Omaha hold ‘em Poker
How can we have a website about all things Omaha that doesn't include a page about Omaha poker? And more importantly, where in Omaha can you get in on a game of Omaha poker? Well that's an article for another day but read on to learn all about how to play Omaha hold 'em.
How to play Omaha hold ‘em
Although Texas hold ‘em has emerged as the most popular form of poker, Omaha hold ‘em still enjoy a strong following. This kind of poker is getting more and more popular among the professional gamblers and there are many venues where you can play Omaha poker online. “Omaha” is actually two games: Omaha High and Omaha Hi-Lo. The games share many similarities, but the differences are important for players wishing to be successful.
Both games begin in similar fashion. Each player receives one card to determine the dealer. The dealer receives the “button,” a unique object which rotates clockwise, used to keep track of the dealer. The player to the left of the dealer is the “small blind” and the player two from the left of the dealer is the “big blind.” The blinds are forced to give an amount of chips to the “pot” before play begins. This amount usually escalates as play continues, but the small blind is almost always half of the big blind.
The dealer deals cards to each player, starting with the small blind, and continuing until he has dealt himself the fourth and final card. These four cards comprise the players “hole” or “pocket” cards. Now the first round of betting begins with the player to the left of the big blind. This player can choose to “call” the big blind (bet an equal amount), “raise” (bet a larger amount, at least twice the big blind), or “fold” (bet no money and give up his hand).
After all players have had a chance to call or bet (including the big blind), the dealer puts out the “flop.” The flop is the first of three community cards that will be shared by all players. Another round of betting ensues, led by the player closest to the dealer’s left who has not folded.
Following this round of betting, the dealer adds another community card, called the “turn” or “fourth street.” A round of betting ensues, again led by the player closet to the dealer’s left. Next, the dealer adds the final community card, called the “river” or “fifth street,” thus completing the “board.” There is then a final round of betting. If at any time a player bets and no other players call his bet, he wins the pot and is not forced to show his hand. Otherwise, all remaining players must show their cards to determine the winner(s), and this is where the Omaha variants differ.
Omaha High vs. Omaha Hi-Lo
Omaha High is played very similarly to Texas hold ‘em, except that the object of Omaha High is to make the best five card hand using exactly two pocket cards and exactly three of the community cards. Even if the community cards yield a better hand, the player must use two of their own cards. The player with the best hand according to the Hand rankings wins the entire pot. The button moves to the left, changing the dealer, and play begins again.
Omaha Hi-Lo, also known as “high-low split,” is slightly more complicated. Omaha Hi-Lo splits the pot between the best high hand and the best low hand. The high hands play as normal, but to play a low hand, the player must be able to play 8-7-6-5-3 or lower. This leads to additional names for the game such as “eight-or-better” or “Omaha/8.” The best high and low hands split the pot, with any additional chips that cannot be split going to the high hand. Because low hands usually ignore straights and flushes (see: Hand rankings), it is possible for the same player to win both the high and low hand. For example, a hand of Ace-2-3-4-5 would be counted for the high hand as a straight, a very strong hand, and for the low hand as a 5-high, which is the best possible low hand. Low hands tie much more often than high hands, causing the low players to split their half of the pot. If a player wins a quarter of the pot, which is quite common, it is said that he is “getting quartered.”
Note: it is impossible to have a low hand unless the community cards have at least three cards ranking 8 or lower. This is because players will always need to use three community cards, and if they cannot use three cards 8 or lower, the low hand will be negated. A low hand is possible roughly 60% of the time.
Players should also note that starting the game with three or four cards of the same rank is a very weak position. The worst possible hand, 2-2-2-2, is such because the paired 2’s eliminate the player from the low hand, but also yield a weak high hand: no additional 2’s remain, meaning any player who can match a card to the board beats their Pair of 2’s. Similarly, starting with four suited cards means the player is actually less likely to obtain a flush, because there are less remaining suited cards for the board.
In general, players should avoid hands that contain a lot of middle ranked cards, as they will make neither good high or low hands. Players should also be wary of weak flushes and low, but not lowest, straights.
A Note on Betting
Players should also be aware that there are two different types of betting: Pot Limit Omaha (also called PLO) and No Limit Omaha.
In a pot limit game, players’ bets are limited to an amount equal to the chips in the pot before their bet. In a no limit game, players may raise up to and including their entire remaining chip stack. Various games, both at homes and in casinos, treat the blinds and the initial pot limit raises differently, so players should apprise themselves of the prevailing rules before playing.
Differences with Texas hold ‘em
For players familiar with Texas hold ‘em, the most popular poker variant in North America and Europe, the transition to Omaha hold ‘em will be relatively easy. Instead of being dealt two “pocket” cards at the beginning of the hand, players are dealt four. From there, the betting and community cards are identical to Texas hold ‘em, with a “flop” of three cards, followed by a “turn” of one card (“fourth street”), and finally a final “river” card (“fifth street”). Like Texas hold ‘em there is betting after each round, but unlike the more popular game, the object of Omaha hold ‘em is to make the best five card hand using exactly two pocket cards and exactly three of the community cards. Even if the community cards yield a better hand, the player must use two of their own cards.
Note: Players familiar with Texax hold ‘em should pay special attention to Omaha hold ‘em hands involving potential flushes and full houses. Because a player must use exactly two of their four pocket cards, even a community card group of five of a suit (i.e. five Clubs) will not necessarily yield a flush for the player. The player must have two suited cards to pair with three suited community cards to make a flush.
Similarly, if the community cards are two pair plus a “kicker” (an additional card), a player will not necessarily have a full house with a matching card. That player could only use his matched card to make Three of a Kind, and would have to use another card from his four as a kicker. If the community cards have Three of a Kind, a player must have a pair in his pocket cards to make a Full House.
In most forms of poker, a “hand” is the best possible grouping of five cards. Cards have both a number, a “rank” (i.e. 5 or Jack), and a “suit” (i.e. Diamond).
Almost all forms of poker use the same “ranking of hands.” That is, almost all forms of poker agree on the order of the hands from weakest to strongest. The only difference is games that have a “low” or “lowball” hand. In these games, the rankings are the same, but they are judged in reverse order. Some games, such as Omaha Hi-Lo, use both rankings at the same time. The traditional rankings are as follows:
High Card – the weakest hand, available to every player. If a player can make no other hand, they may use the highest card in their hand, with ties broken by the next highest card. The cards are usually ordered Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, all the way down to the lowest card, a 2. Surprisingly, roughly 50% of five-card hands will have only a high card and nothing of better rank.
One Pair – the player has two cards with the same rank, such as two 4’s or two Jacks. If two players have equal pairs, the next highest card, the “kicker,” is used as a tie-breaker. About 42% of five-card hands contain One Pair.
Two Pair – the player has two sets of two cards with the same rank, such as two 5’s and two Kings. If two players both have Two Pair, the higher ranking pair is compared first to break ties, followed by the lower ranking pair, and finally the remaining highest card, the kicker. About 4.75% of five-card hands will contain Two Pair.
Three of a Kind – the player has three cards with the same rank, such as three 6’s. This hand is also called a “set” or “trips.” If two players both have Three of a Kind, the higher ranking set breaks the tie. If both players have the same Three of a Kind, the higher kicker is used to break the tie. About 2% of five-card hands contain Three of a Kind.
Straight – the player has five cards whose ranks are in order, such as 8-9-10-Jack-Queen. In a straight, the suit of the card (i.e. Clubs or Hearts) does not matter. If two players have a Straight, the Straight with the higher card breaks the tie. An Ace may be used as a high card or a low card in a Straight (i.e. 10-Jack-Queen-King-Ace or Ace-2-3-4-5) but not both (i.e. Queen-King-Ace-2-3 is not a Straight). About .39% of five-card hands contain a Straight.
Flush – the player has five cards whose suits are the same, such as five Clubs or Diamonds. In a Flush, the rank of the cards does not matter (i.e. 3-4-5-6-7 or 2-5-9-10-Queen). If two players have a Flush, the Flush with the highest rank breaks the tie, followed by the second highest, and so on. About .20% of five-card hands contain a Flush.
Full House – the player has three cards of one rank, such as 4-4-4, and two cards of another rank, such as Ace-Ace. This hand is also called a “full boat.” If two players both have a Full House, the higher ranking set of three breaks the tie. If two players’ set of three is equal, the pair of two breaks the tie. About .14% of five-card hands contain a Full house.
Four of a Kind – the player has four cards of one rank, such as King-King-King-King. If two players have Four of a Kind, the higher ranking group of four breaks the tie. About .02% of five-card hands have Four of a Kind.
Straight Flush – the player has five cards whose ranks are in order (i.e. 4-5-6-7-8, a Straight) which are also all of the same suit (i.e. five Hearts, a Flush). If two players have a Straight Flush, the higher rank breaks the tie. A Straight flush composed of Ace-King-Queen-Jack-10 is the highest hand in poker and is known as a Royal flush. About .0015% of five-card hands have a Straight Flush.
The low rankings are slightly more confusing because there are different ways to determine the hand rankings. The most common, and the method used for almost every Hi-Lo game, is called Ace-to-5 low. In Ace-to-5 low, Straights and Flushes are not used and the Ace is considered low only. The lowest hand, called a “wheel,” is Ace-2-3-4-5, which is really just “5 high” (i.e. there are no Pairs or other scoring hands, so 5 is used as the High card). A hand of Ace-2-3-4-5 would beat Ace-2-3-4-6 because its High card, a 5, is lower than the other hands High card, a 6.