Before undertaking to learn Omaha, be sure that you are familiar with Texas hold'em as well as with general poker game play and hands, and particularly ace-to-five low hands. In casino play, Omaha is generally played with the same betting structure as Texas hold'em. Omaha high is particularly well-suited to pot limit play (and is often abbreviated as "PLO"). "Pot-limit Omaha" usually refers to Omaha high, though Omaha eight-or-better can also be played pot-limit. Omaha is almost never played no-limit, likely because of the frequency of big hands.
The basic differences between Omaha and Texas hold'em are these: first, each player is dealt four cards to his private hand instead of two. The betting rounds and layout of community cards are identical. At showdown, each player's hand is the best five-card hand he can make from exactly three of the five cards on the board, plus exactly two of his own cards. Unlike Texas hold'em, a player cannot play only one of his cards with four of the board, nor can he play the board, nor play three from his hand and two from the board, or any other combination. Each player must play exactly two of his own cards with exactly three of the community cards.
In high-low split, each player, using these rules, thus makes a separate five-card high hand and five-card ace-to-five low hand (eight-high or lower to qualify), and the pot is split between the high and low (which may be the same player). To qualify for low, a player must be able to play an 8-7-6-5-4 or lower (this is why it is called "eight-or-better", or simply "Omaha/8"). A few casinos play with a 9-low qualifier instead, but this is rare. Each player can play any two of his four hole cards to make his high hand, and any two of his four hole cards to make his low hand.
The brief explanation above belies the complexity of the game, so a number of examples will be useful here to clarify it. The table below shows a five-card board of community cards at the end of play, and then lists for each player the initial private four-card hand dealt to him or her, and the best five-card high hand and low hand each player can play on showdown:
|Board: 2♠ 5♣ 10♥ 7♦ 8♣|
|Alan||A♠ 4♠ 5♥ K♣||5♥ 5♣ A♠ 10♥ 8♣
(A♠5♥ + 5♣10♥8♣)
|7♦ 5♣ 4♠ 2♠ A♠
(A♠4♠ + 2♠5♣7♦)
|Brenda||A♥ 3♥ 10♠ 10♣||10♠ 10♣ 10♥ 8♣ 7♦
(10♠10♣ + 10♥8♣7♦)
|7♦ 5♣ 3♥ 2♠ A♥
(A♥3♥ + 2♠5♣7♦)
|Chuck||7♣ 9♣ J♠ Q♠||J♠ 10♥ 9♣ 8♣ 7♦
(J♠9♣ + 10♥8♣7♦)
|9♣ 8♣ 7♣ 5♣ 2♠
(Does not qualify for low)
|Daniel||4♥ 6♥ K♠ K♦||8♣ 7♦ 6♥ 5♣ 4♥
(4♥6♥ + 5♣7♦8♣)
|7♦ 6♥ 5♣ 4♥ 2♠
(4♥6♥ + 2♠ 5♣7♦)
|Emily||A♦ 3♦ 6♦ 9♥||9♥ 8♣ 7♦ 6♦ 5♣
(9♥6♦ + 5♣7♦8♣)
|7♦ 5♣ 3♦ 2♠ A♦
(A♦3♦ + 2♠5♣7♦)
In the deal above, Chuck wins the high-hand half of the pot with his J-high straight, and Brenda and Emily split the low half (getting a quarter of the pot each) with 7-5-3-2-A. Some specific things to notice about Omaha hands are:
- In order for anyone to qualify low, there must be at least three cards of differing ranks 8 or below on the board. For example, a board of K-8-J-7-5 makes low possible (the best low hand would be A-2, followed by A-3, 2-3, etc.) A board of K-8-J-8-5, however, cannot make any qualifying low (the best low hand possible would be J-8-5-2-A, which doesn't qualify).
- As in Texas hold'em, three or more suited cards on the board makes a flush possible, but unlike that game a player always needs two of that suit in his hand to play a flush. For example, with a board of K♠ 9♠ Q♠ Q♥ 5♠, a player with A♠ 2♥ 4♥ 5♣ cannot play a flush using his ace as he could in Texas hold'em; he must play two cards from his hand and only three from the board. A player with 2♠ 3♠ K♦ Q♥ can play the spade flush.
- Likewise, two pair or trips on the board does not make a full house for anyone with a single matching card as it does in Texas hold'em. For example, with a board of J♠ J♦ 9♦ 5♥ 9♣, a hand of A♠ 2♠ J♥ K♦ cannot play a full house; he can only use his A-J to play J♠ J♥ J♦ A♠ 9♣, since must play only three of the board cards. A player with 2♣ 5♣ 9♠ 10♠ can use his 9-5 to play the full house 9♠ 9♣ 9♦ 5♥ 5♣. With trips on the board, the player with the fourth card of that rank can play quads because any other card in his hand can act as kicker.
- Low hands often tie, and high straights occasionally tie as well. It is possible to win as little as a 14th of a pot (though this is extraordinarily rare). Winning a quarter of the pot is quite common, and is called "getting quartered". A quarter of the pot is not normally sufficient to recover the money you bet, so you would normally fold if you anticipated being quartered.
- When four or five low cards appear on the board, it can become very difficult to read the low hands properly. For example with a board of 2♦ 6♥ A♣ 5♣ 8♠, the hand 2♥ 4♠ 5♠ K♦ is playing a 6-5-4-2-A (either his 2-4 with the board's A-5-6, or his 4-5 with the board's A-2-6--either way makes the same hand). In this situation he is often said to be playing his "live" 4, that is, his 4, plus some other low card that matches the board but still makes a low because the one on the board isn't needed. A player with 3♠ 5♠ 10♥ J♦ is playing a "live" 3, for a low of 6-5-3-2-A, which makes a better low. However, a player with 3♣ 7♦ Q♦ Q♠ can only play 7-5-3-2-A low; even though he has a "live" 3, he must play two low cards from his hand, and so he must play his 7-3, and cannot make a 6-high low hand.
- Starting hands with three or four cards of one rank are very bad. In fact, the worst possible hand in the game is 2♠ 2♣ 2♥ 2♦! Since the only possible combination of two cards from this hand is 2-2, it is impossible to make low; since no deuce remains to appear on the board, it will be impossible to make three deuces or deuces full, and anyone with any matching card to the board will make a higher pair. Likewise, starting with four cards of one suit makes it less likely that you will be able to make a flush.
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