Omaha hold 'em
(or Omaha holdem
or simply Omaha
) is a community card poker
game similar to Texas hold 'em
, where each player is dealt four cards and must make his best hand using exactly two of them, plus exactly three of the five community cards. The exact origination of the game is unknown, but casino executive Robert Turner
first brought Omaha into a casino setting when he introduced the game to Bill Boyd
who offered it as a game at the Las Vegas Golden Nugget Casino
(calling it "Nugget Hold'em".)
In North American
casinos, the term "Omaha" can refer to several poker
games. The original game is also commonly known as "Omaha High". A high-low split version called "Omaha Hi-Lo", or sometimes "Omaha eight-or-better" or "Omaha/8", is also played.
In Europe, "Omaha" still typically refers to the high version of the game, usually played pot-limit. Pot-limit Omaha is often abbreviated as "PLO." Pot-limit and no-limit Omaha eight-or-better can be found in some casinos and online, though no-limit is rarer.
It is often said that Omaha is a game of "the nuts", i.e. the best possible high or low hand, because it frequently takes "the nuts" to win a showdown. It is also a game where between the cards in his hand and the community cards a player may have drawing possibilities to multiple different types of holdings. For example, a player may have both a draw to a flush and a full house using different combinations of cards. At times, even seasoned players may need additional time to figure what draws are possible for their hand.
The basic differences between Omaha and Texas hold 'em are these: first, each player is dealt four cards to his private hand instead of two. The betting rounds and layout of community cards are identical. At showdown, each player's hand is the best five-card hand he can make from exactly three of the five cards on the board, plus exactly two of his own cards. Unlike Texas hold 'em, a player cannot play four or five of the cards on the board with fewer than two of his own, nor can a player use three or four hole cards to disguise a strong hand.
Some specific things to notice about Omaha hands are:
- As in Texas hold 'em, three or more suited cards on the board makes a flush possible, but unlike that game a player always needs two of that suit in his hand to play a flush. For example, with a board of K♠ 9♠ Q♠ Q♥ 5♠, a player with A♠ 2♥ 4♥ 5♣ cannot play a flush using his ace as he could in Texas hold 'em; he must play two cards from his hand and only three from the board (so instead, this player's best hand is two pair: Q♠ Q♥ 5♠ 5♣ A♠). A player with 2♠ 3♠ K♦ J♦ can play the spade flush.
- Two pair on the board does not make a full house for anyone with a single matching card as it does in Texas hold 'em. For example, with a board of J♠ J♦ 9♦ 5♥ 9♣, a player with a hand of A♠ 2♠ J♥ K♦ cannot play a full house; he can only use his A-J to play J♠ J♥ J♦ A♠ 9♣, since he must play three of the board cards. A player with 2♣ 5♣ 9♠ 10♠ can use his 9-5 to play the full house 9♠ 9♣ 9♦ 5♥ 5♣.
- Likewise, with three of a kind on the board, a player must have a pair in his hand to make a full house. For example, with a board of J♠ J♦ A♦ J♥ K♣, a player with A♠ 2♠ 3♥ K♦ does not have a full house, he only has three jacks with an ace-king kicker, and will lose to a player with only a pair of deuces. This is probably the most frequently misread hand in Omaha. (Naturally, a person with the fourth jack in his hand can make four jacks because any other card in his hand can act as the fifth card, or "kicker").
In high-low split
, each player makes a separate five-card high hand and five-card ace-to-five
low hand (eight-high or lower to qualify), and the pot is split between the high and low (which may be the same player). To qualify for low, a player must be able to play an 8-7-6-5-4
or lower (this is why it is called "eight-or-better", or simply "Omaha/8"). A few casinos play with a 9-low qualifier instead, but this is rare. Each player can play any two of his four hole cards to make his high hand, and any two of his four hole cards to make his low hand. If there is no qualifying low hand, the high hand wins (scoops
) the whole pot.
The brief explanation above belies the complexity of the game, so a number of examples will be useful here to clarify it. The table below shows a five-card board of community cards at the end of play, and then lists for each player the initial private four-card hand dealt to him or her, and the best five-card high hand and low hand each player can play on showdown:
| Board: 2♠ 5♣ 10♥ 7♦ 8♣
|| Low |
|Mike ||A♠ 4♠ 5♥ K♣
||5♥ 5♣ A♠ 10♥ 8♣
||7♦ 5♣ 4♠ 2♠ A♠ |
|Brian ||A♥ 3♥ 10♠ 10♣
||10♠ 10♣ 10♥ 8♣ 7♦
||7♦ 5♣ 3♥ 2♠ A♥ |
|Jess ||7♣ 9♣ J♠ Q♠
||J♠ 10♥ 9♣ 8♣ 7♦
||Cannot qualify |
|Tony ||4♥ 6♥ K♠ K♦
||8♣ 7♦ 6♥ 5♣ 4♥
||7♦ 6♥ 5♣ 4♥ 2♠ |
|Emily ||A♦ 3♦ 6♦ 9♥
||10♥ 9♥ 8♣ 7♦ 6♦
||7♦ 5♣ 3♦ 2♠ A♦ |
In the deal above, Jess wins the high-hand half of the pot with his
J-high straight, and Brian and Emily split the low half (getting a
quarter of the pot each) with 7-5-3-2-A.
Some specific things to notice about Omaha eight-or-better hands are:
- In order for anyone to qualify low, there must be at least three cards of differing ranks 8 or below on the board. For example, a board of K-8-J-7-5 makes low possible (the best low hand would be A-2, followed by A-3, 2-3, etc.) A board of K-8-J-8-5, however, cannot make any qualifying low (the best low hand possible would be J-8-5-2-A, which doesn't qualify). Statistically, around 60% of the time a low hand is possible.
- Low hands often tie, and high straights occasionally tie as well, as do, even more rarely, full houses. It is possible to win as little as a 14th of a pot (though this is extraordinarily rare). Winning a quarter of the pot is quite common, and is called "getting quartered." One dangerous aspect of playing for the low pot is the concept of 'counterfeiting'. To illustrate, if a player has, for example, 2-3 and two other cards in his hand and the flop is A-6-7, that player has flopped the 'nut low'. However, if either a 2 or a 3 hit the board on the turn or the river, the hand is 'counterfeited' and the nut low hand is lost (the player still has a much weaker low hand however). This is why there is significant extra value in possessing the 'protected' nut low. To illustrate this, if the player has 2-3-4 in his hand his low is protected, i.e. if a 2 or 3 hits the board he still has the lowest possible hand. To lose the nut low in this case either a 2 and a 3, a 2 and a 4, or a 3 and a 4 would have to hit the board on the turn and the river (giving the nut low to a player holding 4-5, 3-5 and 2-5, respectively), an unlikely possibility. For similar reasons it is significantly better to possess the protected nut low draw over the low draw. For example, this could be having A-2-3 with a flop of 7-8-9; any low card below 7 on the turn or river gives the player the best low.
- When four or five low cards appear on the board, it can become very difficult to read the low hands properly. For example with a board of 2♦ 6♥ A♣ 5♣ 8♠, the hand 2♥ 4♠ 5♠ K♦ is playing a 6-5-4-2-A (either his 2-4 with the board's A-5-6, or his 4-5 with the board's A-2-6--either way makes the same hand). In this situation he is often said to be playing his "live" 4, that is, his 4, plus some other low card that matches the board but still makes a low because the one on the board isn't needed. A player with 3♠ 5♠ 10♥ J♦ is playing a "live" 3, for a low of 6-5-3-2-A, which makes a better low. However, a player with 3♣ 7♦ Q♦ Q♠ can only play 7-5-3-2-A low; even though he has a "live" 3, he must play two low cards from his hand, and so he must play his 7-3, and cannot make a 6-high low hand.
- Starting hands with three or four cards of one rank are very bad. In fact, the worst possible hand in the game is 2♠ 2♣ 2♥ 2♦! Since the only possible combination of two cards from this hand is 2-2, it is impossible to make low. As no deuce remains to appear on the board, it will be impossible to make three deuces or deuces full, and anyone with any matching card to the board will make a higher pair. Likewise, starting with four cards of one suit makes it less likely that you will be able to make a flush. Starting with four different suits yields no chance for a flush, and starting with four disconnected cards reduces straight possibilities. Computer analysis of the best starting hands has proven that the best starting hand for Omaha is A-A-K-K with both Ks suited to the As. For the Hi-Lo variation, the most valuable starting holding is A-2 (suited), A-3 (suited).
- Hands to avoid tend to contain mainly middle ranked cards, which are of little use for any low splits and which tend to generate lower pairs and sets, weaker flushes and lower straights and can be very expensive.
- Low hand ranks from best to worst: 5-4-3-2-A ('the wheel'), 6-4-3-2-A, 6-5-3-2-A, 6-5-4-2-A, ... , 8-7-6-5-4. Low hands can thus be read as numbers between 54,321 and 87,654(with the exception of any number that has two of the same number i.e. 54,322). The lowest number that any player can make is the best possible low hand in play. See also ace-to-five low
Pot-limit Omaha (also called PLO) is popular in Europe, online, and in high-stakes "mixed games" played in some American casinos. It is more often played high only, but can also be played high low. Even more so than Limit Omaha Hi-Lo, PLO is a game of drawing, if you are drawing, to the nut hand. Second best flushes and straights can be, and frequently are, beaten. Furthermore, because of the exponential growth of the pot size in pot-limit play, seeing one of these hands to the end can be very expensive.
A great hand to have in PLO is the nuts with a redraw. For example, if the board is Q♠ J♠ 10♥
, and you have A♠ K♣ Q♣ Q♥
, then not only do you have the current nuts (your ace-king), but you also have a redraw with the two queens in your hand because if the board pairs, you will make queens full, or four queens. If your hand is A♠ K♠ Q♣ Q♥
, your hand is even better because you have flush and royal flush redraws as well. In fact, with the Q♠ J♠ 10♥
board, A♠ K♠ Q♣ Q♥
is approximately an 80-20 money favorite over a random hand containing ace-king. Even a pair of queens with any two spades is better than 55-45 against a random ace-king hand. Flopped nut straights, flushes and even sets can often be a double-edged sword in pot-limit Omaha.
Sometimes the high-low split game is played with a 9
or a 7
-high qualifier instead of 8
-high. It can also be played with five cards dealt to each player instead of four. In that case, the same rules for making a hand apply: exactly two from the player's hand, and exactly three from the board.
In the game of "Courchevel", popular in Europe, instead of betting on the initial four cards and then flopping three community cards for the second round, the first community card is dealt before the first betting round, so that each player has four private cards and the single community card on his first bet. Then two more community cards are dealt, and play proceeds exactly as in Omaha.
Pot Limit Omaha high can also be played with more than four hole cards, the most common variety being six card Omaha which can be found in many casinos across the UK.