Playing Aces in PLO by Andy Black

Players who are new to Pot-Limit Omaha tend to make more mistakes with Aces than with any other hand. They get themselves into really tough situations – ones where they can lose a lot of money. Avoiding these spots is one of the keys to playing PLO profitably.

Here’s the kind of situation that newer PLO players sometimes find themselves in. Say it’s a $2/$5 game where all the players have about $500 in front of them. There’s an early position raise to $15 and a player in middle position with A-A-x-x re-raises to $50. Four players call the $50. Now the flop comes down J-7-2, rainbow.

The Aces might be good here, or they might not. It’s very hard to know. This is the kind of spot where it’s very easy to make a big mistake – either by putting in a lot of money while a huge underdog, or by folding the best hand.

Novice PLO players get in this sort of trouble because they don’t really understand how Omaha differs from Hold ’em. In Hold ’em, if you start with a big pair like Kings or Aces, you know you’re a big favorite before the flop. But this isn’t the case with Omaha. For example, pre-flop, Ac-Ad-4s-7h will win only 51 percent of the time when heads up against Js-Ts-9h-8h. Throw a couple of other hands in the mix, and Aces become extremely vulnerable.

Because so many hands are so evenly matched, Omaha is a game where what you catch with the community cards is usually more important than what you start with. You’re looking to make big hands – nut straights, nut flushes, and big sets.

Still, hands that contain Aces are usually a decent favorite when played heads up. And, with Aces, you always have the opportunity to make top set or, if you’re suited, a nut flush. So you’re going to want to play these hands, but you often want to be more cautious pre-flop.

If there’s a raise in early position, you don’t have to re-raise with A-A-x-x, especially if that re-raise would commit you for only a small portion of your stack. When all the players have deep stacks, a few will be happy to call your bet and see a flop. Then you’re likely to find yourself in the sort of situation described at the beginning of this tip. You won’t know if your hand has held up on most flops. And when you do hit your set of Aces, you’re not likely to get a lot of action, as your opponents won’t have much difficulty putting you on a hand.

However, there are some occasions when you want to play Aces aggressively pre-flop. When there’s been a lot of action and a raise will allow you to get about three-quarters of your stack in before the flop, go ahead and make that big bet. At that point, you’re looking to force some folds and, hopefully, play heads up. With that much money committed, you know the rest of your stack will be going in on the flop no matter what comes.

Of course, once you’re in the hand, your Aces can lead to some very profitable post-flop situations. You might catch top set while an opponent makes a lower one or your nut flush might take a big pot from someone who made a lower flush.

So slow down with your Aces pre-flop in PLO. Your deceptive play will win you some big pots when you make a big hand. Plus, you’ll avoid losing a lot when the board doesn’t fall your way.

Andy Black