EVALUATION OF STARTING HANDS

 

Texas holdem players taking up Omaha usually have these feelings about their ability to adjust to the game; "I know how to play all right once the flop is dealt, but I'm not sure what to look for in a starting hand." They may or may not be right about their competency from flop to finish, but the uncertainty over what constitutes a desirable starting hand is nearly universal. Good judgment before the flop is harder to acquire at Omaha, although quite important. "What you sow is what you reap" is an excellent adage when applied to Omaha. Before we discuss the correct evaluation method for starting hands, let us look at a couple of incorrect views widespread among newcomers used to holdem.

 

(1) "A four-card hand that contains a good starting hand for holdem within it is a good Omaha hand." This view is not proclaimed out loud, but seems to be the criterion initially adopted by holdem players. They evaluate J© J§ 6¨ 2ª as being almost equal to a pair of jacks in holdem. I don't claim the hand is unplayable in all situations, but is nowhere near as good as the beginning Omaha player imagines. Any hand with two useless-looking cards in it cannot be a premium hand at Omaha.

 

(2) "Two decent holdem hands in one four-card holding are going to make a good Omaha hand." This is the next level of sophistication past the beginner view, but it is also wrong. Take a look at this hand; Aª Q© 7¨ 7§. These are two decent holdem hands that compose it; ace-queen offsuit and two sevens. Yet this hand is a definite piglet at Omaha. The reason is the holdem player is only looking at two of the six possible card combinations present in the hand. He is forgetting about the other four poorly coordinated combinations of Aª-7¨, Aª-7§, Q©-7¨, and Q©-7§. The ace is not suited, which is a serious drawback. This hand is actually worse than the two jacks in our previous example, in my opinion.

 

The correct view is, "A good Omaha hand has all four cards coordinate with each other." This statement is the only one that appeals to common sense, once you think about it. A hand with six working card-combinations is a super hand. For example, look at this hand: Qª J§ 10ª 9§. Every card has working value with all the other cards in the hand. It is easy to imagine some real powerhouse flops to a mountain like this one. If you flop two pair, you will also have an open-end straight-draw or a straight made. There are many flops that will yield a thirteen way or seventeen way straight-draw. If we can turn a flush-draw in addition on these flops, so much the better. Starting hands like this one are the most likely to produce a multiway hand on the flop, and the multiway hand is what we are really hoping for at Omaha.

I think the following hands are close in value: Qª J§ 10ª 9§, Qª Q§ J§ 10ª, and Qª Q§ Jª J§. I will leave it up to the computer experts to give us their exact order of ranking. The important thing is the nice way the cards coordinate with each other. Naturally, the hand of Qª J§ 10ª 9§ is worth more than 8ª 7§ 6ª 5§, but the second hand is also a good hand even though the cards are lower-ranking than in the first hand. I want to take the flop with almost any hand composed of four-in-a-row double-suited if the price isn't too much.

Another premium hand is two aces combined with cards that coordinate with them. The best type of coordination here is to be of the same suit. Two aces double-suited is a great hand. Compare these two hands, Aª A© 7§ 2¨, and Aª A§ 10ª 9§. The former hand needs to buy another ace to stay in contention; the latter hand has two nut flush-draws and some straight-draws to lend additional value to the aces themselves. Of course, if you can get heads-up against someone when you have two junky-looking aces, I like your chances. However, to raise the pot on a hand that probably needs to turn a set in order to win is not good poker. It is nearly impossible to ram a pair of aces through in a limit Omaha game, and often difficult at pot-limit also. Only at no-limit are two unsupported aces a big hand, and no-limit Omaha games are rare.

Sometimes a hand is very likely marked with two aces because of heavy preflop betting. This is especially true at pot-limit play when a solid player puts in a reraise of the maximum amount. In these cases an opponent will usually back with his whole stack any hand that has out-flopped two aces, or has a good chance to beat them. When the aces have managed to flop a big hand with the other two cards, the opponent is going to get a rude surprise. It's really sweet when you flop a set or a straight with them. Obviously, it is much easier to flop a big hand if your sidecards are paired or a useful-looking combination like J-10 than if they are unrelated. Being suited can also have surprise value. When the aces flop a flush-draw, this can be instrumental in misleading an opponent into playing for all his money in an adverse situation. You should look closely at the two supporting cards in evaluating an Omaha hand with two aces (or any big pair). Omaha is definitely a four-card poker game.

It would be nice if we could pick up lots of hands with two double-suited aces or four-in-a-row in every Omaha session. However, these hands are hard to come by, so we must bend a little in our requirements. Otherwise we will be in the same category as the holdem player who only enters the pot with A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or A-K. In other words, we are liable to ante off all our money and not get played with when we bet. Four-in-a-row is nice, but suppose there is a gap in the hand somewhere. Which one of these hands is the most valuable: J-10-9-7, J-10-8-7, or J-9-8-7? The answer is they are listed in descending order of value, because if a card on the board hits in the gap, we would like to have more of our cards higher-ranking than lower-ranking. I think J-10-9-6 may well be a better hand-pattern than J-9-8-7 for this reason, despite having a notch wider gap in the rank of the cards.

Sometimes a hand with only three working cards can be reasonably decent and worth playing. The best three-card hands are those that have a fairly large pair in conjunction with a potential nut flush-draw. Naturally, you would like to flop both a set and the nut flush-draw. This is easier to do if the ace is of the same suit as your otherwise non-working fourth card, rather than being suited with one of the cards used in the pair.

A good poker player is not looking for a lot of opportunities to gamble; he is looking for an overlay. When the big pots are played, it is often a made hand against a drawing hand. In that circumstance there is a lot of luck in who takes the money. At Omaha the drawing hands run so big that the made hand will normally be only a small favorite when the big money goes in—or a small dog. However, a fair number of big pots have hands such as flush-over-flush and full-over-full, with the best hand having a lock or close to it. You want to be the person on top in these spots. The way to get the nuts is to build the nuts. The person who started with the bigger pair or bigger suited cards is the one that usually gets the big overlay when both players hit.