Last week, we talked about Pot-Limit Omaha Hi and how it is a big-pot game for action-oriented players. If that’s the case, then Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo is its slightly scary, slightly degenerate bigger brother with a gambling problem.
The reason that no version of Omaha is usually played with No-Limit stakes is that hands tend to be so close together in equity preflop, and allowing players to go all-in easily would make it too much a game of luck. Omaha Hi/Lo pushes this even further than Omaha Hi, however, and even on the flop any two reasonable hands are likely to be quite close in equity, due to the potential of a split pot.
For that reason, Omaha Hi is more often played Pot-Limit, while Hi/Lo is often played Limit; even with Pot-Limit rather than No-Limit stakes, Hi/Lo produces a lot of flop all-ins and close races. This leads some players to consider it unviable for cash-game play – there are too many massive, and therefore heavily-raked pots which end up being coin flips or split pots, a situation which is loss-making for both players.
Since pots are not raked in a tournament, it is a more viable game in that context, and quite popular online these days. It is, however, an immensely chaotic game, with a far greater luck component than anything else in the Dealer’s Choice format.
The rules for Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo are exactly the same as those for Pot-Limit Omaha Hi, except that at showdown, the pot is awarded according to the same rules as Limit Omaha Hi/Lo Eights or Better. For full details, see the explanations of those games. The nutshell version is as follows:
Players are dealt four hole cards. There is a flop, turn and river in similar fashion to any other version of Hold’em or Omaha, with rounds of Pot-Limit betting in between.
At showdown, players form the highest five-card hand they can using exactly two hole cards and three board cards, and the best high hand takes half the pot.
If any player can form an Eight-High or lower hand according to A-5 lowball rules (Aces low, straights and flushes not counted), then the remaining half of the pot is awarded to the lowest such hand. If no such qualifying hand exists, then the remaining half of the pot also goes to the best high hand.
Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo plays quite a bit differently from the more common Limit version, because there tends to be a lot of action on the early streets, and quite often the pot will either be taken down quickly, or two (or occasionally more) players will end up all-in by the flop or the turn, especially if stack sizes are not particularly deep.
Whereas Limit Omaha Hi/Lo, like most split-pot games, is all about scooping, in Pot-Limit, quartering your opponents and not being quartered is almost equally important, because the pot size can be so large. Just as with Limit, locking up the nut low and freerolling for the high half of the pot is desirable, but you have be careful that your opponents aren’t tied with you for the Low and ahead for the Hi. Getting quartered in Limit is no fun, but a greater proportion of the chips go in earlier, so by the time you realize that there’s a danger of being quartered, you may have to call down anyway. In Pot-Limit, the implied odds are considerably higher, so it’s important to be able to fold when you may be tying for one end of the pot and have poor chances for the other.
For this reason, it’s crucial to play hands which can hit the flop with solid potential for both ends. Mid-range cards, from Seven to Jack, are to be avoided at all costs. High cards can be useful, but having three cards in the A-6 range is more important, and as in all forms of Omaha, coordination between all cards in the hand is key; A24K, 2346 and AA2K are all reasonable Pot-Limit Hi/Lo hands, especially if double-suited, but A3JJ is not: The Jacks are only useful in making a set, but hitting a third Jack makes it harder to have a strong hand for Lo. You would need to flop both a Jack and a Deuce (and preferably another low) to be really happy with your hand, and the odds of that are slim.
Like any game, different hands play better heads up, while others play better multiple ways. This largely comes down to what is necessary to win the Hi half of the pot, as you generally want the nuts or nut draw for Lo regardless. Having a King or Queen to go with an Ace is much more useful heads up than multiway, as a good two pair is much more likely to be good for Hi with only one opponent. Conversely, a hand like 2346 is considerably better multiway than heads-up, since you essentially need to make a straight to have a good Hi hand, but a straight is likely to be the two-way nuts or near-nuts.
Because a great many chips often go in with cards still to come, counterfeiting is considerably more of a threat – and considerably stronger of a weapon – than in Limit. This is another reason that holding three low cards is considerably better than two; you aren’t just more likely to make the low nuts, you are also more likely to be in a position to redraw to a different low hand and steal that half of the pot away from someone who was expecting to win or split it.
For instance, if you hold A23K and flop 45K rainbow, you’re holding a pretty big hand. True, you still have only one pair for Hi, and haven’t made a Lo yet, but if the chips start going in, it’s highly likely that your opponent also has A2xx. That being the case, you’re in great shape against almost anything he has, and only a little behind his possible monsters, like A244 or A255. Although he thinks he has a strong low hand, in fact the best he can probably hope for is a split, and even if you both hit with something like an 8 on the turn, you have four outs to counterfeit him on the river with an Ace or a Deuce, each of which also gives you the wheel and a probable scoop.
Like Pot-Limit Omaha Hi, the best hands to flop are often monster draws like the example above, rather than the made nuts – especially if they’re only the nuts for one end of the pot and drawing fairly thin the other way. When you do get a big draw, therefore, you want to play it fast. Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo is not a game of trapping for the most part; it is a game of estimating your equity and getting into big races when you feel you have an edge.
In summary, then, you want to play only hands which can potentially flop very well, and play smaller (especially multi-way limped) pots with the hands with a small chance to flop huge, and bigger, heads-up, raised and re-raised pots which are more likely to hit the flop pretty well. Once you do hit the flop, you’re generally just looking to get the chips in quickly; there isn’t as much room for subtlety and multi-street play as in some other games. When you don’t hit the flop well enough to get your stack in, you generally just want to get away from the hand.
Obviously, there will be some spots to bluff, or to play marginal hands when no one else seems in love with their hand, but they’re considerably rarer than in the other flop games. Identifying these spots and pursuing them may give you an edge, but overall, loose post-flop play is likely to be very costly in Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo.
Like Pot-Limit Omaha Hi, Hi/Lo is a game which is good when you want to embrace variance. If you play better than your opponents, it will produce numerous opportunities to get your entire stack in with, perhaps, 60% equity in the pot. On the other hand, it is much less likely to produce spots where you can get it in much more safely than that. It’s therefore a wonderful game to pick when you have the deepest stack at the table and others are worried about busting, because you can bully aggressively and the likelihood of getting into a close race will make it questionable for others to gamble with you.
It’s also fairly good when you have a short stack, for a different reason: that it’s the only split-pot game in the Pot-Limit/No-Limit category. Split pot games are good for short stacks, because the blinds and antes are more significant to a short stack. When two deep stacks split a pot, they are both essentially breaking even. When one gets quartered, it is a disaster. From the perspective of a short stack, however, the dead money in the pot preflop becomes a lot more significant. Getting quartered is less of a big deal, because you get some compensation from your quarter of the blinds and antes, while splitting the pot can actually represent a decent boost. A lot of hands which would be unplayable with a deeper stack become worth just getting it in with when you’re short-stacked for this reason.
Conversely, it’s a very poor choice when you have an average stack and aren’t looking to double up or bust, because that’s quite likely to happen. Getting quartered as an average stack can likewise be extremely painful, knocking you down into short stack territory and forcing you to double up just to get back to where you were. Overall, Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo is only a game you want to play when the variance is going to help you get back into the tournament, or when you have sufficient chips that you can withstand that variance without losing your flexibility in future hands if luck runs against you.
Up Next: Pot-Limit Five-Card Draw Hi
The Dealer’s Choice series runs weekly, with one game (or pair of related games) explained every Tuesday. If you’d like to start from the beginning, click here.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.