Pot Limit Omaha High-Low Split

Three Key PLO/8 Concepts

Pot Limit Omaha High LowPot Limit Omaha8 (PLO8) is a very different animal from its two closest relatives, Limit Omaha High-Low and Pot Limit Omaha High. The key Limit Omaha8 concept is playing appropriate starting hands. The key Pot Limit High concept is position, position, position. Of course, all games value many concepts, but the key PLO8 concept is the bet-ability of hands on the later streets, when the pots (and thus the bet sizes) are bigger.

One reason PLO8 isn't played much in casinos is because skill wins. Bad play and bad players are annihilated, and fast too. PLO8 games peopled only with good players are tediously bad.

Some good PLO8 games are available at a few online cardrooms. One reason that PLO8 continues to exist online is simply because online games have the whole world to draw on in terms of players. Another reason is that online PLO8 games usually have a cap on the amount players can buy-in for. This leveling the playing field mitigates, a lot, against the standard pot limit phenomenon of good players buying lots of chips and poor players buying tiny stacks. Money goes to money in big bet poker.

(This article is about ring game PLO8 with no pot cap, especially where the player stacks are fairly deep. Tournament PLO8, capped games and games where players only have relatively small amounts of chips require somewhat different approaches -- although obviously some of the concepts apply no matter what the format.)

The most important reason PLO8 games exist as much as they do online is: a high percentage of online poker players drastically overestimate their skill level. While this is true of all games online, this overestimation is more concentrated in big bet games. Mediocre players suddenly think they are God's gift to poker, the second coming of Bret Maverick, when confronted with the complexities of PLO8 -- lots of cards, variable/progressive betting, high and low ways to win (and lose) pots. It's one thing to be a mediocre juggler. It's another thing indeed to be a mediocre juggler who insists on juggling seven flaming machetes. (The other place where mediocre players drastically overate themselves online is at head-up games.)

So, the first thing to understand about online PLO8 games is many of your opponents have poor judgment in terms of true value. People with poor value skills are good people to play against in big bet poker. That understanding should underlie everything you do in the game.

You should be trying to play more hands in most PLO8 games than you do in limit Omaha8 or PLO High (unless a game has an unusual amount of pre-flop raising). Speculative hands that are garbage in Limit can be profitable in PLO8. The most obvious one is 23xx. In Limit Omaha8, this is by far the #1 sucker hand. In pot limit the hand sometimes can be played for a limp, if you play well, because of the implied action you will get. Compare having A2xx on a flop of 873 to having 23xx on a flop of A87. You WILL get more action from players holding aces and eights or aces and sevens than you will from players holding eights and sevens or eights and threes. I've seen a player go for all his chips, putting in the fourth raise on a flop like this where he had AAA. Suicide. He put in all his money just to get it back. Aces have the magical ability to make people play worse.

Most players greatly over-fixate on winning pots. If they put a nickel into a pot, you darn near need a crowbar to pry them away from pouring millions in to chase that nickel. Proper PLO8 play is directly counter to this, which is why most players are not suited for the game. You should easily fold most of the hands you saw the flop with. Proper PLO8 play is mostly a game of homeruns. Big pots. Big edges. Big betting. You aren't looking to make hitting PLO8 doubles your focus. Occasional doubles are fine, especially with the obvious hand of A2, but you don't want to mix it up in a lot of marginal pots. Your hope is to get out early, or be gladly shoving all your chips in by the end.

The only way you want to hit singles in PLO8 is by making bets on the flop that nobody calls. This can occur two ways. The first is obvious, you bet a hand that should be bet and nobody calls. You can't put a gun to people's heads and make them call, so just take the pot and wait for the next time. The other small pot/singles to look for are "orphan" pots -- pots nobody seems to want. These are pots you can make one bet at, and then you are done. If you win the pot, great, if you get called you back off and very seldom continue to try to win the pot. A simple example, the flops is Q♠J♠9♠. You have A♢2♢5♡K♠. You have two opponents. The first opponent checks. You bet. You should win this pot right here more than half the time. If you get called or raised, you just give up. You are bluffing these pots, but you are bluffing when your opponents have very little. Their very little just happens to beat your very little.

Betting and taking orphans should keep you hovering around playing breakeven poker. The key pots are where you look to get your profit. Also, you need to bet at orphan pots because you don't want to always and only be betting when you have an enormous hand.

While bet-ability is the overriding concept at work in PLO8, there are two specific situations you should look for: the freeroll and the 3/4. Getting in situations where you do one or the other of these is the reason to play the game.

The Freeroll. While 3/4ing is important, freerolling is much more so. Freerolls come in a variety of types, but the common theme is you are getting a free shot at your opponent's money. (For practical purposes, the idea of a freeroll should also include "near freerolls" like on a flop of QJT and you have AKQQ while your opponent has AK22. He can beat you by making four deuces, but despite that ability to make a 1000-to-1 shot, we will still consider that near freeroll to be a "freeroll".)

Some freeroll examples:
Flop - Q♠J♢T♣;  Opponent - A♣K♢2♡3♠;  You - A♠K♠Q♣J♣
Flop - 3♠4♢5♣;  Opponent - A♣K♢2♡Q♠;  You - A♠2♠7♣8♣
Flop - A♠8♡7♡;  Opponent - A♡A♢K♡Q♠;  You - 2♠3♠5♢6♢

In each of these examples, your opponent is drawing 100% dead. He cannot beat you no matter what cards come on the turn and river. AND, you will get action from most opponents who hold these hands... especially from bad players who will often intentionally go for all their chips, particularly with the first hand.

The Ace-high Broadway straight is similar to how 23xx is in Limit Omaha8. Weak players lose more money with this hand than any other. Good players win their money when freerolling these hands. AK on a QJT flop, AQ on a KJT one, AJ on a KQT one, AT on a KQJ one... these are the hands that separate the adults from the kiddies. Weak players not only commit suicide on these hands, but also can't even comprehend that they should often be folding the current-nut-hands like they were poison. All forms of Omaha are about making the best hand, not what is currently best. There is no leader money in poker. The ability to fold the current nut hand is absolutely critical in PLO8... and fortunately, most players are simply incapable of it. When you flop one of these Broadway straights, you should ask yourself "what am I trying to make?" If the answer is "I want to make only the same straight as I have now", in other words, you are drawing to a blank on the turn and a blank on the river, you don't have much of a hand.

Another type of freeroll is the "freeroll to a bluff":
Flop - 6♠7♠8♢;  Opponent - 9♠T♢J♣J♡;  You - A♠2♡3♢4♣

In this hand, neither one of you has any chance at all of making a hand that beats the other one. Big, fat zero. But you have a freeroll to a river bet where you should be making significant money. No matter what the action is on the flop and turn, if the river card comes a board pair, or a flush card (especially if it is a flush card that pairs the board), a pot-size bet by you will force your opponent to fold -- and even if he calls, that is fine because that means he will call you when you happen to have the flush or full house.

Notice in this example how important pot manipulation is. If you have intentionally bet yourself all-in before the river card, you are an idiot. Your chance to win money here is by betting the river (or turn) card and getting a fold. You can't get a fold if either you or he is all-in! On the other hand, you want the pot big enough so that you can make a large enough bet to get him to fold. There is a definite science to getting pots the right size when you are on a freeroll to a bluff. Also notice, it is much better to error on the side of not building the pot big enough, and thus not being able to make a big enough bet to get a fold. That error is much less bad than the error of getting one or the other of you all-in. You can never win when somebody is all-in. When you can make a river bet of any size, you will win sometimes. Even if a pot is $400 and you can only bet $100 on the river, you will still win some percentage of the time greater than the 0% of the time you win when one of you is all-in.

A final freeroll example is the most obvious:
Flop - 6♠7♠8♢;  Opponent - 9♣T♢J♠J♢;  You - A♠2♠3♢4♣

Here, opposite of the freeroll to a bluff, you want to get all the money into the pot as soon as you can. Your opponent can never beat you, but you will scoop him once in awhile. Notice in the above example I've contrived the hands to where your opponent would make a backdoor flush if it came, which would make your ability to bluff a river card that didn't make you a winner tougher. Suppose he didn't have those diamonds. Now, by betting him all-in and winning when you make your spade flush, you are GIVING UP your chance to win the pot via a freeroll bluff on the river if it comes a diamond or board pair. What you have is TWO freeroll opportunities that work against each other! This game is starting to get complicated... :) You have two bet-ability issues here that you have to balance given your opponent, his betting habits, how deep the stack sizes are, how poorly your opponent plays (a terrible opponent could easily go broke the very next hand, so I would lean to putting him all-in and hope I make my flush and get all his chips, rather than look to make a smaller amount of chips via occasional river bluffs when I miss but it comes a card he doesn't like), etc.

Of course, not all freerolls are this obvious. In the previous example you are vulnerable to being 3/4ed by hands like A238. You can't see your opponent's cards, so you seldom get super-obvious freerolls. However, not only do fairly clear freerolls present themselves, you need to be thinking how sometimes you ARE freerolling when you don't know it. The freeroll should be the concept in the front of your mind... which also means: DON'T GET FREEROLLED! On a 678 flop, you should fold 9TJJ to almost any bet. It may be the nuts, but you are probably drawing dead. You may have to put in many chips to split a puny amount already in play. You may be freerolled and 3/4ed at the same time by A29T.

Folding the nuts is something you should do fairly often in PLO8, and it doesn't have to be high-type hands like the JJT9. On a flop of 8♠7♠6♠ you should usually toss A♢2♢K♡Q♡ into the muck when faced with any bet. Don't get freerolled.

3/4ing a pot. Though dwarfed in significance by freerolls, 3/4ing is more common. 3/4ing usually occurs when two people both have the nut low, but it also happens sometimes when both players have the same high and one makes some kind of low. A much longer discussion than we have space for here, clearly it is a huge skill in being able to correctly discern when you are getting 3/4s as opposed to when you are getting 3/4ed. Some situations are obvious, like when you make the nut flush to go with a nut low, but most of the time your hand won't be nearly so defined. When you have A238 and the board is 348QK, are you getting 3/4s or getting 3/4ed? How about 348Q4? Do you bet the pot? Do you make a smaller bet? Check? Raise if an opponent makes a small bet? There is a bottomless pit of situations and subtleties to be considered, but a player who makes bets when 3/4ing and who checks when being 3/4ed will do a helluva lot better than a person who does it the other way around!

Pot Limit Omaha High LowJust like when you have the nut Broadway straight you should ask yourself what you are drawing to, when you have the nut low the first thing you should ask yourself is: what is my high hand? And then, what is the high hand I am trying to make? The nut low aspect of the hand is relatively unimportant (even if most players fixate on low).

The key word in PLO8 is "and". When you show down you want to be saying, "I have low AND..." If there is no "and", you usually don't have much. "And" is what to focus on when you have nut low. If you have no "and", checking and even check/folding will often be your correct action. Don't get me wrong though, before the showdown "and" can include the fact that you are drawing to a bluff. A naked nut low plays fine against people who don't have nut low!

Correctly value-betting hands like two pair, like when you hold A24Q and the board is 478KQ, or even one pair like when you have A237 and a board is 457KQ, is a challenge you have to strive to accomplish. Reading opponents, especially when you are out of hand, is a task you should always be working on when playing PLO8. "Better betting" when doing the 3/4ing and when getting 3/4ed should be the result of a never-ending study of your PLO8 opponents. It is the ongoing challenge that every player can do better and better.

One thing that should be clear from both the discussion of freerolling and 3/4ing is the dramatically more important role suited cards play in PLO8 compared to Limit. You want "and". Flushes are just another way to make a bettable "and". And flushes are never 3/4ed. They are either good or they aren't.

Besides their 3/4ing value, flushes can turn splits into scoops. Suppose you make the nut flush on the river against an opponent who only has the nut low:  Board - 4♠5♣8♢K♠Q♠;  Opponent - A♣2♣3♢J♡;  You - A♠3♠6♢7♣
In this case the river card changed things not at all, but you now can safely make a pot size bet. Say the pot is $1000, and you bet that. The best your opponent can do is get half. If he calls, he gets $1500. But he has to consider that if he calls and gets 3/4ed, he gets back $750, so calling the $1000 bet costs him $250. You will get your opponents to fold some amount of time over 0% in situations like this. Pure profit.

Similarly, suppose instead you hold A♠2♠4♢T♣. In this case the river card again didn't change things. You had your opponent 3/4ed already with a pair of fours. But how often are you going to be able to value bet a pair of fours? How often should you TRY to value bet a pair of fours? By making a much more bettable flush than your measly pair of fours you now can bet the $1000 pot. When you do, if your opponent calls, you make that extra $250. And, if he doesn't call, making the flush won you the $250 that was already in the pot (his 1/4 share of the pre-bet $1000 pot).

Suitedness makes hands more bettable, and it makes another way you can make an "and". A♠2♠3♢4♢ is a much more profitable hand than A♠2♡3♢4♣. If you could just wish it and have it be so, you would want your cards to always be suited and your opponent's cards to never be suited. Don't fall into the trap some inexperienced players do when they see "action-killing flops" of three of the same suit. They wrongly conclude suits won't bring you much. That is silly. Pots on the flop are relatively small. We don't much care about on-the-flop pots. We care about being in a position to bet hands on the river, when the pot and bets are biggest. Make-a-flush-on-the-river boards are where the clearest exchange of money/value takes place in PLO8. You can't tie flushes, only one winner. And, betting/pseudo-bluffing opportunities present themselves where pure low hands can blow high hands out of pots. It's an oversimplification, but it could be asserted that when you aren't suited you want pots to be decided on the flop and turn; when you are suited, you want to be putting in action on the river -- and again, the money in the game is in making river bets when the pots and possible bets are biggest.

If any game is NOT the game of the future, this is it. But when the game is played, and non-good players are involved, it presents an excellent opportunity for solid, positive expectation poker by focusing on a few key concepts: bet-ability, "and", suitedness, 3/4ing, freerolling.