5 Card PLO is the perfect game for those players who want to get as far away as possible from bots and play-by-numbers nits with hand charts. The addition of just a single card to all starting hands leads to an increase in complexity which means that 5 Card PLO Strategy is not susceptible to analysis using simplistic, brute-force solver designs.

Poker Game Variant# Unique Starting Hands
Short Deck Holdem81
No Limit Holdem169
Pot Limit Omaha16,432
5 Card Pot Limit Omaha331,682

Furthermore, even if the game were to be ‘solved’, the number of look-up tables required to sort through to play the game optimally would be so high that human play would still demand a fundamentally different approach to the game than one suggested by those analysts who use blind computation as a crutch.

This intrinsic complexity makes 5 Card PLO a great candidate for growth as an interesting and profitable game for the future. Read on to get acquainted with the unique starting hand equity structure of this game and for a brief discussion of how redraws shape 5 Card PLO Strategy…

5 Card PLO Strategy

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Starting Hand Equity in 5 Card PLO

5 Card PLO can be bewildering, and perhaps you have made it to this article in desperation after a blizzard of a session left you totally disoriented (If so then welcome, you have come to the right place.) It’s a game where you will be dealt AA/KK 8.3% of the time, but where some Kings can be significantly ahead of some Aces pre-flop!

HandEquity
AAA♠3242.7%
KKT9857.3%

In fact, the pre-flop equity structure of 5 Card PLO is very different from that of any other game which you are likely to have played before. There are a myriad of ways of comparing equity structures, but one of the most useful for preparing pre-flop ranges is to examine the equity relationship between the very strongest starting hands and weaker starting hands for each game. I have done exactly that in the graph below.

What you see in this graph is the equity for each decile of hands (according to VR rank) against the top 10% of starting hands for that game. The VR rank refers to ‘versus random’ whereby hands are ordered according to their all-in pre-flop equity against 100% of starting hands. As a general rule in community-card poker games, VR rank increases in strategic relevance at lower stack-to-pot ratios (SPR). Each point is centred for a given decile, so the 21-30% decile is represented at the 25% rank on the abscissa.

5 Card PLO Equity Graph

From this graph we can immediately identify a key structural feature of Holdem- which is that the very strongest starting hands heavily dominate all other starting hands. This structural feature contributes to making pre-flop raises from early positions valuable, because the threat of domination by a narrow range of starting hands is sufficient to eliminate other players from the pot. It also means that optimal strategy includes 3-betting pre-flop, even from out of position, against constrained ranges because the equity advantage of very strong hands overcomes positional considerations at commonly played SPRs.

The graph also shows that hand equities in PLO and Short Deck reduce gradually from the 11%-20% decile to the 91%-100% decile but that the initial drop-off in equity to this 11%-20% decile is far less sharp than in Holdem. From this equity structure we should expect less folding in those games in response to a 3-bet from ranges which were already constrained enough to open if similar bet sizes to Holdem were used.

So what does the equity structure of 5 Card PLO starting hands tell us?

I’m not going to give an elaborate explanation here (for that you should apply to be considered for Private Coaching) but there is one obvious insight I can share which will instantly make you a better 5 Card PLO player. You will see that for the top 90% of starting hands in 5 Card PLO the equity against the strongest starting hands does not dip below 38%. You can also recognize that the equity vs 10%VR at the 85% point for 5 card PLO is higher than the equity at the 35% point for 4 Card PLO. The synthesis of these observations results has two direct strategic applications:

  1. However tight the opening raise is, the Big Blind should defend almost 100% of starting hands in a heads-up pot.
  2. Since there is no possibility of stealing the blinds against a competent opponent, starting hand value from the first 3 seats is largely determined by the value of hands in multi-way pots. Many hands which appear strong heads-up, even a significant number of pocket AA, will be played optimally as folds from EP.

I’m not going to finish this equity analysis without sharing one more key visualization to help you generate pre-flop decision heuristics for your 5 Card PLO Strategy. The table below compares the average versus random hand ranking for a given pair between 4 Card and 5 Card PLO.

PairAverage VR Rank in 4c PLOAverage VR Rank in 5c PLO
A♠A2%5%
K♠K5%10%
Q♠Q8%16%
J♠J11%23%
T♠T16%29%
9♠924%42%
8♠834%51%

Pocket pairs deteriorate in value as they decrease in rank much more quickly in 5 Card PLO than in 4 Card PLO.

Your key takeaway from this table should be that, because you have more cards in your starting hand in 5 Card PLO, the relative value of any one hand asset is diminished. The evaluation of pre-flop hand value in 5 Card PLO is complicated, and using heuristics transferred directly from 4 Card PLO without an appropriate recalibration will lead to wild misjudgements.

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Of course a strategy that includes playing 90% of hands from the Big Blind heads-up is going to get you into a lot of unfamiliar post-flop situations. So since I’m throwing you into the ocean, it seems only fair to give you some pointers as to how to swim.

With that intention in mind, the next part of my analysis will emphasize the significance of redraws in a strong 5 Card PLO Strategy.

5 Card PLO Strategy Revolves Around Redraws

Let us start by comparing the quality of a flopped ‘nut’ hand between 4 Card PLO and 5 Card PLO. We call a raise from an early position opener using a 10%VR range whilst we sit in the Big Blind with K♠Q♠87(6), where the bracketed card is the 5th card for the 5 Card PLO situation. The flop comes down as:

AJT

In both games we have flopped the nuts and in both games we face this flop with some trepidation, aware that there are some hands which can dominate us. However this flop is far more threatening in 5 Card PLO, even though we hold the nuts, because of the larger fraction of our opponent’s range which can hold dominating hands with redraws.

I have made the starkness of this comparison clear in the graph below:

5 Card PLO Equity AJT Flop

In 4 Card PLO we are a favourite against 80% of our opponent’s range on this flop, as indicated by the yellow line crossing the 50% equity mark at the 20th percentile of our opponent’s range. In 5 Card PLO we are only ahead of 58% of our opponent’s range on this same flop. What should give you cause for alarm is the strong divergence between the equity lines at the 35% mark: In 4-card PLO we only have less than 35% equity on this flop with this hand about 12% of the time, but in 5 Card PLO we are dominated 65-35 or worse about 26% of the time!!!

Did you think that running into nuts plus redraw on this flop was a cooler? Think again…

What this graph shows us is that, for this hand on this flop, stack protection is of far greater significance than equity protection at mid-high SPRs. As a consequence we should play this hand passively in 5 Card PLO, being glad to get to the river as cheaply as possible. If you can find opponents who will play the mere nuts aggressively on flops with similar equity structures to this then you get as close as you can to free money in a poker game.

The real skill lies in being able to identify flops with these equity structures in-game, and my 5 Card PLO Strategy Research at Cardquant is dedicated to bringing the smartest poker players in the game the most coherent strategy available so that they can accurately identify such flops at the tables.