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Lesson 5: Starting Hands Part 3

"In No-Limit Hold'em, position is…everything. If I had position all night, I could beat the game…and I'd never have to look at my hole-cards." - Doyle Brunson

In Omaha Hi/Lo, the very good hands take care of themselves as do the very bad hands (in the first case, you'll be winning all or part of the flop while in the second case you will be folding the hand). It is the hands that lie between the extremes where you will make (or lose) money.

As we move through this lesson, remember the key determinants of a good starting hand:

  • 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?

Position

You may believe that position is not a major factor in Omaha. After all, Omaha is a limit game. Additionally, because starting hand valuations are more known than in hold'em, a strong hand is just as strong in early position as in late position (and a weak hand is just as weak). While this is true, position really matters for marginal hands. Although the quote (above) from Doyle Brunson refers to no-limit hold'em, I know that if I acted on the button (or next to last) on every hand, my win rate at Omaha would double.

Let's look at a marginal hand, A459. You're in first position (under-the-gun) and have to decide whether you're going to call, raise, or fold. You elect to call, but are not happy when Tight Ted raises from middle position. You know he has A2 suited (at least). When the betting comes back to you will you throw in the chips to call the raise?

There's an easy solution to this problem. Throw marginal hands in the muck from early position. Yes, sometimes your hand will hit the flop and you'll miss a big pot. But over time you will save money - most of the time your marginal hands will miss the flop.

Now take the same hand, A459, and instead of being under-the-gun, you have the button. Again, Tight Ted raises from middle position. Isn't it a lot easier to make the right decision? You know that he has A2 or A23. Your chances of winning with this marginal hand have decreased, so you throw it in the muck. On the other hand, if there are three callers (players who could have anything) and you're in last position, you can call in comfort and have a good idea (from the flop and the betting on the flop) how to act.

Trap Hands

These are hands that look good but have a potentially serious defect. One prime example is A2 without any other low cards.

For example, let's look at A299. While this is a hand that I'd play, there are few flops where I can see myself scooping (essentially, to scoop, I need a wheel or nut low and nines full). Assume the flop is 34T, and that you're last to act. You have the nut low draw and a middle flush draw. If the betting comes to you raised, you need to consider what may be out against you: someone is drawing to the nut flush draw, there may be a set of tens, and there may be other A2 draws out. I am not saying that you should fold this hand; however, I am saying that you need to be wary with trap hands. If you know that someone else has an A2, you need to consider that you may only get ¼ of the pot (and I've seen hands where A2 received 1/6 of the pot).

Another trap hand is AA without suited cards or connectors. While AA23 double suited is the best possible Omaha Hi/Lo starting hand, hands like AA97 are trap hands. These are hands that hold'em players, especially, will overplay. Take a flop that looks good for this trap hand: A68. You've flopped the nut high (three Aces), with a back-up straight draw. You should have seen the two key flaws for this hand: you're going after just half the pot (undoubtedly someone will have a better low than your hand) and if a backdoor flush comes you may end up with none of the pot. If you can't raise to limit the field (which is usually the case in low limit Omaha games), AA97 can be mucked from early position. Yes, you may be missing an occasional big pot but you will save money over the long-term.

Playing the Blinds

Most Omaha games are played with two blinds: a small blind (immediately to the left of the button) and a big blind (to the left of the small blind). Usually, the small blind is half of the big blind (in a $3/$6 game, the small blind is $1 and the big blind is $3; in most $4/$8 games, the small blind is $2 and the big blind is $4). The blinds receive one advantage: they act last before the flop. However, after the flop the blinds will act first.

The Big Blind

In many Omaha hands the pot is not raised and the big blind will have but two choices: to check (and see the flop for free) or to raise. When you raise from one of the blinds, you will get the rest of the table's attention - you are saying that you have a very strong hand (raising will be covered in more detail in Lesson 10). This is not to say that you shouldn't raise; rather, you should vary your play so that you are not that predictable (this is a good idea in any case). If the pot has been raised, the big blind has the additional option of folding.

Obviously, you should be calling with your good hands and checking (or folding) your trash hands. But what about pot odds? Say, for example, you hold KJ74 in the big blind and the under-the-gun player has raised and everyone has called. I ran a simulation with this hand and assuming that everyone stays until the river this hand actually has the correct pot odds to call the raise. However, I believe that calling a raise with this trash hand is a bad mistake because you will not recognize many of your winning hands on the flop. Assume that the flop is 567. You check, and by the time the betting has returned to you the betting is capped. Do you really want to call and hope that your Jack-high flush will win high?

Instead, play the big blind conservatively. Check most hands and call raises only with hands that can scoop and that you can recognize scoop-potential flops with. Remember, a bet saved is money earned.

The Small Blind

Depending on the betting structure, the small blind can fold, call the big blind (in an unraised pot this will be ½ to two thirds of the bet), or fold. Remember that you will be out-of-position in all the subsequent betting rounds. I recommend that you play conservatively from the small blind: play your good hands and only the marginal hands where you will recognize that the flop has hit your hand.

In the next lesson we will look at playing the flop. After the flop, you will know 78% of your hand!

QUIZ

You are in the big blind for questions 1 through 3. Assume the pot has not been raised. Assuming you check there will be five players seeing the flop. Will you (a) check, (b) raise, or (c) fold?

1. 8622

2. T34Q

3. AA34

In questions 4 and 5 the under-the-gun player has raised the pot. If you call there will be a total of five players seeing the flop. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) raise?

4. 5678

5. A247

In questions 6 through 8 you are playing in a $4/$8 Omaha game and have posted the small blind of $2. The pot is unraised. Assuming that you call and that the big blind checks, five players will be seeing the flop. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) raise?

6. J87K

7. 3346

8. A253

In questions 9 and 10 you are playing in a $4/$8 Omaha game and have posted the small blind of $2. The under-the-gun player has raised the pot. Assuming that the big blind calls and that you call, five players will be seeing the flop. Do you (a) fold, (b) call, or (c) raise?

9. A567

10. 229A

Answers:

1. (a). Answer (c) is, of course, a trick answer - you should never fold the big blind in an unraised pot. However, this is a trash hand and you will need a miraculous flop in order to stay around in the next round of betting.

2. (a). Your hand is better than the first hand but you will still need to hit the flop to be around.

3. (a) or (b). You have a premium hand that should raise some portion of the time. (Raising is used to either increase the pot size, limit the field, or both.) My decision as to whether to raise with this hand would be dependent on my table image, the other players at the table, and how often I have been raising.

4. (a). This is a trap hand that can rarely scoop the pot. Marginal hands should be routinely thrown away.

5. (b) or (c). You have a premium hand so folding is out of the question. My decision as to whether to raise or not is dependent on the factors listed in the answer to question 3 and the passivity of the table. There are low-limit Omaha games where the betting is routinely capped before the flop (there are also games where a second raise will drive away much of the field). I infrequently re-raise from the blinds because I prefer to disguise my hand strength.

6. (a). This is a trash hand. Why put even a penny in the pot when you don't have to.

7. (b). This is a very marginal hand and I will not stay after the flop if I don't hit my hand. I have many ways of scooping and many of them will be apparent on the flop. Ideally, I'd like to flop nut low or a straight. The key to playing marginal hands is to fold when you miss the flop.

8. (b) or (c). See the answers to questions 3 and 5.

9. (a). The situation with this hand is very different than from question 7. This is another marginal hand but now instead of putting in $2 you must put in $6. Save your money and wait for a better opportunity.

10. (b). This is a good hand but the second deuce, the nine, and the fact that you have three spades detract from the hand's value. It's certainly worth seeing the flop but it is not worth re-raising.

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