"To feel 'fit as a fiddle' you must tone down your middle." - Author Unknown
As we begin to look at specific Omaha Hi/Lo hands, remember the three questions you should ask about any starting hand: (1) Can I scoop the pot, (2) Do my cards work together and (3) Do I have multiple ways of winning.
Low Starting Hands.Low hands are those with cards predominantly between an Ace and a six. Some examples are: A245, A66K, 3455, and 2568. By the way, which of these hands do you consider solid starting hands? Which are marginal hands? Which are trash hands? We'll look at this shortly.
When I pick up a hand, I evaluate the hand based on:
- Do the cards work together?
- Do I have any flush draws? Do I have any nut flush draws?
- What would have to happen for me to win the low?
- Can I scoop the pot? How many ways can I scoop the pot?
- Would I be happy with my hand if someone raised?
Let's look at the first example hand, A245, and see how it fares under my criteria. The cards do work together, so that's a plus. There is a flush draw, but it's hardly the nut flush draw. The hand has the nut low (A2) with other possible ways of winning low. It's easy to envision making a wheel and a higher straight to scoop the pot with this hand. Finally, this is a hand that I'd be happy to play in a raised pot. Clearly, this is a good starting hand.
The next hand, A66K, lacks most of the positive features of the first hand. The cards are not all working together, there are no flush draws, the hand can never make the nut low, and while it is possible to scoop with this hand (most likely, by making an AKQJT straight or sixes full), it is not likely. If I were in the big blind and had this hand and the pot was raised, I'd likely fold.
The third hand, 3455, would be rated between the first two hands. On the positive side, all the cards are working together. There is a flush draw (but, again, nowhere near a nut flush draw), and there are three cards to a wheel (but you need an Ace and a deuce on the Board for the wheel). With the right flop, this hand can scoop the pot. I wouldn't like to hold this hand when there's a raise because it is clearly a marginal hand (from Webster's, 'barely exceeding the minimum requirements').
The fourth hand, 2568, has few positive factors. The cards sort-of work together. There's a middle flush draw (eight-high). Nut low can be made but it takes a perfect flop. I can envision one Board where I can scoop. Needless to say, I would not voluntarily play this hand.
High Starting Hands
High starting hands are those that contain three face cards and cannot make a low. Some examples are AKKQ, AKQT, KJJ9, and KJ94. We can utilize the same criteria as for low hands to evaluate high starting hands (except, of course, that these hands cannot make a low).
The first hand, AKKQ, is close to an ideal high starting hand. The cards are working together, there are two flush draws (one nut, one second nut), and there are many ways to scoop with this hand (full houses, flushes, high straights, and trips). I'd play this hand from any position.
The second hand, AKQT, has many of the same features as the first hand. The cards are working together. There is a nut flush draw. However, there are fewer ways to scoop with this hand (full houses, flush, and high straights). Because high hands (by definition) cannot make a low, I believe they need to be fairly strong to be playable. I consider this a marginal high starting hand. I wouldn't be thrilled about playing this hand in a raised pot.
The third hand, KJJ9, has even fewer good features. The gaps between the King, Jacks and nines detract from the cards working together. The flush draw is second-nut. While the hand can scoop a pot, there are not that many playable flops. I'd be happy to have this hand in the big blind. I might throw in a chip to play it from the small blind. I doubt I'd call a raise with it.
The fourth hand, KJ94, has almost no redeeming values. The cards don't work together, there are no flush draws, and it's hard to envision this hand scooping any pot. Needless to say, I'd fold this hand in any position.
Middle Starting Hands. The quote at the beginning of this lesson is a reminder about the middle - the hands are not playable. Look at sevens, eights, and nines as trash, evil, garbage, etc. The more of these cards you have, the less likely you want to put money into a pot.
Consider a fool's gold hand: 6789. The cards work together and there are two flush draws (but neither flush draw is near to a nut draw). Let's put down a good Board for the hand: 567. You would have the nut straight with a flush draw and two pairs. But you'd only be going after half the pot - you have almost no chance of winning the low. Remember, in Omaha you make your money scooping pots, not splitting pots. Think about what cards you'd like to see on the turn and river. Suppose you get the 6? on the turn - you now have the second best possible hand (sixes full). The river, say, brings an innocuous looking J. And you find yourself getting none of the pot because someone started with A26J. (This happened to me last week when I played this hand from the big blind. I hate middle cards).
Do yourself a favor and avoid the problems of middle cards by not playing them. Your bankroll (and your sanity) will thank you.
The homework for this lesson is the same as for the last lesson: Take a deck of cards and deal yourself starting hands. Rate the hand as (a) solid starting hand; (b) marginal starting hand; (c) poor starting hand; and (d) dreadful starting hand. Use the criteria of (1) Cards that work together; (2) cards that can make the nut low; (3) hand with multiple ways of winning; (4) hands that contain a nut flush draw(s) and second nut flush draw(s); (5) would I be happy with my hand if someone raised.
In the next lesson we will examine some specific types of hands: marginal hands, trap hands, and very playable and very dangerous hands.
Rate each of the following hands as either (a) solid starting hand; (b) marginal starting hands; (c) poor starting hands; or (d) dreadful starting hand.
1. (d). This hand has the second-nut diamond flush draw, and that's about it. KQ may be a good limit hold'em hand, but by itself adds little to an Omaha starting hand.
2. (d). This hand is worse than the first hand. There is the King-high heart flush draw and nothing else.
3. (c). This hand has a nut flush draw. The cards don't work together much. It's a hand that I might play from late position in an unraised pot. The 9 adds nothing to the hand.
4. (b). This is a playable hand from any position. You have four cards that work together with the second-nut low draw. The flush draw does not add any value to the starting hand (you hope to make a backdoor flush with a low flush draw). The key card for this hand to see on a flop is a 2: with that, you have a chance of scooping the pot.
5. (c). This hand has a nut flush draw, but is unlikely to win low. The AJT combination does add some value to the hand, but you need specific cards on the flop to give the hand value. Change the 7 to the Kor Q and you have a good high starting hand.
6. (d). Middle cards are bad. Even worse, this hand has a dangler - a card that does not fit with the other cards - the 3. I would not throw in a penny to play this hand.
7. (b). A nut flush draw and three cards to a wheel highlight this hand. The eight-high flush does not add any value to the starting hand. To scoop, you need at least a two on the Board (ideally, both a two and a three). I'd play this hand but I'd be wary with it in a raised pot.
8. (d). Pocket sixes and pocket threes may be playable in hold'em, but combining them to make an Omaha hand leads to trash.
9. (a). You have the nut low draw, a nut flush draw and a second-nut flush draw. I'd prefer to have the 3? instead of the 2, but the second 2 does cut down on the possibility of being quartered. This is a premium hand and it easy to see ways of scooping with this hand.
10. (a). This is an excellent high starting hand. You have two flush draws, the cards work together, and you can readily see ways of scooping. I'd play this hand in any position and in a raised pot.