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“How I Learned to Love the Four-Card Game”

September 11, 2018

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Omaha’s a much different game to tackle than other types of poker. Our Global Promotions Manager, Jonny, shares his experience with the game, and along with some advice to help ensure you aren’t using typical Texas Hold’em strategy when you’re playing this format.

“My group of friends during University and onward had a common theme — we’re all avid Magic: The Gathering players who had bonded closely. We were competitors on the Pro Tour and traveled the globe playing events. Another common theme among our group was brutal honesty. The best lesson to learn is a blunt one. It saved time and feelings were not hurt, even if the language could be quite coarse from time to time.

“What the $%^! are you doing?” my friend Mark inquired in a loud, condemning way. I held KK on a board of 5-6-Q with two spades. In Texas Hold’em, this would be a great spot to put the money in I had thought. However, this was Omaha.

I was “ahead” in terms of having a pair, but my opponent, Scott, held 7-8-4-A with two spades. What I had thought was a good bet was actually a losing play. Sure, I held a strong-looking overpair, but overpairs aren’t as good as I realized in this game, as I had found out to my detriment.

As I rebought my £10 stack, I was told in no uncertain (nor family friendly terms) that my play was “on par with a brain dead kangaroo.”  

Omaha is not a gambling game; Omaha is a game of correctly estimating your equity — especially with hands that have no pairs. There are many situations where you can hold top-set but it’s an underdog hand. I quickly found out that Omaha was a game of finding the big draws — the nut flush with straight draw combo hands. My intended strategy of playing hands with big pairs seemed great at the time to my uncultured eye, but my eyes were opened playing with this group.

Omaha can seem a scary beast, but that beast is tamable. Doubling the number of cards that you can play with can lead to many more complex situations, and whoever plays those complex situations better will win in the long term.

Someone once told me the following maxim:

“Hold’em is a game of getting the money in on the flop; Omaha is a game of getting them in on the turn.”

For me, this still holds true today. Even when you have a strong made hand in Omaha, or even the nuts on the flop (the nuts being the strongest five-card hand available at that time), a player is best served to show caution.  

A lot of the time time, the nuts on the flop will not be the nuts on the turn, and if a player’s hand has no way to make an even stronger hand (e.g. you hold a straight and can still make a flush), then they should be careful. Checking with the nuts is not a bad play, as your hand may be worthless on the turn card.

The following is not an uncommon situation in Omaha: You hold A-A-6-7 and the board runs out 8-9-T rainbow, so you’ve flopped a straight. If there are multiple opponents in the hand and bets are flying about, you must fold your straight. It’s just too common for someone to have QJ and people may hang on with TT, 99, 88, and even KQ for some players. In this case, it’s prudent to fold the low end of the straight.

Another situation that is not uncommon: Say there are four players to the flop and it comes down 8-9-T with two spades and one heart. You hold Q-J-2-3, all diamonds. You bet, a solid player behind you raises, and another player calls. Now, you might be wise to throw your hand away to the raise, as the likelihood is that at least one player holds QJ but also another way to win the pot. They might have a King in their hand, an extension to the straight draw, or they may hold the QJ of spades. Either way, the chances of you winning the pot are capped at very low. The other plays can improve, or redraw to a better hand, but you can only play a straight.

It’s 100% correct to fold the nuts in some situations. Once a player is comfortable with this and the reasoning why, then they can excel at the game. Some hands look enticing, but as we all know, following the siren’s call can lead to a shipwreck.

Here are a few tips to try and make Omaha a winning game for you:

  • Don’t chase non-nut draws. Fold those king high flush draws to a lot of action!
  • The low end of a straight is generally a losing hand, especially in multi-way pots.
  • Try not to leave home without a suit. Would you go to a wedding in a jogging outfit and flip flops? Suited hands give you a chance to be in redraw situations, where you and your opponent hold the same hand rank, but you can make a flush.
  • Low pairs are a trap. Everyone loves to make a set, but in Omaha, if you hold 33 on 3-7-J rainbow and there is a lot of action, then generally the opponent will hold a higher set. Set over set is a common thing, so don’t be on the wrong end of it!
  • Omaha is a great game for bluffing, but make sure you’re telling a consistent story. Position is key in this game, as you can represent a lot of hands on turns that will make your opponent fold. For example, a flush-completing card on the turn and a check from your opponent could lead to a profitable bluffing situation.  
  • Re-raising AAxx preflop can be dangerous. It often leads to a situation where you bet the flop and are put in a horrible spot when raised. If you re-raise AAxx, make sure you also re-raise some suited rundown hands too (8-9-T-J with two suits), otherwise you are predictable. Try to have position too when re-raising, or there will be some sticky wickets to navigate.
  • Don’t be a brain-dead kangaroo like me!”