Beginners Guide to Playing and Winning Omaha 8 Poker
Published on July 24, 2018
Not long ago, I wrote a post about 7 card stud high-low split, so it’s only natural to follow that up with a discussion of Omaha 8. Like its studly cousin, Omaha 8 is also called Omaha 8 or better and Omaha high-low split.
In fact, it probably should have been written first. Omaha 8 is exponentially more popular than stud 8 – especially in Europe.
At its heart, Omaha poker is just a variation of Texas hold’em with 4 hole cards instead of 2. (You still get 5 community cards on the board in Omaha.) Including the high-low split aspect, the game takes on an entirely different dimension. This just means that the highest possible poker hand splits the pot with the lowest qualifying low hand.
I mentioned in my post about 7 card stud 8 that pots in these high-low games often get larger than the pots in other games. That’s because players see twice as many possibilities to win a piece of the action. The reality is that a tighter strategy is usually correct for 8 or better games.
But Omaha has another factor contributing to those large pots. When you put 4 cards into a player’s hand to start with (instead of 2 or 3), many players see more possibilities than they would otherwise. This drives more action, too.
Anyone who can play Texas hold’em can also play Omaha 8. The differences are subtle but important.
Both games use a blind structure instead of an ante structure. Blinds and antes are forced bets that drive the action. Blinds are different from antes because only 2 players pay blinds each round, and the players required to post the blinds rotate throughout the game. Antes are posted by everyone on every hand.
As with Texas hold’em, you start by getting hole cards. But instead of getting dealt 2 face-down cards, you get 4 face-down cards. This is the preflop stage of the game. Once everyone’s been dealt their hole cards, there’s a round of betting.
Following the preflop round of betting, the dealer deals 3 cards to the center of the table, flopping them all over at the same time. This is called “the flop.” These cards are shared by all the players at the table. The flop is followed by another round of betting.
The dealer then deals another card to the community cards — this is called “the turn.” There’s another round of betting.
The dealer then deals a final card to the community cards — this is called “the river.” There’s a final betting round on the river.
At the showdown, players who haven’t folded contend for the pot by using 2 (and exactly 2) cards from their hand along with 3 (and exactly 3) cards from the community cards.
In Texas hold’em, you can use ANY combination of hole cards and community cards to form your final hand.
The highest hand according to the standard poker rankings wins the pot, but if someone has a qualifying low hand, he gets to split the pot with the player with the highest hand.
A qualifying low hand in Omaha 8 is the same as a qualifying low hand in stud 8 — 5 cards ranked 8 or less with no pairs. A straight and/or a flush can both qualify as low hands.
For more information on how to play, check out our guide dedicated to explaining the basics of Omaha 8.
The dealer position determines who pays the blinds. In a home game, the dealer position is literally where the dealer is sitting, and who the dealer is, rotates every hand. But in a casino setting, a professional dealer deals all the hands. The position is tracked using a plastic disk called “the button.”
The button rotates around the table as the game continues, and the 2 players to the left of the button must place the small blind and big blind bets.
The blind bets are smaller than the betting limits for the game, which are decided on and posted before the game. For example, if you’re playing in a $5/$10 game of Omaha 8, the blinds are usually $2 and $5. The blind is considered the 1st bet, so to continue in a hand preflop, you must at least call the big blind.
Preflop and on the flop, the betting amounts are done in the smaller of the 2 increments for the game — in the example above, bets and raises must be made in increments of $5.
On the turn and the river, those increments usually double. In the example game above, bets and raises must be in increments of $10.
Omaha 8 is often played as a pot limit game, too. This means that instead of having a maximum bet and/or raise determined by the table stakes, you can bet or raise up to the size of the pot. You can include the amount of your call when calculating the size of the pot, too.
In all my poker posts, I write about the importance of having starting-hand standards. Omaha 8 is no different from the other games — to win consistently, you must be willing to fold early and often.
But Omaha 8 presents some interesting differences starting-hand wise from its nearest cousin, Texas hold’em. For one thing, with 4 cards in the hole and a requirement that you use 2 of them, you actually have 6 different 2-card combinations.
Here’s an example.
You’re dealt the ace of spades, the 2 of spades, the king of spades, and the ace of diamonds. Depending on the board cards, you can choose to use any of the following 2-card combinations to make your final hand.
You’ll probably also notice that it’s possible, depending on the community cards, to have 2 different hands — one that wins for high hand AND one that wins for qualifying low hand.
With these additional cards, you need better hands to win showdowns in Omaha than in other games. Most of the time, a straight or better will be the winning high hand. Flushes are also common winning hands.
2 pair, which is often a winner in Texas hold’em, rarely works out well in Omaha 8.
You can probably win a small profit in most low-stakes Omaha 8 games just by having tight starting hand requirements. Inexperienced Omaha players always find lots of potential in every starting hand, and they play a lot of weak starting hands as a result.
The goal in Omaha 8 is the same as in 7 card stud 8 — to scoop the pot. You scoop the pot when you win both the best possible high hand AND the best possible low hand.
So the best possible starting hands are made up of low cards that are also suited and/or connected. This gives you the opportunity to win the low hand but also pick up the high hand with a straight or a flush.
Aces are just as important in Omaha 8 as they are in 7 card stud 8 because they can count as low or high. An ace is like having 2 cards for the price of 1, so a set of cards preflop that includes an ace is automatically better than one that doesn’t.
You can also scoop the pot if you have high cards in the hole and few low cards are dealt on the board. If no one can make a qualifying low hand, the highest hand wins the whole pot. In fact, if 3 high cards (9 or higher) land on the flop, all the people competing for low hands usually fold. Their money in the pot is just dead money.
Here are some starting hands in Omaha 8.
Those aren’t the only playable hands in Omaha 8, but the trick with starting-hand requirements in this game is looking at how well your cards fit together. Suitedness and connectedness have a lot to do with how playable they are. High and low cards are your friends, too.
The worst possible cards in Omaha 8 are the middle cards, like 7, 8, and 9. You prefer to get high and/or low cards in the hole because they give you more possibilities to win with the outright best high or low. Those middle cards often lead you to the second-best hand on the showdown.
One of the points I tried to hammer home when I wrote about Texas hold’em strategy is the importance of position. It’s just as important a consideration in Omaha 8 or better.
And the guidelines for position are the same — you must play tighter from earlier position than from middle or late position.
You’re in early position if you’re playing from either of the blinds or one of the 1st two players after the blinds. You’re in middle position if you’re 5th, 6th, or 7th to act. Late position players are 8th and 9th to act.
The strategy for playing the flop in Omaha 8 is easily summed up, and the same guideline I shared for Texas hold’em is true here.
The flop is the biggest decision point in the game.
For every set of hole cards you get, imagine what kind of flop would be a perfect fit. The further the flop is from that imaginary perfect fit, the more likely it is that you’ll need to fold on the flop.
There are some things to watch for on a flop, though. For example, if a pair flops, and you don’t have one of the 2 cards of the same rank, the best possible high hand is probably a 4 of a kind. But you might also face the possibility of a straight flush if 2 of the cards on the flop are suited and connecting (with or without gaps).
If all 3 cards on the flop are 9 or higher, there is no possible low hand. At the same time, if 2 or 3 of the cards on the flop are ranked 8 or lower, the low hand isn’t just in contention — it’s a likelihood.
If you get 2 or 3 cards of the same suit, someone might be drawing to a flush. (It might be you!) If you’re drawing to a straight when there’s a possible flush on the board, you’re making a mistake.
If you get 2 or 3 cards that are connected, even with a gap or two, you face a potential straight.
And you can face combinations of these situations on the flop, too. You might have 2 cards on the flop that are both suited AND connected. They might also both be ranked 8 or lower.
Recognizing how well each of these situations plays with your hole cards is crucial to deciding whether you want to continue in the hand. During the flop, most of the cards are already dealt. There are only 2 cards to go.
This is the point in the game where you have the most information. It’s also the point in the game where you can get additional cards cheapest — the bet sizes go up on the turn and the river.
You should fold on the flop UNLESS you have the best possible hand or a draw to either the best possible high or low hand. The ideal situation is to have either the best possible hand or the best possible low hand on the flop.
When you’re looking at drawing hands, keep this in mind. It needs to be a draw to the best possible hand. Second-best just doesn’t cut it in Omaha 8.
Omaha has this in common with Texas hold’em. Drawing hands like flushes and straights are only worth playing if you have lots of opponents to put money in the pot. If you’re drawing to one of these hands, fold unless you think you can keep at least 4 other players in the pot with you. 5 or 6 players is better.
You also want to keep in mind the possibility of being quartered. More about that next…
When you’re playing Omaha 8 all the way to the showdown, you face one of the following outcomes.
The profitability of getting quartered varies based on how many people are in the pot.
Most players who get quartered are playing when they don’t have an ace and/or a 2 in the hole. It’s easy to get the second-best low hand if you don’t have the ace or the 2.
On the turn, you should have the best high hand or at least a draw to the best high hand to continue. If you have the best possible low hand or a draw to the best possible low, you can keep playing, too. Otherwise, the turn is the second-best time to get out of the hand. (The best time is on the flop.)
By the river, you’ll know what you wound up with. Deciding what to do at this point should be easy if you were playing tight enough on the previous rounds.
For the most part, you shouldn’t bluff in Omaha 8.
Bluffs only work when your opponents fold. Since so many players see so much potential in all those hole cards, it’s hard to get them to fold.
I’m not saying you should NEVER bluff when playing Omaha 8. But you need to pick your spots very carefully.
Omaha 8 is a lot of fun, and you’ll see a lot of action because of the additional hole cards in play. 4 hole cards means you have 6 different 2-card combinations to work with.
But unlike your opponents, you’ll play tighter because of this, not looser.
Just remember that you need to use 2 cards from your hand and 3 from the board — no more, no less.
Also, remember that your starting cards should have the potential to win both the high and the low. The more pots you scoop, the more profitable you’ll be.
After reading this post, we’re confident you have all the information you need to win all the while having fun! Best of luck!