Basic Differences Between Omaha Hi-Lo and Texas Holdem
In Texas Holdem, each player is dealt two private cards, and five community cards are dealt face-up. The objective is to make the best five-card hand using any combination of the seven cards. Omaha Hi-Lo, on the other hand, is a split-pot game where each player receives four private cards and must make their best five-card hand using exactly two private and three community cards. The pot is divided between the highest and lowest hands (hence the ‘Hi-Lo’), with the low hand requiring five unique cards all 8 or lower.
The key strategic difference arises from the greater number of starting hands in Omaha Hi-Lo, amplifying the importance of understanding hand values and odds. Knowing the probabilities of certain outcomes is critical in both games, but the complexity of possibilities in Omaha Hi-Lo requires an even deeper understanding.
In Texas Holdem, strong starting hands like high pairs or suited connectors have a significant edge pre-flop, which often encourages aggressive betting. However, in Omaha Hi-Lo, the increased number of private cards dilutes the strength of individual hands pre-flop. While certain hands hold an advantage, the edge is less distinct than in Texas Holdem, leading to a generally more cautious pre-flop play.
Texas Holdem players are concerned solely with making the highest possible hand, and the concept of the “nuts” (the best possible hand) is simpler. However, Omaha Hi-Lo players must consider the high and the low, which introduces a layer of complexity to post-flop play. It is possible to “scoop” the pot by having both the highest and lowest hands, and some strategic decisions will be geared towards this possibility.
Omaha Hi-Lo, due to its split-pot nature and more significant amount of possible hand combinations, tends to be a “nuts” game. Bluffing is less common because there are typically more players seeing the flop and remaining in the hand until the end, increasing the odds that someone has a strong hand. Omaha Hi-Lo requires players to be adept at reading the table and estimating potential high and low hands.
Close in Value
Sometimes players say that Omaha hands “run close together in value”. Others disagree with that statement and claim that they do not. Usually, neither side makes any cogent argument for their claims. What exactly does it mean to be “close in value”? A quantitative judgment presupposes some sort of a measuring stick, preferably a mathematical basis. Since most players come to Omaha from hold’em, it would perhaps be of interest to make some comparison between the preflop values of similar hold’em hands and Omaha hands.
Three Omaha Hands
First consider three omaha hands: Ad 2d Ah 5c, 7c 8c 9h 9d, and Ac 4h 6c Js. The first hand is a premium holding. An ace is a key card in Omaha high/low. Two aces allow you to make nut houses and flushes (when suited). A2 is the best starting holding for the low and 5 acts as a counterfeit backup. In other words, this hand has excellent scooping possibilities. On the other hand, 7c 8c 9h 9d is one of the worst hands you can be dealt. All four cards are “middle cards”. They do not play well for either the low or the high. If you make a low, it will be the worst possible one. 9 is the villain card in Omaha. It does not qualify for low, but it is too low to be played for high effectively. Seemingly, you have a huge disparity between these hands. (It may be surprising to know that such a premium hand is only about 2 to 1 favorite over the junk hand heads-up.) The third hand, Ac 4h 6c Js, is neither a premium holding nor a junk hand. It is playable from some positions (do not even think of cold-calling in a multi-way pot with it unless you have a very good reason). It has some low and some high possibilities. Scooping is possible, although not very likely. The interesting part is the mathematical expectations for these hands relative to each other. I have labeled these hands as “premium”, “junk” and “playable”. They are as follows:
|Ad 2d Ah 5c
|7c 8c 9h 9d
|Ac 4h 6c Js
Note that due to the presence of the “premium hand”, the “junk hand” and the “playable hand” are not very far apart in terms of their preflop expectation. The “premium hand” is only about twenty percent above the two in terms of expectation. It is informative to also notice that if we drop the “premium hand”, the value of the “playable hand” increases but perhaps not as much as one would expect (goes to up about 0.58). These three hands roughly illustrate the “gap” that is to be expected between different quality holdings in Omaha.
Three Hold’em Hands
Now let us consider three hold’em hands. These are only approximate equivalents of the above “premium”, “junk”, and “playable” hands and should be viewed as such.
The “premium hand” here is a much clearer favorite than the “premium hand” in the Omaha example. The expectation gap is clearly wider. However, as in Omaha, the dominated hands seem to run close in value against a favorite. If the premium hand is dropped, the jack and the queen is a 7 to 3 favorite.
What does this mean?
It means that premium hands have less of an advantage preflop in omaha than in hold’em. The expectation gap between premium hands and others hands is less than in hold’em. Consequently, marginal hands are somewhat more playable in omaha. This is, in part, due to the fact that it is not as easy to “dominate” another hand in Omaha as it is in hold’em. The nature of the pot (high/low) and the presence of multiple redraws make any starting premium hand less of a “lock” than in hold’em. This allows for more flexibility in play.
Now a warning is in order here. Let me state what I call the “Bohemian’s Principle” (BP). Here it is:
BP: As an Omaha beginner, you should look for reasons not to enter a pot, rather than the opposite.
First look at what is wrong with the hand, not what is right. When most beginners see A2XX or a similar “pop hand”, they automatically call or cold-call. In his classical paper “The Eight Mistakes”, David Sklansky outlines eight mistakes that poker players make. The one that most applies to beginning Omaha players is calling when you should fold. Looseness, in my view, is still one of the greatest leaks that Omaha beginners struggle with. So do not use the structure of Omaha hand expectations to justify wrong play. Little misapplied knowledge can turn you into a long-term loser. Play smart. Until next time.
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