New to PLO hi-lo? We’ve got the basic strategies you need to win big
You might think you know how to beat pot-limit Omaha (PLO), where you get dealt four cards instead of the standard two in hold’em. But PLO can also be played as a hi-lo game, where half of the pot goes to the best ‘high’ hand and the other half goes to the best ‘low’ hand.
For the low you must use exactly two of your cards to make a five-card hand with no card higher than an eight and no pairs. So, the best possible low is A-2-3-4-5 (‘the wheel’) and the worst is 4-5-6-7-8. Obviously you can use different cards to make your high and low hands.
If neither player is able to make a low, either because of the cards in their hand or because there are fewer than three low cards on the board, then the entire pot goes to the best high hand (determined by normal hand rankings). Because of this dramatic change in the rules, in pot-limit Omaha hi-lo you must change your strategy significantly from high-only Omaha.
In PLO high you are mainly looking to play big drawing hands, big pairs and hands with suited Aces. In PLO hi-lo high-only hands like K-Q-J-T or A-A-K-K are less valuable, as in many instances they will only win half the pot, and hands such as 6-7-8-9 are poison as when you make a nut straight it will usually put out three low cards on the board and you will get at most half the pot.
What to play?
In pot-limit Omaha hi-lo you should be more inclined to play hands with two-way value that can ‘scoop’ the entire pot, especially ones containing A-2, which is the best low draw. With A-2 you only need three other low cards on the board to make the nut low, although A-2-3 gives you a stronger low draw in case one of your cards is counterfeited by pairing on the flop.
For example, if you hold A-2-x-x and the flop comes 2-5-7, then not only do you not have a qualifying low hand, but you are unlikely to win against almost any low draw. Even if another low card comes it will still beat you. But if you have A-2-3 then even if an Ace, two or three comes on the flop you still have the best low or low draw.
The best hand in PLO hi-lo is therefore A-A-2-3 double suited, which gives you the maximum chances of winning in both directions. However, you will obviously have to wait a long time to get dealt exactly that, so you will need to be able to judge hand value for weaker holdings.
As stated above, two-way potential is important, but if you just want to stick to the basics, another important concept to remember is to always have at least one nut draw. So, any hand with A-2 will be easy to play as you will often make a nut draw.
Weaker drawing hands
Hands containing A-3, A-4 and A-5 could be more awkward unless specific cards come to give you the nut draw. If you hold A-3, A-4 or A-5 you would also want to have cards that allow you to draw to a high hand, such as a card that is suited to the Ace, two Broadway cards that could help make a high straight, a good pair or other low cards so you can chase a low straight as well as the low.
If you stick to this simple rule and avoid marginal hands like 2-3-K-Q, where you will often not be sure if you have the best hand even if you hit, you will make your life a whole lot easier.
Of course position is still an enormous factor in PLO hi-lo. In late position you can loosen up substantially and play weaker hands, exercising your control over the pot to avoid getting in a mess. You can also play some hands that don’t have great low value, or have no low value at all, as long as they have very strong high value. The reason for this is that, provided you can see the flop cheaply, you can then determine whether you are likely to be able to scoop.
For example, if you raise with a high-only hand and the flop comes with three cards over an eight then there is no possible low draw out there and you are only playing for the best hand. But don’t raise with any old face cards. You should stick to solid A-A or K-K hands and hands such as A-K-Q-J that offer you multiple draws to the nut straight.
Solid preflop strategy
Once you understand hand selection, the next issue you will face is preflop strategy. Generally pot-limit Omaha hi-lo games play fairly tight preflop, as most players understand how much the flop can change their hand value if it does not connect or counterfeits them. So if you see people raising and reraising you can expect them to have the very best hands such as Aces with good low draws, or A-2 with strong side cards providing high potential.
But there are not that many hands that will like most flops and have good equity against most hands preflop. So for the most part you should aim to see flops cheaply when you are out of position and raise to isolate or attack the blinds when in late position – just as in hold’em.
In early position therefore you might limp hands like weak A-2-x-x, hoping to increase their value by letting players in with hands containing A-3 or A-4 so you can win the low against them. If you are on the button you might prefer to raise with a much wider range of hands, as you can either steal the blinds or play in position.
Then if you flop strong, which generally means the nuts in one direction with outs to the other half of the pot, you can start to shovel money in.
Hung, drawn and quartered
One of the key concepts that comes up in pot-limit Omaha hi-lo that doesn’t apply to high-only games is trying to avoid being freerolled or quartered. It is vital that you have outs in both directions when the pot is small, otherwise you can easily find yourself up against someone with the same high/low hand as you but with better draws for the other half of the pot.
This typically happens when two or more players both have A-2 and make the nut low, which is relatively common since most people usually play it and it’s easy for three low cards to come. If this does happen and your opponent also has the best high hand, or outs to it, you will often only win a quarter of the pot.
Similarly, you should beware of high-only hands on low boards, as you can easily be freerolled by someone who has the low locked up and some outs to beat your high to scoop the entire pot. Pot-limit Omaha hi-lo is all about being on the right side of these situations and you should look to play big pots and push your equity in situations where you are likely to be on the right end of the equation.
The simple postflop strategy is to bet big when you feel you can pressure someone out of a pot, and play cautiously and keep the pot small when you are vulnerable. It’s rarely a bad idea to try to get to showdown cheaply. If you stick to the ABC approach and mostly play premium hands this will be much easier, especially against looser players.
Pot-limit Omaha hi-lo is in fact the ideal game for this approach, as it tends to punish players who get out of line or play one-way hands too much. Good luck at the tables!
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