 HU but J1098 plays better in multi way flops. Plus it is a great hand for flopping nut draws allowing your hand to possibly improve on later streets where double paired hands have to hope to flop a set and avoid being over setted. Also even if you flop top set where it is the nuts it can still be an underdog vs combo draws. For example QcQd7c7d vs 8c9cJh10h with a Qh9h7c flop the QQ77 hand has the nuts but is only 33% to win.

PaladinswordSaurfang . 2017-06-10 08:37:08

You have to use exactly 2 cards from your hand and 3 cards on the table. You were probably counting using the wrong numbers of cards when determining that you had a full house.

virusts 2015-09-21 01:49:54

The simple answer is yes.

virusts 2015-09-21 01:48:19

Worst hand you could probably have in Omaha

Rich 2015-06-24 16:15:03

Also, ALWAYS be aware of what the nuts hand might be, and don't bet into it no matter how married you are to your cards.

alex 2015-05-18 02:26:05

What about getting 4 of a kind as your starting hand? is that a stupid question or???

russ 2014-06-09 19:18:15

can you make three of a kind in PLO without having a pair in your hand?

john 2014-04-19 11:46:40

why is that in plo , often i have full house, and someone else whit flush , or straight wins against me, and when i want to win whit flush or straight against full , i can't , what's wrong jQuery1110009332311686769157_1397933149925

Jorge 2013-05-05 04:01:59

This is a "solid" post, but I think you can play looser depending on your opponents. i play a lot of NL Holdem Home games, and when we get short-handed and it's late, we'll switch to Omaha. The players are playing 2/3 of hands pre-flop, so if you're playing 1/2 of the hands pre-flop, you have an edge, and they suck post-flop, so you have an edge there too. If you're full ring at your local casino and the table is full of deepstacked players capable of making moves, and you're in early position, then I think those are the only hands I would play. But even at your local casino, if you can range players and read boards, you can mix it up with a wider range of hands in LP and BVB scenarios....

Dan 2013-02-03 03:18:16

Anyone who says online is rigged is a huge FISH!! You see so many more hands online so those 'bad beats' are obviously more frequent but you have to remember you've got lucky against someone somewhere along the line! They do say luck evens itself out In the end :) hope you read this JYGA KURKO

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