If you want to play winning Omaha…

you need a lot more than a HUD and a hand chart. Fortunately, this complexity is an integral part of why the games are presently so profitable. Many former NLHE regulars have migrated to Omaha under the impression that, “that’s where the fish are.” They then experience several long downswings and yet maintain their self-image as ‘winning poker players’ because they read that, “PLO has a lot of variance”. Baloney!

1 Sure, there are more fish at PLO than Hold’em, and if you are a losing player against regulars you can still plod along to breakeven with the money you make from those weaker players. However, the real reason Omaha is so profitable is that the regulars are really, really bad.

A quick personal detour

Before I go any further, I had better back up my claim with a winning graph, so here are my last 100k hands at 200 and 400 PLO2 with a win-rate of close to 10bb/100.

From a personal perspective this is pretty gratifying as an endorsement of my approach; I started 2012 at PLO50, was breaking into PLO200 when I started this blog and shortly after posted this graph at PLO100 and PLO200. My goal at the start of the year was to progress from PLO50 to PLO1000 and that target is now only 2 stakes away! I insist on a sample of 200,000 hands with a win-rate of at least 5bb/100 before attempting a higher limit (although I am adjusting that in light of the knowledge I gained from my previous post on bankroll management) and prefer a sustained stretch at 10bb/100 before permanently migrating. This post is not intended primarily as a graph post3 so, having given myself some kind of a platform for my bold claim, back to the narrative!

Parsing the PLO population

Luckboxes form a substantial fraction (I would estimate 30%, and this number will increase as you go up the stakes) of the regulars at any given limit. By ‘luckbox’, I don’t mean a losing player, but rather a regular who would usually win at a marginal 1-2bb win-rate who has run very hot over a small sample. Contrary to popular consensus, among regulars the most common way to run hot is not to run above EV, but rather to constantly flop well in 3- and 4-bet pots. Most pros at the higher stakes are disciplined enough not to jump up stakes when they run above EV, but if they don’t perform thorough database reviews they falsely believe they have a higher win-rate than they do4. If you suspect a regular has been a luckbox to get where he is you should expect him to play very fast pre-flop (lots of 3- and 4-betting) and to shove flops often in 3-bet pots. He simply hasn’t experienced enough downswings to have learned when these lines are sub-optimal.

Solid nits are the largest group of regulars with a decent (3-5bb/100) win-rate at all of the limits that I have played to date (20% of regulars, not to be confused with weak-tight regulars). They typically play exceptionally strong ranges out of position and only loosen up on the button. They only get the money in post-flop with strong equity, and their hand selection permits them to barrel frequently with high equity on most flop/turn combinations. Since their win-rate is still marginal, they rarely tilt and benefit substantially from rakeback. What differentiates them from other, weaker regulars, is their willingness to fold ‘pretty’ hands pre-flop even multi-way and their liberal use of bet/fold lines against passive opponents. They are very much out of their comfort zone when the game drops to 3-4 handed and, if the reader falls into this category, should be quitting the games against tough aggressive regulars once the table begins to break.

Weak regulars are the majority at most stakes with 24 hour action. I would estimate 60% of the regulars at every limit I have played are weak and there is an obvious overlap between this category and the luckboxes. These opponents range from playing far too tight to far too spewy post-flop and need to be classified individually. The reason that they are weak is because they wish to over-simplify a highly complex game. They have ‘standard lines’ in many spots without noticing the subtle differences in board texture or the obvious differences in their opponent’s counter-strategy. They are the most likely group to rely on ‘feel’ without having developed the framework to justify a ‘feel-based’ approach. If you are uncomfortable reading this, perhaps you fall into this category yourself! If so, you are not alone, the remainder of this article should be of help to the studious reader.

Back on the winning track, becoming a Tough regular

If my account thus far has seemed a little too bombastic, let me assure the reader that in terms of playing Omaha I would describe myself as a, “highly aware, semi-weak regular.” Having become aware of quite how much is theoretically unexplored in Omaha, I realized that I had only traveled a few steps along the road to becoming Nemesis5. We are all but shadows of our ‘potential poker selves’ and it is only through a lot of hard work that I have progressed from “weak” to “semi-weak”. A few months later, a few steps further along, and I can share some of the fundamental framework with which I approach PLO:

1) Learn to classify flop textures, and analyze each one on its own merit

Taxonomy is tough, even with something as simple as 3-card poker hands6 and it is likely that, as your knowledge grows, you will come to reclassify flop textures which at first looked identical. Q32 and Q42 two-tone are pretty similar, but does it matter if the Q is suited or not? What about Q95 and Q96? I won’t give you the answers to these questions, but the more time you take to investigate how your opponents’ ranges intersect with these textures, the better the betting lines you will devise on them. If you have the same bet size in a 3-bet pot on AT8/AT5/K94 against all opponents, you are doing something seriously wrong.

2) Take time to analyze your opponents away from the table

If you play mid-stakes Omaha regularly on any of the major networks I probably have a file on you. I’m not exaggerating, I dissect a different opponent four times a week, and go back over opponents to look for changes in their game. I then convert the notes into actions I should be taking to exploit them, and paste those notes into my HEM note file. If you play someone day in, day out and you have fewer than 10 lines of text detailing explicit leaks you are not working smart enough. You can have the best HUD layout in the world, but the HUD tells you the average over all textures, not how your opponent plays this texture.Often, this process will result in me having to analyze a new flop texture because I don’t yet know how to adapt to their style. This leads me into…

3) Drop the Ego

Over the last month I have found myself being berated by a couple of my regular opponents. Considering that I have come from a lower stake, crushed this stake, and now moved past it, I am a strange choice for “fish” epithets. However, I can empathize; towards the end of my mid-stakes NL career, I had the mindset that any time I lost a big pot it was a, “cooler, suckout or lucky donkey play.” Unsurprisingly, this stunted my growth as a player, since I wasn’t willing to take the educational gifts that were being offered to me. Now, when someone “owns me” at Omaha7, far from being upset I spend extra time analyzing the hand. On several occasions, I have been able to add a string to my bow because another opponent’s clever line allowed me to reevaluate a situation I thought I already understood.

If you integrate the suggestions above into your poker framework, a little hard work away from the table will reap big rewards at the table.
See you at the top of Mount EV,


Show 7 footnotes

  1. This is an approximation of the appropriate exclamation.
  2. Only 88k show because I have played some O8 in that period also and HEM selects the hand group and then filters out by stake rather than vice versa.
  3. My last graph drew many new subscribers, and that number ticking over keeps me motivated.
  4. Yes I check my own DB regularly, this sample contains a disproportionate number of set-under-set in 3-bet pots and opponents successfully set-mining me in 4-bet pots.
  5. Credit to ‘Mathematics of poker’ for the apt description of this concept.
  6. An awesome book which touches on categorization is Umberto Eco’s ‘Kant and the Platypus’.
  7. I define owning as a player forcing me to fold in a spot I had not anticipated, or