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Omaha Hi/Lo Strategy

Omaha Hi/Lo (8 or better) is currently the most popular split-pot poker game in the world. It is important to understand the rules of Omaha before playing Omaha Hi/Lo. While Omaha is very similar to Texas Hold'em, many new Omaha players get confused by the "must use two hole cards and only two hole cards" rule.

The rules for Omaha Hi/Lo are the same as the rules for Omaha Hi, except that the pot is split between the high and and the low hand. The low hand cannot have a card higher than 8. If there is no legal low hand, the entire pot goes to the highest hand. So the only way a low hand is possible is if the board contains unique cards 8 or lower (Ace counts as low). If the board is [[cards Kd 4d 8h 9s 10c]], no low hand is possible. If the board is [[cards Qh 2s 7d 6d 9c]], a low hand is possible and Ace-Three would be the "nut low".

The goal in Omaha Hi/Lo is to scoop the entire pot. Although winning half of the pot is better than nothing, large profits at this game come from winning the entire pot. Effectively scooping pots requires understanding how to win the low side of the pot, as well as what hands work as quality starting hands.

The Low
For many new players, the most confusing part of Omaha Hi/Lo is determining the nut-low. In this game, straights and flushes do not affect the low. Thus, the best possible low hand is a wheel (5432A). Furthermore, it is important to remember that the low hands are counted from the top down. A player with 8432A (an 8 low) would lose to a player with 76543 (a 7 low). This surprises most players who instinctively think that 8432A wins due to the ace as the lowest card.

If there is no possible low hand (or if no one holds a low hand), then the person with the best high hand wins the entire pot. Let's look at a few hand examples to better understand some low situations.

Example #1
Player #1
Player #2

This is a split pot. Player #1 wins the high side of the pot with AAA33, and Player #2 wins the low side of the pot with 6432A. In this instance, Player #2 has the nut low which means no one could possibly beat Player #2 for the low, only tie. Player #1's low is 8653A. Player #1 would use A5 from his hand and 368 from the board (he also could use 35 from his hand and A68 from the board).

Example #2
Player #1
Player #2

The flop (754) gave Player #1 (who holds A2) the nut-low. However, on the turn, Player #1's nut-low was "counterfeited." This happened when an ace appeared on the turn, which gave all players the opportunity to have an ace for a low. Now, Player #2 has 5432A for a low, which beats Player #1's 7542A. So in this example, Player #2's dream comes true, and he "scoops" the entire pot.

Example #3
Player #1
Player #2

First, notice that the flop put Player #2 in big trouble after he flopped the second-nut straight (with his J7). Player #1 flopped the nut straight (with his QJ), which put him in position to win a nice pot off of Player #2.

However, the turn and river bail out Player #2 and allow him to win half of the pot at the showdown. In conjunction with the board's 854, Player #2 was able to make a low hand with his 72 to win half the pot. Sometimes a miracle low is what can save a player from losing a lot of money with a bad high. This example illustrates the importance of holding two cards to a low (something that Player #1 did not have with a deceitfully weak AKQJ).

Example #4
Player #1
Player #2

Player #1 scoops the entire pot with his full house (KKQQQ). There is no low hand. There are only two low cards on the board, so it is impossible to make a low hand (remember: you must always use three cards from the board!) While it seems that Player #2 has an amazing low hand, he in fact holds no low at all.
Starting Hands

In Omaha Hi/Lo, it is important to hold a strong starting hand. Players need to have a hand that is capable of scooping the entire pot. This means hands that work great in Omaha hi (such as AKQJ or JT98) lose a lot of value in Hi/Lo due to their inability to make a low.

In general, the tightest player at any Omaha Hi/Lo table is likely to be a winning player. Starting hand selection is so critical that demonstrating patience is perhaps the single most important skill to have. Hands that may seem tempting to play (such as A49T) should be folded due to their propensity for making a non-nut low.

The best starting hand in Omaha Hi/Lo is AA23 double-suited. Other very playable hands include (but are not limited to): A234, AAxx, A2xx, A345, A36K, 2345, KQ23. Most winning Omaha Hi/Lo players are very careful about the number of A3xx hands they play. This hand is not nearly as good as it looks, and can often lead to several lost bets after making the second-nut low.

It is important to note the importance of the ace in Omaha Hi/Lo. An ace works as the best card on both ends of the pot. It is the key card in making a nut low, and is also a very important card to have in the high side of the pot for its value as a kicker. Some very famous poker players (Scotty Nguyen for example) have a theory that no Omaha Hi/Lo hand is playable unless it has an ace. Obviously this strategy is a little extreme. But for new players, it may be wise to develop a habit of folding most hands that do not contain an ace.

Position is just as important in Omaha Hi/Lo as it is in Texas hold'em. This means that borderline hands (such as JJ24) should only be played in late position in an un-raised pot.
Flop Tips

Most of the time, it is a poor decision for a player to draw to a low after the flop unless they already have the best four to a low. For example, after a flop of A5K, one should not draw for the low unless they are holding 23xx in the pocket. A lot of the profit in playing Omaha Hi/Lo comes from winning chips off of weak players who draw to non-nut lows. Drawing to a low that isn't the nut-low is almost a guaranteed way to lose in Omaha Hi/Lo.

Another common losing mistake in Omaha Hi/Lo is drawing to a running low. For example, most players holding A2xx enter the pot expecting to make the nut-low. However, if the flop comes 8KQ, these players are now reliant on completing a running low-draw just to win half of the pot. These players should fold to a bet. It is a bad move to purposefully draw to two cards for a low.
Being Quartered

Being "quartered" is a very key concept in Omaha Hi/Lo. Let's look a hand example of where a player only wins a quarter of the pot:

Player #1
Player #2

Notice that both players have used their ace-threes to make the nut-low. This means the low-pot is split between the two players. However, on the high side, Player #1 has a pair of kings which beats Player #2's ace high.

Therefore, Player #1 gets 50% of the pot for making the best hi hand, as well as an additional 25% of the pot for his share of the low pot. Player #1 has "quartered" Player #2 by winning 75% of the pot. Quartering opponents is a very important ingredient in becoming a winning Omaha Hi/Lo player.

Of even more importance is the ability to keep the pot small when you realize that you may be quartered. If you are Player #2 in this example, you need to understand that you may stand to only win 25% of the pot. Thus, when Player #1 bets, do not raise and reraise with your nut-low. Just call.

Next Article: Tournaments Overview

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