Opening hands

It’s fair to say that opening hand selection in Omaha Hi-Lo bares a passing resemblance to that of high Omaha, and that’s about it. Very often you’ll see Omaha players making the mistake of playing hands like J-T-9-8 and while that might play well in a high only game, Omaha Hi-Lo is all about scooping. Although a low hand isn’t always going to be made by the river (statistically only 60% of the time), there is no excuse for playing a hand with high only potential unless you get in cheap, the pot is multi-way and you have position. I’ll talk more about playing high only hands later on, but for now, focus on scooping both ends of the pot.

High and Low hands

A common adage is “don’t leave home without an Ace” and it’s fairly solid advice. An Ace is a massively powerful card in your hand as it plays both ways. You can use it as a high card and a low card for both ends of the same pot. In your observations of the best low hand, how often did the nut low contain an Ace? I’m willing to bet it was the majority of times. So initially, you’re going to want an Ace in your hand to get involved in a pot.

That said, an Ace is no good for making a low without another low card to go with it. A-J-J-9 is worthless for making a low (and as a hand in general) as there is no second low card to make your five cards 8 or lower. Ideally, you want A-2-x-x as this sets you up for the nut low hand in most instances. If any combination of three, unpaired cards between 3 and 8 are on the board, you hold the nut low. The only way this can be taken away from you is if an Ace or 2 is also on the board, thus “counterfeiting” your hand. Holding A-2-x-x on a 3,6,8 flop, you have half the pot in your grasp. However when the river comes an Ace, suddenly 2-4-x-x makes the best low hand. That said, A-2-x-x is going to get you a lot of nut low hands in the long run and is a great first two cards.

A-3-x-x looks alright for low, doesn’t it? What about A-4-x-x? Well, as in all things Omaha, each movement away from the nuts is exponentially worse than in Hold’em.

For instance; in Hold’em, AA and KK are pretty much as good as each other from the point of view of players and, to be fair, probably win a similar number of hands. QQ is even a strong hand and is still played aggressively. In Omaha Hi-Lo, A-2-x-x is the best low combination and A-3-x-x is the second best. But with 4 cards in each players hand and most people wanting to see a flop, the value gap between the two is huge. Move up to A-4-x-x and you now have A-2-x-x, A-3-x-x and 2-3-x-x all beating you to the low on a 5,7,8,x,x board. That’s just too many hands. For an A-4-x-x to play low, you’re going to want a 2,3,x flop to even make the draw appealing. So at a full table, you’re going to play A-4-x-x in the same way you might play a high only hand… rarely if at all.

This is a game where holding the nuts in one direction might still cost you money! Remember, someone else might also have A-2-x-x and you only get 1/4 of the pot. Holding the second nuts in one direction will eventually send you broke.

The extension of playing A-2-x-x is to mix it with one or two more low cards, especially wheel cards (A-2-3-4-5). If you start off with A-2-3-x you have a substantially better hand than A-2-x-x as you effectively have 3 different low draws; A-2, A-3 and 2-3. This means that even if an Ace, Deuce or 3 falls on the board, you still have a shot at the nut low. If the flop ran 5-7-K, you have what is known as the “counterfeit-proof nut low draw” meaning that should any other low card fall, even if it is one you already hold in your hand, you will make the nut low. With this hand, you need to have runner-runner counterfeit cards to oust you from the low.

Any combination of A-2-(Wheel card)-x is good and should be played. I’ll also add a 6 to the mix here because, in the rare even that you make a wheel (A-2-3-4-5, remember?), the 6 will also mean you have a Deuce to 6 straight as well and you can take 3/4s of the pot from any other A-2s in the hand (we’ll get on to quartering later).

Any four wheel cards with an Ace are playable, especially A-2-x-x combinations. You can happily play as much as A-4-5-6 if there is real high potential too (so the Ace has to be suited) but play it with position and with care.

Finally, what other low hands can you play? Without the Ace, you can play 2-3-x-x if the x-x is really working with the other 2 cards to offer strong high potential. You can play 2-3-4-5 or similar (wheel cards) as long as you remember to fold if the flop doesn’t have an Ace in it.

So, looking at low hands; in summary, don’t play anything over the wheel cards for your low. You will see 6-8-x-x get there now and again, but you don’t want to be the person to be doing it.

High-only hands

I mentioned that a low hand is only made 60% of the time. So why not play a lot of high hands? Well, you are never going to be sure which 40% of hands won’t offer a low, and that statistic assumes that you see every river. You may well have been bet out of the hand by then, so high only hands should be played in a very specific set of circumstances.

You can play them if you are going to close the action pre-flop, if you are shorthanded (and by that I mean four players or less) or if you’ll have position after the flop and you’re confident that the players behind you will fold or smooth call. Also, in playing a high only hand, you’re going to want to re-evaluate what you consider to be a “good hand” Any hand that drifts into 8 or lower should be folded. Something like 6-7-8-9 double suited might look nice, especially to a High Only Omaha player, but it is actually the worst kind of trash. If you hit the best end of your straight draw, then the cards on the board will also make someone a low and you only have a shot half the pot. If the high end of your straight comes in, it’s likely that someone else will have the nut straight. In Omaha games, it is too much to expect a 9-high flush to hold up. Even if you catch a flop like 9-9-8, you know that anyone with a pair of tens or higher is drawing to a better boat and there is still a back door low draw out there to take half the pot from you as well.

Another trap high hand is two pair. In Omaha Hi-Lo, holding two pairs is an awful way to start unless it’s A-A-K-K with at least one suit, A-A-Q-Q with at least one suit, or K-K-Q-Q double suited. This may seem harsh, but for the sake of your bank roll, put K-K-J-J in the muck. Two pairs do not work as well together as a pair and two supporting cards (A-A-K-J for example) as they limit the scope of straights that can be made for the benefit of 2 other outs to a set. Even if one should make a set, there remain only two cards to make the boat with as opposed to 6 cards from a pair and two unpaired cards.

High-only hands are going to usually need to be double suited, or at worst with a suited ace. If you’re drawing to only the high end of the pot, you need to give yourself as many chances of getting there as possible. This means straights, trips, boats and flushes. A-A-K-Qds is a playable hand and you could even call a raise with it into a multi-way pot. But you must have the iron will required to throw it away if the flop doesn’t significantly improve your hand.

Say the board ran 5-6-8 all spades, giving the nut flush. You need to bet here to see off anything but the nut low. You can only really make money if there are two players with A-2-x-x in the hand, fighting for the low, and just as long as the board doesn’t pair. However, with only a flush draw and the made low on the board, you must check fold here.

As a very solid rule of thumb, never draw to try and win half of the pot.


In Hold’em, there is no argument, AA is the best starting hand and furthermore, if you start with AA, players with the second nuts, KK, start a long way behind you. As with all things Omaha, the picture is a little less clear in Hi-Lo.

Firstly, there is open debate as to what is the best hand, although most agree (statistically at least) that A-A-2-3ds is the best possible opener. You have a pair of aces, a lot of wheel cards that can make the nut low and possibly a 5 or 6 high straight, and two shots at a nut flush. Overall, this is very good.

But if you play this hand against what might be considered the second nuts, A-K-2-3ds or A-A-3-4ds, or even A-A-K-2ds (all excellent starting hands) your edge to scoop the pot isn’t going to be as massive as in the classic AA v KK confrontation. In fact, with A-A-2-3ds versus A-A-K-2ds, the scooping edge the first hand has is just 0.23%! Now compare that to playing A-A-2-3ds against 6-7-8-9ds (with the other two suits) and the first hand will scoop, that’s win everything, 25% more often.

Now, 25% doesn’t sound like a lot, and it’s not. But that’s Omaha for you. Until the flop is dealt, hands cannot be clearly defined, and as such, 25% pre-flop is a huge advantage in Omaha Hi-Lo.

Again, this can lead to problems for High Omaha players. There is an expectation in Omaha that no hand is defined until the flop and that, given the right price, anything other than trips or four of a kind in hand is worth a look. This isn’t the case in Omaha Hi-Lo. I mentioned it before, but “bogies”, cards in the range 6-7-8-9, may look playable and may well link with a flop, but they spell disaster in the long run due to the split pot nature of the game. A 20-out wrap is useless if it’s costing you a pot size bet to draw to it and you will only win half the pot if it comes good.

The final observation on starting hands is to make sure that all four cards work together in some way. A hand with a redundant card in it is known as a “three legged dog” for obvious reasons.

Looking at Ad-Ks-3s-8c, many beginners will see a hand well worth playing where, in truth, it offers little. By effectively having a dead card in there (the eight), you no longer have six two-card combinations, but three. That one card has halved the efficiency of your hand! Even allowing for the occasional lucky flop with a couple of eights in it, there is no way you’ll make up that sort of shortfall over time.

So for a hand to be “working” you want A-Q-2-4ds, for example. Here, the hand is not great but all of the cards (assuming the A-2 is one suit and the Q-4 is another) can make a pairing that might win one end of the pot on their own. Hands like K-K-2-4 rainbow (all different suits) are still playable in the sort of circumstances I mentioned for high only hands but you need to be aware, this is like playing two hands against an opponent’s six. If you miss the flop even slightly, you should fold.

Finally, never, ever play three of a kind in your hand. You may see people play A-A-A-2. These people are really only playing with one hand (the A-2 for the low) as a pair of aces is unlikely to hit the one left in the deck to make trips. And all other “trips-in-hand” combinations are worse than this one.

In the next article i cover the Omaha Hi-Lo Prflop Play