Omaha Preflop Strategy
Omaha 8 or Better (frequently written shorthand as O8) is a Hi-Low split the pot version of Omaha poker played fixed-limit, meaning you can only bet in fixed increments. The low hand must be five cards of 8 or less, including Aces.
As with most poker games, preflop decision making is a very important part of winning Omaha 8 strategy. Generally, you want to play hands that can scoop, that is capture both the high and low best hands. You certainly want to play hands that can win the high, because in some hands there are not five cards for the low (8 or less). So it often does not make sense to play for the low, especially since low hands are more likely to tie, meaning even if you win the low you may get only 25% of the pot if someone has the same low hand.
Players used to Texas Hold’em might be surprised to learn that there are no “preflop charts” for Omaha 8. This is because Hold’em has 1,326 starting hand combinations whereas Omaha has 270,725 starting hands. It’s impossible to give a concise and accurate description of what hands to play from each position for Omaha 8. This makes Omaha 8 a very dynamic and interesting game with no concrete guidelines available each pre-flop situation can be truly unique and is an opportunity to apply your problem-solving skills to determine the best course of action.
Unlike most poker games you will find top players who disagree about what the best hands are preflop, and how they should be played. You’ll even find players who have been playing the game for many years who do not have a good grasp of what a “good” hand even looks like.
To give you an idea of what I mean let’s consider a few similar looking Omaha 8 hands:
Hand 1: As 2s 3c Kc
Hand 2: As 2s Qs Jc
Hand 3: As 2c 8c 9c
All of these hands are superficially quite similar. They all contain (A2) which is the 2-card combination most likely to make the nut low. However they vary dramatically in quality.
Hand 1 is a super-premium, top 1% hand. It’s double suited to both high cards, contains (A23) which is an extremely powerful low-draw, and (AK) which is a powerful high hand. It’s such a good hand that not raising with it, even when facing a raise, will almost always be a mistake. It’s a significant favorite over even a tight player only playing 10% of their hands.
Hand 2 is also a premium hand, but it doesn’t have the super-premium status of Hand 1. We see that the hand is no longer double-suited, but single suited. It also has an extra spade, which hurts its value somewhat. However, significantly, it’s still suited to the Ace, and it still contains strong high-card potential. This is a strong hand that should be usually played for a raise, however unlike Hand 1 it is not an equity favorite over a tight player’s opening range.
Hand 3 is one of the worst (A2) hands. (A2) is strong enough in Omaha 8 that even the worst (A2) hands will be playable in most situations, but this hand is far from a favorite over a tight opener’s range. Unlike Hand 1 and Hand 2, this hand has limited high potential. Our 9-high flush draw will always be in danger of domination, and neither the 8 nor the 9 make particularly powerful pairs. When we pair our A we are likely to be out-kicked.
In Part 2 we will look at other types of Omaha 8 hands, and how to evaluate them. Then finally, in Part 3 we will look at how the specific qualities of our hand can affect preflop decisions in non-obvious ways.
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