It’s impossible to know exactly when and where Omaha originated, but what we do know is that it was first introduced to Las Vegas, the poker capital of the world, in the early 1980s, and to Europe a couple of years later. Ever since that time, optimistic proponents of the game have been claiming that Omaha will suddenly explode in popularity and become the dominant game on the poker scene, ahead of Hold’em. This hasn’t happened yet, but Omaha has fixed itself firmly in second place.
Omaha is a community card game that uses a flop, turn and river, like Hold’em. However, there are two key differences that make the game significantly more complex:
- Each player is dealt four private hole cards instead of two.
- Each player must use exactly two of those private hole cards in combination with exactly three of the community cards to make their five-card poker hand. Other combinations are not permitted.
Adding additional hole cards to the game greatly increases the number of possibilities for a starting hand. In Hold’em, you have one two-card combination to play with, but in Omaha, you have six! Consequently, Omaha tends to be a somewhat high-variance game.
The biggest stumbling block for new Omaha players, especially those already used to playing Hold’em, is hand reading. Frankly, even advanced players who play the game every single day sometimes misread their hand in Omaha. There is no knack or special technique to help with hand reading – it simply requires practice! Here is an example – try to work out what each player holds before you continue, remembering that each player picks the best combination using two of their hole cards and three of the board cards.
The Board: A♥Q♥J♥10♥7♣
Player A: A♣K♥7♦7♠
Player B: A♦A♠Q♣Q♦
Player C: J♣J♠J♦10♦
Player D: 9♥8♥3♣3♠
Player A’s best five-card poker hand is an Ace-high Straight. They use the A♣K♥ from their hand in combination with the Q♥J♥10♥from the board to make A♣K♥Q♥J♥10♥. Note that Player A does not have a Royal Flush, because this would require them to use only one of their hole cards with four board cards, which isn’t allowed. Note also that Player A does not have a Full House, as this would require them to use three of their hole cards with two of the board cards – again, not allowed.
Player B’s best hand is three Aces. They use the A♦A♠ from their hand in combination with the A♥Q♥J♥ from the board to make A♦A♠A♥Q♥J♥. Note that they do not have a Full House as this would require them to use three or four or their hole cards, which isn’t allowed.
Player C’s best hand is three Jacks. They use the J♠J♦ from their hand in combination with the J♥A♥Q♥ from the board to make J♠J♦J♥A♥Q♥. Again, note that they do not have a Full House or Four of a Kind, as this would require them to use three of their hole cards which is not allowed.
Player D’s best hand is a Queen-high Straight Flush. They use the 9♥8♥ from their hand in combination with the Q♥J♥10♥ from the board to make Q♥J♥10♥9♥8♥. Player D therefore wins the pot at a showdown.
If hand reading seems complicated, don’t worry, it gets easier with practice. Playing on the MPN, you can be sure that the pot is never incorrectly awarded, and you can even see the current strength of your hand displayed on the table, so you have no excuse not to try Omaha!
In the example above, the eventual winner was Player D, who started with a somewhat weak hand, 9♥8♥3♣3♠, and got very lucky to hit a 10♥ on the turn. However, the strongest starting hand was the A♦A♠Q♣Q♦ held by Player B.
Just like Hold’em, you’re looking for a starting hand which is highly coordinated, ideally containing high cards, suited cards, connecting cards and/or pairs. However, it’s not enough to have only two or three co-ordinated cards. A hand such as A♣K♥7♦4♠ is not automatically playable simply because it has the A♣K♥ combination which is so strong in Hold’em. You’re not only playing the A♣K♥ combination, but also the A♣7♦, A♣4♠, K♥7♦, K♥4♠ and 7♦4♠ combinations too, none of which are particularly strong. The same principle applies to a hand like J♥J♦3♣3♠, which is not automatically playable simply because it contains two pairs.
In Omaha, all four of your cards should work together as much as possible. Cards which don’t work with the rest of your hand are known as danglers, and it’s in your interest to avoid getting trapped with these types of hands, especially if you’re a beginning player.
The strongest starting hand in Omaha is A♦A♠K♦K♠. Notice how all the possible combinations of the four hole cards are very strong? Also consider rundown hands like Q♠J♥10♠9♥, and co-ordinated hands like K♠K♥Q♠J♥ or even 5♣5♥4♠3♠. These have a lot of potential if the right flop arrives.
Before the flop, you should be aware that because of the Pot Limit betting structure it can be difficult to eliminate players by raising. Opening for the maximum 3.5 big blinds may simply result in a ‘domino effect’ of callers, each tempted by a pretty starting hand, and a large multi-way pot in which it will be possible to make expensive mistakes after the flop.
Consequently, the best strategy with a hand like A♦A♠10♦9♣, especially if you are in early position, may be to limp in. There are two possible results to limping. The first is that nobody raises, and you see the flop multi-way but the pot is small, meaning that any mistake you make will cost you less. The second is that somebody chooses to raise, allowing you to put in a big reraise and either win the hand immediately or isolate on a single opponent, increasing your chances of winning the pot. Both of these results can be advantageous if you’re new to the game and haven’t yet developed your judgement to expert level.
Note that in the hand reading example above, the very least any player had was trips, and the hand was won by a Straight Flush! The example was designed to also illustrate the next point, which is that compared to Hold’em, the hands tend to be much stronger in Omaha, and in multi-way pots it’s much more likely that somebody has made the nuts.
Consequently, you have to adjust your attitude of what constitutes a strong hand. While in Hold’em, top pair or an overpair can be a strong hand on the flop, in Omaha it’s very likely that a single pair at showdown is losing, even against a single opponent.
As a beginner, it’s not a bad idea to assume that if you’re in a multi-way pot, somebody has the nuts or close to it. Consequently, you should be willing to bow down to heavy pressure unless you have the nuts yourself, or a draw to the nuts. It’s very important to always be aware of what the nuts is so that you can properly evaluate your hand strength. Don’t draw to a hand, such as a Queen-high Flush, which is likely to be second best if you make it.
Omaha is a very flop-dependent game, and a frequent mistake is to get too attached to a strong preflop hand which has not improved after the flop. It’s very common for players who are used to the Hold’em hand values to get attached to a big pair like pocket Aces, for example. Don’t be one of these people – always be cautious if the flop doesn’t improve your hand.
Besides the overpair to the board, other common trap hands include bottom and middle Two Pair (which is regularly beaten by a higher Two Pair), bottom and middle set (often beaten by top set), non-nut Straights and Flushes (often beaten by the nut Straight or Flush) and even the under full (a non-nut Full House, which can be beaten by the nut Full House). These are the kind of hands which tend to win small pots when they hold up, but lose big ones when they are beaten. It’s difficult to exaggerate how careful you should be with hands which are not the nuts if you are facing big bets from your opponents.
Big Draws and Redraws
Because of the six two-card combinations available to each player, Omaha is a game of huge draws. It’s possible for hands to have as many as 20 outs to a Straight, and it’s not rare for a player holding a draw alone to be a favourite over the field or even against the current nuts.
Here’s an example of a big draw in Omaha:
Player A: J♣10♦7♦6♣
Player A has twenty outs to make a Straight (four Queens, three Jacks, three tens, three sevens, three sixes and four fives) and also has five outs to make a Flush (the Ace, King, four, three and deuce of clubs). That’s twenty five cards that make the draw, compared to twenty that do not, meaning that Player A is a 1.25 to 1 favourite to hit the draw on the next card.
One of the ways that you can compensate for being cautious with marginal made hands (like Two Pair and non-nut trips) is to play these big draws aggressively. The other way is to look for made hands with redraws and play those aggressively too.
A redraw is a backup plan. For example:
In this scenario, you have the current nuts with three Jacks. However, there will be many turn cards which make a Straight, Flush, or higher set possible. But your hand is stronger than it looks, because the Q♦10♣ combination acts as a redraw. By hitting a King or eight, you make a Straight which will be the nuts. Also, if the turn does bring a Straight or Flush, then your J♦J♠ combination will become the redraw, with which you can make a Full House if the board pairs.
One of the great opportunities in Omaha is getting your entire stack in against an opponent when you both have the nuts, but you have a redraw while your opponent does not. This type of situation usually arises because your hand selection is better than your opponent’s, and you’ve stuck with a co-ordinated hand while they are messing around with sub-par holdings. This situation is a freeroll, and it’s one of the bread-and-butter Omaha situations for a winning player.
Finally, one last tip. Since you now know that Omaha is a game of big draws, you should be aware that it’s rarely correct to slowplay strong made hands. If you have the nuts, don’t check and allow your opponents to make a hidden Straight. Be aggressive, and make them pay to hit their draws – after all, that’s what they’ll be doing to you!