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Poker – Omaha

Omaha is also sometimes called Omaha hold ’em poker, which should tell you a lot about the related nature of the two games. Anyone wanting to learn Omaha should first read the section about Texas Hold ’em, because you will then understand much of the terminology and strategy that underlies Omaha.

Despite all these underlying similarities, Omaha and Hold ’em play out very differently. Let’s see how.

Deceptive Similarities in the Two Games

To the casual observer, Omaha and Hold ’em appear almost identical, except that in Omaha, the players each receive four cards of their own, while in Hold ’em, they receive only two. In all other outward appearances-the posting of blinds, the use of five community cards, the importance of position and holding the button, the betting structure-the games appear identical. But they don’t play that way.

Probably the most important difference between the games is the requirement in Omaha that the player use exactly two of the cards in his hand. When we learned Hold ’em, we saw situations where two players could split the pot by playing the board -for example, if the board held 3-4-5-6-10 of diamonds, for a flush, and neither competing player held a diamond, they would just split the pot by playing the board and using none of the cards in their hands.

In Omaha, that can’t happen. You cannot play the board. Because you MUST use two cards in your hand, and three cards from the board. If you have the Ace of spades in your hand, but no other spades, you can’t make a spade flush in Omaha, no matter how many spades hit the board. You need two spades in your hand.

This fundamental difference often creates a great deal of confusion among players who usually play Hold ’em and only sometimes play Omaha. Frequently you will find someone thinking he has a full house or a flush, and instead he has trips, or nothing. It can happen even to very good players when they get tired. That’s why it’s always a good idea to lay your cards down on the table at the end of a hand. Frequently players miss hands they have made-for example, not seeing a straight.

Differences in Hand Values

Although the rankings of the poker hands remain the same in the two games, players are creating five card hands from nine possibilities (four in their hands and five on the board) instead of seven possibilities (two in their hands and five on the board).

This means that in Omaha it is much more likely that some player will make a hand like a straight or a flush if enough players stay to the end. In Hold ’em, a hand like two pair, or even one pair, can frequently win a multi-player pot. In Omaha, this is very unlikely, although occasionally it can happen.

In Omaha, in fact, the availability of all these cards means that frequently just having a straight or a flush is not enough. If you don’t have the nut straight or flush, you stand a very good chance of losing. Suppose, for example, the board looked like this:

7-8-K-J-10

In Hold ’em, a player holding Q-9 as his hand would feel very, very good about his chances of winning. He would have a King-high straight (9-10-J-Q-K), and the only way he could lose would be if someone specifically held A-Q, for an Ace-high straight. But in Omaha, the chances are far, far greater that someone could hold an Ace and a Queen among his four cards.

A similar problem is that in Hold ’em, when three suited cards are on board, you don’t always have to be terrified that someone has a flush, because the odds are against someone having two suited cards in his hand, especially when players are good enough to have learned that hands like 10-2 of hearts are not very good hold ’em hands (and thus frequently fold them before the flop ).

But in Omaha, anytime there are three suited cards on board, and multiple players in the hand, anyone holding less than a flush is probably in big trouble. Although 10-2 of hearts is a rotten Hold ’em hand, it would be very easy to see someone playing a hand like As-10d-10h-2h, hoping to make three tens, a high straight, or a flush. Indeed, the player holding the 10h-2h will probably bet fairly conservatively, because he will, with justification, be worried about someone else holding a higher flush.

Good Starting Hands

When playing high-only Omaha (the high-low version, discussed below, is even more popular), try to play starting hands where all four of your cards are Tens or higher. This way if you make a straight or a flush, it has a very good chance of being the nut straight or flush.

Holding high pairs, along with other high cards, is also a good way to start, because if you make a full house, it will have a good chance of being the best full house.

In hold ’em, if you have a straight, flush, or full house, you are probably going to win. In Omaha, especially if a lot of opponents are seeing the flop, a low straight, low flush, or low full house stands an excellent chance of becoming the worst possible poker hand: the second-place hand.

High-Low Omaha

High-low Omaha-usually called “Omaha 8 or Better”-is more popular than the high-only version of the game in most parts of the world. In this version, the highest hand wins half the pot, and the lowest hand wins half the pot, with the very important qualification that the lowest hand must be five cards that are Eight or lower. Thus you could not win the low half of the pot holding a hand like A-9-J-Q, because you only have one card lower than an Eight in your hand.

If no one has a low hand-and no one can, if there are not three cards eight or lower on the board-then the highest hand takes the whole pot.

Ideal starting hands are different in Omaha 8 or Better, because (as in all forms of high-low poker), hands composed of small cards can win low but can also turn into small straights and flushes, so they have two-way potential. Hands composed solely of high cards have only one way potential and so are not particularly strong, until or unless the flop comes with only zero or one low card. Then the high hands are much more valuable.

The best possible starting hand in Omaha 8 or Better is A-A-2-3, double suited. By that I mean, one of the Aces is the same suit as the Two, and the other Ace is the same suit as the Three. Can you see why this hand is so strong?

1) It contains a pair of Aces, which could win all by themselves, or which could win as Aces-up, or make three Aces if an Ace hits the flop.

2) It contains two nut flush draws. If three suited cards hit the board in either of the two suits in your hand, you have the best possible high hand.

3) It contains the three lowest possible cards, so if the board looks something like 2-5-7-J-K, you have the nut low.

4) Because you have two of the Aces, it makes it much less likely that someone else has A-2 or A-3 in his hand, making it more likely that you will win the low part of the pot if low cards hit the board.

Although a full discussion of Omaha 8 or Better could take an entire book or books, you should see that the principles are similar to high-only Omaha: if you are drawing to a hand against many opponents, you should make sure you’re drawing to the best possible hand.

It is very easy to finish second with a good hand in Omaha 8 or Better. If only two or three opponents are seeing the flop, a hand that is less than the pure nuts has a much better chance of winning.

Poker – Poker Dictionary

Rules:

Action:

Another term for “betting,” that is, to start the action is to start the betting.

Ante:

A small sum of money, placed in the pot by each player. Antes are used in stud and draw, but not in Hold ’em or Omaha.

Big Blind:

A bet that must be posted by the player two seats to the left of the button. It is equal to the amount of the smaller betting limit in a game, for example, in a 10-20 game, the big blind would be $10.

Blind:

Forced bets placed in the pot by the first two players in front of the dealer button, in Hold ’em and Omaha. See “small blind” and “big blind.”

Bluff:

To bet when you hold a weak hand, hoping that the intimidation factor of your bet can win the hand.

Board:

Usually used to refer to the visible cards on the table, e.g., “looking around the board,” means looking at the visible cards. In Hold ’em and Omaha, everyone shares the same board. In Stud games, each player has his own board.

Bring-in:

In stud, a bet that must be made on the very first betting round. Usually the player showing the lowest card is forced to make a bet; in some games, the player showing the highest card is forced. The bring-in applies only on the very first betting round, though. On all further rounds, the player showing the highest hand on board has the OPTION to bet first, but need not.

Button:

A plastic disc used to represent the dealer position, in games where a professional dealer is used, and position remains constant throughout the hand (Hold ’em and Omaha).

Call:

To match a bet that has been made.

Check:

To possess the option to bet, but decline. A player cannot check once someone else has bet; at that point, the player must call, raise, or fold. But if no one has yet bet, a player can check, allowing the betting option to pass to the next player.

Check-raise:

To check, indicating weakness, with the intention of raising after someone else bets. Check-raises are allowed in all casino poker games; in some home games, they are frowned upon.

Community cards:

Cards that are turned face up in the middle of the table, and which belong to all players still in the hand. Community cards are used in Hold ’em and Omaha.

Drawing Hand:

A hand that has the potential to become a strong hand but which without improvement is relatively worthless. The most common types of drawing hands are four card straights and four card flushes.

Fifth Street:

The fifth community card in Hold ’em or Omaha (in these games, 5th street is more often called “the river.”). Also sometimes used to refer to the fifth card received in 7 card stud.

Flop:

In Hold ’em or Omaha, the first three community cards, turned up all at once.

Flush:

5 cards all of the same suit, for example, 3-4-8-10-K of hearts.

Flush draw:

To hold four cards of the same suit, for example, 3-4-8-10 of hearts, and thus to be hoping to catch a fifth suited card (in this case another heart) that would give you a flush.

Fold:

To drop out of a hand.

Fourth Street:

The fourth community card in Hold ’em or Omaha (in these games, 4th street is more often called “the turn.”). Also sometimes used to refer to the fourth card received in 7 card stud.

Full house:

Three of one card and two of another, e.g., 7-7-7-5-5.

Hand:

A player’s best five cards.

Heads-up play:

When a hand has been reduced to only two players.

High-Low poker:

Any poker game where the highest and lowest hands split the pot. It is possible to have a hand that wins both, for example, A-2-3-4-5 is a straight but is also (in most forms of high-low poker) also considered the lowest possible hand. In some forms of high-low, the lowest possible hand is A-2-3-4-6, and in others (although usually this is true only in low-only games), the lowest possible hand is 2-3-4-5-7 (because this hand does not contain an Ace). Make sure you know what the best low hand is before jumping in!

Hole cards:

Cards that are face down and cannot be seen by the other players.

Inside Straight draw:

Four cards that can make a straight by hitting one specific card, somewhere in the middle, such as 4-6-7-8 (where only a Five could give the player a straight). Compare this to an Open-ended straight draw, where cards on either end could complete the hand.

Kicker:

Two meanings. 1) A single card kept along with a pair, in draw, in an attempt to make two pair. For example, someone might keep 3-3-K, drawing two cards, in the hope that he might get either a Three (for trips) or a King (making two pair, Kings-up). 2) The highest single card held by two players in Hold ’em who each hold the same pair. For example, if the board in Hold ’em is A-10-8-5-2, and Player One holds A-J as his hand, and Player Two holds A-Q, each player has a pair of Aces, but Player Two has a better kicker and would win the hand.

Limit Poker:

The most common variety of poker, where the size of the bets are pre-determined. For example, in a “10-20” game, the bets and raises can be only $10 in the early rounds and $20 in the late rounds. Compare to No-limit poker.

Miss:

To hold a drawing hand but not receive the card you needed to improve. For example, someone holding four hearts and whose final card is a spade has “missed his draw.”

Narrowing the Field:

To bet or raise in the hopes that you will drive out some players whose hands are currently worse than yours, but who might improve if allowed to stay in.

No-Limit poker:

Considered the most skillful and most dangerous form of poker, where any player can bet all of his chips at any time.

Nuts, The:

The best possible hand. This phrase is almost always used in the context of a particular hand (otherwise “the nuts” would just be a term for a royal flush). For example, in Hold ’em, a player holding 8-9 would hold “the nuts” if the flop came 6-7-10. At that moment, the 6-7-8-9-10 straight is the best possible hand. However, if the Turn card were a Jack, and the River a Queen, a player holding A-K would then have the nuts-a 10-J-Q-K-A straight.

Omaha:

Community card poker game with significant similarities to, and equally important differences from, Texas Hold ’em. In Omaha, all players received four cards of their own (rather than two in Hold ’em), but unlike Hold ’em where the players may choose to play zero, one, or two of the cards in their hand, in Omaha a player must use two and exactly two of his cards. Thus in Hold ’em, if the community board showed 7-7-8-8-J, and a player held A-8 as his hand, that player would have a full house (using the Eight from his hand and the two pair on the board). In Omaha, with the same board, a player holding A-8-4-3 would have only 3 Eights, because he would have to use two cards from his own hand. Omaha is frequently played in a high-low version.

Open-ended straight draw:

Four consecutive cards, such as 5-6-7-8, which allows the player to complete his straight with a card on either end (in this case, a 4 or a 9 would complete the straight). Compare this with an Inside Overcards: Cards that are higher than shown on the board. For example, in Hold ’em, if the flop came 4-6-9, and your hand was K-Q, you would be said to hold two overcards; there is a good chance that someone currently holds a Four, Six, or Nine, giving them a pair, but if the Turn or River brings a King or a Queen, your paired overcard might win the hand for you.

Pair:

Two cards of the same rank, e.g., two Sevens or two Kings.

Pat hand:

A hand that is complete and would not be broken up to try to improve. Straights, flushes, full houses, four of a kind, and straight flushes are all pat hands.

Position:

Extremely important, often underrated poker concept. In most forms of poker, there is a big advantage to going last. In hold ’em, the player holding the button goes last on all rounds. By being the last to act, you have much more information available to you at the time you must decide whether to check, bet, raise, or fold.

Pot:

The money in the center of the table, being contested by the players still remaining in the hand.

Pot-Limit poker:

Compare to Limit poker and no-limit poker. In pot-limit, a player may bet an amount up to but not greater than the size of the pot at that particular moment.

Pot odds:

Often it is important to evaluate the size of the pot in deciding whether or not to call a bet. If there is a great deal of money in the pot, sometimes even a mediocre hand is worth calling if it has a small chance to improve to the best hand. On the contrary, if the pot is very small, even a fairly good hand may not be worth a call, because the amount one is risk, relative to the amount one stands to gain, is not enough.

Raise:

To increase the size of a bet that has been made.

Rake:

The amount of money the casino takes from the pot to make money from the poker game. In low limit games, the casino usually rakes some percentage of the pot, usually a maximum of 10% of the pot. In higher limit games, the casino makes money either by charging players an hourly fee to play, or by collecting a fee each time a player holds the button.

River:

In Hold ’em or Omaha, the fifth and final community card. Also sometimes called fifth street.

Rock:

A player known to be very conservative, who usually bets or raises only when he has a very powerful hand.

Slow-play:

To act weak when you hold an extremely powerful hand, in the hopes of luring in other players. For example, if in Hold ’em your hand was the 5-6 of clubs, and the flop came 2-3-4 of clubs, you would have an unbeatable hand. But if you bet and raised aggressively right away, everyone else might fold and you would win only a small pot. By merely checking or calling, you might lure other players into thinking their hands had a better chance, and win more money from them.

Small Blind:

A bet that must be posted by the player one seat to the left of the button. It is usually equal to one half of the smaller betting limit in a game, for example, in a 10-20 game, the small blind would be $5. Occasionally, the small blind is some other fraction of the big blind. I have seen 15-30 games where the big blind is $15 and the small blind $10, and also 15-30 where the small blind is $5.

Straight: 5 consecutive cards, for example, 9-10-J-Q-K.

Straight flush:

Five consecutive cards that are also of the same suit, for example, 8-9-10-J-Q of clubs.

Suits:

Spades, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs. In most forms of poker, suits are unimportant, except for decided who must begin the betting. At the end of a hand, if players hold identical cards, except that the suits are different, they are considered to hold identical hands and split the pot.

Trips:

Three of a kind.

Turn:

In Hold ’em or Omaha, the fourth community card. Also sometimes called fourth street.

Quads:

Four of a kind.

Poker – High-Low Poker

High-Low Poker

Most people grow up thinking of poker as a game of royal flushes, full houses, flushes, and straights, and indeed, in most forms of poker, these kinds of hands win a lot of money.

There are also several kinds of poker where these “powerful” hands are worthless. Perhaps they were invented by someone who felt he never got his fair share of good cards, but in games like Razz-which is 7-card stud played for low-the player with the LOWEST hand wins the pot.

Today, though, we’re going to talk about a form of poker that is a hybrid of these other two kinds of poker, a combination of the high-only games and the low-only games: high-low poker.

In a high-low game (which I’ll be calling hi-lo from now on), the player owning the highest hand wins half the pot, and the player owning the lowest hand wins the other half. So, for example, in a 7-stud hi-lo game, if the following three hands were around at the finish…

(Cards that are bold or dark are hole cards.)

Player A               Player B               Player C

Player A:  2h-4h-6d-9s-7c-Kd-Ad

Player B:  Kh-Ks-2d-4d-4c-7d-9c

Player C:  5d-5s-5h-8h-Js-4s-Qd

Players A and C would take the money. Player A has a “7-low,” that is, he can form a 5-card poker hand comprised of an 7, 6, 4, 2 and Ace. Player C has three of a kind-three fives.

Player B is stuck in the middle. His two pair (Kings and Fours) don’t beat Player C’s trips, and his King-low (because of the pairs, the five lowest cards Player B can assemble without including a pair are K, 9, 7, 4, 2) isn’t as low as Player A’s 7-low.

Don’t race out to play hi-low poker just yet, though, because there are a few critically important rules and considerations you still need to learn.

Hand Rankings in Low Poker

As we’ve seen in the examples, a low hand is defined by the highest card in the hand; someone holding 8-5-4-3-2 would announce he has an 8-low. If someone else says “me, too,” you might hear the first player say “8-5” (or in poker slang he might say “eighty-five”) and the second player say “you win” if he held 8-6-4-3-2, which is an “8-6” low. This is similar to what happens in high poker, where if two players each hold a pair of Kings, the next highest card decides the hand (for example, K-K-J-10-4 beats K-K-10-9-8). In low poker, if two players have similar lows, you look at the next highest of the low cards, until someone holds a lower one. For example, a player holding 8-6-5-4-3 beats a player holding 8-7-4-3-2, and a player holding 7-5-3-2-A beats a player holding 7-5-4-2-A.

The Eight Qualifier Rule

In most forms of hi-lo poker, for a hand to win the low side, it must be an 8-low, or better. This “qualifying” feature of the game is usually identified in the game’s name. For example, most of the time when 7-stud is dealt in a hi-lo form, the game is called “7-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better for Low,” or just “7-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better.”

Suppose we stick with the same sample hand I used above:

Player A               Player B               Player C

Player A: 2h-4h-6d-9s-7c-Kd-Ad

Player B: Kh-Ks-2d-4d-4c-7d-9c

Player C: 5d-5s-5h-8h-Js-4s-Qd

But suppose now we make the game 7-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better, and gave Player A, for his final card, not the Ace of Diamonds, but instead the 10 of Hearts. In that case, Player C would win the entire pot, because Player A’s best low hand is 9-7-6-4-2. He has a 9-low, and a 9-low is useless in an “Eight or Better” game. Only an 8-low (or better, such as a 7-low, 6-low, or 5-low), qualifies for winning the low half.

Such endings, where a player is drawing at a promising low, but misses, are common and frustrating in 7-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better games. For example, suppose you start off with 2d-3d-4d-5d. This is the sort of start that professional hi-lo players dream about. Four very low cards that also have terrific high potential: either an Ace or a Six will make a low straight, and any Diamond will give this player a flush. It is a magnificent hi-lo starting hand.

(In hi-lo games, the fact that A-2-3-4-5 is also a straight doesn’t keep it from being the best possible low hand; in certain forms of low-only poker, if a hand is a straight, it isn’t considered low.)

Yet this dream can turn into a nightmare, because poker is a five-card game, not a four-card game. If the player who starts 2d-3d-4d-5d finishes with 9s-Kc-Jh, the player now has a completely worthless hand. He has not “qualified” for low, because his 9-5-4-3-2 isn’t an 8-low or better, and his best high hand is K-J-9-5-4, and that collection of junk isn’t going to win the high side of many pots.

Nonetheless, just because the dream start 2d-3d-4d-5d won’t always connect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hope to start that way. This kind of hand is your goal, because it has the potential to win BOTH high and low. It has the potential not merely to split half the pot, but to “scoop” or “hog” the whole pot.

The Cardinal Rules of Hi-Lo Poker

When trying to figure out what kind of starting hands to play in any form of hi-lo poker, keep these two principles in mind:

  1. You prefer hands that have a chance to win the entire pot, not just half of it, even though you might wind up settling for half of it.
  2. Hands that start off low can “accidentally” wind up high… but hands that start high can’t become low.

For example, suppose you start off with 4-5-6 in a 7-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better game. This is a nice hand, much better than an average start, because you hold three cards to a 6-low and they also have nice potential to turn into a straight. Yet even if you fail to make the 6-low or the straight, your hand still might turn out nicely. Suppose your final four cards were 5-8-6-5; you’d have wound up with a full house when you started off trying to make a low hand.

High-Only Hands are Uni-Directional

It’s hard, and sometimes impossible, for the reverse to happen, though. If your first three cards are K-K-Q, you cannot make a low hand in an Eight-or-better game. You need five cards that are eight or lower to do that, and with only four cards left to come, you can’t get there. You are irrevocably committed to playing for high.

That doesn’t mean you should immediately throw the K-K-Q away, especially if you don’t see any other Kings or Queens in anyone else’s hand. In fact, such a hand can often be worth a raise, in an effort to drive out potential low hands. But if your high hand doesn’t improve, and if you start to see boards like 4-5-6 and A-3-4, you are probably in very bad trouble, because

  1. a) You are in all likelihood playing for only half the pot, because someone will probably make a low hand, and
  2. b) Those low opposing hands might easily turn into a straight, or Aces-up, or something like 3 Threes, meaning that you won’t even win the high half.

Not all hi-lo games employ the Eight-or-Better qualifier, and in a game that doesn’t, the K-K-Q starting hand still has a chance to get the low half. Not a good chance, not even a poor chance, but at least a chance. In Eight-or-Better, it has zero chance.

In cardrooms and casinos, the two games you are most likely to see played in hi-lo form are 7-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better, and Omaha Eight-or-Better. Most of the hi-lo poker played in card casinos involves the eight-qualifier.

The presence of the eight-qualifier gives the high-only hands like K-K-Q more hope, because if no one makes a qualifying low hand, the best high hand takes the whole pot, giving high hands some scooping potential. A hand like 7-5-4-3-2, while very nice for the low side, has no scooping potential, unless everyone else folds.

Home Game Hi-Lo and the Declare Rule

In home poker games, you will very often see hi-lo games played without a qualifier, but instead with a “declare.” This means that after all the cards have been dealt out, each player takes two chips out of sight underneath the table, and places either zero, one, or two chips in his hand. Everyone still in the pot brings one hand back up into view, and everyone opens that hand simultaneously.

If you place zero chips in your hand, your are “declaring” for low. If you place one chip in your hand, you are declaring for high, and if you place two chips in your hand, you are declaring for both. If you declare both ways, you have to win both ways, which can make a hand like A-2-3-4-5 a bit scary. You have an immortal lock for low, but if someone else has a flush, and you’ve declared both ways, your hand wins nothing.

The rules about who wins the money in this situation vary from game to game. In some games, the flush that knocked off the dual-declarer gets the whole pot. In others, the flush would get half the pot and the next best low declarer would get the other half. If you declare both ways, and everyone else declares in a single direction (for example, you declare “both” and everyone else declares high), whoever has the best hand in that one direction takes the whole pot; that you also declared in an additional, uncontested direction is irrelevant.

“Declare” poker is never used in public cardrooms or casinos; it can lead to too many arguments. But it is pretty common in home games, and can make for some fascinating strategic decisions, because if you are the only person who declares in a particular direction, you win that direction, regardless of your hand. “Declare” poker gives a player who is skilled at reading his opponents a bigger edge than he would have in low-qualifier poker.

I have seen players who had hands like three Jacks on board declare for Low and win, because everyone else in the hand declared high. It’s not common, but it can happen.

If you play hi-lo declare, make sure you understand the game’s ground rules. In some games, if you declare both ways and get TIED one way you lose everything; in others, you would win ¾ of the pot. Neither rule is inherently better than the other; just make sure you understand which rule is in force in your game.

Betting After the Declare

Another important aspect of “declare” poker is whether or not there is another round of betting after the declare. If there is, a player who has declared in one direction while everyone else has declared in the other owns an enviable position. He can and should put in every possible raise, because he can’t lose.

My all-time favorite hi-lo declare hand occurred in a 10-20 private game in Atlanta, Georgia.

This game was actually a six-card stud hi-lo declare game, where you had a chance to replace a card on the end rather than getting a seventh card you could keep, but the same principles apply.

Holding A-4-6-3-6-J, I had a very promising draw; going to the final card (the replace of the ugly Jack I’d caught the round before). I had a chance to make a 6-low, three sixes, or Aces-up, and to the other players, who were staring only at the 4-6-3-6, it looked like I could make a low straight.

Unfortunately, this powerful draw turned into a bunch of junk on the end when my final card was a King. My final hand was a pair of sixes for high and a King-low for low, and I knew neither of these hands had any chance whatsoever of winning in a showdown.

I considered the usual play of just declaring one way and hoping to be the only person declaring that way, but one of my opponents was very obviously going high and another seemed almost certain to be going low; I didn’t like my chances. But the pot was huge; there had been a lot of betting and raising throughout, and I was struck by a sudden inspiration.

Andy’s Sudden Inspiration

When we put our hands under the table, I put two chips in my hand, and when we all opened up, everyone saw my two-way declaration, and I made the opening $20 bet (the rule in our game was that a two-way declarer bet first after the declare).

This declare and bet was tantamount to announcing that I had made a low straight and was daring anyone to waste $20 to prove otherwise.

There were three players left in the pot. The first of these held a pair of Aces, it turned out. He knew me pretty well, and told me later that he suspected I was pulling some sort of move, but was afraid of player #3, who had four high cards on board and could easily have had two pair or a big straight, so he folded.

Player #3 had indeed held a high straight draw, it turned out, but missed; he had nothing-couldn’t even have beaten my pair of sixes-and folded pretty quickly.

Player #4 had a reasonable low, 8-7-something-something-something. But even with about $1,000 in the pot, he folded, because obviously I was not going to declare both ways and risk half of a huge pot, unless I was not afraid of his apparent 8-low or even the threat of a 7-low.

I raked in the pot, and would not had said a word, because I realized a move like this was FAR too useful to brag about; it could be quite profitable again. But a player who had been out of the game had seen my hole cards, and knew I’d had nothing. He’d kept his mouth shut during the betting-I’d have strangled him if he hadn’t-but with the pot over, he asked, with wide-eyed amazement, “WHAT DID YOU JUST DO!?!”

With that, I knew the jig was up, and I figured I might as well accept the stunned plaudits of my opponents, so I flipped my hand up on the board, and everyone in that game was talking about that hand for weeks.

I didn’t mind, actually. The ego-stroking aside, for the next two years, every time I came up with two chips in my hand at the end of a pot, I got a lot of $20 calls from players who couldn’t beat a legitimate two-way hand but who remembered “Andy’s famous bluff win.” I probably made an extra $1,000 that way, $20 at a time.

I actually tried it again about two months later, and it worked AGAIN, because the first player to act after me (bless his insightful soul) pronounced “I’m not going to pay you $20 every time you make a low straight, just because you bluffed us all out once.” The other remaining players decided this was a good idea and didn’t call either. Of course, since no one had seen my hole cards, I didn’t show the hand.

Sound, Patient, Fundamental Play Wins the Money

My “famous bluff move” is a fond memory, but it isn’t sound, fundamental poker; it was just an inspired act of desperation when I had nothing else left to try.

In your hi-lo games, stick to hands with two-way potential, get out quickly with deadly middle cards like nines and tens (they’re not low enough to win low and they’re not high enough to win high), and be patient. One of the reasons players like hi-lo is that the dual nature of the game DOES create more reasonable starting hands than you find in one-way games. You should be able to participate in plenty of hands, while your anxious-to-play opponents will be able to find even more.

Unfortunately, cardrooms and casinos don’t like hi-lo games much, for an understandable (from their perspective) reason: The time required to split up the pots means fewer hands played per hour, and fewer hands played per hour means less money taken in by the casino.

In future articles, I’ll offer some more specific advice for 7-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better, and Omaha Eight-or-Better.

Poker – Online Poker vs. Live Poker

In the first segment of what I plan to be an intermittent but continuing series about the online vs. live poker debate, today I’m looking into the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two kinds of poker for players vulnerable to going on tilt (playing much worse than you’re capable of playing, because you are upset or angry).

The list of reasons why players go on tilt is quite lengthy, but one of the most common is a bad beat that leads to the desire to play another hand as soon as possible, so you can win your money back. A player feeling this way often has a hard time releasing a hand that should be released, because he might have to wait a while (minutes that feel like hours) for another one.

If you’re a player who falls into this category, online poker might offer a nice cushion, because online games usually play at twice the speed of live games. This doesn’t always happen, of course; sometimes play is slowed by players who get disconnected, or by players who are playing two games simultaneously and who are involved at their other table, or by cheats who need time to talk on the phone to their confederates.

Online Games Move Faster

But in general, the online games move a lot faster. The computer deals cards a lot faster than any human can, no one has to count out a bet, players can pre-select the “fold in turn” button, the dealer doesn’t have to move chips into the pot, and doesn’t have to split a pot, should a split pot occur.

Because these games move so quickly, it is easier for the tilted player to throw a hand away (at least for all but the most tilted players), because the wait for another hand won’t be as long. If you’re playing in two games simultaneously, this effect is even stronger, because there’s a new hand coming along almost momentarily, but I don’t recommend two games at once. It’s too easy to accidentally hit the wrong button when you switch from one game to another, and I think it’s discourteous to the other players.

Besides, if you are on ultra-tilt, two games at once just lets you lose at an astounding rate.

The Hidden “Investment” In Live Games: Your Time

Another variation on the same theme is the player who is having a losing session and whose play has deteriorated as a result. If this player has had to drive any distance at all to get to his poker game, he may quite understandably be reluctant to leave, even though he knows he tends to play worse when losing. He doesn’t want to throw away the “investment” of the time it took to drive to the game and (if it’s a cardroom) the time it took to get into a game.

There’s no such problem with online poker, though. If you find your play deteriorating, you can just leave the game and come back to it as soon as you’re feeling better; no drive wasted. And unlike a regular cardroom, you won’t have to wait an hour to get back into a game. You might have to play a different limit for a little while, but you’ll probably be able to get back into action much faster.

Does this mean I advocate playing online poker instead of live poker? No. I’m still worried about the collusion problem (although I have been impressed by the answers I’ve gotten to inquiries I’ve made into suspected collusion from one online room), I still like the camaraderie of a live game, and I still like being able to see or smell fear in my opponents. I think the ease of throwing “virtual chips” into a pot will lead to trouble for some players.

I’m also convinced that online poker, like all forms of online gambling, will lead to big trouble for people who already have gambling problems and for people who might be borderline problem gamblers.

But the online games aren’t without their advantages, and I want you to.

Playing for the First Time In a Legal Cardroom

Playing for the First Time In a Legal Cardroom

With very few exceptions, poker players take their first poker “baby steps” not in the legal cardrooms of California, Nevada, and an ever-growing number of other states (and countries), but in private games, often held in someone’s kitchen or basement, or perhaps a dorm room at college.

These private games can be a lot of fun. They’re informal, you’re playing with friends or acquaintances, the games themselves are frequently unusual (“the game is 7-card stud, low hole card is wild, you can buy an extra card at the end for $10,” etc.), and “fun with your pals” is usually the priority, not poker (at least until the stakes start getting pretty high).

Eventually, though, many players decide that they’re tired of their game breaking up at 11:30, or of having to clean up afterwards, or only being able to play on Wednesdays, or of the low stakes, or of all the bizarre wild card variations. Or perhaps they haven’t tired of their home game at all, but know they’re going to Las Vegas or Atlantic City and want to play poker during their vacation.

Poker in a legal cardroom is a very different experience from home game poker, and I’ve been getting enough reader questions about this for it to warrant it’s own article. First I’ll describe some of the major differences, and then offer you some tips to make your own first cardroom experience easier.

Difference #1: Strict Rules and Etiquette

In home games, what few rules that do exist usually aren’t enforced. Everyone might know that you’re supposed to wait until your turn before you fold (because folding out of turn gives information to other players that can affect whether they want to play or not), but your friends aren’t going to get on you because you folded early so you could go to the bathroom or make a sandwich.

In a cardroom, the rules are THE RULES. The players expect everyone to know them and to respect them, and it’s easy to become the focus of player disdain and/or dealer warnings if you violate them. It’s no fun to be criticized or laughed at, and such criticism can easily put some players “on tilt” (throw them off and make them play worse).

What makes this even trickier is that many rules vary dramatically from one cardroom to another. For example, in some casinos it’s perfectly ok to take chips in your hand and then rap the table with them, indicating that you’re checking, while in others, that’s considered illegal and you must bet (because you moved towards the pot with chips in your hand).

Another rule that varies a lot is what happens when you put an insufficient number of chips into the pot. Suppose, for example, that in a 15-30 game, when you could either call for $15 or raise for $30, you push $25 into the pot. In some cardrooms, you’re forced to take the extra $10 back and just call. In others, you’re required to add the extra $5 to make it a legal raise. In still others, it would be ruled a call if you put $20 in but a raise if you put $25 in.

These matters aren’t “right” or “wrong,” just whatever the house wants them to be. So it becomes important to learn the local rules.

Difference #2: The Games Played

In home games, it’s very common to play Dealer’s Choice, and the dealer often selects some odd game that he made up. In cardrooms, you’ll only find a few different games, and with the occasional exception of a “rotation” style game where you alternate rounds (that is, a full round of hold ’em, followed by a round of Omaha, followed by a round of 7-stud), usually when you sit down to play in a cardroom, you’re sitting down to play only one game, e.g., “10-20 hold ’em.”

Difference #3: The Stakes and Betting Structure

In your home game, the stakes are set at the start of the night, and they don’t change (except sometimes late at night when the losers want to double the stakes so they can get even).

If the cardroom is moderately large, you’ll probably have an option you don’t have in your home game: how large a stake you want to play for. You’ll see games offered at many different stakes: 2-4 hold ’em, 4-8 hold ’em, 10-20 hold ’em, etc.

This difference can give you some nice flexibility. If the cards aren’t running your way, it isn’t hard to switch to a lower-stake game (although leaving is an even better option, and unlike your home game, where your friends might object to an early departure, in a cardroom you can come and go as you please, winner or loser, and no one will object). If you feel like you’re really “on,” you can go find a higher stake game.

The danger, of course, is that you start losing, and in a desperate and foolish effort to win it all back, you lose much more. In your home game, probably the most you’ll be able to talk your friends into is doubling the stakes. In a legal cardroom, there’s nothing (other than good sense) to stop you from switching from the 5-10 game to the 30-60 game.

Difference #4: Your Opponents Are Better

Unless you play in an unusual or high stakes home game, you probably aren’t used to playing against a table full of tough players. In a cardroom, if you go to one of the higher stake tables, that’s a very real possibility.

If you’re playing at the low stake levels, the players in a cardroom won’t necessarily be very good… although they’ll still probably be better than your home opponents.

Difference #5: The Game Never Ends

The first time my friend Phil Hellmuth played poker in Las Vegas, he played for 70 hours straight before quitting. “I wasn’t used to a game that never ended,” he said. “At home, we either quit at a set hour, or we quit when I busted everyone.” (Phil has won six bracelets at the World Series of Poker so this last claim is very easy to believe.)

If a World Champion like Phil Hellmuth can fall prey to this trap, so can you. Most home players aren’t used to extremely long sessions, and they are used to games that end at a reasonable hour. When suddenly confronted with a game that goes on endlessly (the players change, but the game goes on), they have to find the will to get up and leave.

For some people, getting up and leaving when losing is very hard. For others, getting up and leaving when winning is very hard (although this is less common than a problem leaving while losing). Without the artificial safety net of a predetermined game ending time, you can get yourself into trouble playing too long, getting too tired, and losing too much.

How to Handle the Differences

There are a few things you can do to give yourself a chance to have more fun and experience less stress in your first cardroom experience:

  1. Tell the club manager or floorman it’s your first time, and ask him if there are any unusual local rules. If he has the time (sometimes they are VERY busy and sometimes they have all the time in the world), he’ll be glad to walk you through some of the things that “regulars” take for granted.
  2. Try to watch whatever game you want to play from “the rail” (there may be an actual physical rail, or you may just be able to watch from a few feet away) for a while. Don’t get too close to the players or try to see their hole cards; make it clear you’re just trying to get a feel for the game. If you see something you don’t understand (e.g., why someone had to make a forced bet, why a raise was disallowed, etc.), try to get someone to explain it to you.
  3. If something happens in the game that you don’t understand, ask the dealer to explain it. Don’t worry about looking like a novice; the other players will figure out you’re a novice anyway. Better you should look like a complete novice for half an hour than to make mistakes for 5 hours.
  4. Recognize ahead of time that you’re probably going to make some rookie mistakes, and prepare yourself for the almost inevitable criticism that will accompany it. One thing that will help is recognizing that if the criticizers really were any good at all, they’d keep their mouths shut, because they would recognize that as a new player, you’re probably going to lose. The people who criticize most tend to be the mediocre players who can’t beat the regulars in their game, and so they rather pitifully try to lord it over the newcomers. If you remind yourself of this, you may find yourself laughing at them (silently at least) instead of getting upset.
  5. Set a quitting time and stick to it, unless you find that you’re in a game full of hopelessly bad players who have been losing to you and will almost certainly continue losing to you. You can always come back for more later.
  6. Set a loss limit and stick to it. In home games, you may be used to social pressure to stay to the end of the night, and on occasion that might mean losing more than you’re comfortable with. If you do happen to sit down at a tough table, you might lose pretty quickly. There’s nothing wrong with getting out of there, either by leaving the casino entirely, or by asking to switch to another table.
  7. BE KIND TO YOURSELF. One of my favorite teachers, John Soper, used to snap me out of my self-critical moods, when I’d be castigating myself for not doing something perfectly, by saying “Well, Andy, you were doing that for the very first time. Most people don’t do things as well the first time as they do after they have some experience.” If you follow John’s advice, and don’t expect perfection from yourself the first time you walk into a cardroom, you’ll probably have more fun, and you’ll probably be back, and winning, in the not-too-distant future.