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Lesson 1: The Rules

"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun." - Katherine Hepburn

Welcome to what I consider the best poker game, Omaha High/Low. If you ever visit a Southern California cardroom, and I happen to be playing, you'll usually find me in an Omaha game. Why? Well, that gets me back to when I first discovered Omaha.

I started playing seriously in 1999 after moving to Seattle. I was playing low-limit hold'em, usually at a club in Renton called Diamond Lil's. One rainy April night I ventured into Diamond Lil's and sat down in a 'lively' hold'em game - three or four players, usually, were seeing the flop. I happen to notice that at the next table over eight were seeing the flop every hand. They were playing Omaha. I knew I had to learn it. Forty minutes later, I got called into that game. I knew almost nothing about Omaha but I followed the first poker advice I was ever given: keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut and you should pick the game up. I made a few dollars that night and I haven't looked back since.

This is the first of twelve introductory lessons on Omaha.

General Rules of Poker

All poker games, be it Seven Card Stud, Texas Hold'em, or Omaha High/Low, follow the general rules of poker. If you've never played poker before, or if you have any doubts about the rules of poker, please read Lou Krieger's first four lessons. Lou does an excellent job describing the general rules of poker. In these lessons we'll assume that you know the general rules of poker.

Materials: You will find it useful to have a deck of cards for these lessons. Also, if you do not already keep a log of your poker results, you should purchase a small notebook (that can fit in a pocket) at an office supply or drug store.

Specifics of Omaha Poker

Similarities to Texas Hold'em. Omaha is dealt from a standard 52-card deck. Games are usually nine or ten-handed. A professional dealer sits at the back center of the table (a computer facsimile if you're playing online), with the players sitting around the remainder of the table. Omaha is a flop game: it bears many similarities to Texas Hold'em:

  • A 'Dealer' button is used and moves clockwise around the table.
  • There are two blinds - a small blind just to the left of the Dealer button, and a big blind to the left of the small blind (or two seats to the left of the Dealer). The blinds act last on the pre-flop round of betting (the blinds are considered live). Blinds exist in order for the betting action to begin. Usually, the big blind is equal to the smaller of the betting limits (in a $4/$8 game, the big blind would typically be $4) while the small blind is half the big blind. In a $3/$6 game, the small blind is usually $1 and the big blind is $3.
  • There are four rounds of betting: one before the flop (the first three community cards), one after the flop, one after the turn (fourth community card), and the last round after the river (the final community card) is dealt.

Differences from Texas Hold'em

Each player's starting hand is four cards, rather than two for Texas Hold'em. Each player must use exactly two cards from his hand (and three of the community cards, or board) to make his or her best five-card poker hand and his or her best five card low hand. A player does not have to use the same two-card combination to make his low and high hand.

Example: Your hand is 557Q. The board, or community cards, is A5Q48. Your high hand is 555AQ (the underline indicating cards from the board) and your low hand is 8754A (suits are not relevant for low).

Another major difference is that many of the pots are split: one player will win the high (or poker) hand, while another will win the low hand. In Omaha, a low hand must have five different cards numbered eight or less (an Ace is considered a one for low). If a board does not have three different cards less than or equal to eight, there will be no low (example: Board of 8TT33). If a player's hand does not have two different cards less than or equal to eight, he or she cannot make a low hand. The best possible low hand, a wheel, is 5432A (although the best possible low for any given hand is dependant on what cards are on the board; in the example above, the best possible low hand is 5432A - using a 32 from a player's hand and the 54A from the board).

Finally, most Omaha games are played with a kill. If a player scoops a pot (wins both the high and low), and the pot is of a certain size (this varies by cardroom), the next hand will be played at a higher limit and the killer (the player who scooped the pot) must post an additional blind. The killer may act in turn or have last action, depending on the cardroom. Kills can be full kills (doubling the limits), half kills or other variations.

Why Play Omaha>

To make money, of course. An average player in a low limit game (such as $4/$8) should be able to make more money in Omaha than Texas Hold'em. Also, knowing how to successfully play more than one poker game allows you to seek out and play in the best game going.

Other reasons to play Omaha include:

  • Omaha gives the illusion of action. Most pots are multi-way. You'll find that in low-limit Omaha large pots are the norm.
  • Loose players love the game. 'Wow,' they think, 'I get six hold'em hands!' We'll discuss hand selection in detail in lessons three through five, but for now just note that you should end up playing fewer hands in Omaha than in hold'em.
  • At the lower limits, Omaha is more a game of statistics and probability than of people. While skills such as reading opponents, knowing when to check raise, etc. are useful, you can win in Omaha just by knowing what cards to play and when to fold your hand.

Why Not To Play Omaha

Omaha was described as "…the [poker] game of the future…" several years ago. I think it's a great game; however, you will find far more hold'em available than Omaha. I believe it's essential to play more than one game well so that you can utilize game selection. Other reasons not to play Omaha include:

  • You want to play every hand. Omaha is probably the worst poker game to do this - you will be quickly separated from your money. If you play correctly, your most common action will be to fold.
  • You want to make moves. Omaha is known as a river game - that is, the river card decides the winner. While this is technically true (the river tends to determine the winner), hand selection is by far the most important aspect of a winning Omaha player. Making moves is at, or near, the bottom of the list.
  • You want to play in the middle limits ($10/$20 - $20/40). You'll find plenty of low limit Omaha, and some high limit Omaha, but middle limit Omaha is, unfortunately, rare.

Conclusion

Omaha is a great game and can be a profitable one to play at the low limits. I hope you will enjoy the journey as we explore, in the next 11 lessons, some of the essential skills needed to be a winning Omaha player. In the next lesson, we will examine necessary traits of a winning Omaha player.

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