02/10/2008

A Lesson in Omaha #2

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

I think that there is a natural transition with all poker players in how they go about learning certain games. I think that most players travel a very similar evolutionary process, the big difference seems to be the time delay for players to reach certain stages of advancement.

But one of the lessons that I learned (painfully) at the beginning of my time playing PLO was in the overall vulnerability of big pairs and especially when out of position and with deep stacks.

Omaha is a deeply positional game, in fact even more so than NLHE. You cannot eliminate a positional disadvantage as easily in PLO as you can NLHE. In hold’em when you raise from early position, you will tend to be up against fewer opponents than in PLO.

It is far easier to distinguish starting hand strength in NLHE than it is in PLO and this is especially the case when you have to adjust for short handed play. Also there are six times the number of possible hand combinations to act after you. Then you have the potential problem that an early position raise basically signals that you have a strong hand and probably aces or kings.

This isn’t so much the case at six handed play but playing deep stack PLO without the necessary skills is even more of a handicap than playing deep stacked NLHE. It is for this reason that many players are favouring short stack approaches in PLO games these days and especially at the lower levels.

These are extremely viable strategies for novice PLO players and probably something that all novice PLO players should undertake to do at the start of their careers in this form of poker. But if you really want to graduate in PLO then you must learn to play deep stack poker. Having nothing but a short stack approach in your arsenal where you are looking to get all in with an equity edge isn’t going to get you far and the lifespan of this particular system is open to debate.

In hold’em it is pretty simple to get a hand that dominates another but you cannot achieve this anywhere near as easily pre-flop in PLO. But big pairs can be very tricky to play in PLO if you cannot get all in pre-flop. If you can get all in against one or two players then you are in heaven as many players simply do not understand the equity that is contained in many Omaha hands and hands that may look good on paper have serious short comings when matched up against aces or kings.

A hand like K-K-J-J for instance only has around 24% equity against non suited aces and is a hand that can get you into a lot of trouble in many situations and especially against a raise. It is also a hand that many players will call you with when you get all in pre-flop with a short stack as well.

But the rundown hands can be very good hands to play in PLO against big pairs and a hand like 9-8-7-6 unsuited achieves something like 45% equity against those very same aces. This is why you simply cannot restrict your raising range in any PLO game pre-flop to aces or kings and especially in deep stacked poker.

I would look to play aces very carefully when out of position either in full ring or six handed play. This isn’t the only way to play aces but it is my way and I find that it works for me. Then if it gets raised or re-raised, depending on the stack sizes then you can three or four bet or move in depending on your sack size and moving in allows you to see all five board cards.

But when you can get all in with a hand like A-A-5-4 pre-flop then what you tend to find is that in a situation where you have more than one caller, one of the players gives you protection by betting the other player out of the pot. This has the effect of increasing your pot equity and is another advantage of getting all in before the flop if possible.

But one of the things that fascinates me about PLO is its unbelievable complexity when compared to NLHE. This is why I am firmly convinced in my own mind that not only is this the game of the future for all professional players be it online or live but it is that sheer complexity that will reward you if you persevere long enough in order to play this game very well... I am still very much at PLO school.

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