Pot-Limit Omaha: Flop Play (1)

As we've already mentioned, Pot-Limit Omaha is a very action-packed game. Most of the action takes place on the flop and it must be very clear to the players that their whole stack can quickly end up on the line. Just like in Texas Hold'em, the flop is the first time we can form a complete poker hand and can determine how strong our hand really is. And due to the fact that we start with four hole cards instead of two, we can already form six different hands on the flop (in contrast to only one in Texas Hold'em).

  • Example:

We are holding and can therefore create six different starting hand combinations which leads to six different possible hands on the flop:

If we hit a good flop, we can already have made hands, draws or a combination of the two. But a bad flop can also quickly reduce the value of even the best starting hand. In our example, a flop of would be so dangerous that we should fold as soon as somebody bets. That's why many players try to keep the pot small before the flop even with medium strong hands or good drawing hands. This way they can see a cheap flop first and then play more aggressively if the flop fits their hand.

The flop also provides important information about how many outs could either improve our own hand or the hand of our opponent. Thus, we have to choose our actions wisely based on this information

Omaha is a flop game

The right starting hand selection and the right flop strategy are key factors for success in Pot-Limit Omaha. Since one or two players are often all-in or at least pot committed as a result of the actions on the flop, the decisions on the turn and the river play a more subordinate role, unless we are deep stacked.

The pots are on average very big in PLO because the many possible combinations with four hole cards make it possible for us to hit significantly more draws on the flop. This in turn tempts many players to pay for the next card, often irrespective of the size of the bet (and sometimes even regardless of the pot odds).

But we should never underestimate a draw. In Omaha there are often drawing hands that have a higher chance of winning than a current made hand.

In most cases, the flop is the point at which we have to decide whether and how we want to continue the hand.

Bet sizes

We also have to disguise our hand in PL Omaha in order to avoid being readable by other players and remain unpredictable. That's why we should rarely, if ever, vary the size of our bets or raises.

  • The standard rule should be "bet pot".

If we always play our hands the same way, our opponents don't get any information about the hand they are playing against. This certainly leads to increasing swings in our own bankroll/our own stack and it requires strong nerves. If we want to, we can also make our standard bet somewhat smaller. The important thing is just that we generally play made hands, draws and bluffs similarly so that other players to remain unpredictable. Since good hands should, however, be protected with the highest possible bet (which is a pot size bet in PLO), the amount in the pot is a good standard bet.

General strategy

A good basic strategy for PLO is: Always play strong when you are and sometimes when you are not! So if we are holding a strong hand, we should put pressure on our opponents by betting the pot. Slow play is only an option in very rare cases. Every once in a while we should show strength by bluffing. That serves many purposes:

  1. We have to protect our made hands and make draws as expensive as possible for the opponents. And the best way to do that is with maximum bets. Of course, we lose once in a while against a draw, but the maths involved requires us to play pot size bets when we are a favourite.
  2. With weak made hands we need fold equity. As already mentioned, there are usually many possible draws in PLO. If we hit a weak made hand (e.g. a straight with the hole cards on a flop of ), then we want to try to get opponents holding a draw to a better hand (e.g. ) to fold. That is particularly important when several players are still in the hand on the flop.
  3. We play very good draws as very profitable semi-bluffs/value bets. With a very good draw (e.g. 17 outs) we are a 60% favourite on the flop. We are therefore not upset with an opponent if he calls our bet. But if he folds, we take down the pot with absolutely no risk. If we are in a multiway pot, we want to reduce the number of opponents since that increases our chances of winning. But the semi-bluff is also necessary to deceive our opponents and we can assume we will be paid off much more often in the long run with our strong made hands. Every now and then we play weaker draws as semi-bluffs.
  4. Weak hands still might win as a bluff. But here our decision to bluff has to depend strongly on the structure of the board. A failed bluff in PLO can quickly become expensive.

There is rarely an opportunity to slow play in PLO. Only a nut full house, quads or a straight flush or royal flush are under certain conditions appropriate for a slow play. Generally, no other hands are. We will too often be playing against strong draws and the turn or the river can frequently break us.

  • Example:

We're holding .

The flop comes .

We have flopped a full house. But the problem is, first of all, that we do not have the nut full house (even a player with or will beat us) and secondly, we run the risk of being out drawn on the turn or the river if a player is holding a .

For example, if we check, the turn is the and our opponent suddenly bets, then we have a very difficult decision, since now in addition to and , , and can also beat us). We must therefore bet strong on the flop in order to reduce the field or to get more information about the strength of our opponents' hands. A weak full house must be protected. Because we are still the favourite!

A probe bet is of no use here and just gives our opponent a cheap draw.

But let's go through the different categories of made hands:

Made hands

Made hands are strong hands in PL Omaha as well. But there are still some made hands that are clear folds if we meet resistance on a dangerous flop.

Two pair 

Two pair are the lower end of made hands in Omaha. And even these often lose at the showdown, since the turn or river can give an opponent a straight, a flush or another better hand. We are even often already behind on the flop against a set, a straight or a better two pair. Nevertheless, we should still distinguish between top two and bottom two pair.

While top two pair without a straight or flush draw on the flop are a strong made hand meaning that we should bet the pot, it is advisable to play bottom two pair like a (weak) drawing hand. But if the flop makes a straight or a flush possible, it is advisable to fold the hand as long as we are not given a free card. We are too often only left with exactly four outs to improve our hand to a full house and even then we could still lose to a higher full house (if, for example, an opponent had already hit top set on the flop).

  • Example 1: Good flop for two pair

We're holding . We raised pre-flop and got two callers.

The flop comes .

This flop is very safe since presumably no player has called our pre-flop raise with a as a dangler. But if there is a lot of action, it is conceivable that one of the players is actually holding a or even and folding is not a bad option.

  • Example 2: Acceptable flop for two pair

We're holding . One player has raised, three players have called in front of us and we have called as well.

The flop is .

Since we have a relatively safe two pair in this example (and therefore assume that no other player is playing or ), we are most likely still holding the best hand at the moment. The only possible danger is . We would currently be behind with 28.17% to 71.83% against this kind of hand. Since there are no better draws than the OESD that we ourselves are holding, we can bet big here even against several opponents. As we can only really expect a re-raise from a hand. Depending on the size of the re-raise, we must decide whether the OESD is still worth calling (given that the opponent could have a redraw to a full house), or whether it is better to fold the hand. If we complete our straight on the turn, we are an 80% to 20% or 60% to 40% favourite if our opponent also gets a flush draw.

  • Example 3: Bad flop for two pair

We're holding . Three players have limped in front of us. We're in the big blind and check.

The flop comes .

Generally we are already beat here, either by a straight or a flush. Three suited cards on the board will usually give at least one of the players a flush. Here we can just hope that everyone  just checks until the showdown or that we can improve our hand to a full house with a free turn card, since we can't really call any more bets.

Trips and sets

The next made hand is trips and sets. While trips are more obvious and also more difficult to play (especially if the third flop card has a higher value), sets are well hidden. However, it sometimes happens that several players flop a set. So if we don't have top set and we get a pot size raise on our pot bet, we must assess whether the opponent is playing a draw aggressively or is already holding the better hand, depending on the structure of the board and the type of player.

If the flop makes several draws possible and we are relatively certain that the opponent re-raised with a good draw, we can continue playing the hand. Call (if straight draws and flush draws are possible) or even raise, if only one draw is possible.

With trips or a set, we definitely have to open raise, if no one has raised in front of us. We can't give the drawing hands a free card and we have to find out how good our own hand is. If someone makes a check-raise, that is a warning for us and we can use this information for our next decisions.

But even on dangerous flops, we are generally the favourite with top set.

  • Example:

We're holding .

The flop comes . Even against an opponent with an OESD and a flush draw, our set is still the a 59%  favourite. So we should continue playing aggressively and bet or re-raise when possible.

If a draw arrives on the turn, we have to decide whether to play check-call or check-behind (depending on if we are in or out of position). We should definitely avoid a check-raise or a raise behind us since we will only have a 25% chance of making a full house if we are behind now. Here we need to carefully consider whether the odds and implied odds justify a call, and also take into account that the opponent could have a smaller set or could be on another draw that has not arrived yet.

Further examples:

  • Example 1: Good flop for trips

We are holding and complete the small blind after an opponent has limped UTG. The big blind checks.

The flop comes: .

The flop gives us trips as well as two backdoor flush draws and a gutshot straight draw. Against , we only have a 6% chance of winning (since only runner-runner or the last ten can help us), but against any OESD, we have at least a 74% chance of winning. Depending on the situation we should bet, raise or re-raise the maximum amount possible. Of course, every once in a while an opponent has , but even then, we still have six outs (every king and every ace). So don't be afraid to push our whole stack into the middle.

  • Example 2: Bad flop for trips

We're holding in the big blind and three players including the small blind call. We check and see the flop.

The flop is: .

Although the flop gives us trips, it also brings a flush draw. In addition, there will be many straight draws and we are holding just ten outs to improve our hand to a full house or quads. If we assume that we are playing against two players with a straight draw and a flush draw ( and ), then we will only be left with a 31.78% chance of winning. If we now add one more player with two pair in his hand (), then our chance of winning drops to 17.91% and that makes us the clear underdog. The situation becomes even more critical if one of our opponents is also holding a nine, because our kicker is too bad.

  • Example 3: Good flop for a set

We're UTG+1 holding and bet the pot. The button and the big blind call.

The flop comes .

There is hardly a better flop for our hand (apart from a full house or straight flush). Even so, we should rarely play slow here. We will often take the pot down with a bet at this point, but if we know that our opponents are passive, it is unlikely that any of them will raise if we check. So the check-raise is no longer an option. If our opponents are aggressive, they will call us with some hands which could turn into a nice made hand or drawing hand on the turn. Passive players will probably fold as they think we have aces due to our pre-flop raise. But aggressive players may put us on a number of hands and that we are using the ace to pretend that we have a set. These kinds of players could call down to the river or even raise with just a pair > 9 in their hand!

  • Example 4: Bad flop for a set

We're holding and we are the third person who limps in. Button, small blind and big blind also call and six of us see the flop.

The flop comes: .

Against five opponents and with such a catastrophic flop structure, we can't really continue playing. We indeed have hit a set, but only bottom set. This can on the one hand mean that we are already behind, and on the other hand this flop makes not only a straight () but also straight draws, flush draws and better full house draws (, , ) possible. Even against five random hands, we have only a 21% chance of winning. We could certainly still call smaller bets, but otherwise we shouldn't invest any more money into the pot. Since we are playing against five opponents, we are playing against up to 30 starting hands. We would play this hand aggressively if we were up against a single opponent.

Straight 

A flopped straight is also a strong hand, but too often loses if an opponent with a set or two pair makes a full house, or if the river is the third card of the same suit giving someone a flush.

How to play a flopped straight depends on the structure of the flop and the number of players in the hand. The more opponents we have, the lower the chance that our straight will hold. As mentioned before, we have up to six hands per opponent against us. Therefore, in a multiway pot, we should use our chips sparingly and keep the pot small.

If we are holding the nut straight in a pot with only one or two opponents, however, some action is necessary. We need to defend our hand here as well, but also be willing to give it up if the board pairs or makes a flush possible and the aggression of an opponent remains the same or even intensifies. We should play very cautiously with a straight that is not the nut straight. Far too often, players lose not only against the usual suspects (flush, full house, etc.), but also against a higher straight.

  • Example 1: Good flop for a straight

We're holding in the cutoff and open the pot with a pot size bet. The button and big blind call

The flop comes .

This is an excellent flop for us. Our hand is well disguised by our pre-flop raise and we have flopped the nut straight. The board is rainbow and we are also holding the cards that will prevent us from having to fold our nut straight against a better straight. Even against a set, two pair, an overpair and two backdoor flush draws, our chance of winning is 65.17%. A perfect situation in PLO!

  • Example 2: Bad flop for a straight

This is the same situation as before. We are holding , but this time we have only limped in so we are playing against the button, the small blind and the big blind.

The flop is .

This time things don't look so rosy for us. Although we are currently holding the nut straight, this time there are quite a few drawing hands and our straight could be beaten by a higher straight. Our chance of winning against a set, a flush draw and a straight draw is only 24.92%. We should act very cautiously here, and if we are forced to, we should give up the pot.  

Flush 

Since a flush is beaten at the showdown far less often than a straight, it is a very profitable hand in PL Omaha.

If we are holding the nut flush and there is no pair on the board after the showdown, then we have won 100%. Unfortunately the flush is very obvious and we will get a lot of folds on our pot size bet, particularly when the flop is suited. Nevertheless, we should bet or raise since players with a set or two pair still have outs and should have to pay dearly for them. We should also continue playing straight forward by betting or raising the pot.

If we aren't holding the nut flush, this will again depend on the number of players and their playing style. If we are met with a lot of resistance, we should give up our hand, and even with the second nuts think twice about whether a call is worth it against this kind of opponent. A flush is too often beat by a higher flush and even the king-high flush loses more often than we might expect. With that hand, calling small raises can be alright if we have the opportunity to do this inexpensively, or if we know our opponent and know that he often re-raises or even aggressively bluffs with nothing more than a smaller flush!

  •  Example 1: Good flop for a flush

We're holding in the big blind and four of us see the flop.

The flop comes .

This is the perfect flop for our hand! We're holding the nut flush and don't have to be afraid of a straight flush since we have the . But we can't get a straight flush ourselves because we have to use two cards from our hand! We usually don't get paid off with a flopped flush. But the second nut flush could call us down, in this example with something like , because he could also be holding a straight flush draw! The only real action we can expect is from opponents with a set and/or two pair. If the board pairs on the turn, we need to be more cautious because we don't have any redraws! But we still can't give away a free card so we have to bet or raise!

  • Example 2: Bad flop for a flush

We're holding the same hand in the big blind and four of us see the flop again.

The flop is .

Although we have flopped a flush, it is not the nut flush! Even worse, any hand with two hearts cards would beat us. We can and should play this flop if we have to act first, but we should fold if we meet resistance or if the board pairs on the turn or river!

Full house 

The full house is a very strong made hand. Depending on whether we make a full house with a pair in our hand or with two different cards, we should always keep in mind that someone might have a higher full house.

If we are holding bottom full house, we should always bet. If we are confronted with a re-raise, we have to assess whether we are still holding the best hand and want to raise again or prefer to be more cautious and just call. If we tend to folding, we need to be convinced that our opponent will only re-raise with the nuts. But playing aggressively generally pays off.

We should also be careful if, despite the fact that we are holding the nut full house, the board still allows improvements. If, for example, we are holding and the flop is giving us the nut full house, we can be very certain to win this pot and we can even consider a slow play.

The same cards on a flop with , though, would only give us bottom full house which would make the situation a little bit more critical. This not only means that we can already be behind if an opponent is holding or , but every player with a and no pair in their hand has 10 outs on the turn and 10 outs on the river (three outs for each kicker and one for the remaining jack). This means our full house only is a 58% favourite, which is still good enough to put as many chips as possible into the middle (since we have +EV), but we will also lose 42% of the time. If both players are holding a jack, together they have a total of up to 18 outs. In this case, we would only have a 29% chance of winning, which would make us the underdog.

  • Example:
We're holding:
Player 1 is holding:
Player 2 is holding:

The flop is the same as in the last example . We have flopped a full house. But every six, seven, eight, nine, Q and K will give one of the players a better full house. Our chance of winning is about 29% and the other players have a chance of winning that is well over 30%.

Our opponents could be holding higher pairs (, ) which would give each of them two outs. It is always important to bet when playing against one opponent. But we should also bet against several opponents ...

  • ... to avoid giving away a free card
  • ... to play heads up if possible

Made hands are strong and should generally be played aggressively. In position we should usually try to thin the field by raising or betting. We can give up weak made hands if there is too much action in front of us or someone raises behind us.

Quads/Straight flush

With these monsters we practically have to slow play. If a player has hit a flush (ideally the nut flush) while we have flopped a straight flush, the hand is worth being played passively. OOP we play check/call, in position call or bet, depending on our opponent's action. We can also check the flop first and then bet on the turn if the players check to us in position.

With quads it's very unlikely that an opponent has flopped a good hand, so we have to hope that a player improves to a strong hand on the turn and/or river (at least a good flush) so we can count on some action.

Examples

Here are a few examples for various situations on the flop and how they can end:

  • Example 1: A made hand played aggressively

Our player is the third person who limps in the pot and flops the nut flush with four opponents. He does the right thing and raises after Buddy_2 bets the pot. He still gets two callers and then knows that he will at least be playing against a full house draw. The turn is a blank and after both players have checked to him, he bets the pot again.

Both players pay again. The river is a blank as well and our player is holding the nuts. He goes all-in with his remaining chips and one of the players even calls him. Buddy_2 shows an open-ended straight flush draw and top set and it becomes clear why he got involved in this pot. The call on the river is still questionable, of course, but can be made if he has put our player on a low draw. The result is the same. Both players have put their chips into the middle and the higher flush has won.

  • Example 2: A made hand played aggressively

 

With one of the strongest starting hands (unfortunately not double-suited), our player correctly bets the pot pre-flop. The flop gives him trips and both players show weakness. The pot size bet is the right play here. His bet forces a player to fold and if the other one is on a draw, this will make him pay for it. The turn is the unpleasant and the other player bets immediately.

He is formally announcing that he is holding a straight or a full house. This example shows that trips are a made hand that can quickly be beat. A call at this point is questionable. If he believes the other player has a straight or a full house, he only has 6 outs to improve his hand. That would make it wrong to call. But if he thinks the other player is bluffing, then he also has to call the river bet. It certainly isn't wrong to give up the pot on the turn at this point.   

  • Example 3: A made hand played aggressively

In this hand our player completes the small blind after two players have already limped in. Although the flop turns his weak starting hand into the nut straight, there is still a risk that someone will make a flush and one of his opponents could get a higher straight or a full house on the turn. Even if all three of these things happen, if two players are holding cards such as and , he can still expect to win 33.18% of the time. In this case, the full house wins 34.53% of the time, while the player with a straight or a flush draw wins 32.28% of the time.

Our player bets the pot and two players call. The flop delivers a harmless and this increases our player's chances of winning to 55.56%. He consequently bets the pot again and even forces a player out of the pot.

The river is probably the worst imaginable card for our player. Not only does it complete a flush, but because the board has paired, a full house is now also possible. Our player's pot size bet is however the wrong play at this point. The opponent raises the pot and he has to fold his hand without knowing whether his opponent has completed a draw or just used the as a scare card to bluff him out of the pot. Folding is the logical consequence. If he had checked, the opponent could have bet a maximum of $48 and a call would have meant losing the same number of chips if the opponent really has hit the draw, but a bluffer would have been exposed!

 

This ends our discussion of made hands on the flop. In the next article we will discuss the draws.

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