Omaha Poker Strategy
By: Lou Kreiger
Recommended Starting Hands
If you follow this list of suggested starting hands, you’ll seldom get into trouble, or find yourself involved in a hand where you’ll be confused about whether you ought to continue playing or fold your hand.
Ace-ace combinations: Any hand containing a pair of aces is a terrific starting hand, though some are much stronger than others. Obviously a hand like As-Ad-Ks-Kd is about as good as it gets. You’ve got the two best pair, and if you flop a set it will be the highest possible set and therefore any full house that may be derived from this holding would also be the highest possible full house. In addition, you can make the nut flush in either diamonds or spades, and if you make a straight it will be the highest possible straight.
Consider the difference in quality between this hand and a pair of “dry aces,” such as As-Ad-9h-5c. Although this hand is favored against any other individual hand except a better hand containing a pair of aces, it lacks flush potential, straight potential, can only flop one set rather than two, and can easily be run down by a group of opponents. Nevertheless, this hand would be favored against any other single opponent who does not hold a pair of aces in his hand, so it’s as important — and perhaps even more important — to raise with this hand in hopes of reducing the field than it is to raise with a higher quality hand containing a pair of aces.
Other good hands involving a pair of aces would include such holdings as A-A-Q-Q, A-A-J-J, A-A-T-T, A-A-9-9, and any pair along with a pair of aces. Obviously, if one of the aces is suited to another of your cards so much the better, and if both aces are suited that’s better yet.
But aces are valuable even if they’re not accompanied by another pair, and a hand like A-A-J-T, A-A-K-Q, A-A-Q-J, A-A-K-T, and A-A-K-J are all terrific starting hand combinations, and can be played very aggressively before the flop. After all, no one can have a bigger hand before the flop than one containing a pair of aces. The difference between incredibly good hands, such as A-A-K-K double suited and A-A-8-4 is that the former has so much more potential for making big hands over and above it’s pair of aces, that it is a far superior holding.
King-king and Queen-queen combinations: Just as any hand containing a pair of aces is a good starting hand, so are hands containing a pair of kings and a pair of queens. The quality of each particular holding that includes either a pair of kings or queens is similar to those hands containing a pair of aces.
In the best of these hands, the big pair is supported by another big pair and is double suited. Thus Kd-Ks-Qd-Qs is a better hand than Kd-Ks-9d-9s. While all the flushes will each be king-high, the former can make bigger sets and therefore bigger full houses than the latter hand and K-K-Q-Q can make bigger straights too.
Next in desirability are hands that are single suited. Once again, a hand like Kd-Ks-Qd-Qh is a better hand than Kd-Ks-9d-9h, for the same reasons.
A single pair of kings or queens, supported by straight cards is also very desirable, and a hand such as Kd-Ks-Qd-Js offers a big pair, a draw to a very big set and full house, as well as the second best possible flush draw in two suits and a variety of very big straights.
Wrap Music: Wrap hands can be incredibly strong, with the strongest of them all being J-T-9-8 double suited. Double suited hands are better than similar hands that are single suited, and a single suited hands is more desirable than one that’s unsuited, but the strength of these hands is not so much the flush potential –— which can easily be beaten by queen-high, king-high, or ace-high flushes — but in all of the straights that can be made with these cards.
Wrap hands need not be as tightly bound as this holding, and a hand with a gap in it can also provide a draw to a straight that can be completed by any of 20 outs. Since bigger is better, the higher the starting cards, the more likely yours will be nut straight. So what’s the difference between this hand and one like A-K-Q-J, which is also a terrific holding? You can make more straights with the jack-high grouping because it can meld with cards above as well as below it in ranking. Although you won’t make as many straights with the ace-high grouping, all of the straights you manage to make will be the nut straight.
Since higher hands are generally better than lower ones, small wraps, such as 6-5-4-3 are much worse than they might first appear. Yes, everything we’ve said about making straights with this hand and others like it are just as true as it is with hands like J-T-9-8, the big difference lies in the quality of the straight you make when the flop hits you. If you make a straight with 6-5-4-3, one of your opponents might have made a bigger straight, and even if he hasn’t there may be one or more opponents lurking in the weeds with a draw to a bigger straight. Hands like these can cost most or all of your chips in pot limit games, and quite a few chips in limit poker games too. Good Omaha players have the discipline to release these weaker wrap hands and save their time, chips, and energy for bigger holdings.
In all cases, double suited hands are superior to those that are single suited, and single suited hands are superior to those that are unsuited. All of these selections support the construction of big full houses, big straights, and when suited or double suited, they also support building big flushes too — the kinds of hands that usually win pots in Omaha games.
The hands that follow are emblematic of good starting hands for Omaha. They are not nearly as good as those hands based on pairs of aces, kings, queens; nor are they as strong as big suited connectors, such as K-Q-J-T, but they are playable. This list is certainly not exclusive. But these hands provide examples of entire groups of analogous hands that are playable.
Very Good Hands
Qh-Js-8h-6s: Call. You can flop flush and straight draws with this hand.
Qs-Qh-6c-3s: Call if the pot has not been raised. Your two smaller cards are essentially worthless. With a hand like this you want to either flop a set of queens get packing.
Kh-9h-6s-5s: Call if the pot has not been raised. You’ve got some draws that are possible with this holding, though it’s unlikely you’ll ever make the best possible hand.
Ad-Jc-Th-8s: This hand is significantly weaker than the very best hands, but it has high card potential for a straight, and can be played if the pot has not been raised before it’s your turn to act. If the pot has been raised, someone probably has a bigger hand than yours and you ought to save your money for a better opportunity.
9h-9c-8c-8d: You have potential to build a straight, a flush, and you might flop a set too. This is a playable hand.
All of these hands are playable because they offer numerous possibilities, such as sets, straights, and flushes. The time to play hands like these is when the pot has not been raised before it’s your turn to act. Hands like these have difficulty growing into the nuts, and facing the prospect of having to call a raised pot is a strong indication that the raiser is starting out with a bigger hand than yours. This puts the double-whammy on you: Not only are you an underdog to the better hand, it will cost also you two bets instead of one just to see the flop.
The following chart contains examples of hands you probably shouldn’t play from any position, even at the small cost of one bet. These hand s are either weak or tend to lead you into costly traps. We’ll explain why.
7s-7c-4c-2d: All of your possibilities are weak. A set of sevens is no guarantee of winning the pot and making a seven-high flush or a straight using either your four-deuce or seven-four combinations will produce hands that can easily be bested by others.
Qs-Js-6h-5h: Many hold’em players gravitate to hands like this: two fair hold’em hands that are completely uncoordinated for Omaha. Neither the five nor the six work in any way with the queen or jack, and two playable hold’em hands don’t always add up to a playable Omaha hand. There are lots of hands that fit into this category. Examples are As-Th-5c-5d, Jh-8h-5c-4c, and Ah-Kh-3c-3h. You should be able to think of a few others with some practice.
4c-4h-3d-3s: Low sets and baby straights can doom you to a second best hand that costs a lot more than you are apt o win if you get lucky. Just dig up the discipline to say “No” to hands like these.
As-2h-3h-4c: While you’d raise with this hand in Omaha/8, you shouldn’t even call with it in Omaha-high. Any straight you make can be bested by a bigger one, and winning the pot with a three-high flush qualifies as a modern miracle. If an ace falls, your pair of aces will lose to any other ace because your kicker is so low.
Kh-Qd-7s-6c: Two straight possibilities with nothing else is another example of two hold’em hands that look nice adding up to a lot less than one good Omaha hand. Save your money.
These recommend hands are not the only hands you can play before the flop, but if you are learning the game and stick to these hands and hands like them, you should be able to avoid the tragic flaw of playing too many of them. In addition to avoiding the downfall of many Omaha players, you’ll seldom find yourself trapped in hands that are confusing if you follow these suggestions. Releasing hands that do not catch part of the flop will by easy, and less costly too. And when you do play, the quality of your hands will be quite high. Since most people play Omaha because it offers an easy rationale for playing more hands, our recommendations will allow you to take advantage of that propensity and profit from it.