Winning Strategies for Online Poker Players: Omaha
Omaha poker is a fun, simple, and entertaining variation of the Texas Hold ‘em theme. Instead of two cards, each player is dealt four hole cards, two of which they use with the three of the five community cards to make the best possible five-card poker hand. Just like Texas Hold ‘em, Omaha has subtle game variations related to betting structure. They are:
1. Limit Omaha: A specific predetermined betting limit is applied in each game and on each round of betting
2. Pot Limit Omaha: In Pot limit Omaha, players may bet the amount that’s in the pot.
Below is a basic description of the rules and betting sequence for limit Omaha. The rules for the pot limit version of the game are identical, with the exception of the betting structure.
The Rules of Omaha Poker
Like its Texas counterpart, Omaha poker utilizes a small disc, the button, to indicate the player that will be acting as the “dealer position” for the next game. Prior to the start of the game, the player immediately clockwise the button posts a nominal bet called the “small blind.” This bet is typically half of the value of the small bet for the stakes at the table (for example, $1 in a $2/$4 game.) The player immediately clockwise of the small blind posts also what is called the “big blind,” a forced wager equal in value to the full small bet for the table’s stakes ($2 in a $2/$4 game.)
Once the blinds have been posted, each player receives four hole cards, followed by a round of betting that begins with the player immediately clockwise the big blind. After players have acted—checking, betting, calling, raising or folding—three community cards called the flop are dealt face-up on the board. Again, players must act, beginning with the player immediately to the left of the button. All bets and raises occur in increments of the table stakes.
Once the betting action is complete, a fourth community card—the turn—is dealt face-up on the board. Play begins with the first active player immediately to the left of the button. For this round of Omaha, betting doubles from the small blind value to the big blind value. According to the $2/$4 scenario we’ve been discussing, the bet is now in increments of $4. When the betting is complete for this round, the fifth and final community card—the river—is dealt face-up on the board.
As before, betting begins with the active player immediately to the left of the button. Once all bets have been made, the remaining players expose their cards and the best five-card poker hand that uses two of the four hole cards in concert with three of the board cards wins. In the event that players have identical hands, the pot is equally divided between those players.
After the pot has been awarded to the winner(s) the button is moved clockwise to the next player, and a new game begins.
Although Omaha bears a striking resemblance to Texas Hold ‘em, it is a much more technical game, relying more on the cards than psychology. In a full ring limit game of Omaha, it usually takes a powerful hand to win—a pair or two pair having the horrible tendency to fall short of winning in this game. The best strategy, especially for low limit games, is to play hands that do well in multi-way pots and bet aggressively when you have the nut straight, flush, full house.
Look at it like this: Since Omaha involves four cards, two of which you must use (in conjunction with three from the board) each starting hand actually contains multiple potential Hold ‘em hands. Breaking it down from an imaginary hand A-B-C-D this converts to: A-B, A-C, A-D, B-C, B-D, C-D. And if you’re battling over the pot with four or five opponents, that’s a lot of hands you’ll need to overcome to win. So if you do stay to the river with a measly two pair, expect to lose to a flush or full house. There are just too many better combinations out there that can be made. In short, when playing Omaha shoot for the nuts (the best hand) or walk away.
Omaha Starting Hands
The starting hands in Omaha are just as crucial to success as they are in games like Texas Hold ‘em. But unlike Texas Hold ‘em, in Omaha, since you’re working off of four cards, you need stating hands that work together. Novice Omaha players—especially if they’re used to Texas Hold ‘em—over value hands like Q-Q-8-3, assuming, incorrectly, that the pair of queens is just as valuable here as it is in Hold ‘em. They’re not.
Similarly, hands like A-J-7-7 are often overvalued because they represent two seemingly decent hold ‘em hands. However, their strength diminishes when you realize that it really only offers poor hand combinations, like A-7 and J-7. Compare that with the strongest Omaha hand, A-A-K-K (double suited), which offers four cards working in concert and multiple combinations.
For Omaha, what you’re looking for is a starting hand that offers strong combinations, straight, flush and set potential. Below is a reference of the top 20 starting hands for Omaha, as well as a breakdown of common playable hands.
Top 20 Omaha Hands
A-A-K-K double suited
A-A-J-T double suited
A-A-Q-Q double suited
A-A-J-J double suited
A-A-T-T double suited
A-A-9-9 double suited
A-A-x-x double suited*
J-T-9-8 double suited
K-K-Q-Q double suited
K-K-J-J double suited
K-Q-J-T double suited
K-K-T-T double suited
K-K-A-Q double suited
K-K-A-J double suited
K-K-A-T double suited
K-K-Q-J double suited
K-K-Q-T double suited
K-K-J-T double suited
Q-Q-J-J double suited
Q-Q-T-T double suited
Of course there are many other playable starting hands, but those listed here can serve as a starting point and aid in understanding how the four cards in your hand must work together to create valuable combinations.
Fast fact: Don’t be fooled!
Some of the hands that we dream of getting in other poker games are absolutely worthless in Omaha. Being dealt four aces, for example is a hand you must immediately throw away!
Tips for Online Players
There can a world of difference between traditional and online Omaha players. Many, especially low limit players, are just experimenting with the game in the faceless environment of online card playing. The following tips can help you to maximize your game both online and traditional poker rooms.
• Be picky about your starting hands. I can’t stress this enough. Even though many online players enter into way too many pots, be patient and don’t give into the temptation to join the fish.
• Observe your opponents and note how they play. Whether you’re involved in the hand or not, be observant about each and every action taken by your opponents. As I said in the section on Hold ‘em, online poker rooms usually provide a “notebook” where you can type in your observations and store them for later examination.
• Fight or flight. In games like Pot Limit Omaha, if the odds are with you, bet or raise—otherwise fold. Unless you have a good reason for doing so, such as trapping your opponent, avoid simply calling.
• Bluffing is less effectual…but do it anyway. Since Omaha is predominantly a hand driven game, bluffing isn’t as big a feature as it is in Hold ‘em. Bluff every once in a while, and let your opponents catch you. This prevents them from accurately accessing your style of play.
• Understand the value of your straight draw. In Omaha, that 8-way straight draw is not so exciting—you can flop 13, 17, and even 20-way straight draws. Wait until one of the double-digit draws is in your hand before becoming heavily involved in a pot.
• Look for the nut hands. As the game progresses and more cards hit the board, always be aware of the three best hand possibilities and how subsequent cards can affect them.