“One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.” – Oscar Wilde
I think I’ve read every book that’s been written on Omaha. For example, take the best possible Omaha hand: AA23 double-suited. Against 8 opponents, this hand will win a portion of the pot just over 30% of the time. Of course, that means it will lose just under 70% of the time. And that’s the best possible hand!
One school of thought is that because even the best hand doesn’t win a majority of the time no hand is worth raising pre-flop. Another philosophy is that there are valid reasons to raise pre-flop but you need certain circumstances. Finally, the maniacs of the world will raise pre-flop because it’s a sunny day (or a cloudy day, or a rainy day, etc.). I do believe in pre-flop raising – and in this lesson I’ll explain my reasoning. Of course, all the experts that I’ve read believe that there are hands worth raising after the flop.
There are three reasons to raise a pot in poker: (1) To increase the size of the pot; (2) To limit the field; and (3) To establish yourself as the aggressor. Many times a raise will accomplish more than one of these goals.
Increasing the size of the pot (with the goal, of course, of winning the pot) is the obvious reason to raise. You have a good hand and believe it is likely (or certain) that you will win the pot (or a portion thereof). If everyone is going to call you, why not make the pot you’re about to win larger; thus, you raise.
Raising can work to limit the field. A raise says to everyone else in the pot, I’ve got a good hand so you should fold your marginal hands. Sometimes a raise will thin the field. However, in low limit Omaha many of your opponents will look at a raise an opportunity to further increase the pot so that when their marginal holding wins they will share in a larger pot. As you play in larger limit games, the utility of the raise (for limiting the field) increases.
Finally, a raise marks you as an aggressor on the hand. Depending on the complexion of the game, players often fold to the raiser. You can pick up opportunities for a free card by raising on one street and then checking on the next street.
Of all the issues in Omaha that experts debate, this is the most contentious. Assume you hold A♠A♥2♠4♥. Should you raise with this excellent hand?
I believe in raising pre-flop when (1) you’re in late position with a powerful hand; (2) you’re in a game where almost every hand is re-raised pre-flop and you have a very good hand; (3) you have a high-only hand, there are a large number of players seeing the flop (you’re in late position) and you believe most, if not all, of them have low oriented hands; or (4) you hold a hand that works better against fewer opponents and your raise will limit the field;
The first situation is the most obvious time to raise. You have a good hand (such as A♠A♥2♠4♥), and five players have already called. Why not raise? If you hit the flop you’re likely to win (or share) in a larger pot. Most players will, after calling one bet, call a raise. If I hold a premium hand and am in late position (the button or next to the button) I will usually raise.
There are games where almost every pot is capped (the maximum number of raises allowed are made) pre-flop. If you’re going to play a hand in such a game your hand should be quite good. Again, why not raise pre-flop and hope that your hand hits the flop so that you can win (or share) in a larger pot. Something to remember is that if you miss the flop, in most cases you will have to fold. In low limit games you will be called most of the time. Many of your raises will not work (in the sense that you will be getting the pot). However, enough should work that the money you win overall increases.
The third reason to raise pre-flop is situational. You’re in late position and have a hand like A♥K♥K♣Q♣, and everyone has called. You think that most of your opponents have low oriented hands. If most players seeing the flop have low oriented hands it is more likely that the flop will come with high cards. Because you have high cards this means that you are more likely to hit the flop; thus, you should raise. There is an important caveat to this strategy. There are many low limit Omaha games where players will see the flop with any four cards. If you hold a hand such as A♥K♥K♣Q♣ in this kind of a game you probably shouldn’t raise because the chances of a high oriented flop have not increased.
The final reason to raise pre-flop is an attempt to limit the field. In low limit Omaha games this rarely works because your opponents usually do not consider anything but their own hand and they will call your raise. I have used this strategy in middle limit games. For example, I held A♦4♦6♥9♣ and raised, representing a premium hand. My goal was to limit the field so that my good (but not great) hand had a better chance of winning.
Here’s an equation you should remember:
Pot Size = (number of bets) * (size of bets)
If you raise, you’re increasing the size of the bet but you may decrease the number of bets. This could lead to a smaller pot if you’re not called by as many players. A raise on the flop does tend to limit the field (to a certain extent), especially with high only flops. Does this mean you shouldn’t raise? Of course not, but you do need to consider the possibility of a smaller pot.
Generally, you raise on the flop to increase the amount of money in the pot. In low limit games, many players will call the weakest of draws on the flop but not on the turn.
The turn is dealt, and you have the absolute nuts for high, and no low is possible. Should you raise? Generally, I will raise if there are low draws. If I have the nut low with redraws I will also raise a substantial portion of the time. Get your money into the pot when you have the best of it and stay out when you don’t is a good maxim to remember in Omaha.
You’ve made your hand or you haven’t. Assume you have the nut high, and you have three opponents. The first bets, and you must act. If you think that both remaining opponents are on low draws you may want to just call if they’re likely to fold to a raise. If you think they’re going to call a raise then do raise! If you have the nut low it is harder to raise on the river unless you believe most of your opponents are on high hands or weaker lows. If your nut low is an unusual carding (e.g. 25), then a raise may be warranted. Finally, another situation I will consider raising is when I have the second best high and the second best low and I’m up against just a couple of opponents. I am hoping that my high or low will win the pot. I also try, when I do this, to correctly read my opponents. Raising into the nut low with the nut flush is not a pleasant experience.
In the next lesson we will look at a potpourri of topics including danglers, straights, reading and sleep.
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