Omaha Eight or Better, also known as Omaha Eight, Split Omaha and most commonly, Omaha Hi-Lo, is a split pot poker game that is usually played for either limit or pot limit stakes. It is often considered to be a slightly altered form of High Only Omaha - referred to from here simply as Omaha - with a few extra rules thrown in to cover the “low” pot. However, as the game should be played fundamentally differently – from choosing starting hands to the correct time to bet – I recommend everyone try to approach it as a whole new variant of poker.

The game is usually played with anywhere from 2 to 9 players to a table and involves a dealer button and the posting of big and small blinds, much as in Hold’em or Omaha.

Starting from the dealer’s left, each player is dealt 4 down cards or “hole cards” and the player in 3rd position starts a round of betting. If players remain in the hand at this point, three community cards are dealt as a flop – again, just as in Hold’em and Omaha – and a further round of betting occurs. If players still remain in the hand a single “turn” card is dealt with another round of betting, followed by a “river” card and a final round of betting (assuming players are still in the hand).

As in Omaha, players are required to used two cards from their four hole cards and three from the board – no more, no less – to make their best five card poker hand. However, and here’s the big difference, half of the pot is also up for grabs to the player making the worst hand possible if you assume straights and flushes don’t count against you.

The worst hand you could therefore make is A-2-3-4-5. This is commonly referred to as the “wheel” or sometimes a “bicycle”. With virtually every game of Omaha Hi-Lo having what is known as an “8 qualifier”, you can only count a low if it is 8 high or worse. In Omaha Hi-Lo 2-4-5-6-8 is an example of a qualifying, or “made” low hand – although not a very good one for reasons we will discuss later – where as A-2-3-5-9 is not, hence the name.

Once showdown is reached, players are entitled to present two hands that can be made from either the same 5 cards, as with the wheel, or two totally different combinations of their cards and the community cards in an attempt to win both the “high” pot, awarded to the best hand, and the “low” which is awarded to the worst, qualifying hand.

The main aim of the game is to try to have a hand, like the wheel, that gives you a chance to win both halves of the pot and “scoop” the lot.

The astute among you will have already spotted that, due to the laws of the game relating to the number of cards you can use from your hand and those from the board, and the presence of an eight qualifier, making a low hand is not always possible. For a pot to be able to produce a low, the community cards need to have at least three, unpaired cards of 8 or lower (remembering that an ace counts as both high and low in this game). For example, should the flop fall K-K-Q, there will not be enough cards valued eight or lower to make a low by the river and so the game reverts to offering all of the pot to the winner of the high – the player with the best hand at showdown.

In hands where there is a low possible, it is very likely that at least one player will have some form of qualifying combination. The way to work out which one is the best is to count backwards from the highest card. So, for example;

The board reads Kh, Ah, 5d, 6s, 8h

Player one has Qh Jh 2c 5c

Player two has Ac Kc 3s 6c

Most people would be able to see that Player one can use the two hearts in his hand to create the nut flush and beat Player two’s Aces up for the high hand. This only wins 50% of the pot for player one, however, as both players have been able to produce made low hands. But which one is the winner?

The hands are; Player one:- Ah, 2c, 5c, 6s, 8h

Player two:- Ah, 3s, 5d, 6c, 8h

These can be read as numbers from the largest to the smallest as 86,521 and 86,531 respectively. The lower the number, the better (or technically the “worse”) the low hand and so Player one also has the edge as far as the low pot is concerned. He scoops both pots.

Just as players who are learning Hold’em for the first time need to learn to spot the nuts on a board, it is a thoroughly worthwhile exercise to deal a few hands and boards out and practice being able to spot; whether a low is possible, what the nut low cards would be, if any of the hands dealt have a qualifying low, and which of the dealt hands have the best “worst” cards.

Being able to read the board and your hand correctly is significantly more difficult in a game where you can use any combination of two cards from your hand to make not one, but two different hands, some of which can be both “best” and “worst” – a low flush for instance may scoop the whole pot – so practice before hitting the tables really is time worth investing. That way you won’t be paying for your education.

In the next article, I’ll cover the starting hand in Omaha Hi-Lo.