How to Play Omaha Poker

As in most forms of poker, the majority of a good player's profit in Omaha comes from the mistakes of opponents. Therefore, the first step in becoming a successful player is a thorough understanding of the rules of Omaha high-only (meaning the hand with the most points wins) and Omaha high-low split (meaning the highest hand and the lowest hand split the winnings) -- often called Omaha/8. In the following sections, we will discuss basic strategy and advanced strategies for starting hand selection, as well as playing on the flop, turn, and river.

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The hi-lo (high-low) version of Omaha will be discussed in these pages since it is the more popular of the two versions. Moreover, the high-only version is played exactly the same way as the hi-lo version except the
pot (the total amount of money bit on a single hand) is not split and the high hand is awarded the entire pot.

Omaha is also played at set
limit or pot limit (raises can be up to the current size of the pot). Though it is occasionally available, no-limit Omaha is rarely played. In this article, limit Omaha will be discussed unless it is stated otherwise. It is strongly recommended that you play only limit Omaha until you have a great deal of experience because pot-limit Omaha can be a brutal game for the beginning player and can take a heavy toll on your bankroll. Rarely play pot-limit because, like no-limit, one mistake can be extremely expensive.

Card Abbreviations and Rankings
Abbreviations for cards and their ranks will appear throughout this article. You can refer to this list.

A Ace (also known as a "bullet")
K King (also known as a "cowboy")
Q Queen
J Jack
T Ten
9 Nine
8 Eight
7 Seven
6 Six
5 Five
4 Four
3 Three
2 Two (also known as a "deuce" of a "duck")
AA Pair of aces
AK Ace and King
Q9s Queen and nine, suited (of the same suit) (The "s" means suited, so if it were Q9 without the "s," that indicates the cards are of different suits.)
Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, move on to the next section for basic strategy in Omaha poker.

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Basic Strategies of Omaha Poker

In this section you will be the basic knowledge you need to play Omaha at its most simple level.

Nine or ten players is customary in Omaha high-low split, which has a rotating
blind system (meaning for every hand, a certain player must contribute a set amount of money to start the betting). Usually a score of eight or better is placed on the low hand, and the best high hand will split the pot with the best low hand. This means for a hand to qualify as a low, it must have five cards not paired that are ranked eight or lower. For example, a hand consisting of ace, two, three, seven, and eight qualifies as a low hand; but a hand of ace, two, three, seven, and nine does not.

This hand would qualify as the low hand in Omaha high-low split.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This hand would qualify as the low hand
in Omaha high-low split.

Each player is dealt four down cards, called "hole" cards. Then three community cards are dealt face up in the center of the table. These cards are called the "flop." Another card is dealt face up, which is called the "turn," followed by the last card being dealt face up, called the "river." Rounds of betting are before the flop, after the flop, after the turn, and after the river.

Each player must use exactly three cards from the five community cards and two from his/her hand in any combination to form a high hand and/or a low hand. The same five cards do not have to be used for the high and the low. Note that if there are not at least three community cards ranked eight or below, there will be no low hand, and the entire pot will be awarded to the best high hand. The two most important rules are: (1) Each player must use exactly three community cards and two hole cards; (2) the order of ranking for low hands is from the highest of the five cards.

The easiest way to rank low hands is to read them backward as a number with the lowest number winning. For example: 2-3-4-6-8 would be read 8-6, 4-3-2 and 3-4-5-6-7 would be read 7-6, 5-4-3, which would be the lower of the two hands. Many times two players will have the same low hand and split the low half of the pot. This is often called "getting quartered."

Omaha/8 games, especially on the Internet, are filled with players who don't know how to play the game. Almost all Omaha/8 players are current or former Texas Hold'em players who use the same thought process and mentality while playing Omaha/8 as when they played Hold'em. This is why Omaha/8 can be profitable. Because there are four hole cards instead of two, many players think they see more possibilities to win and thus play far too many hands.

Another weakness in the games of many beginning players is not folding after the flop when the only hope they have is a split pot or a runner-runner (that is, needing the turn and river cards to win, which is a statistically weak position) to make their hand. In Omaha, after the flop, your hand is well defined. You see 7 out of the 9 cards you will use -- almost 80 percent. In contrast, after the flop in Hold'em you have seen only 5 of 7 cards, which is just over 70 percent. Omaha/8 tends to be a much more straightforward and mathematical game than Hold'em.

For this reason, Omaha/8 tends to have less short-term variance (luck) than Hold'em. Many players enjoy playing Omaha/8 more than Hold'em because of the reduced variance. The problem is it can sometimes be hard to find a good Omaha/8 game, but there never seems to be a shortage of Hold'em games.

An important skill to master in Omaha/8 is reading the cards. You must be able to look at the cards and consider what the best possible hand is, the likelihood of someone having the best hand, how close your hand is to the best hand, and what chance you have to improve to the best hand. As will be discussed shortly, you must often have the best hand possible to win. Reading the cards is a skill that will become easier as you gain experience. A good way to improve your skills is to read the cards on every hand even when you have folded. This not only will improve your skills but also will help you learn what types of hands your opponents are playing. You need to determine if there is a possible low, if there is a possible flush -- five cards of the same suit in order, if there is a possible straight (which will be possible on most hands) -- five cards of any suit in order, and if there is a possible full house (whenever the
board shows one or two pairs, players probably have a full house) -- three of a kind and two of a kind.

Now that we've covered the basics, it is important to discuss what to do after the cards are dealt. In the next section we will discuss one of the most important aspects of any poker game: starting hand selection. What cards should you play and which should you fold?

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Starting Hand Selection

As in Texas Hold'em, the most important decision you will make in Omaha/8 is on which hands to enter a pot and on which hands you should run for the hills. Omaha/8 is a game of scoops (winning both the high and low pots on the same hand or the high when no low is possible) and redraws (having a good hand with the opportunity to improve to a better hand with community cards).

A hand containing an ace that is
suited to another card in the hand is a good example of both scooping and redraw hands. You can win low with the ace, and you can win high with an ace high flush if your three suited cards hit on the board. For these reasons, your starting hand selection should include mostly hands that have the possibility to scoop and that offer redraws. Hands that have an ace are the most common starting hands because an ace can be used for a high hand and a low hand.

Another important concept is having counterfeit protection. For example, let's look at two hands, one with A-2-3-5 and one with A-2-Q-K. If the
flop comes 4-6-7, both players have the best possible low hand. You might raise the bet here, thinking you have a good shot at the low hand. However, if an A or 2 falls on the turn or river, the hand with A-2-Q-K no longer has the best possible low while the other hand still does. Remember, you have to use two cards from your starting hand. If you have to throw out your A or 2 because you made a pair on the turn or river (and consequently no longer have the lowest hand), you would have to play your K or Q (making your low hand very weak). The first hand has counterfeit protection because it can fall back on the 3 or 5.

This hand has counterfeit protection
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This hand has counterfeit protection.

Most experts agree that in Hold'em you should see the flop only about 20 percent of the time. Many players believe because you have four hole cards in Omaha/8 instead of two, you can see more flops. This is only true if you want to be a losing player. The fact is you should see only about 20 percent of the flops in Omaha/8 as well. Starting hand selection is at least as important in Omaha/8 as it is in Hold'em, perhaps even more so.

At the lower
limits, position is not nearly as important in Omaha/8 as it is in Hold'em. While it is nice to act last, it can be almost as good to act first, and even acting between players is not as bad as doing so in Hold'em. Due to the more straightforward way Omaha/8 plays and the fact that you should have a very good idea of your chances to win after the flop, you should be able to play almost any hand you decide to play in any position. As you become more experienced and move up in limits, position plays a more important role.

Particularly at the lower limits where the majority of players see the flop, you will often have to start with the best possible hand to win either the high or the low half of the pot. For example, if a flush is possible, you have almost no chance of winning the high pot unless you can beat a flush as one or more of your opponents will have one. If you have a flush and the board pairs (two cards on the board are the same, like K-K or 2-2), then you have probably lost to a full house. This is one of the reasons it is important to have hands that have both high and low potential.

Looking at low possibilities, most players will play any hand containing an A and a 2. If you have a low that cannot beat one that has A-2, then you probably won't win the low half of the pot unless the ace or two is counterfeited. If you are playing only toward half of the pot after the flop, it is imperative to draw only to the best possible hand.

It's best to look at some visual examples of starting hand selection strategy. In the next section we will view four different hands that work together.

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Hands That Work Together

In Hold'em, because you start with only two cards, you have only one combination of two cards. In Omaha, you start with four cards that can create six unique two-card combinations. The best starting hands have all four cards working together. Hands that have three cards working together with one card that doesn't (often called a dangler) are weaker than ones with all four working in conjunction.

Here are some examples of starting hands that work together:

Best two low cards
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You have the best two low cards (A,2) with counterfeit protection (4) and the possibility to make a straight -- A, 2, 3, 4, 5 -- or an ace high flush in spades with the A-9.

This hand has a low draw
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This hand has a low draw (A,2) and three high draws (ace high flush, king high flush, and straight possibilities with the A, K; K, 9 or A, 2).

arguably this is the best starting hand
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Arguably this is the best starting hand in Omaha/8 since you have the three lowest cards, two flush draws -- both ace high, a pair of aces, and a wheel possibility.

cards all work together
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
These cards all work together as any combination of low cards while giving you a straight draw, and if an ace hits the board you will have the best possible low if a low is possible.

In the next section, we will view three examples of hands that don't work together.

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Hands to Avoid & Game Selection

Now that we know what type of hand to bet on, here are some hands that should probably be folded. Be careful when these hit the table.

almost no low possibilities
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This hand has almost no low possibilities since the six is too high. There are no flush possibilities and only a straight possibility for a high.

This hand has almost nothing going for it.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Even if you hit a low, an 8 low almost never wins. If you hit a flush or a straight, either one is too low to win in most cases. This hand has almost nothing going for it.

This hand has a very weak low draw
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

This hand has a very weak low draw and very little high possibilities.

This last example illustrates an important point. Many players might think this hand has great straight potential. While this is true, even if you do hit a straight, it will rarely be the best possible straight, and most of the time it will be because there are three cards 8 and below on the
board, which makes a low hand for someone else. So you will be playing for only half the pot, and you will rarely have a lock on that half because your top potential is so low. Do you see why this hand is a dangerous one? If you are playing for only half the pot, make sure you are drawing to the best possible hand.

Here is some specific advice about your starting-hand selections. As you are learning to play Omaha/8, play only the following hands. An x denotes any card of any rank.
A "w" denotes a wheel card (2, 3, 4, or 5).
A "t" denotes a ten through a king (T-J-Q-K).

  1. [A 2 x x] You must be careful with just an A-2 and no counterfeit protection.

  2. [A 3 x x] Play this hand if the ace is suited to one of your other cards.

  3. [A w w x] Play as long as the two wheel cards are not the same, like 4-4

  4. [w w w w] Play four wheel cards even if you have one pair, but not if you hold two pairs or trips.

  5. [A t t t] Play an ace with three high cards, especially if the ace is suited. This is a strong hand, particularly if the board doesn't come up with a possible low.

  6. [t t t t] Play four high cards, even with a pair or two pairs. This hand is also a good high-only hand.
These guidelines are extremely tight and are meant to be used while you are learning the game. As you gain experience and learn your opponents' playing styles and hand selection, you can play a few more starting hands. Hands with an A, 3, and two high cards are often playable as well as hands containing an ace suited to one other card that offer flush and straight possibilities and some low potential, such as A-4-6-7.

Beginning Omaha/8 players often overrate pairs, especially pocket aces. Unlike Hold'em, a pair will almost never win a pot. Even trips are often beat by a straight, flush, or full house. Hold'em players who start to play Omaha often not only play a hand like
A-A-7-8 but also will raise with it before the flop. This hand is unplayable because it will not win the low even if a low is made and will rarely win even if an ace comes on the board unless the board pairs (making a full house), and the 7 and 8 are almost worthless. So if you are a Hold'em player learning to play Omaha/8, don't fall into the trap of overvaluing pocket pairs because they must improve, sometimes considerably, to win.

Game Selection

If you have the choice of more than one game of Omaha/8 to play in, you should look for these type of games:
  1. A game that has over 50 percent of the players seeing most flops. In most poker games, especially Omaha/8 and Hold'em, the player who starts with the best hand will win a higher percentage of the time than any other player. If you follow the starting hand guidelines above, you will be entering the pot with a stronger hand on average than the other players.

  2. A game with little or no pre-flop raising. You will learn to prefer a game full of passive players.
Sometimes in a card room it may be difficult to find these games, but if you play on the Internet, these games are plentiful.

Now that we've covered basic strategy, it is time to delve into more detailed techniques. Move on to the next section for some of the more complex aspects of Omaha.

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Play Before and After the Flop

Let's look at some advanced strategy on how you should play Omaha/8 during the course of a hand. In this section, we will examine playing before and after the flop.

Play Before the Flop

As in all forms of poker, there are only two reasons to
raise before the flop. You are either trying to build the pot or narrow the field. In low-limit Omaha/8, you will rarely narrow the field by raising. This means that most of the time the only reason to raise before the flop is to build the pot. Some advice has been given that would lead a person to believe it is not a good idea to raise before the flop in Omaha/8. Do not take this advice. It has already been discussed that you should be entering the pot with stronger hands on average than your opponents, so why wouldn't you want a bigger pot when you have a better chance to win than any other opponent? With your strongest hands, like A-2-3-6 or A-2-3-K, it is a good idea to build the pot.

These two hands are strong starters and warrant raises
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
These two hands are strong starters and warrant raises.

Make certain that you occasionally raise with a lesser hand and don't raise with a strong hand so your play is not too predictable.

Play After the Flop

Your play after the flop should be straightforward. If you have a good hand,
bet. If you have a chance to improve to the best hand, check and call if your pot odds are correct. If the flop didn't help your hand, fold to a bet. This may sound simple, but many players refuse to fold on the flop even when it is obvious they cannot win. Do not become too fond of your starting hand. Unlike Hold'em, even the best starting hand must have some help on the flop in Omaha/8 in order to have a chance to win.

Another problem that many inexperienced Omaha/8 players have is continuing to play after the flop when they have a chance to win only half the pot and it is likely they will have to split their half (thus, being quartered). An example of this is when you hold
A-2-9-T, the flop is 3-6-K, and there are three or more players in the pot betting and raising. You have almost no chance at a high hand, and if you do hit a low, it is likely that another player holds an A and a 2. Even worse, if an A or 2 hits on the turn or river, your low will be counterfeited. Continuing to play in situations like these will cost you more money in the long run than they will make for you.

In the final section, we will look at advanced tips for playing after the turn and on the river.

For more information on Omaha poker and other variations, try the following links:
  • To see all of our articles on poker rules and advice, go to our main article on How To Play Poker.
  • Before you play your first hand, make sure you're familiar with some Poker Basics.
  • For the more common form of Hold 'Em, what you want is to know How to Play Texas Hold 'Em Poker.
  • Feel more like playing an old favorite. Knowing How to Play 7-Card Stud Poker will take you back a few years.


Play on the Turn and River

Now that you've bet before and after the flop, it's time to enter the nitty-gritty. Betting on the turn and river can mean the difference between boom and bust. Here's a look at strategies for both.

Play on the Turn

Play on the turn is straightforward and simple. If you have the best
hand, bet. If you have a draw to the best hand, check and call (once again, assuming the pot odds are correct). If you have the best possible high or low and a chance at the other (low or high), you should raise to maximize the size of the pot.

Play on the River

Play on the river is the most straightforward situation you will find. If you have the best high hand, raise as much as possible. High hands are almost never quartered. If you are
heads-up (against only one opponent) or have three opponents and have the best low hand but no chance at the high hand, it is usually best to just call due to the possibility of being quartered. Realize that against three opponents, if you have the best low hand and are quartered, you will recoup at least every bet you place on the river. When you are against four or more opponents, have the best low hand, and are quartered, you will be making money on every bet you place, so it is often correct to raise. If you are against two opponents and have the best low hand, you should check and call.

Sometimes you will be in a hand at the river against two opponents while you have the best low hand and they are both raising. It is extremely likely that you will be quartered in this situation, and you must decide if there is enough money already in the pot to warrant calling all of the raises. Against two opponents, if you have a low and it is quartered, every dollar you put into the pot will return only 75 cents to you.

In some cases, if the pot is small, your best play may be to fold. As you are learning to play, you may never fold in this situation because you want some of that money you contributed to the pot returned to you. Just bear in mind that this can actually cost you money. This is something you will learn with experience.

Omaha poker can be a fun and profitable game. By mastering the basic concepts in this article, you will play better than the average player, and with some experience you should become a consistent winning player.

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