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Omaha Holdem Basics

     One of the most profitable variations of poker today, especially online, is Omaha high low split eight-or-better, mercifully reduced to the more common name Omaha/8. The main reason for this profitability is not only are there many poor poker players who play Omaha/8, but there are just as many who don’t even understand the rules and hand values. Another reason is that Omaha/8 is a very straightforward and mathematical game. It has much less short-term variance, or luck, than holdem.

     The good news is you have come to the right place to start maximizing your chance at this profit. Starting below you will learn the basics such as how to play and how to read both high and low hands. After you have a solid understanding of the rules, continue with the Omaha/8 strategy sections. They cover basic and advanced strategy for both limit and pot limit Omaha/8.

     Omaha/8 can be played with anywhere from 2 to 10 players with most rooms running full tables of 9 or 10 players. The player to the left of the dealer or button places a forced bet called the small blind and the player to the small blinds left places a forced bet called the big blind. The big blind is equal to the lower betting limit of the game, for example in a 10/20 game the big blind is 10. The small blind is half the big blind, or 5 in our example.

     Each player then receives four cards face down, often called hole cards. The first round of betting starts at this time with the player to the big blinds left, who can fold, call or raise. Play continues to the left until it reaches the big blind, who may check if the pot hasn’t been raised, or raise. Three cards are then placed face up in the center of the table. This is called the flop and these cards are community cards, which can be used by every player to form their best hand.

     The second round of betting starts at this time with the first person still involved in the hand to the left of the dealer. A fourth community card, often called the turn, is placed face up in the center, followed by a third round of betting. This and the last round are at the upper limit, 20 in our example, in limit play. The last community card, called the river, is now placed face up in the center of the table and the last round of betting is conducted.

The pot is then awarded based on the following rules:
1. If there is not a possible low hand, the high hand wins the entire pot. If two players tie for the best high hand, then the pot is split between both players.
2. If one or more players have a qualifying low hand the pot is split. Half the pot is awarded to the best high hand and the other half is awarded to the best low hand. In the event of a tie, the half of the pot awarded is split between the two ties, or they each receive one-fourth of the pot. This is often called “getting quartered”.

     The single most important rule to remember in Omaha/8 is that you must use exactly two cards from your hand and three from the board, or community cards, to form your best hand. If you have both a high and low hand, you can use two different cards from your hand to form them, but you still are required to use exactly two. The number of players who don’t understand this rule will surprise you.

     Another major problem area for many players, particularly holdem players, is playing too many hands. Players assume incorrectly that because they start with four cards instead of two, that they can play a higher percentage of starting hands. This is completely wrong and can make even a great player lose money. Just like most forms of poker, tight and aggressive play is the path to profitability. This means playing around 25% of your starting hands.

     When I was learning Omaha/8, the strategy I quickly was forced to adopt was looking for reasons not to play a hand instead of reasons to play it. This may sound like a small thing, but by evaluating the shortcomings of a hand you will quickly become a tighter and better player.

     A challenge that everyone faces when learning Omaha/8 is correctly reading low hands. Remember that because each player must use two hole cards and three from the board, the only hands that can be split are the ones with three unpaired cards eight or below on the board.

     The fastest way to read low hands is to read them backwards as a number. When comparing two or more hands this way, the lowest number wins. Here is an example, with the lowest hand first and highest hand last.

A 2 3 4 5     - 54,321
A 3 4 5 7     - 75,431
2 4 5 6 7     - 76,542
A 2 3 4 8     - 84,321

 
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