Last issue, I classified starting hands in pot-limit Omaha (PLO) by hand strength, breaking them down into premium, speculative, marginal, and trash (everything else) categories. For the most part, the hands within each specific group will be played about the same way before the flop. Let’s run through a few key concepts of preflop play.
1. When out of position, your first priority is to keep the pot multiway. After the flop, it takes a bigger hand to bet into the field from up front than it does to bet from late position when everybody has checked to you. And what you really don’t want to happen is that you raise and end up getting heads up with a player behind you, as you will be at a major disadvantage unless you hit the flop hard. Inevitably, you will miss more flops than you hit, and you will often end up either checking and folding or otherwise setting yourself up to get outplayed later in the hand.
That said, you usually should limp from up front in order to keep the pot contested multiway, or otherwise keep your preflop raises small. And when you do raise, do so only with premium hands.
2. Smaller cards are more speculative than bigger ones. A hand like Q J 10 9 has a big advantage over 7 6 5 4, despite the fact that both hands share the same structure. Similarly, 7 6 4 2 is a bit more speculative than Q J 9 7. The main advantage of the bigger cards is that they are more likely to make top pair or top two pair, which means that you will find more flops to bet with bigger cards than smaller ones, particularly from late position when the field has checked to you.
3. Speculative drawing hands require deep stacks, multiway action, and implied odds. In Omaha High-Low, Bill Boston pegs the odds of catching two key cards at 25-1 against. For example, a speculative hand like 8 7 5 3 or 7 6 5 2 is about 25-1 against hitting the two key cards on the flop. Thus, it doesn’t make much sense to play these hands if you are on a short stack, nor do you usually want to put a lot of money in before the flop with these hands. Speculative hands have the most value in a game with deep stacks and room to play after the flop. These hands also prefer multiway pots.
4. Marginal hands are for late-position, minimum-bet play only. Marginal one-way hands like K K 7 2 or K Q J 5 aren’t completely useless, but you want to both see the flop cheaply and have positional advantage when you play them.
5. In a game that is both loose and passive preflop, you can play speculative hands from any position. If you are in a game in which five or six players see every flop and there is little preflop raising, you can play speculative hands from anywhere on the table. This is typical of small-stakes games, both live and online.
6. In a loose and aggressive game with deep stacks, speculative hands can be played from any position, though tight players should save these hands for late position. Even in a game with frequent preflop raising, speculative hands can be played from any position as long as the pots are being contested multiway and the stacks are deep, with, say, an average stack of 100 times the big blind at the very least, if not significantly more. This type of game is common to the biggest live cash games in the room. However, playing these hands from out of position adds considerable volatility, as you will end up having to check and fold a large number of flops. That said, tight players may want to save these hands for late position in these games.
7. Speculative hands can be played from late position under most circumstances. Unless the money is all in or you are facing a raise and a reraise, the speculative drawing hands are virtually always playable from late position. You might not necessarily want to play a small speculative hand like 7-6-4-2 heads up, but a slightly bigger hand like 10-9-7-5 does OK even heads up with position on a preflop raiser, or in a three-way pot with position, as your opponents have to hit the flop harder than you do. In fact, most any four cards are playable heads up with position, but I think most players should stick to the speculative hands as the very bottom standard for calling a raise, particularly with players yet to act.
8. Unless you can get all or most of your money in before the flop, every A-A hand is a drawing hand. In deep-stack play, aces are just like any other drawing hand in Omaha, and should be played as such. This means that you usually should just limp with aces, and limit your raises to the premium A-A hands. The main exception is when you can get all or most of your money in before the flop, as a pair of aces figures to be a favorite against almost any other hand heads up.
9. Unless you can get most or all of your money in before the flop, avoid making big reraises with A-A. The biggest mistake you can make with aces is making a big reraise preflop with a significant amount of money left to be played. You are giving half of your hand away (and the important half, at that), and will only attract opponents who are hoping to outdraw a pair of aces. If you do reraise with aces, you want to avoid giving the opposition implied odds to try to outdraw you.
10. When facing a raise and reraise cold, it is usually best to fold any hand with an ace in it. Often, a reraise says an opponent has A-A. If the stacks are deep, you might play a hand like 9-8-7-6 double-suited, but you should throw away a hand like A-K-J-9, as any A-A hand has you dominated, and it will be more difficult to outdraw the opposition.
11. From the later positions, you frequently should raise before the flop with your premium hands. In PLO, there are two main reasons to raise before the flop: to build the pot for value and to secure the button. That said, you should raise from the later positions (the last three seats or so) with premium hands, such as 8 7 6 5, A K Q 9, Q Q J 10, and A A 8 7. A raise of three to five times the big blind is usually adequate.
12. The cost of playing “too” tight is just a fraction of the blinds, while the cost of loose play could be your whole stack. One of the most important factors to keep in mind is that the blinds in PLO are relatively insignificant compared to what goes in the pot after the flop. As such, it doesn’t cost much to wait for suitable playing hands. If you have a small unsuited rundown like 7-6-5-4, the cost of not playing the hand is a fraction of the blinds, while choosing to play the hand could be setting yourself up for disaster. My recommendation is that you wait for hands that fit your objectives, throw away trash, and avoid playing marginal hands when out of position.
This article was originally written by Jeff Hwang. Jeff Hwang is a semiprofessional player and author of Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy. His latest book is Advanced Pot Limit Omaha Vol.1 and will be releasing Vol 2. Both Omaha books published with Dimat Poker Books. He is also a longtime contributor to the Motley Fool. You can check out his website at JeffHWang.com