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Differences between NLHE and PLO, Part 1

Differences between NLHE and PLO, Part 1

Any NLHE convert who has played a few thousand hands of PLO quickly notices there is something ‘different’ about PLO. Many accomplished NL players, even erstwhile professionals, suddenly find themselves breaking even (we’ll call it that, a lot are losing) despite playing PLO at stakes far lower than those they are accustomed to. This feeling that something is ‘different’ can rapidly turn into a feeling that something is ‘wrong’ and a casual glance at the Omaha literature seems to offer scant consolation.

Classical Explanations

“In Omaha you have four cards,” the author/video producer sagely asserts. For those readers for whom this information is a revelation I gently suggest a different hobby, perhaps one requiring less attention to detail. You would fit right in as an officer of the treasury at most governments. The rest of us continue reading, “four cards is like having six combinations of hold’em hands!” The mathematically literate among you are thinking, “no sh*t Sherlock, 4C2,” whereas those with different interests will find this amusing in passing. Still, it is likely that none of you needed to be told that with four cards there are more ways for your hand (and by extension everyone’s hands) to interact with the flop. The real issue is that most people, even strong Omaha players, have difficulty explaining the real differences between PLO and NLHE. Sure they will tell you that ‘position is more important in PLO’ but they won’t tell you why? You are also pretty sure you see heads-up PLO players playing just as aggressively OOP as they do in HUNL.

This series of articles will explain the substantial differences between NLHE and PLO. By the time we are done, you should have a deeper appreciation for what makes Omaha such a fascinating game, and a new set of tools to outplay your less sophisticated opponents. We’ll start with…


OMG 4 cards!!

Let’s take a very innocuous flop, Q64r, and compare the equities of some hand versus hand match-ups in NL and PLO:

PLO

100000 trials (randomized)

All-in Equity

chart

NL

11880 trials (exhaustive)

All-in Equity

chart

PLO

100000 trials (randomized)

All-in Equity

chart

NL

5940 trials (exhaustive)

All-in Equity

chart


PLO

100000 trials (randomized)

All-in Equity

chart

NL

95040 trials (exhaustive)

All-in Equity

chart

These match-ups demonstrate the huge difference in relative equities for {overpair versus pair, top pair top kicker versus pair, top top kicker versus dominated top pair} between PLO and NL. The differences are really quite striking, particularly the impact of ‘domination’ in NL.

What do all these numbers actually mean?

I have demonstrated that in PLO, even on a relatively dry flop, we have far fewer ‘obvious 3 streets of value’ hands than we do in NL.We will call these hands our ‘thick value range’ and note that in an aggressive short-handed NL game any top pair, decent kicker is good for three streets of value.

The second piece of the puzzle is that in Omaha a relatively small fraction of hands that are ahead on the flop will still be worthy of a value bet by the river. Meanwhile, many hands which were equity dogs on the flop will become nut or near-nut hands by the river.That backdoor flush is very much a tertiary consideration in NL but stops us value betting even top two against many opponents in PLO.

There are a group of flops that come more naturally to an NL convert, many ‘static’ boards {KJTr, AQ3r, any monotone flop} interact with a small group of hands all of which have excellent equity against hands outside of that group, although they may be dominated by other hands within that group. On such boards it is relatively easy to construct hand ranges worth three streets of value on the flop. Most dynamic boards are not so amenable to this NLHE way of thinking.

Our approach leads us to three ‘rules’ to be mindful of at the Omaha table:

Rule 1: When opening OOP, choose hands with multiple nut potential.

On dynamic flops, where it is hard for even a tight hand range to have a substantial equity edge, we choose a flop continuing range with hands that can make many different types of nut hands by the river. Keeping a strong range OOP allows us to faithfully represent the nuts on the majority of board run-outs, and adds useful bluff cards such as the nut/second-nut blockers to many high-oriented or monotone boards. If we dilute our range by adding marginal broadways, speculative double-suited hands or mediocre pairs we are forced to adjust post-flop. This leads us to a choice between unenviable paths. One is to bloat the pot pre-flop only to surrender to often later; the other to fire on the flop and turn and then be forced to guess with a marginal value hand on the river/triple barrel a bluff-heavy range.

Rule 2: Abuse players who don’t respect rule number 1

The small and mid-stakes games abound with players who open 30-40% from UTG and MP, most of whom are being fooled by variance into thinking this is +EV. Whilst there is a time and a place for such a strategy (a table full of nits/a table with one player who calls 50%+ hands pre-flop and the rest are nits) if you are in position on such a player you should exploit him relentlessly. The first thing to get a handle on is which hands he is adding to his range. A player opening hands such as {AKT5ss, KQT7ss} likely has an any-3-broadway policy. His range will be excessively weak on many medium flops, and he will flop top pair on A/K high flops with a high frequency. His problems on these flops come when he bets flop and turn and faces a river decision, since he will frequently have top and middle pair on a now ugly board. Discover his river tendency and adapt your double-float range accordingly. Other players like to open any marginal double-suited hand OOP. I particularly enjoy playing these opponents since they consider it their divine right to call 3bets OOP in an attempt to ‘stack AA’. 3bet these opponents with a wide range of hands that can make 2 high flush draws {AxxKyy, AxxQyy etc.} and expect to see them punt their stack with any pair+FD post-flop.

Rule 3: Sometimes, C-betting IP is the worst thing you can do…

This one takes a while to get your head around, and matters more the higher up you move in stakes. The trick is to recognize quite how little of your range on a given board will be willing to put three streets in for value, and then discern whether your opponent knows/cares about this. C-betting too frequently on dynamic boards with an inferior range (read BT against a good BB) will lead to you getting check-raised on the flop and barreled on the turn, making your life a nightmare. Much of your range will make a good 2 streets of value on lots of different turn transitions, so check back a little more against competent, aggressive opposition. This argument can be applied to static flops also yet, given the narrow range of hands your opponent represents with aggression, I don’t mind bluff-catching over multiple streets IP on those textures.

I had a lot of fun writing this article since it unveils the flaw in using the visual similarity of two popular community card poker games as an indicator of similarity in strategy. The solace of familiarity is a simulacrum, and a focus on the difference in equity structures between Hold’em and Omaha reveals corresponding differences in optimal approach. I am developing something of a specialization in coaching players with NLHE expertise who are struggling with PLO. If the reader fits into that category I would encourage him to check out the ‘Products’ section on the site. If you enjoyed this article, please ensure you subscribe in the sidebar for updates and exclusive access. Thanks for reading,
Quad

By | 2017-04-10T13:23:16+00:00 August 31st, 2012|

One Comment

  1. greg September 4, 2012 at 11:39 am - Reply

    excellent stuff quad, really really enlightening, too bad i stopped played this (insanely) fun game to keep my mental stability 🙂

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