Beating low stakes pot limit Omaha

Get on the road to PLO glory with Nick Wealthall’s guide to beating low stakes pot limit Omaha online cash games

If no-limit hold’em is the Cadillac of poker, then pot-limit Omaha must be a souped-up Lamborghini Diablo. With its bigger pots and wilder swings, PLO is starting to race away from its more conservative counterpart. PLO has rightly captured the imagination of many of the top players in the world, including Phil Ivey, Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan and Patrik Antonius. Now it’s time for you to join the action! In this article we’ll set you on the right course to beating PLO – specifically the low stakes ($0.10/$0.25) online cash games – by giving you a broad understanding of the concepts you’ll need to master in order to beat any PLO game.

Big fish

Generally speaking the vast majority of PLO players at the $25 level will not be very good at the game. There is far less awareness about PLO in the poker universe and among casual players than there is about no-limit hold’em. Lots of myths about the game still prevail and players make huge mistakes regularly.

As a result of this the fish are fishier. Often you’ll come across two types of bad players – and they’re total polar opposites. You’ll face some extremely loose, spewy players, and you’ll also face super-nits. If you have a heads-up display (HUD) running on your games, as you should (we’d recommend Omaha Manager), you’ll routinely see players with a VPIP in excess of 70% and others with a VPIP below 10% – at the same six-max table!

To beat the $25 level and above, you must learn to adjust to the weaker players and exploit them correctly, not just play your hands the same way regardless of your opponent. There’s a ton of free money in these games and your mission is to pick out the weak players and get it.

Positional sense

If you’ve got even a rudimentary understanding of no-limit hold’em you’ll know how important position is; for PLO you can take that and double it. Position is more important in PLO than in hold’em because players take less tricky, trappy lines with their hands. And this is usually the correct thing to do because if you think you have the best hand and give a free card you’re just asking for trouble. With two extra cards in each player’s hand it’s so much easier for the nuts to change on each street. For instance, if you hold A♠-A♣-x-x on an amazing flop like A-3♠-9 you should still usually bet. Let’s say you check and a four rolls off. Suddenly the player behind you who checked along for a free card hits his straight and your monster is crushed. This doesn’t mean you can never slow-play in PLO, it just means that you should rarely do it.

Given all of this, having the extra information of acting last gives you a huge edge in the hand. This means you should be playing in position more than you can possibly imagine. To give you some idea of numbers, at a six-max table you should probably only be playing about 15% of your hands under the gun but 45%+ on the button. Be extremely careful about playing hands from the blinds as you’ll be out of position against everyone. However, if you do play a hand in the blinds, make sure you’re the aggressor.

Hand selection

You can go a long way to beating $25 PLO just by having superior preflop hand selection. When you first start playing PLO every hand will look playable, but in the long run this simply isn’t true. A general rule is that high-card strength and coordinated strength is what you are looking for, ideally with all four cards working together.

The classic mistake is for hold’em players to overrate the strength of high pairs, especially Queens and Jacks, which are particularly weak. There’s a huge difference between Q♠-Q♣-J♠-T♣ and a hand like Q-Q♣-8♠-4. With the first you can raise from any position, while the second should probably be mucked unless you’re on the button.

Don’t overvalue two good hold’em hands like A-K-8♣-7♣, and similarly don’t undervalue hands that look like junk but have some connectivity and are double-suited like J♣-9♠-7♣-6♠. The first hand you should usually fold to a raise, the second hand you can usually play and sometimes even reraise with!

It’s hard to give an exact figure for the number of hands you should be playing preflop as game conditions vary so much at this level, but it’s definitely possible to have a VPIP of anything from 18% up to about 40% and still be profitable. As a rule of thumb aim for about VPIP 25%/PFR 20% in a six-max game and obviously play tighter in a full ring game. As you become comfortable with PLO you can increase this, but the extra hands you play won’t add hugely to your bottom line.

Aggression

PLO is big-bet poker and a game of aggression. Conceptually the most important thing to get your head around is that hand equities run much closer together than they do in hold’em. Even if you hold a monster like A-A-K-K and manage to get all-in preflop against another player holding four random cards you will only be a 2-to-1 favourite. This means that even when players are behind in a hand they will often have the right price to continue. So by playing with aggression and forcing opponents to fold you are often causing them to make a mistake. Having the betting lead is as vital as it is in no-limit hold’em – you should try to be the aggressor in hands and be the one who wins the pots when neither of you has much.

One thing you can do to give yourself a big advantage in $25 PLO is three-bet more preflop. You’ll find there’s very little reraising preflop in these games, except from the odd maniac. If you start doing it you can give yourself an edge as it puts the pressure on your opponents and forces them to play big pots. Often your opponents will make folds they shouldn’t make both preflop and postflop. Try to three-bet for value with the best hand in position, especially against players who are loose and opening many hands, or against weak-tight players who will fold and not fight back.

Flop And beyond

Obviously there’s an infinite number of situations in postflop play, but here are some general guidelines. The best way to become better postflop is to not only play a massive amount of hands but also get used to the recurring situations. For example, top two pair versus a wrap straight draw, and so on. You can check out hand match-ups using an equity calculator (www.propokertools.com is particularly good), playing around with different hands and spots to increase your understanding of the game.

Learn how and when you should be firing continuation bets on the flop. You can’t do this as much as in no-limit hold’em because your opponents will connect with the flop more often, so rein in your c-bets a bit and especially against more than one opponent. However, you should still be c-betting often enough to keep the lead and pick up free pots when you both miss – this approach also enables you to value-bet your good hands in the same way.

As your opponents will often (correctly) call your flop bets with a lot of hands, you should continue to be aggressive on the turn. You should double-barrel a lot, especially against weak-passive players when the board changes. So, let’s say the flop comes A♣-T♣-8♠ and you c-bet and get called by a weak player. Now let’s say the turn is the 8 and you still don’t have too much. You should often fire again as it’s very difficult for your opponent to continue with his draws, or a hand like A♠-Q♠-4-5. Of course, against total calling stations you should virtually never bluff after the flop.

If there is any prospect of your opponent folding you should play your draws aggressively. In $25 PLO games the more competent players’ main weakness will be that they play weak-tight postflop. That means they make folds they shouldn’t with hands like pairs and a flush draw or top two pair when they face aggression. Get to know the equity you have in pots and understand things like how powerful the nut flush draw can be. If you’re facing a decision over whether to put your money in or not a good rule of thumb is if it takes more than about ten seconds to count your outs your money should be in! Be aware that with a pot of any significant size, it’s often a much worse error to fold after the flop than call with an underdog hand in PLO.

Best hand wins

Finally, you have to recognise that in these games most of your money will come from having the best hand. You will have a better hand than loose-aggressive players who bluff and semi-bluff too much, but mainly you’ll have a better hand than the loose-passive players that make up most of the player pool. So, for instance, let’s say you hold A-Q-T-J and the final board is 7-Q-A-9-6 with no flush. When your opponent checks the river you should bet for value if he is a loose-passive station. Of course he may have rivered a straight, but he’ll rarely check that and you’re never getting check-raise bluffed. Don’t miss the opportunity to get paid by a worse two pair. Most players’ key weakness is calling too much and it’s vital that you exploit this wherever possible.

Bankroll management

PLO and bankroll management are not happy bedfellows! The variance in the game is huge. As I’ve explained, the equities between hands preflop and postflop run extremely close together, so you’ll end up in 55/45 or 60/40 spots very often. Of course, if you get it in as a 60/40 favourite over and over again you’ll be a rich man, but it means solid winning players can go on a 20 buy-in downswing very often. Of course, the opposite is also true and you can go on huge heaters, which is the big upside of the game.

The key therefore is to err on the side of extreme conservatism. At the minimum you need twice the number of buy-ins you would for hold’em. As a working bankroll, 40 buy-ins should be seen as the minimum. So that would mean you need $1,000 to play $25 PLO. But more is obviously better and you should have whatever the number is that you need to be comfortable and fearless when playing. There is naturally less variance at this limit as you’ll play fewer big pots than at higher stakes, but as you move up you should allow for more buy-ins. A figure of around 50 to 75 buy-ins will allow you to be comfortable at $100 PLO and above.


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