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Omaha Hold'em

The mechanics of Omaha hold'em (Omaha for short) are very similar to those of Texas hold'em. In fact, there are only two primary differences: Instead of getting just two private cards, each Omaha player is dealt four cards face down, and combines two cards from that hand - no more, no less - to form the best five-card poker hand with just three of the five communal cards.

Despite the similarities to hold'em, Omaha is a far more complicated game, especially for beginners. You'll find it far easier to visualize if you pop in the CD and play through the 25 sample hands in either or both of the Wilson Software Omaha mini-programs you find there.

(There's one for Omaha/8 and one for Omaha high. Both games are described here. For instructions on using the programs, turn to page Seven.) Don't worry right now about playing the hands correctly - that can come later. For now, just absorb the games visually.

On the Internet, you'll find Omaha played for both fixed limits and pot limit. More often than not, Omaha is played as a "high-low split" games, Omaha/8, in which the best high hand and the best qualifying low hand divvy up the pot. To qualify for the low side of the pot, you must form a hand of five unpaired cards with the rank of eight or lower, using exactly two of your four personal cards and exactly three of the communal cards in the middle of the table.

It's possible to make both the best high hand and the best low hand, and to win the whole she bangs in the process. Omaha players call this "scooping," and when push comes to shove, the objective of the games is not to take half the pot; it's to hog it all. When there are lots of folks drawing, things can get pretty wild, with players jamming the action for both the high and the low sides of the pot.

You can make a high hand and a low hand by using different cards from your private cards combined with different cards from the communal cards to construct each side. For example, if your private cards are A?2?3?K ? and the five communal cards are Q ? 9 ?7 ?6? 4 ?you can make a flush by mating your K? 3? with the communal Q? 7? 6? . You can also make a low hand (the best possible low on this board, in fact) by using you're A? 2? with the board's 7? 6? 4? .

On the other hand, you can also make a high hand and a low hand using the very same two cards from your four private cards and the same three from the communal cards. If you have A-3-4-K of four different suits and the communal cards are 2-5-Q-A-9, the trey and four from your hand combine with the ace, deuce and five from the communal cards to make both the best high hand and best low hand possible, given the cards specified. In this example, you have a five-high straight, called a "wheel," and your wheel is also a five-low, the best possible low hand in Omaha/8.

Split-pot games are known for their no-holds-barred action because some players are trying to make the best low hand, some the best high one, and still others are trying to scoop the entire pot. But Omaha/8 also stimulates action because each player gets four private cards rather than just the two he'd get in hold'em. Naturally, with four cards to choose from, many players have no trouble finding hands to play. But believe it or not, to be a winning Omaha player, you should play fewer hands than you would in hold'em, not more. (We'll tell you more about that shortly.)

In Europe, where the majority of Omaha games are pot-limit, they're generally played for high-hand only. We call that type of Omaha, "Omaha high." Nevertheless, the structure is identical except that low hands don't count for a thing. (Obviously, this difference also affects the betting action.) Because online poker is played on a virtual table stretching from one end of the world to the other, you'll find both Omaha/8 and Omaha high, played for fixed limits as well as pot-limit.

How to Play Omaha

Omaha is played with blinds, not antes - just as Texas hold- is - and there are four rounds of betting with the limits doubling on the third betting round. Six different starting combinations can be formed from the four starting cards you have to work with. Here's an important point to keep in mind: Omaha hands tend to be quite a bit bigger than their Texas hold'em cousins because you have nine cards from which to form your best five-card poker hand, rather than just seven. In Omaha, you'll see full houses aplenty, and four-of-a-kind, or "quads," is not uncommon.

Straights and flushes are routine, while two pair - often a winning hand in Texas hold'em - seldom wins in this games. Regardless of how powerful a high hand you make in Omaha/8, whenever there are three unpaired communal cards on the board with a rank of eight or lower, a low hand is likely to be waiting in the weeds, and that big pot you were hoping to win all for yourself will probably be chopped in half.

Some Quick Omaha Tips

The best Omaha/8 starting combinations are coordinated, with all four cards working together. Many players play hands in which only two or three of the four cards are coordinated, and others play any four cards they think look OK meaning, most hands they're dealt. In other words, they play "loose," and that's exactly what you want to see when you click into an online Omaha game: a bunch of loose, "any four cards will do" players. Yum yum!

The Omaha/8 starting hands in the following charts are examples. 'lot an exclusive list. In the first illustration, a hand like A-2-3-5 would be just about as good as A-2-3-4

Choosing the Right Starting Hands is the Key to Success

Different forms of poker require different sets of skills. In Omaha/8, discipline and discrimination in starting hand selection far outweighs all other skills. Since any hand that is possible is quite probable in Omaha/ 8, you need not be an expert at reading your opponents. Just reading the community cards to ascertain the best possible hand can frequently be enough. Bluffing, too, isn't nearly as important in Omaha/8 as in other forms of poker. In fact, if you never bluff at all while learning this game, you'll probably be better off.

Many players call with almost any four cards, so if you can muster the discipline to wait for good starting cards - hands that are coordinated, with cards that support each other in some discernible way - you'll have a huge edge over most of your opponents.

Do I Like These Cards? What Sort of Flop Will Fit Them?

If you decide to call with the four cards you've been dealt, figure out what sort of flop will be a perfect fit for them. Such pre-analysis will help you determine how well the flop fits your hand. Here are six convenient ways to characterize Omaha/8 flops, with accompanying implications:


When a pair flops, the best possible high hand is four-of-a-kind. While flopping quads is a rarity, a full house is a distinct possibility.


Three cards of the same suit. Someone probably has a flush

Flush Draw:

Two cards of the same suit. Someone will draw for the flush.


Three cards in sequence, or gapped closely enough so that a straight is possible. One or more players probably flopped a straight.

Straight Draw:

Two cards in sequence, or gapped closely enough so that a straight is possible. At least one player may draw for the straight.


Two or three cards above an eight. Note: (f three cards flop that are higher than an eight in rank, no low hand is possible.

Low or Low Draw:

Three or two cards with the rank of eight or lower.

These groupings are not mutually exclusive, and some attributes can appear in combination. For example, if the flop were A?2?2? , it would be paired as well as low, and contain a flush draw as well as a straight draw.

Beyond The Flop

As a general rule, don't continue beyond the flop without the best possible hand, or a draw to the best possible hand in one or both directions. With six possible two-card combinations in each player's hand, a lot of excellent hands are possible, so make sure you'll have the best hand if you're fortunate enough to catch the card you need.

What's My Chance of Making a Low Hand?

Here's a handy chart that shows how likely you are to make a low hand:

If you begin with 4 different low cards:

Your chances before the flop are 49%
Your chances if 2 new low cards flop are 70%
Your chances if 1 new low card flops are 24%

If you begin with 3 different low cards:

Your chances before the flop are 40%
Your chances if 2 new low cards flop are 72%
Your chance if 1 new low cards flop are 26%

If you begin with 2 different low cards:

You chances before the flop are 24%
Your chances if you 2 new low cards flop are 59%
Your chance if 1 new low card flop are 16%


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