What starting hands should you play in pot limit Omaha?

In this extract from Mastering Pot Limit Omaha: The Modern Aggressive Approach, Herbert Oklowitz and Wladimir Taschner explain what starting hands you should play

There are a wide variety of preflop styles in Pot Limit Omaha and, unlike in Texas hold’em, there seem to be many profitable styles possible. You can win with a very loose style – if you have the necessary post-flop skills – because there is not a huge difference between a ‘good’ starting hand and a ‘bad’ starting hand when it comes to winning at showdown.

So, why bother with preflop decisions? Why should you care about hand selection at all when PLO is a post-flop game? Well, it’s because PLO is a postflop game that preflop decisions matter. You don’t want to land yourself in numerous difficult or unprofitable spots after the flop. Preflop hand selection is the foundation from which your profit comes.

Here are some important factors you must consider when choosing which starting hands to play…

Nuttiness

In PLO it’s very important that you always draw to the nuts if possible. There are two types of nut hands. First are the high pocket pairs that flop top set, dominating other sets or pair combos. The other type consists of nut draws, to either a straight or flush. You may lose hands with King-high flushes or second-nut straights.

The more players in the pot, the more you will need nutty hands almost exclusively to win at showdown. You don’t always need the nuts, but the nuts are always relevant. There is a simple way to achieve this. Don’t play weakish, non-nutty hands like Q-8-5-4 in a multi-way pot.

Number of opponents

A very important parameter for starting hand selection is the number of opponents you will be facing. The more players in the pot, the stronger the winning hand will be at showdown. Heads-up pots, on the other hand, require a lot more thin value betting, floating and bluffing because your opponent is more likely to have missed the flop or flopped a mediocre hand with which he might not want to continue. Usually in PLO it is useless to try pure bluffs against four opponents because the chances are very high that at least one has flopped a very strong hand and will not fold.

As we said, the more players in the pot, the stronger the winning hand will be at showdown. Therefore, you want to make the nuts or at least draw to the nuts. It is almost burning money to draw to mediocre flushes or idiot-end straights in multi-way pots. You want to draw exclusively to the nuts in these pots.

Therefore, you want to play hands that flop nut draws or create freeroll situations, such as set-over-set. Obviously, top hands like double-suited A-A-J-T play well in every situation. But, a lot of hands, like single-suited A-8-7-6 or rainbow K-K-x-x, perform exceptionally well in multi-way pots, because they flop very strong hands or draws.

What hands should you raise with?

Under the gun (UTG)

From early position you definitely want to have the tightest range. Of course, you will raise all double-suited pairs from A-A-x-x to Q-Q-x-x, then all decent, connected J-J-x-x combos, such as J-J-9-8 double-suited or A-K-J-J double-suited, plus the best T-T-x-x combos. You don’t want to raise rainbow J-J-x-x or T-T-x-x hands if they are not super-connected, such as J-J-T-9. Double, connected pairs like 6-6-5-5 are raises.

Raise all good, connected, double- or single-suited A-x-x-x hands, like A-T-9-8, A-7-6-5. Also raise connected hands like double-suited 8-7-6-5 and J-T-8-7. Opening ranges depend on your style and your opponents. On a tough table you won’t harm yourself playing exceptionally tight from early position, since the positional disadvantage can be huge, especially against good players.

Middle position

From middle position you want to raise a little bit looser than from UTG. Raise the same hands plus some weaker, connected, rainbow or monotone hands, such as A-7-6-5 or rainbow A-J-T-9. You will likely be out of position, so don’t loosen up too much. It is crucial to be extremely tight in early and middle position.

Most players, even top professionals, play very tight in these positions, and so should you. From a broad perspective, it is best to not get involved in a lot of difficult spots. Restrict your looser play to the cutoff and the button, the most profitable positions.

Cutoff

From the cutoff you can start loosening up your range. All high pocket pairs (T-T-x-x+) become a raise, even unsuited, and all double pairs. These hands benefit a lot from playing in position. You have to worry less about very strong ranges, since the players with the strongest ranges have folded. You can open all rundown hands too (such as 9-8-7-6 and 7-6-5-4), as well as all hands that are somehow connected.

Nevertheless, your cutoff opening range is also determined by the players still to act. If the button and blinds three-bet a lot, you should open tighter. On the other hand, you can start stealing wider if they fold a lot.

Button

The button guarantees the positional advantage throughout postflop play. You want to play your widest range here since it will be very profitable. You can open with almost every playable hand: most pocket pairs, any suited Ace, all rundowns, and even hands like 8-7-5-3 single-suited, K-Q-J-7 rainbow and any double-suited hand.

Small blind

You should play tight in the small blind because you will always be out of position. Your opening range also depends on the big blind. If he three-bets liberally against the small blind, you have to adjust to that, and you should also adjust if he folds a lot. Stealing becomes more important if the big blind will give up easily. You may want to just complete and not raise with a variety of hands if a player three-bets a lot from the big blind.

What must we think about before calling a raise?

If you are holding a decent hand and want to continue with it, you can either call or reraise. There are arguments for both options but let’s focus on when calling is better. First, you don’t want to reraise with hands against very tight opponents who are likely to four-bet,forcing you into a gamble with a slight equity disadvantage, especially if you hold decent, connected, nutty hands that also perform very well multi-way.

At a very aggressive table, where there is always a three-bet before the flop, you should call open-raises with a stronger range so you’re not forced to play for stacks with mediocre hands, or fold to further action preflop. It’s a great mistake to call with mediocre hands when there is a lot of reraising going on preflop. At these tables you want to play slightly tighter preflop to avoid gambling in a lot of marginal spots.

Trapping is also a decent option at very aggressive tables. Calling open-raises with very strong hands should be in your arsenal. Let the aggressive players three-bet light, then go over the top with a four-bet, creating a highly profitable situation.

On the other hand, you can and should see a lot of cheap flops multi-way against very passive opponents, especially with nutty hands. If there are very few three-bets, you can come along with all kinds of hands and rely on your postflop skills, since you will not have to risk a lot of money to enter very profitable scenarios after the flop.

When should we three-bet?

The most obvious reason to three-bet is clearly for value when you have an equity advantage preflop. You want to directly profit by pushing that advantage preflop and making the pot as big as possible.

Besides trying to maximise value there are other reasons why we should three-bet preflop in PLO. You might want to isolate weaker players or target those who don’t play that well in three-bet pots – if they fold too much to continuation bets or tend to stack off too light.

Three-betting in position is a very powerful weapon but three-betting out of position can be far more tricky, especially with polarised hands such as weak A-A-x-x or K-K-x-x.

What hands should we three-bet with?

Against UTG

UTG will most likely have very strong hands, mostly double-suited Broadway cards and high, connected pocket pairs, in addition to some rundowns with excellent playability.

Three-bet all good A-A hands, plus hands that play well against Broadway and high-pair-heavy ranges, such as double-suited, low rundowns like J-T-9-8, 7-6-5-4 or 8-7-6-5. Don’t three-bet hands such as double-suited Q-Q, connected J-J or rundowns like K-J-T-9,  – you will often be dominated postflop by better hands such as A-K-J-T.

Against middle position

Three-bet the same hands as above, but expand your range slightly, adding good Broadway hands or double-suited rundowns. If you three-bet from the blinds and will be out of position after the flop, you should only reraise with premium hands. If you will most likely be in position and reraise from the cutoff or button, you can loosen up more.

Against the cutoff

Reraising against the cutoff depends on whether you are in position on the button or out of position in the blinds.

In position, you can three-bet all premium hands, all good rundowns, all somehow connected big cards like A-K-T-5 double-suited, and double pairs such as 9-9-6-6.

Out of position, you shouldn’t three-bet that wide. Tend towards the premium hands you would reraise against a middle position open.

Against the button

Three-betting against the button happens mostly from the blinds. Your range should be fairly tight to compensate for the positional disadvantage – follow your mid-position range.

The button will open a lot of disconnected, double-suited hands and low pocket pairs, against which Broadway cards play very well. All good, connected rundowns, as well as decent Broadway combos like K-Q-T-8 are good three-bets because the button will hold a lot of middle and low cards in his range.

Summary

The tighter the opening ranges, the less wide you want to three-bet. You want to three-bet more against late position openers than against those in early position. If you decide to three-bet tight ranges, you have to adjust your range to perform well post-flop. Against loose ranges, especially with positional advantage, you want to three-bet wide even without nutty or premium hands.


You can buy your copy of Mastering Pot Limit Omaha: The Modern Aggressive Approach from £17.50 at Amazon.co.uk or $25 from Amazon.com

 

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