Omaha holdem poker is exactly what the name implies: a variation of the now-stunningly popular poker game known as holdem. The game of holdem is itself a bastardization of a game known by names like “Hold Me” and “OK Hold Me” (among others) and a brand of poker being played in Texas using communal cards and multiple betting rounds. Without going into too much detail, that’s sort of how Texas holdem came to be. Though not the first holdem game, it was probably the first to have a place name and it is certainly the most popular.
This article will take a look at the history of Omaha poker, the ways the rule changes in Omaha poker affect traditional holdem thinking, and rule variations such as the popular Omaha Hi-Lo. A few strategy tips may pop up here and there as a way of demonstrating a point, but we’re more interested in the stories behind the games than one idiot’s opinion of how the game should be played.
A Brief History of Omaha
The history of Omaha poker is fast and furious, with many aspects of the game’s creation completely shrouded in mystery. Like any story involving poker, there are at least two sides to it, and the truth is probably somewhere between the two.
Texas holdem is already the star of the show at the WSOP in the 80s, when the game we now call Omaha poker appeared at the Golden Nugget Casino from two sources at the same time. A woman from Seattle called “Lady Dragon” and a poker tournament champ Robert Turner from Alabama brought the game simultaneously.
Omaha vs. Texas Holdem
It is probably best for those of us poker players who wager real money on our games to think of Omaha holdem and Texas holdem as two completely different games. When money is at stake, you should be able to put your head in an Omaha mindset or a Texas mindset. The differences between the games are small but incredibly important. A few rule changes in a game like poker alters the strategy completely. Omaha holdem is a great example of how just a few simple differences in the rules has a big impact on proper play.
Loose and Passive Play
A great reason to hit up the Omaha ring games at your favorite online poker site is to take advantage of some really bad poker being played at low level stakes on most poker networks. Omaha cash games tend to be made up mostly of holdem players taking a break from their game and trying to swoop up some easy cash playing Omaha.
That means entire tables full of weak competition, players who don’t understand the game of Omaha and try to use their Texas holdem skills to win pots. For example, amateur Omaha players who are familiar with Texas holdem tend to fight for a lot of pots with two pair, buy in and end up handing out their bankroll.
Omaha rewards patience more than Texas holdem. The inventors of Omaha poker no doubt wanted to find a holdem game that valued good poker play over bluffing and other tactics. The best way to play Omaha poker online is to play your biggest hands, fold your weaker hands, and essentially play ABC poker. If your table is made up of Texas holdem hotheads, you’ll have no trouble drawing them out with your better hole cards. They’ll never see it coming.
Good Pre-flop Hands in Omaha
These differences in Omaha rules just happen to alter most poker player’s ideal strategy. Does it seem to anyone else like whoever invented Omaha really despised Texas holdem?
Texas holdem players have a tough time even deciding if they have a good hand pre-flop. Just a few rule changes and suddenly a Texas holdem player’s ability to rank their hand is lost.
The trick is that in Omaha there is no such thing as a good pre-flop hand. Good Omaha players are holding out for a straight or a flush, the two most common winning hands for skilled Omaha players.
ABC Poker & Omaha
There are plenty of people who will defend ABC style poker in Texas holdem, and they may well be right. But the small tweaks made to the rules of Texas holdem that differentiate Omaha from everyone’s favorite poker game are set up in such a way that players essentially have to play ABC style to succeed. This is especially true when big pots are on the line against veteran Omaha players at high stakes cash games.
For those of you unfamiliar with ABC style, it gets its name from the very simplistic way its acolytes play poker. They only put big money in after the flop on their best hands. They use pre-flop raises to scare off passive players. They build pots slowly when they’re holding good cards. Basically, they play with good cards and fold bad ones.
What Is Omaha Hi-Lo ?
Any time you see the words Hi-Lo or high low or High/Low in any combination, you should automatically recognize that you’re dealing with a split-pot game. One way to remember is to look for the hyphen or the sign in between the words. That little hyphen or / mark should remind you that the pot is also going to be split. Once you spend enough time around poker variants, you’ll know all this by heart anyway.
Omaha Hi-Lo Rule Basics
Since this is an Omaha game, obviously you have to use two of your hole cards in conjunction with any three from the community to make the highest and lowest possible hands. Any two of your four cards can be used for the high pot and any two can be used for the low pot. You have to play two towards each pot.
One thing to remember—to win the low pot, the lowest possible hand has to be 8s or smaller. That means that occasionally no one wins the low pot, in which case the whole pot goes to the high winner. Also, just commit to memory that aces play on both the high and low side, for simplicity’s sake.
Differences between Omaha Hi-Lo and Omaha Holdem
Any time you make playing poker even more complicated by splitting the pot, you’re increasing the game’s difficulty. Forming two hands with the same number of hole cards makes strategy twice as complex, because you’re actually trying to build two winning hands in two different directions.
Figuring out the best hand combinations for the high and low pots takes experience. No one is really a natural born Omaha Hi-Lo player; you have to expose yourself to the game and different playing situations to really improve your Hi-Lo play.
Whether you call it Omaha, Nine Cards, or throw in a split-pot and call it Omaha Hi-Lo, the game of four hole cards has been a part of the poker scene for nearly as long as Texas holdem. Yes, Omaha is a variation on Texas holdem rules, but these variations were used since the beginning of Texas holdem to keep the game interesting. If you can play a patient game and know just enough Texas holdem strategy to be dangerous, Omaha can be a very profitable online poker game to play, thanks in no small part to the weak competition at most online poker rooms.