Omaha High Low Basic Strategy
Originally Published in Woman Poker Player Magazine
Author: Mike Cappelletti
In order to win consistently at any game of skill, you must understand what the experts at that game refer to as the “basic strategy.”
An old friend who had played very little poker over the past ten years, asked me about the basic strategy for playing this addictive new game, Omaha High Low (eight or better). I assured him that the basic strategy for loose, low-limit Omaha high/low (usually ten-twenty or lower) is simple and surprisingly uniform, that is, the same basic strategy applies to all loose games. Loose is defined as a table where an average of more than five players are seeing the flop (“Cappelletti’s Rule”).
Note well that very-tight aggressive Omaha High Low games (usually for twenty-forty or higher stakes), where most hands are three-handed or head-to-head duels, have a somewhat different, hold’em-type basic strategy.
The simplest approach to the basic strategy for playing loose Omaha High Low is to think of it as a three-step process:
Step One: Evaluate your hand before the flop.
You pick up your four cards and decide whether they are worth calling, or perhaps raising, before the flop. This is where most players go wrong by playing too loose. If you find yourself playing even half of the hands (counting the blinds), you are either holding unusually good cards or you are playing too loose.
Step Two: Upon seeing the flop, decide whether or not to get further involved.
This is frequently the most difficult and complicated decision in all Omaha. Because of the bidirectionality, your odds of hitting various possibilities frequently involve very complex computations and also involves making “human” judgments.
Step Three: Decide whether you still belong in the pot for the double-sized bets after the “turn” (fourth card) and “river” (last card).
Since your possibilities are fairly well clarified by the fourth card, this decision to compete for the big money should be much easier than the complex delicacies of step two. Otherwise put, how you play your cards after fourth and fifth streets, depends mainly on your usual poker skills. And as in most other forms of poker, here you have to judge how what you have will fare against what the opponents are likely to have.
The basic strategy for Omaha high low should either include or should be prefaced by several statements or warnings to advise the prospective player of certain objectives and pitfalls. Perhaps the most importpant overall objective in Omaha high-low is to gear your play towards “scooping” (winning whole pots). It is difficult to win at high low if you merely win occasional half pots. Your overall game plan should be to sit back patiently and wait for big hands with whole-pot potential. It is wise to avoid dubious hands with only half-pot potential (where you might actually loose more money than you would win).
As with most high-low poker, the most critical warning in Omaha High Low is to avoid getting caught in a deadly triangle! Beware competitive betting situations where a lock high and a lock low will raise you to death (cap out the betting, especially on the last two double-sized rounds of betting). But note that in Omaha High Low, a lock low will often simply call in fear of being drawn and quartered (split low and receive merely one-quarter or one-sixth of the pot) or perhaps in fear that the non-locks will fold a raise.
And as in most other forms of poker, here you have to judge how what you have will fare against what the opponents are likely to have
A brief overview of the three-step basic strategy for Omaha High Low is as follows:
1) Play only very good starting hands, especially in early seats. Very good means hands containing prime low cards (ace through five), especially an ace-deuce. Almost any hand containing an ace-three is also playable. Hands containing a two-three need some additional values. Ace-high flush couples with a four or a five are marginally playable hands. Most medium low hands have a negative expectation. Very good high hands are mainly those with all four cards nine or above, or having fourteen or more points (using my point count system). Note that “high” hands using medium board cards (sixes through eights) often allow low to make, and thus these high hands only get half the pot.
Perhaps the most important overall objective in Omaha high-low is to gear your play towards “scooping” (winning whole pots).
2) Do not get involved after the flop without primary (nut) potential. Do not call with only a non-nut draw if there are raises. If you are going to play after the flop, play very aggressively with “promotional” hands, where you have good potential in one direction (that is why you are still playing) and marginal potential in the other direction (might win if little or no competition).
3) Play conservatively after the turn (fourth card), except for occasional bluffs in high only situations. AVOID GETTING SQUEEZED IN DEADLY TRIANGLE SITUATIONS (costing multiple double bets) with second-best cards. And, oh yes, be lucky on the river (last card)!
Knowledge of the basic strategy for Omaha High Low will start you out correctly and will certainly give you an appreciable advantage over a vast number of typically loose players. Of course, there is no substitute for experience to recognize perhaps several hundred specific tactical situations for which there are varying strategies depending on the number and types of opponents. For more advanced advice on these complex tactical situations see my book “How to Win at Omaha High Low” or “Poker At The Millennium” (Caro and Cappelletti).