How to Play Your First Game of Omaha Poker
Published on November 11, 2018
Omaha poker is a great game, but it’s almost never the first poker game you learn.
Most people start with 5-card draw when they’re kids. From there, depending on their age, they move on to stud poker or Texas hold’em. (Older players learned stud poker before Texas hold’em became so popular, but millennials almost certainly learn Texas hold’em first.)
My suggestion to the player wanting to learn to play Omaha poker is to start by making sure they have a good grasp on Texas hold’em. At first glance, Omaha poker seems to be just like Texas hold’em but with the addition of two cards to your hole cards.
That is the main change, but the implications of that change are bigger than you might think. Those two extra hole cards come with an extra rule, too. The rule is this.
You must use two of your hole cards and three of the cards on the board to make your hand.
If you’re familiar with Texas hold’em, you’ll probably raise an eyebrow at that. After all, in Texas hold’em, you can use any combination of the two cards in your hand and the five cards on the board to make your final hand at the showdown.
This post covers the basics of Omaha poker and how it’s played — it’s aimed at first-timers. Even though I suggest that you understand Texas hold’em before trying Omaha, I’ll try to write this post in a way that even people who don’t play Texas hold’em can make sense of Omaha.
Poker is a game of betting, but you don’t just get to sit down and bet whatever amount you want. There are rules for how much you can bet and when.
The first of these rules has to do with forced bets called “blinds.”
If you’ve played 5-card draw or any variation of stud poker, you’re familiar with the concept of an “ante.” This is a small bet that everyone at the table must make just to get into the game. You don’t get dealt a hand if you don’t place an ante.
In Omaha and in Texas hold’em, instead of an ante that everyone bets every hand, you must make bets called “blinds.”
But you only have to place a blind when it’s your turn to do so. The blinds orbit around the table. The blinds are normally in two amounts — the small blind and the big blind.
The blind amounts are also usually determined by the betting limits for the game. These are the minimum bets during the various rounds of the game, and sometimes, they’re also the maximum bets. The betting limits are usually in a ratio of 1 to 2.
For example, if someone tells you they’re playing in a $4/$8 Omaha game, this means that the bets must be in increments of $4 during the first two rounds of play and in increments of $8 in the last two rounds of play.
The blinds will usually be $2 and $4 in such a game. The $2 is the small blind amount, and the $4 is the big blind amount.
Omaha is often played as a pot limit or no limit game. In such cases, you still have betting limits which determine the amounts of the blinds and the minimum size of the bets during the rounds of play.
But the maximum size of the bets is determined by the size of the pot in pot limit Omaha. You can bet as much money as is in the pot, but no more.
In a no limit game, you can bet up to your entire stack of chips.
Pot limit and no limit are also common formats for Texas hold’em.
Another common variation is called “spread limit.” It’s a sort of midway point between limit Omaha and pot limit or no limit. In a spread limit game, the amounts might be $1/$4 or $1/$8. This means you can bet a minimum of $1 or a maximum of $4 or $8.
Also, the maximum size bet is also the maximum size raise. If you’re playing in a $4/$8 limit game, you can bet $4, and the next player can raise you $4 more — no more than that, and no less than that. The next player can re-raise another $4 if he likes. In the later rounds, those increments change to $8.
And like Texas hold’em, Omaha is played in four rounds.
The lower betting limit is observed during the first couple of rounds, pre-flop and flop, while the higher betting limit is observed during the final two rounds, the turn and the river.
Omaha is best played with eight or nine other players. Since it’s a community card game, you can play with more players than you could in a draw or stud game. You just don’t need as many cards.
Think about it. If you tried to play 5-card draw with nine players, you’d deal out 45 cards to begin with. You wouldn’t have any cards left for the drawing phrase.
Omaha is most often played in high-low format, but it’s also often played high-only. I’ve read that some people play low-only, but that’s not common as far as I can tell.
In Omaha high, the player with the highest ranked poker hand at the showdown wins the pot.
In Omaha high-low (or “Omaha 8”), the player with the highest ranked poker hand wins half the pot, while the player with the best qualifying low hand wins half the pot. It is possible to hold both hands.
The low hand in Omaha ignores straights and flushes, so the best possible low hand is 5-4-3-2-A. Omaha high-low is often called “Omaha 8 or better” because a qualifying low hand can have no cards ranked higher than 8. The worst possible low hand would be 8-7-6-5-4.
You are allowed to play two different hands in a high-low game, so it’s possible to win both the high and the low. This is, in fact, called “scooping the pot.”
It’s also common for the low hand to tie with another low hand, in which case the two low hands must split their half of the pot. This is called “being quartered.”
In this case, you might win some money, but it’s often less money than you’d put into the pot in the first place — making it a net loss. It depends on how many other players are in the pot with you, though.
You must use two cards from your hand and three cards from the board for your final hand in Omaha. This confuses beginners, especially when they’re used to playing Texas hold’em.
Here are some of the implications of this rule.
Suppose you have four hearts on the board, and you have one card in your hand that’s also hearts. You DON’T have a flush. You can only use three cards from the board. You’d need to have two cards that are hearts to make a flush.
Suppose there’s a three of a kind showing on the board. You’ll only be able to make a full house if you have a pair in your hand, even if there’s a pair on the board. Also, if there are two pairs on the board, you don’t have a full house just because you have one of those cards that matches one of those pairs.
An Omaha poker game starts after the blinds are placed. Each player gets four face-down cards from the dealer (their “hole cards”). The player to the left of the blind is the first player to act. He can fold, call, or raise.
To fold is to give up any claim to the pot. To call is to match the size of the big blind. To raise is to match the size of the big blind and increase the size of the bet.
Each subsequent player has the same options available to him.
After all the players have completed their betting actions, the dealer deals three cards face-up in the middle of the table. This is called “the flop.”
There’s another betting round at this point. Each player now has the option to check, call, fold, or raise. To check, the player stays in the hand but doesn’t place a bet. Checking is not possible preflop, because to stay in the hand, you must at least call the big blind.
But after the flop, there’s no big blind to call.
After this betting round, the dealer deals another face-up card, the turn. This is followed by a round of betting. During this round, the bet sizes must go up.
After this betting round, the dealer deals another face-up card, the river. This is followed by a final round of betting, again at the higher betting limit.
If multiple players are still in action after the river, there’s a showdown to determine who wins the pot. The showdown is where players compare hands to see who wins the pot.
During the showdown, players turn their hole cards over to show their hands.
If you’ve dealt Texas hold’em or know how Texas hold’em is dealt, there’s only a single difference.
Everyone gets four hole cards instead of two.
Other than that, dealing Omaha poker is the same as dealing Texas hold’em.
It might seem like these two games are so alike as to have practically no differences, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The extra two cards in the hole changes the texture of the game entirely. It also causes major changes in your strategy and tactics.
For one thing, you have the two-card rule to contend with.
For another, in a lot of games, you have to contend with splitting the pot between the high hand and the low hand.
With knowledge of more cards in Omaha than in Texas hold’em, the savvy Omaha player deals with less uncertainty and less luck in Omaha. This, combined with the lack of familiarity many players have with the game, often results in softer games than you’d see at the Texas hold’em tables.
Since there are more cards, many players see more possible hands in Omaha. They tend to play a lot looser than Texas hold’em players. This benefits the savvy Omaha player, too, as it means he can win more money.
Hand values in Omaha are different, too. Top pair with top kicker is often a great hand in Texas hold’em, but it’s almost never a winner in Omaha.
Think about it. When you’re holding four cards in the hole, you actually have six possible hands to play at the showdown. That’s a magnitude of difference from Texas hold’em.
The implication of this is probably clear enough. You’ll often need to fold more often in Omaha than you would in Texas hold’em. You’ll also have more trouble bluffing in Omaha than you would in Texas hold’em.
Preflop play in Omaha is more important than it is in Texas hold’em. In the latter, good preflop play can probably make you a break-even player. In Omaha, even if you’re not so great in the later rounds, you can often be a winning player by just being the best preflop player at the table.
You should still learn to play well on the flop, the turn, and the river, though.
One of the things you’ll want to keep in mind is how well-coordinated your cards are. You’re looking for cards that provide you with multiple good options instead of just a couple of good options.
Having A-2-3-x as a starting hand in Omaha high-low is great because it gives you multiple options for making the low hand. If two of those cards are suited, it’s even better because you can also shoot for taking half the pot with a flush.
Middle pairs are often playable in Texas hold’em preflop, but if they don’t coordinate well with the rest of your hand, they’re often not playable preflop in Omaha.
Some people call these cards “middle poison.” Any of the middle cards, especially in a high-low game, are points against you. These include the 7s, 8s, and 9s.
Pocket aces are often playable in Omaha, but they’re not as strong in Omaha as they are in Texas hold’em.
It helps if the other two cards in the preflop hand are suited with those aces — even if it’s only one of them. This is because a pair of aces is often strong enough to win unimproved in Texas hold’em, but that’s almost never the case in Omaha.
If you have three cards to a flush on the board, it’s likely that one of your opponents will have made the flush. (I’m assuming, of course, that YOU didn’t make the flush.)
In Texas hold’em, this isn’t often the case, but in Omaha, you’re usually facing more players with more cards. And the cards of those suits must be out there somewhere.
The most beneficial strategic skill in Omaha is being able to read your hand, though. With the additional two cards, it’s harder to do than you’re probably used to — especially if you’re playing eight or better.
Omaha poker hasn’t caught on in the United States in the same way it has in Europe, but it’s growing in popularity.
Since fewer players are familiar with it, you can often find unsophisticated opponents who represent profit potential. If you don’t know how to play Omaha, you should learn.
Everyone has to start with a game sometime. Everyone has his first game of Texas hold’em, even if he doesn’t remember it. Don’t be intimidated by this.
Study the game a bit, play for free at one of the online poker rooms, then try it for real money online or in your local cardroom. You might discover that Omaha is your new favorite poker game.