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Common Mistakes Valuing Omaha Hands

A problem Hold’em players make when transitioning to Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO) is that hands values are radically different in Omaha. On the surface, the two games appear similar -- each player holds pocket cards that will combine with community cards on the board. However, with each player having nine cards to work with -- four pocket cards plus five board cards -- the end result is that the winning hand in an Omaha game will on average be ranked much higher than a winning hand in a Hold’em game. Even though the Omaha rule that a player’s hand must use two pocket cards plus three board cards limits some of the craziness -- you can’t play the board or use all of your pocket cards -- the net result of having so many cards in play is wild swings outcomes. Each community card that appears has the potential to radically change the players ahead in the hand. As one player I spoke with put it: “In Omaha they’re all bad beats.”

With this in mind here are some common misunderstandings about hand values in Omaha.

Overvaluing “bare Aces” -- Big pairs in the pocket, such as Aces or Kings, do not play as well in Omaha as they do in Hold’em because pocket cards rarely win by themselves. If the flop doesn’t help your hand in Omaha it is usually no good, because the flop almost always helps somebody. Consider a starting hand such as A-clubs, A-diamonds, 9-spades, 5-hearts, which needs to make a set of Aces on the flop to improve, and even then the hand can only improve further if the boards pairs. Compare that with the starting hand Ace-clubs, A-diamonds, Queen-clubs, 9-diamonds. In addition to making a set of Aces this hand could make two different nut-flushes and two different straights. Even though both these hands contain a pair of Aces, there is an enormous difference between them in their pre-flop values.

Overvaluing sets -- Bottom or middle sets are the trap hands in Omaha. If you hold 10-clubs, 10-spades, 9-clubs, 8-hearts, and the flop comes up Queen-diamonds, 10-diamonds, 4-hearts, your set is not nearly as strong as it looks. You cannot make a flush, if a Jack hits your straight will not be the nuts, and if you fill up there will a good chance that your 10s-full will lose to someone with Queens-full. In other words about the only action you will get for your hand is from people who already have, or are drawing to, hands better than yours.

Failure to realize the great variation in the value of Straight-draws -- Consider the flop 7-clubs, 8-spades, Queen-clubs when you hold Ace-hearts, 6-clubs, 9-hearts, King-diamonds. You have an open-ended straight-draw because any 5 or 10 completes a straight. In other words you have 8 outs. Now consider the same flop but you hold 9-clubs, 10-clubs, Jack-spades, Queen-spades.  Now any 6, 9, 10, or Jack completes a straight. You have 13 outs to complete a straight and an additional 3 outs to make trip Queens. That is 16 outs out of 45 unseen cards -- 35% of the remaining cards -- to improve. Not only that but if any of these 16 outs hit you will have the nut-straight or top trips. Compare that with the previous example in which none of the 8 outs results in a nut-straight and you have no paired cards to make trips.

Also notice the difference in the suits between the two holdings. In the first example no flushes will ever be possible. In the second case it is possible to complete a club flush, including a straight flush if a Jack-clubs hits, and a runner-runner spade flush. While only the straight flush is the nuts, the suited cards do provide extra outs in situations in which no one is drawing to the nut flush.

The bottom line is that all four of your pocket cards in Omaha must coordinate and work together for your hand to have value. Players who understand this will have a great advantage over players who simply think that they are in a Hold’em game with four pocket cards instead of two.