25/09/2008

A Lesson in Omaha

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

No I am not to going to sit here and start spouting about what a great PLO player I am because that would be nothing short of bull. For years and years I side stepped it like you do an embarrassing ex when you are out with your mates. I don’t know what it was about the game but I could never properly figure it out and especially short handed. In fact years ago I would actually muck good PLO hands in dealer’s choice games simply because I couldn’t trust myself from the flop onwards and I had lost more money at this form of poker than any other in my career.

Because of this I developed mental scars and PLO was always something that had to be steered well clear of simply because in my mind then no good could ever come of it. But I didn’t learn to drive until ten years ago and I kind of figured that driving was just something that had to be done unless I wanted to spend my entire life calling for a cab.

Well it’s the same with PLO, learning it just had to be done so a couple of years ago I decided to do what I had done with LH, NLHE and SNG’s…..work extremely hard to get myself into being a +EV player in most of the games that I sat in (when that time finally arose).

It’s like anything else, most of your knowledge comes from trial and error experience. My old problems were still present and trying to play solid post flop Omaha in the heat of battle in a speeded up online environment wasn’t easy. But PLO is going to be the game of the future for online professionals of that I am certain. In fact more and more players are making the switch now to PLO as the NLHE games get tougher and tougher.

But I predicted this sometime ago, in fact when you consider for a minute just how the online game is going then it really isn’t much of a prediction at all in my mind. Now I am not going to stand here spouting about how great PLO is and how I play it all week now and make loads of money at it because I don’t. I find PLO fascinating on a theoretical level and play it occasionally but I hate the variance in this game and this is why I don’t play the game full time but then again I don’t play anything full time anymore.

But over the coming weeks I will be making my regular Thursday article on PLO for two reasons. Firstly because writing about something improves your game and secondly because it is instructive to others! But perhaps one of the biggest quantum leaps that I took with regards my understanding of not just PLO but poker as a whole came a few years ago when I realised that I was in fact looking at poker as a whole in a rather warped and incorrect way.

I used to classify each individual variation of poker as an individual entity. While each variation does have its own unique characteristics that gives each one its own individual identity, they are still bonded in a way that wasn’t readily apparent to me years ago.

Back then I had a thorough understanding of only one form of poker and that was limit hold’em and there were a few others that I thought I understood that when looking back, I blatantly didn’t. But much of what you do in poker revolves around what you know about your opponents and the basic technically learnable stuff can be mastered in a relatively short time frame.

In poker you begin by learning the basic strategy for each form and then apply that. This is akin to blackjack in a way. Many inexperienced blackjack players think that the way to beat blackjack is to learn a counting system, get a bankroll, practice good bankroll management and then go out and put the hours in and try not to get caught.

That’s so basic that you could learn that from a couple of decent books in a month. But it’s the same with poker, the basic systems are easily learnable and this is why online players have improved very rapidly. Another analogy could be made with football. When a coach sets out to help for example a very weak African nation then the first thing that they concentrate on is the defensive side.

They do this because it is easier to teach defensive principles in football than it is offensive ones. The coach first eliminates those seven and eight goal hammerings to a stage where even if they play a top side, they are not leaking more than three to four goals maximum. Their chances of winning a game may be low but for the first time they are performing as a disciplined defensive solid unit.

I have made this analogy with football because I think that it highlights why online games are getting tougher in NLHE. The avalanche of learning material out there is making players have good defensive games and coaching videos and websites are mainly the reason behind it.

But my Omaha game quantum leaped when I really started to understand poker on a strategic level rather than just a tactical one and there is a very clear difference between strategy and tactics. I guess what I am really trying to say in this article is that there are many more similarities between poker forms than what meets the eye and underlying principles can span them all.

I think it is a very good exercise to try and think about the underlying principles which can be utilised from one form of poker to another and this is why I am not going to expand on the topic because it is important that you realise things on a personal level without being told and it would be great if a thread was created on the forum to discuss this very topic.

I will though quote an example just so you know where I am coming from. You see a relatively weak player open limp from the hijack in a six max game and you know the two blinds to be very tight so you expand your range and raise the limper from the button. Notice how I haven’t mentioned the game here because it really wouldn’t matter if this game was limit hold’em, no limit hold’em or PLO or whatever. Once I made the connection with other games then it became easier for me to improve in another form of poker as I was transferring many principles and strategies across from forms that I was good at. But the trick is in knowing what can be used from what can’t.

The reason why I have seemingly waffled here is basically because I want to lay some ground work for my articles on PLO in the weeks to come so that you will be better prepared to understand where I am coming from with regards certain things and how I look at poker in general, hope you enjoy them.

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