Pot-Limit Omaha: An Introduction

Omaha, or Omaha Hold'em, is a type of poker similar to Texas Hold'em. Omaha used to be played primarily in Europe, but recently it has become increasingly popular in the US and online. As in all hold'em games, each player receives hole cards that are dealt face down. In Omaha, four hole cards are dealt instead of two as in Texas Hold'em. This has a far greater effect than you might think at first. That's why Omaha is also known as "the action game". With four hole cards, it is much more common that players hit a made hand or a very good draw on the flop or turn. Because of this, the current nut hand often plays against a monster draw that can have more than 20 outs.

The basic rules

Omaha is played just like Texas Hold'em with 5 community cards that are dealt as the flop, turn and river. Players can bet pre-flop, on the flop, after the turn and after the river, as we already know.
If at least two players are still in the hand at the showdown, the player who can form the best five-card poker hand wins.
However, the player must form his best hand by using exactly two of his hole cards and three cards from the board. This is one of the most important differences to Texas Hold'em where a player can decide how many of his hole cards he want to use to form the best-possible hand, or whether he wants to just play the board.

  • Example:
    Let's assume the board is and the three players left in the hand are holding
  • Player 1:   
  • Player 2:    
  • Player 3:    

Player 3 wins with a king-high flush with jack kicker.
Player 1 comes has the second best hand with a straight.
Player 2 has the worst hand, with a set of deuces.

In this example, we might think player 1 not only has a straight, but also the nut flush. And player 2 could have four of a kind using three of his hole cards.
But these are just the kinds of mistakes that beginners make when they are coming from the world of Texas Hold'em. So be careful and keep in mind that each player must use EXACTLY two of his cards, no more and not less.

Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO)

Omaha is usually played using the pot-limit betting structure. This is the variation that is described in our series of articles.

We assume that the reader already fully understands the basic rules of poker, i.e. when to generally check, bet, call and raise.

The special feature of pot-limit is that the maximum permitted raise is the amount of the pot. That takes some time to get used to in the beginning, but with a little help, it can be calculated quickly. If you do not want to look like a beginner, you definitely have to learn how to calculate the size of the pot. The most important thing to remember is that you must call first and can then bet the total amount that is in the pot after the call. Sounds complicated?

  • Let's start with a pre-flop example:
    The player who goes first can bet 3 ½ BB because the pot consists of ½ BB (the small blind) + 1 BB (the big blind). Now our player calls the big blind making the pot grow to ½ (SB) + 1 (BB) + 1 (call) = 2 ½ big blinds. And now the player can raise by these 2 ½ BB again, including the call he made before, so he can raise to 3 ½ BB.

If one of the blinds wants to bet first, however, he can only raise to 3 BB. The small blind, for example, can only call ½ BB (then the pot is 2 BB) and then another 2 BB, so including his small blind he bets a total of 3 BB. If the SB just calls, the BB cannot call himself (because he has already bet the BB). He can therefore only raise by another 2 BB (the current pot).

  • Here's another example:
    This time the small blind is 1 and the big blind is 2. Now a player limps, just calls, betting the big blind (2). What is the maximum the next player can raise?
    After a theoretical call, there would be 1 (SB) + 2 (BB) + 2 (limp) + 2 (own call) in the pot. So it is possible to raise by 7 (= pot). The total amount to which the player can raise is therefore 2 (for the call) + 7 (for the raise) = 9.

It might be helpful to provide a little definition again: If the BB is 1 and a player puts 3 in the centre, then he has raised by 2 to 3. Because 1 is the call and 2 is the amount by which he raises in addition to the call. He bets a total of 3 by raising to 3. This distinction between "by" and "to" is, incidentally, the same regardless of the type of poker and the limit being played.
Anyone who thinks this seems complicated will be consoled to know that when you are playing online, the maximum possible bet is always shown and you can always ask the dealer when you are playing live poker, which makes things much easier.

Texas Hold'em is also sometimes played with the pot-limit betting structure, especially in Scandinavia and Great Britain, but in comparison the pots do not become nearly as big as in Pot-Limit Omaha.
The reason is that the combination of four (instead of two) pocket cards produces significantly more playable hands. This makes the players more willing to invest money to see a flop.
But this is also the most dangerous part for the beginner or for someone who wants to switch over from Texas Hold'em. Although Omaha appears similar to Texas Hold'em, it is, in fact, a very different game.

In the next article, we will describe the different starting hands, their potential and how to play them.