Double your poker pleasure with Omaha/8

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Not happy with those two cards you were dealt? Would you be happier with two more?
That’s what you get in Omaha, and it’s quickly becoming a popular game. It’s the game I play most now, and just as playing stud helps you keep track of cards, Omaha helps you focus on the nuts. Both skills are vital to improving your hold’em game.

Pot-limit Omaha is an action game favored by pros, and it’s often played in high-stakes cash games. But Florida’s laws dictate limit, so you’re more likely to find the high/low version, called Omaha/8, in your local card room.

Omaha plays just like hold’em, except for the four cards in your hand. You must use two in your hand and three on the board to make the best possible five-card hand. And in Omaha/8, you may use different cards to complete your low hand than you do to complete your high hand. And this, my Holdout friends, is what drives beginning Omaha players crazy, and even frustrates veterans at times.

Dealt four aces? Restrain your glee. Far from having quads, you only have a pair of aces. And worse, a pair of aces that has no chance of improving to a set, a straight, a flush or quads. Likewise, if you only have one card 8 or lower, you have no shot at the low half of the pot. Remember — you must use two from your hand, and three from the board.
Got it? Let’s move on to a little strategy.

LOW, LOW, LOW: In Omaha/8, two pots are awarded. Half to the highest hand, half to the lowest hand. (And if there’s a tie, that pot is split again. This “quartering” is bad news. More on that later).

It’s 8 or better, meaning three, unpaired cards 8 or lower must be on the board for a low to be possible (aces count as low and high). Read that again. And then read it a third time. You don’t want to be the guy calling raise after raise for the low pot, only to find out a low pot doesn’t exist.

You’ll hear people get excited when they’re dealt A-2. And, for the most part, they’re right. As long as three, unpaired cards 8 or lower — and no ace or deuce — is on the board, these folks have the nut low. What happens if an ace or a deuce fall? Well, you’ve been counterfeited.

But you might still get the low, if the final board is four or five unpaired low cards. If you hear someone exclaim, “Live deuce!” this is what they mean. Remember, you use two cards from your hand, and three from the board. Count backwards, from the highest low card to the lowest. That’s your hand.

And a side note: Table all of your hands. Often, the dealer — or even another player — will see that you have a winner that you didn’t see.

SCOOP, SCOOP, SCOOP: The object of all split-pot games is to win both pots, particularly with a $5 rake and $1 jackpot in the $2/$4 or $3/$5 game at your Florida card room. What that means is that you want a two-way hand. You want cards that can win the high pot and cards that can win the low pot. Some folks will say A-A-2-3 double-suited is the best starting hand because of this. You have two shots at the ace-high flush for high, as well as the three best low cards for the low (and a possible wheel). A classic mistake beginners make is betting with just a low, or worse, betting with just a low draw. In most cases, you want to be in check-call mode with nothing more than the nut low, or you’ll risk being “quartered.”

QUARTER, QUARTER, QUARTER, UM, QUARTER: If you’ve ever kissed your sister, don’t go bragging about it unless she’s Angelina Jolie. But you’ll know what it feels like to be quartered. That’s when you tie for the low (or high) with another player, while someone else takes all of the other pot. You’ll rarely make money when quartered. It’s common for two players to have A-2.

On the flip side, you can use this information to make a lot of money when you know you have the high, and two or more players are splitting the low. By raising, reraising and jamming, you get half of every bet tossed in the pot, while your two, tied low opponents will only get a quarter.

DRAW, DRAW, DRAW: Omaha is a drawing game. With two more cards in your hand, you’ll often have multiple ways to improve. And if you don’t, well, you’re probably not the favorite in the hand, even if you have the current nuts. Having outs is called “backup” in Omaha, and it’s important. Just don’t get too excited about all of those outs unless they are nut outs.

NUTS, NUTS, NUTS: Omaha is a game of nuts. Far too many Omaha players have crashed on the rocks of Second Best Hand Harbor.

While there are certainly times your hand can win without the nuts, it’s a losing proposition to consistently pump money into the pot without the nuts, or worse, drawing to less than the nuts. After the flop, after the turn and after the river, I pause before I act and remind myself what the nut hand is. If my hand can’t improve to beat that, I’ll tread cautiously, and often even fold.

And don’t be afraid to fold. Four new cards are coming your way real soon.