PokerStars’ new game Fusion has been live for about two weeks now, and already the tables are starting to get tougher. That’s often the case with new formats, that there’s easy money to be made in the first week for quick learners, but after that the most clueless players have either gotten a clue or decided that they’re tired of losing and gone back to Hold’em or whatever they played before.

If you haven’t tried yet, but are thinking of doing so, at this point you’ll want to ground yourself in the fundamentals before diving in, so as not to be at a disadvantage. PokerStars itself has a decent introduction to the game on its website, but I think it’s worth going into a bit more depth.

The wake Fusion works, if you don’t know anything about it, is that it’s exactly like Omaha except that you only get two of your hole cards preflop, one more on the flop, and your fourth on the turn. That means you have an exceptionally low amount of information about your hand preflop, lower than either Hold’em or Omaha.

Because of the game’s structure, I figure it makes sense to break strategy down street-by-street, starting with preflop play, rather than talking about general principles.

Hand Rankings

Compared to either Hold’em or Omaha, starting cards are less important in Fusion overall, because equities run quite close. As in Hold’em, the best starting hand is pocket Aces, but these are not as good – either in absolute terms or relative to other hands – as they are in Hold’em, or even in Omaha. They win only 64% of the time against two random cards, and the second- and third-best hands, AK suited and KK, are only a hair behind, at 63% and 62% respectively.

Similarly, no hands are as hopeless as the famous 72 off-suit in Hold’em. Pocket Deuces are actually the worst starting hand in Fusion, and even so have 44% equity against a random opponent hand.

Therefore, unless you’re very short-stacked or contemplating a 4- or 5-bet, the equity of your cards is not the most important thing. Rather, as far as your cards go, the important thing is that you select hands for which the flop will tend to polarize you. As in Omaha, you’d much rather flop a monster some of the time and whiff the rest than to flop a lot of middling hands which will leave you in doubt as to where you stand. In fact, because their equities are so close, there’s a strong case to be made that AK suited is actually a better starting hand than AA in most cases for this reason.

What You’re Looking to Flop

Though we’re taking things street-by-street, deciding what hands to play preflop requires us to know what kinds of hands we can reasonably hope to flop in Fusion. This is different than either Hold’em or Omaha, because we’ll have three cards at that point, rather than two or four.

In Omaha, you’re mostly looking to flop either the nuts, or a draw with many outs to the nuts. That’s a lot harder to manage with three cards – one of which may not end up being coordinated with the other two – than it is with four that you’ve selected preflop, so we can’t expect that much. On the other hand, winning hands at showdown will tend to be a lot stronger in Fusion than they are in Hold’em, so flopping top pair and hoping it holds up is not a winning strategy either.

Instead, a good flop for Fusion is either a very good Hold’em hand (like an open-ended straight or nut flush draw, a set or top two pair), or else a decent Hold’em hand (like an overpair, top pair or bottom two pair) with various kinds of additional equity, such as gutshots and backdoor draws.

The hands that hit the flop in those sorts of ways consist mostly of big pocket pairs, medium-to-large connectors and gappers, broadway combos, and suited Aces. Connectedness, whether direct or with a one- or two-card gap, is very important, because it makes it more likely that additional hole cards will also be connected.

On the other hand, suitedness is usually unimportant, as it’s likely that you’ll pick up at least one pair of suited cards on a later street. The exception is when you’re holding an Ace, as a nut flush draw is massively more valuable than any other flush draw, as it is in Omaha. That is, there’s little difference between QJ offsuit and QJ suited in Fusion, because it’s likely that one card or the other will become suited on a later street, and a Jack-high flush draw is just about as good as a Queen-high flush draw. Conversely, AJ suited is much better than AJ offsuit, because it guarantees that if you’re drawing to a flush, it’s the nut flush; if you play AJ offsuit and pick up a suited card, half the time it will be suited with the Jack, which is not nearly as good as suiting up with the Ace.

No Blind Stealing

The closeness of equities is particularly important when it comes to big blind defense. A pot-sized preflop raise from a player other than the small blind is to 4.5 BB. If it folds around to the big blind, she is being asked to call 3 BB to win 6 BB, giving her 2-1 pot odds.

In Hold’em, the worst hands are only slightly better than 2-1 to win against random holdings, and considerably worse than that against most raising ranges. There are also a lot of hands like J2o where getting a seemingly good flop (i.e. a Jack-high board) leaves the player with very bad reverse implied odds, as they’re unlikely to get multiple streets of value out of worse hands, but could easily be put in a tough spot by a better Jack or an overpair.

In Fusion, as we said, the very worst hands are 44%, or better than 1.3-1 to win against random holdings. Even the worst possible hand-vs.-hand matchups – 22 vs. AA or A2 vs. AA – give the underdog a 30% shot at winning, and of course we’re never putting an opponent on a range of exactly AA in Fusion, especially not in a single-raised pot.

That’s not to say that the big blind should literally never fold, because there is still the issue of reverse implied odds. Small pairs can’t do much better than flopping bottom set, and bottom set doesn’t win often enough in Fusion or Omaha to be worth playing small pairs purely for set value. Likewise, unconnected, offsuit rags are usually going to flop two pair at best, and it will rarely be top two.

Hands whose best flops simply set you up to make big mistakes out of position are not worth playing regardless of the pot odds, so there are some hands that the big blind should fold in Fusion, just not very many of them.

To get an idea of how few we’re talking about, a hand like 85 offsuit is actually a slight favorite against random cards due to its connectedness, and only a 41/59 dog to something like Ace-King suited. If you’d defend your blind with, say, 97 suited in Texas Hold’em (which I would hope you would), you should be defending 85 offsuit in Fusion.

I don’t know exactly what percentage of Fusion hands should be defended against a raise from this or that position, but it has to be at least 75% to 80% and possibly higher. That means that the possibility of stealing the blinds is so remote that it shouldn’t really factor into raising decisions from other possibilities; even if it folds around to the big blind, they’re going to call you almost every time.

A Matter of Position

The fact that the cards matter relatively less in Fusion than in other formats means that position becomes relatively more important. The fact that information about hand strength is more spread out, and that more can change from the flop to the turn makes it even more so, as there are going to be a greater number of situations where it makes sense to fire two-barrel bluffs, and likewise a lot of situations where you’re going to want to check back the turn.

Therefore, when it comes to playing the button, similar logic applies as when it comes to defending the big blind, except that the incentive is different. The big blind should defend almost every time because she’s getting 2-1 or better on her money. The button should open almost every time it’s folded to him because the advantage of position will outweigh any equity disadvantage based on starting cards, especially because he can expect that the big blind will be calling with a range that includes similarly weak hands.

As with the big blind, “almost every time” doesn’t mean “literally every time.” The very worst hands will flop air or marginal equity much more often than they’ll have clear value or good semibluffing potential, and trying to get to a cheap showdown with a marginal hand is not the best use of position.

However, we do have two positions which are going to want to play a huge majority of hands, and that needs to be considered by players in other positions. If you’re going to open from any position from under the gun through cutoff, you should expect that the usual result is going to be that you’re called by the button and big blind, at a minimum. It won’t always happen, but it will happen enough that you should expect it as the default.

That means that from these other positions, you should only be opening hands that are going to play well in multiway pots, in which at least one other player has position on you. Those hands are the ones we discussed up front, which can make top two pair, top set, or a nut flush and/or straight draw: big pocket pairs, medium-to-large connectors and gappers, broadway combinations and suited Aces.

The Three-Betting Question

All of this omits the question of three- and four-betting, and I think here we’re in largely unexplored territory. It’s harder to balance a three- or four-betting range in Fusion simply because there’s so little chance of getting a fold.

I’m not, for instance, convinced that the players in the blinds should actually have a 3-betting range at all in most situations, unless effective stacks are smaller than normal. You might want to 3-bet hands like Ace-King suited for value from that position, but the number of such hands is small enough that if you’re only three-betting those, you make it too easy to put you on a hand postflop. Mixing in some bluffs isn’t a good idea, because they’ll rarely work, so you don’t benefit from fold equity. The exception to all this might be if there are already multiple callers, allowing for a bigger 3-bet; chasing some players out of the pot and reducing the stack-to-pot ratio are both effective means of reducing the disadvantage of being out of position.

The button, of course, can three-bet a lot of hands for value, if he thinks he has the card advantage to go along with his positional advantage. He can also mix in some weak suited Aces perhaps suited midrange connectors for balance. I include the latter because one effect of three-betting as the button is to drive the big blind out and get the pot heads up; like Omaha and unlike Hold’em, non-nut flushes are much better in heads-up pots than multiway, as with multiple opponents the odds of running into a bigger flush grow exponentially.

For earlier positions, the logic is probably similar, but with the goal of chasing the button out, rather than the big blind. For instance, if an early position player opens, and the cutoff finds himself with a hand he’d rather play heads-up than multi-way, he might consider putting in a 3-bet to make it more expensive for the button to play his position.

Summary

Putting all that together, these are the important points about preflop play in Fusion.

  • Barring multiple raises, both the button and the big blind should be involved in most hands, and should be expected therefore to have wide open ranges on the flop.
  • Far more hands will go multiple ways to the flop than either Hold’em or Omaha.
  • Blind stealing is not a thing, nor is the concept of blocker value of much importance.
  • Players other than the big blind and button should usually be playing hands with mid-to-high cards and some connectedness, though this includes two- and even three-gappers. Cards from Deuce to Five are generally going to be accompanied by a suited Ace.
  • The primary goal of three-betting will usually be to get the pot heads up rather than to win it uncontested or to get value, as hand equities run so close.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the flop, by far the most interesting and different street in Fusion.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.