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:
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-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.