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Lesson 8: The River

"Heaven ne'er helps the men who will not act." - Longfellow

At the river you either have made your hand or you haven't. Pot odds and math skills are now irrelevant; reading your opponents and knowing where you stand are paramount.

Reading your Opponents

As I mentioned in Lesson 7, reading your opponents is an essential skill that cannot be taught through reading an article. Learn how your opponents bet.

  • Do your opponents bet low hands?
  • Will they only raise with the nuts and redraws?
  • Do they have any obvious tells?
  • Do they like to lead when they have a big hand or would they prefer to check-raise?

At the river assume that you hold A3K4; the board is 58J/7/Q. You have four opponents on the hand with the small blind having bet the hand on the flop, turn, and now the river. Your analysis of how the small blind bets is a major factor in whether you should call, raise or fold your second-second hand.

Where Do You Stand?

That's the first step in determining what you should do. Do you have the nut high? The nut low? The near-nut high or low? Or have you missed every one of your draws leaving you with nothing?

The Nuts. The words that an Omaha player wants to say when exposing his or her hand are "nut-nut." If in the example hand above you held the A2 you would be able to say that - you would hold the nut low and the nut flush. So what do you do when you have the nuts? In most cases bet your hand! Unless you are certain that someone will bet your hand you need to bet to maximize your profit. Remember, most of your profit in Omaha comes from the hands you scoop, not the hands you split. If you have four or five opponents on the river you almost certainly will get at least two callers when you bet in a low-limit game.

The situation is quite different if all you have is the nut low. Assume the same board as above (58J/7/Q) with you holding A234. How many opponents do you have? Can you put any of them on the nut low or the nut high? If a player who has been silent to the river suddenly bets when a flush, full house, or straight is made on the river, it's likely he has the high. (It's not certain, though. There's a player in a game I frequent who will not bet his lows - even his uncounterfeitable lows with redraws - until the river.) It's hard to bet an A2 low when it's possible (or probable) that there are other A2 lows out on the hand. If, however, an Ace had fallen on the river so that now the 23 is the nut low, it's more likely that you have the only low. When a nut low gets counterfeited, watch the other players' reactions. You'll be surprised to see how easy it is to get some tells, especially in low limit games.

Now let's assume that you have the nut high. Again, the board is the same (58J/7/Q); your hand is now AK4T. You will get half the pot with the nut flush. What should you do? Bet (or raise). On a real lucky day you'll scoop with your A4 low. If you're thinking that you should check-raise, that is a possible action if you are certain that someone will bet. Usually, though, you will find that players with the second nut flush or the nut straight will call you if you bet!

Nothing at All

You go into the river holding a great hand (A2QJ) given the Board: 348/9. Then disaster struck - the river is the 2, leaving you with a live Ace for low and a pair of deuces for high. You're second to act and the first player bets. Time and time again I see players who are counterfeited on the river calling when they have almost no chance of winning the pot. A bet saved is money earned. Fold! (This hand is, by the way, another reason why having counterfeit backup is so useful, say A23 so that you are guaranteed a portion of the pot.)

Another similar situation is when you hold the nut straight and a flush comes on the river. Usually, you will be wise to check and fold (or fold). The more players you are up against, the more likely it is that the nuts are out against you.

Second, Second

Now assume that you are holding the second best possible low and second best possible high on the river (e.g. A34K with a board of 67J/5/Q). While the nuts are usually out there, what do you do holding a hand that could be winning either high, low, both, or nothing?

In such a situation you must carefully evaluate what your opponents are likely to hold. If you are up against three players who will only bet the nuts and they are betting and raising, you are not likely to be getting any portion of the pot. However, against typical low limit Omaha players you will, much of the time, get a portion of the pot. I rarely will fold this kind of hand and I occasionally will raise with it.

When the Third Nut Low is Likely to Win. You've been calling each round of betting, with a draw to the nut flush, holding (from the big blind) K854, with a board of A7T/K. The river brings the 2, giving you a pair of Kings and the third nut low. In many games your low could be the winner. While it is possible that there is a 34 (or 35) out against you, when both the Ace and deuce are out on the board not so nut lows tend to win that half of the pot. Of course, though, if your low were something like 47 you wouldn't consider it a winner (when up against the usual four opponents).

With Good Players, Bad Highs Win

Assume that you are playing against good players (players who won't play hands like 4567). Usually, these players will have cards that work together (four low cards, four high cards, or a combination thereof). In many cases you will see one pair winning the high (with the nut low also outstanding). This is especially true if the board contains middle cards.

Good players will throw hands like 4567 into the muck so when these hands become the nut high, the nut high isn't out there. But you do need to remember that if the blinds are still in the hand there is a chance that they may hold a winning trash hand.

In the next lesson we will look at bluffing and slow playing hands. I happen to enjoy no limit Texas hold'em, where bluffing reigns. Omaha, though, is a much different game.

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