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Lesson 2: Winning Traits

"You always pass failure on the way to success." -- Mickey Rooney

Everyone has different skills and attributes. For example, I have a photographic memory for numbers. This comes in quite handy when I play seven-card stud but is much less useful while playing Omaha and Hold'em. There are certain characteristics shared by winning (successful) Omaha players:

1. Patience

At the lower limits, most Omaha games have at least five players seeing the flop. Many games will find seven or more players looking at the flop. In these games, playing every hand is a great way to separate your money from your wallet.

When I play hold'em and am debating between betting (or raising) and folding, usually I'll take the aggressive action. When I find myself in a similar situation in Omaha, I'll fold.

Fundamentals are extremely important for almost every avocation. For Omaha, the most important skill is choosing the hands you'll see the flop with. Most players in a low limit Omaha game will play at least half their hands. Winning players will play somewhere between 10% and 15% of their hands (over time). Hand selection is so important that three lessons (lessons 3 - 5) will be devoted to this subject. For example, in hold'em, I can't envision myself folding AA pre-flop; however, I have folded some hands containing AA in Omaha.

If you get nothing else out of these lessons but the ability to fold most of your hands you will probably become a winning Omaha player. Unfortunately, winning Omaha play is not exciting. It is though, at the lower limits, the game that is easiest to win at with a low variance.

2. Ability to Tolerate Disaster

In Omaha, when the river is dealt each player has up to 60 possible combinations of cards. In hold'em a player has 21. If five players see the river in Omaha, there are up to 300 possible combinations of cards. In hold'em there are only 105.

What this means is that in low limit games the nuts is very likely going to be shown on the river. Assume that you have A267, and the board is 348 / K. On the turn you have the nut low and the nut high (the nut flush). If the river is the 4, it is very unlikely in a low limit game that you will get the high: someone will have a full house and you will have to be satisfied just with the low. Now change your hand to A678 and assume the same board and river card. Now your hand is the third best low with the nut flush -- but a full house is possible. Your hand has gone from a betting (or raising) hand to one that will, most likely, be folded.

That's why having hands with multiple ways of winning is so important. In comparing the two hands above (A267 versus A678), both have nut flush draws and straight draws, but only the first hands has the A2 - the pre-flop nut low draw. That's why the first hand is a solid starting hand while the second hand is a marginal one. Indeed, by playing good starting hands you will be impacted less by the river than players who see Omaha as a means to play more hands.

3. Patience

Patience is so important that it deserves another spot on this list. Consider, for the moment, two players: prudent Paul and maniac Mike. Mike and Paul play in the same $4/$8 Omaha game. Paul plays 15% of the hands dealt to him while Mike plays 90% of them (even Mike will fold hands like QQQ7). Mike ends up sharing or scooping about four times as many hands as Paul. Mike chases after all his draws. ("So runner-runner third nut flush doesn't win many pots...I don't want to miss the one where it will win today.") Paul, when counterfeited, quietly folds his hand. Luckily for Mike he makes good money so his losses aren't such a big deal. Paul enjoys spending his winnings on his family.

4. Fewer Skills are Required (as compared to Texas Hold'em)

In Omaha, if the only skill you master is starting hand selection, you can be a winner in the low limits. Sure, knowing correct flop play, turn play, when to raise, when to bluff, semi-bluffs, etc. are good skills to know; however, they are not essential in order to win. In hold'em, in order to become a winning player I believe you must be able to make moves (vary your play).

Of course, the more skills that you master for Omaha the more likely you are to become a winning player. But I remember a player I met in Las Vegas who plays in the $4/$8 Omaha game at a certain casino. He will only play A246 (or better). Once he wins his $30 he goes home. I was told he almost always wins.

5. Patience

Perhaps you're noticing a theme of this lesson? If you're patient (able to play just one hand in seven), willing to smile when disaster strikes, and rarely go on tilt, Omaha is a good game for you. If you want to play nearly every hand or are easily bored, you should not play Omaha.

A Few Notes about Low Limit Omaha Games

Low limit Omaha games play much differently than games at middle limits. Low limit games are characterized by large (relative to the limits), multi-way pots (usually five or more players will see the flop), with a large amount of action. Middle limit Omaha games are usually much tighter (two to four players seeing the flop). Because starting hands influence the play to such a large extent, Omaha is probably the worst poker game to play when everyone is equally skilled and plays correctly. However, at the low limits, one of the advantages a skilled player has is his ability to play fewer hands.

Again, you can win at low limit Omaha just by being selective with your starting hands. If you combine this ability with reasonable play of the hand post-flop, you can be quite successful. If you add a modicum of advanced skills (reading players, for example), you will be very successful.

Reading the Board

Assume the Board is Q8595. What is the best possible high? What is the best possible low? (Answers below)

An essential skill of the winning Omaha player is the ability to just glance at the board and know what the nut high and low hands are (in fact, you should be able to state what the three best high and low hands are). This is one skill that can be acquired by practicing. Take out a deck of cards and start dealing boards and quickly write down the best possible high and low hands. Then carefully check your work. When I was studying for a tax exam this past summer the instructor said, "We're going to practice...until you're sick of §531 exchanges." I urge you to practice this until you're sick of it. When you are, start dealing yourself a hand and continue practicing, now answering four questions: What is the best possible high and low hands? What are your best possible high and low hands?

Of all the mistakes that are made by Omaha players, reading the board mistakes are probably the most common. If you can quickly read the board and know where you stand, you are likely to be way ahead of your competitors. Additionally, when I play against players who have trouble reading the board it's very easy for me to place them on a hand. It's a good idea to make life tough for your opposition.

Each lesson (from this lesson on) will feature a short quiz. This lesson's quiz is on reading the board. After you have finished it, you should continue practicing similar problems until a quick glance at the board reveals (to you) the best possible hands.

Answers: The best possible high hand is a Queen-high straight flush (Q J T 9 8). No low hand is possible (there are not three different ranks eight or under on the board).

In lesson three we will begin to examine starting hands. Hand selection is the most important skill for a low limit Omaha player. I'm sure you have heard the cliché, "garbage in, garbage out." It really applies in Omaha.

QUIZ

In problems 1 - 5 state (a) what the best possible high hand is and (b) the best possible low hand is. Note that it is possible that there is no low hand for some of the problems. For extra credit, list the next two best high and low hands.


1. Board of: 3 Q 9/ 5 / 4

2. Board of: A J 6 / A / 7

3. Board of: T 8 A / K / K

4. Board of: 8 6 K / Q / A

5. Board of: J 9 9 / K / 8

For problems 6 - 10, your hand and the board will be given. List (a) the best possible high hand, (b) the best possible low hand, (c) your high hand and (d) your low hand.

6. Your hand: 9 2 J T. Board of: 3 4 5 / K / 7

7. Your hand: A 7 Q K. Board of: A T J/ 9/ 8

8. Your hand: 5 3 5 Q. Board of: K 8 T / K / 4

9. Your hand: 6 5 8 2. Board of: A 4 5 / 9 / 3

10. Your hand: K T 6 4. Board of: 2 4 5 / A / J

ANSWERS:

1. (a) Seven-high straight (76543). (b) A wheel (5432A). Extra credit: high hands: six-high straight (65432), wheel (5432A); low hands: 6543A, 65432.

2. (a) Four Aces (AAAAJ). (b) 7632A. Extra credit: high hands: Aces full of Jacks (AAAJJ), Aces full of sevens (AAA77); low hands: 7642A, 7643A.

3. (a) Four Kings (KKKKA). (b) No low possible. Extra credit: high hands: Aces full of Kings (AAAKK), Kings full of Aces (KKKAA).

4. (a) Ace-high straight (AKQJT). (b) 8632A. Extra credit: high hands: Three Aces (AAAKQ), three Kings (KKKAQ); low hands: 8642A, 8643A.

5. (a) Four nines (9999K). (b) No low possible. Extra credit: high hands: Kings full of nines (KKK99), Jacks full of nines (JJJ99).

6. (a) Eight-high straight flush (87654). (b) 5432A. (c) King-high (KJT75). (d) No low hand possible.

7. (a) Ace-high straight (AKQJT). (b) No low hand possible. (c) Ace-high straight (AKQJT). (d) No low hand possible.

8. (a) Four Kings (KKKKT). (b) No low hand possible. (c) Two pair, Kings & Fives (KK55T). (b) No low hand possible.

9. (a) Seven-high straight (76543). (b) 5432A. (c) Six-high straight (65432). (d) 5432A.

10. (a) Six-high straight (65432). (b) 5432A. (c) Pair of fours (44AKJ). (d) 6542A.

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