In this column we’ll look at the kinds of cards that make good starting hands in Omaha high-low split, eight-or-better for low, commonly known as Omaha/8. By way of review, let’s remember that Omaha/8 features four cards in each player’s hand, with five common board cards dealt exactly as in hold ’em: three on the flop, one on the turn and one on the river. Since it’s a high-low split game, the best high and low hands share the pot, assuming that the low is a made low, consisting of five different cards ranked eight or lower. And always remember that in Omaha/8, you must use two cards from your hand and three from the board.
Two from the hand, three from the board. This fact controls absolutely how you evaluate your Omaha hands. To take one obvious example, you could be dealt four of a kind – and have to throw that hand away! What good are four of a kind when you can only use two of them? You know you can’t improve to trips because you already hold the cards you need in your hand. Your only hope is to have three of a kind turn up on the board, thus giving you a full house – but maybe giving someone else the dreaded quads!
Likewise, you have to throw away hands that contain four, or even three, of the same suit. You like to have two suited cards in your hand in Omaha/8, but if you have more than two, they start to work against you because the cards in your hand can’t turn up on the board where you need them.
While we’re on the subject of suited cards, it’s important to remember that the only really valuable flush draws are nut flush draws. If you have A-x, you have a much stronger hand than if you have Q-x or even K-x. Why? Because if you have the nut flush draw, you don’t have to worry about someone else having it. And in Omaha/8, you always have to worry about someone else having the nuts. Remember Murphy’s Law of Omaha:
The hand that could beat you will beat you. Don’t go to war with second-best holdings.
If you follow this one rule, and rarely or never chase pots with less than the nut hand or the nut draw, you won’t go too far wrong in the game.
So what’s a nut hand or a nut draw? Any time you start out with a hand containing A-2, you have the potential to make a nut low, because any three low cards other than A-2 will give you an unbeatable low hand. But of course there are two things you need to worry about. First, there might not be three low cards on board in that hand. The flop could come K-K-T, and then you’re A-2 holding would be worthless. Second, you might get counterfeited; that is, a low card matching one of yours could turn up on the board. Suppose the flop comes 2-4-8. Your deuce is counterfeited, and anyone holding A-3 or even A-5 suddenly has a better hand than yours. (If you don’t understand this concept intuitively, just deal yourself some hands of Omaha/8 and lay out a few sets of board cards. Ask yourself what the best possible hand is. You’ll get the hang of it in no time.)
So A-2 are good cards to hold, but A-2-3 are much better Slot Online cards to hold, because they give you some counterfeit protection. Now if the flop comes 2-4-8, you don’t have to play your A-2 holding; you can fall back on your A-3 combination instead. I imagine you can now see that if A-2 is good and A-2-3 is better, then A-2-3-4 will give you maximum protection against a counterfeit low. This is true. Of course the board could still come K-K-T, killing your low altogether, but hey, that’s Omaha.
The important principle to understand here is that you want hands where all your cards work together. These coordinated hands are really the ones to prize in Omaha/8. That A-2-3-4 works so well because you can use A-2, A-3, A-4, 2-3 or 2-4, depending on what the board cards bring. Your hand is flexible and coordinated. Likewise, if you had a hand like K-Q-J-T, you would have all sorts of possibilities for big draws. You could flop two pair or a set, plus a straight or an open-ended straight draw. That’s a coordinated hand.
Here’s an example of a hand that is not coordinated, and should not be played: K-J-T-3. Sure you have some high straight possibilities, but what’s that three doing there? What good is it for? You can’t make a low, because you have only one low card, and the three won’t help any of your straight draws. That lonesome three, sometimes called a dangler makes this hand unplayable.
Here are some other dangle hands: 2-3-4-K; 8-8-7-2; 5-6-7-J. These are examples of hands where all your cards don’t work together. Here, on the other hand, is a highly coordinated hand: A-3-A-K. The aces work together as a pair; the A-3 can turn into a low; you have a suited ace, and both a high and a low straight draw with the A-K and the A-3. That’s the kind of hand you want in Omaha/8.
I call these valuable two-card combinations packets. Any time you have two cards that work together to form a playable combination, like a pair, or suited cards, or connected cards or low cards, you have a packet. Hands with two or one or no packets should not be played. Hands with four or five or six packets can be played very enthusiastically.
To sum up, then, avoid danglers, seek coordinated hands and count your packets – the more the merrier! I recognize that this is a very limited overview of Omaha/8, and I hope to return to the subject in a future column. In the meantime, if you’re interested in playing the game, there are plenty of good books on the subject and plenty of sites on the internet where you can play for free until you get your feet under you. After that, go get ’em – and tell ’em JV sent ya!