So, you’ve been playing Texas Hold’Em poker for a while and, well you’re getting a feel for the way the game works. You’ve won a few games, and you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourself. Then guess what? A buddy suggests you join him in a game of PLO – Pot-Limit Omaha. What can go wrong? Poker is poker, isn’t it? Be very careful. The basics of building a winning hand are very similar, but the pre-flop situation requires some very different skills. Firstly, let’s look at how the two versions of what essentially the same game differs, and then we’ll discuss where you might come adrift. There is a lot of money to be lost with PLO. On the other hand, get it right and you could be going home with a pocket full of cash. It might be pot-limited, but the stakes are usually twice as high.
Like Texas Hold’Em, PLO is a community card poker game where each player is dealt cards, and five cards are placed in the middle that can be used by all to construct their winning hand. The major difference with PLO, however, is that each player is dealt four cards instead of two cards pre-flop. They then have to make his or her best hand using exactly two of these initial cards and three from of the five community cards. Therein lies the problem.
The pre-flop situation in PLO is where new players to this version can more often than not come a cropper, and there is a number of reasons why.
New players to poker are always advised to play a tight and aggressive style. Take no chances. With Hold’Em, this means that it is easier to decide your two hole cards. In Hold’Em there are ‘only’ 169 different card permutations, so if you only stick to playing the top ten of these (for which there are 16 different options), then you are likely to fold nine out of 10 hands. That’s liveable with but take it easy and play safe until you know your opponents.
In PLO, where you get dealt four holes cards, there are 16,432 permutations of which only 30 (0.5%) are deemed premium hands. Who wants to play only one in every two hundred hands? Who’s going to sit out a whole evening without playing a hand? Not many of us. So, what are common errors of the new PLO player?
- The hand probably won’t be as good as it looks and you’ll likely play it when you shouldn’t. Low suited rows, even if double suited, are weak hands in Omaha. Omaha is a nut game and the strongest hand will invariably win.
- Beware of the aces. A pair of good aces in PLO isn’t the same as a pair of aces in Hold’Em games. They can be a strong pre-flop hand, but if they don’t get any better post-flop, the chances are that you won’t win the pot if it is being heavily contested. You might be able to win a hand at Hold’Em with a two pair or even a single pair, but by the time of the river in PLO, these hands are rarely good enough.
- Learn to think differently. PLO is a different game and requires a different thought process. Don’t overvalue one-pair and two-pair hands or open-ended straight draws. There is plenty of helpful material on how to avoid mistakes when playing Pot Limit Omaha and furthering your knowledge can only be beneficial, different people have different opinions, so consulting a range will help.
- Think, big pairs and some sort of connectedness in the four. You’re now in a stronger position to go into the flop.
- The betting structure in PLO is also very different to Texas Hold’Em. In a no-limit Hold’Em game, a player can bet any amount up to the size of his or her stack. Pot-Limit means that they only bet the total size of the pot including their call. This means that pots are likely to get bigger than in Hold’Em games because it is harder to prove your hand by the size of your bid.
- New players forget to go into the game with a big enough buy-in. Compared to no-limit Hold’Em games, it quite often happens that two players post-flop have hands good enough not to fold. There is no way of second-guessing the other player and so the pot rises. They become effectively 50/50 games because both players can have winnable hands. PLO games are more often than not twice as big as no limit games. Be warned!
- Be prepared to get out when you can. The belief that you’ll play more flops in a PLO game is misguided because new players end up taking more risks to get there with hands that they should have folded. Treat poor hands the way they deserve.
- Likewise, if you have a playable pre-flop set, then remember that the game isn’t won until the river. Having the nuts in your hand at the flop doesn’t mean much until the end and the two final streets have fallen.
- Bluffing as a beginner won’t work in PLO. New players will often say that bluffing is impossible with PLO. This is probably the best advice. Until you have a good read on your opponents or a good idea as o what they think you have, then don’t try it. On the basis that your opponent has four cards in his hands (rather than the two in Texas Hold’Em), then it is like trying to bluff two players at the same time.
As with all variations of card games – especially poker – it is the small nuances that can make the difference between winning and losing your stack. With any new variant, take time to learn it carefully and methodically. Understand the differences and what it is you need to do to avoid falling into the classic pitfalls. Pot-limit Omaha looks and feels like it should be similar to Texas Hold’em – and it is. However, the four-card hole deal change things very significantly. Don’t’ get sucked into believing your hand is a good one!