Double the cards, six times the action — that’s Omaha hi-lo compared to Texas hold’em poker. With a split pot to play for more than 16,000 starting hand combinations compared to hold’em’s 169, Omaha hi-lo strategy is a great deal more complex, making for a much greater challenge when you’re playing online poker. It’s also a game that usually features more action per hand and highly variable table dynamics, typically with a higher number of players competing for pots. Does that sound like your kind of game? Keep reading for a breakdown of the rules of Omaha hi-lo poker.
Omaha hi-lo split 8 or better (to give the game its full name) is a combination of regular Omaha and lowball poker rules.
Omaha is similar to hold’em in that it has blind play and a preflop betting round followed by three more betting rounds (or streets), namely the flop, turn, and river. Players can bet, call, or fold, and the strongest poker hand rankings win the day.
Where Omaha differs from hold’em is that you’re dealt four hole cards, not two. In addition to that, when it comes to forming the best hand, you have to use exactly two of your four hole cards. As a result, reading Omaha poker winning hands is less straightforward.
Imagine you’re dealt three jacks and a deuce. Don’t get excited if you see a jack on the flop because you can’t make four of a kind with three hole cards in Omaha. Similarly, if there are four hearts showing on the board and you have one, you don’t have a flush because you need to be holding two hearts.
In lowball poker games such as razz, the normal poker hand rankings are inverted, with low cards carrying more weight than high cards. In Omaha hi-lo, you can form a low hand containing five cards ranked 8 or lower without any duplicates (so no pairs, for example). Aces count as low cards for low-hand purposes, and flushes and straights don’t count at all. As a result, the weakest low hand is 8-7-6-5-4, while the strongest low hand is 5-4-3-2-ace, also known as the wheel (or bicycle).
The Split Pot: Combining Omaha & Lowball
In a typical Omaha hi-lo game, players will compete for a split pot. At the end of a hand, half the pot goes to the player with the best regular poker hand, and the other half goes to the player with the best low hand ranking. If there’s no qualifying low hand (8 or better), then the winning Omaha hand scoops the entire pot.
Splitting the pot is paramount when it comes to Omaha hi-lo strategy. What players dread most is a common phenomenon known as quartering. This is when two players compete for a half pot and end up splitting it (“getting quartered”). All too often, this means fighting to win back money you’ve already invested in building the pot, perhaps by 3-betting. In a quartering situation, the best you can hope for is usually to break even.
The best outcome, as opposed to quartering, is scooping the pot. This is possible when you have the best low hand and high hand at the same time. If you have a wheel, for instance, not only do you have the best low hand, but you have a straight (ace-2-3-4-5), which is a strong contender for best high hand as well. This is why the bicycle is considered to be the nuts in Omaha hi-lo.
Omaha Hi-Lo Starting Hands
With 16,432 unique combinations and the possibility of winning a high and a low hand, there are many more playable Omaha hi-lo starting hands than there are in hold’em. An exhaustive list is beyond the scope of this article, but as a general rule, it’s important to have a good mix of high and low cards, preferably with double suited connectors. For example, the best Omaha hi-lo starting hand is considered to be ace-ace-2-3 double-suited. This gives you a pair of aces and two flush draws for the high hand, and three different powerful low-card draws (ace-2, ace-3, and 2-3).
The worst Omaha starting hands are any hands with three or more cards of the same rank, with the worst possible hand being four 2s, which gives you a low pair for the high hand and zero chance of making low.
Other Omaha hands to avoid are unsuited middle hands, such as jack-9-8-6. This is a bus crash in the making, with no flush potential, no high pair, and no real chance of winning the low hand. It’s the equivalent of 7-2 unsuited in hold’em, so fold it on sight. In general, the same applies to hands containing 6, 7, or 8.
Single-suited hands are not as bad, but they are lacking in flush potential.
Omaha Hi-Lo Strategy Tips
Omaha hi-lo is usually played with a fixed-limit betting structure, which makes for loose, aggressive play based on value rather than bluffing, with multi-way pots. (Pot-limit Omaha hi-lo games do exist, but they tend to be very unforgiving to beginners.)
The complexity of the game means you really have to learn from experience, but a few basic principles can help you avoid being burned at the start.
One common mistake to avoid is playing too many starting hands. Generally, only consider hands that include an ace-2, ace-3, or 2-3 for the low hand together with a strong high-card combination.
Another mistake is calling all the way with only high or low potential — you risk getting quartered. If you see a chance to scoop the pot with a winning high hand, though, be sure to apply all the regular Omaha tips.
It’s also a mistake to call when you have a low draw, and the flop brings two high cards. Conversely, you shouldn’t call with a high draw on a flop with two low cards.
Raising too often preflop is another mistake. If you raise with ace-2 from early position, for instance, the other players are liable to fold. Generally, it’s best to raise only when you’re holding premium cards in late position. Otherwise, it’s acceptable to call and see the flop.
Postflop, you need to work out the pot odds to see if it’s profitable to draw. Be prepared to fold frequently. If you do hit the flop, turn up the aggression, especially if it’s a big pot and the board offers many different draws.
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