A game of draws
The truth about pot-limit Omaha (PLO) is that about 99 percent of the game is played on the draw. With few exceptions, seldom are big pots contested when one player flops the nuts and another player flops the second nuts. When two players flop the nut straight, the end result is often decided by the re-draws that both players may or may not possess. When a player holds J-10-9-8 and the flop comes J-J-10, an opponent holding A-K-Q-J has nine outs twice to make a bigger full house. Even set-over-set confrontations may not be a lock situation for the player holding the nuts, as the player with the middle set may have accompanying straight and/or flush draws for escape valves.

That said, it is while on the draw that the biggest and most expensive mistakes are frequently made. Moreover, the majority of the big pots in PLO tend to center around the straight draws. There are three basic ways that a player with a dominating draw wins a big pot from a less forward-thinking player:

  1. When a player with a non-nut straight draw pays to draw and then pays off a big bet when he makes a second-best hand, the player with a dominating nut wrap (a big straight draw consisting solely of nut outs) extracts value throughout the hand.
  2. A player with a non-nut wrap could make the nut straight on the turn, only to get freerolled; this is especially true when the player holds an unsuited hand or draws to a straight when there is a two-flush on the board and he does not have the flush draw himself.
  3. A player holding a pair with a 13-card straight draw holds a healthy advantage over a player with the bare duplicate 13-card straight draw, and does not need to improve to win.

Case No. 1: Dominating Nut Wrap Versus Non-Nut Wrap

The first case is the dominating nut wraparound straight draws versus the non-nut straight draws. For example, the holding J-10-8-6 produces a 16-card nut wrap on a 9-7-3 board; any 5, 6, 8, 10, or jack will produce the nut straight, completing by the river 59 percent of the time. In contrast, 8-6-5-4 will produce a 16-card wrap on the same 9-7-3 flop, but with only six nut outs. Meanwhile, many of the cards that will complete the straight for the 8-6-5-4 will only serve to make a bigger straight for the J-10-8-6 hand. The result is that the J-10-8-6 hand is about a 5-1 favorite (83.2 percent to 16.8 percent) over the 8-6-5-4 hand on the 9-7-3 flop.

In this case, if the money goes all in on the flop, the player with the 16-card nut wrap will be in a commanding position over the player with the sucker non-nut wrap. And even when the player with the 8-6-5-4 hand avoids going all in on the flop, he is giving up value every time he pays to draw and hits the sucker straight, whether he pays off or simply folds, and every time he pays to draw and misses, as well.
Here’s another item of note: Q-J-8-7 flops a “whopping” 20-card wrap with 14 nut outs on a 10-9-2 flop, but is easily dominated; while A-K-Q-J has a “mere” 13-card nut wrap on that same 10-9-2 flop, the A-K-Q-J hand is, interestingly enough, nearly a 2-1 favorite over the 20-card wrap. And it is easy enough to see why: A few of the cards that complete the 20-card wrap make the 13-card nut wrap a bigger straight (specifically, the jacks and queens), while the 20-card wrap can make a smaller straight on the turn and still get outdrawn on the river. Moreover — or actually the biggest part of it — the A-K-Q-J hand does not need to improve to win.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 12:
Draw only to the nuts.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 13: The big nut-straight draws have great big-play potential.

Case No. 2: Freeroll on the Come

A straight draw (or even a made straight, for that matter) is significantly devalued whenever a two-flush appears on the board and you don’t have a flush draw yourself, for a couple of reasons. The first is that you have fewer nut outs, as a few of the cards that make your straight now put a flush on the board. The second is that you are setting yourself up to get freerolled even when you do make the nut straight on the turn.

Yet, indiscriminating players frequently draw at the straight in this very situation, setting themselves up to get freerolled on the come. For example, let’s say that you have the K Q J 10 and the flop comes 9 8 2, giving you a 13-card nut-straight draw with a flush draw and backdoor-flush draw. A player drawing with the K Q J 10 is merely setting himself up to get freerolled should you both make a straight on the turn, assuming that a flush card doesn’t hit – and also assuming that the money isn’t all in on the flop, at which point the K-Q-J-10 hand with the flush draw is as much as a 2.6-1 favorite over the bare K-Q-J-10 hand.

Meanwhile, a player with a 13-card nut-straight draw with the nut-flush draw is going to be a favorite over any other drawing hand. Note from the table below that this hand — as in the A J 10 9 on an 8 7 4 board — is roughly a 3-1 favorite over a 16-card nut-straight draw with a flush draw and backdoor-flush draw.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 14: The presence of a two-flush on the board can significantly devalue a straight draw. Don’t make a habit of drawing to a straight when there is a two-flush on the board and you don’t have a flush draw yourself.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 15: Three straight cards with a suited ace have excellent big-play potential.

Case No. 3: A Dominating Pair-Plus Wrap Draw

The value of a single pair is often underestimated when played in conjunction with a 13-card straight draw. Note from the previous table that the J-10-9-8 hand — a pair with a 13-card nut-straight draw — had almost twice the value of the J-10-9-6 hand when up against the A-J-10-9 hand. That said, a pair and 13-card nut-straight draw is at a major advantage over the bare 13-card straight draw, as it does not need to improve to win.

For example, on a 10-9-4 board, K-Q-J-10 for top pair and a 13-card straight draw is nearly a 4-1 favorite over K-Q-J-5 (a bare 13-card nut-straight draw). On a K-Q-4 board, A-A-J-10 is similarly about a 4-1 favorite over A-J-10-5. This speaks greatly to the value of playing hands preflop in which all four cards work together to have multiway potential.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 16: In addition to other possibilities, three straight cards with a pair and four
connecting cards can produce a pair with a 13-card straight draw.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 17: Playing hands with only three useful cards is giving up an advantage to the opposition; these three-card hands are marginal, at best.

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

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