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Rules of Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo

The game of poker comes in many variations. When it comes to games where there is a flop involved, No Limit Texas Hold ‘em is the undisputed king. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some other great games that follow in the footsteps of Hold ‘em. One such game that enjoys a continued increase in popularity is Omaha.

Omaha is a game that has many facets to it and can be played in a number of different ways (something we will touch on further in this article). The game of Omaha is said to have no exact origin. However, according to poker circles, Rober “Chip Burner” Turner introduced the game to Bill Boyd in 1983.

Boyd was running the the card room at the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas at the time and initially offered the game under the name of “Nugget Hold ‘em” in an ode to the casino’s name. Sometime later it was renamed to it’s current moniker of Omaha. The specifics surrounding the renaming are unknown, however.

Most casinos nowadays offer all variations of Omaha cash games, from the lowest of stakes to the highest. Online, as with all game variations, there is plenty of Omaha to go around for everyone.

If you’ve never played a hand of Omaha before and are looking to get a handle of the rules and how the game is played, look no further. We have it all here for you and have every variation of Omaha covered. Once you’ve gotten a hang of the rules be sure to check out our Guide to Omaha Poker so that you can be equipped with a few tricks up your sleeve when you take a seat at the table.

Rules of Omaha

To start things off we are going to take a look at the rule set for Omaha High (usually just simply called Omaha). With Omaha, can you play it as a high hand only game, much like with Hold ‘em. Or you can play it as split-pot game under the Omaha Hi-Lo variation, something we will touch on later.

With Omaha you will notice that the game plays very much the same as Texas Hold ‘em but with a few of its own characteristics and differences. While we mentioned that the exact origin of the game in how it was created is not known, it no doubt derived from Texas Hold ‘em.

The hand rankings are exactly the same as with any variation of high hand only poker.

Just in case you are new to poker entirely, check out the graphic below to get an understanding of hand rankings before delving further.

Omaha Poker Image


Let’s now look at some of the specifics of Omaha…

The Deal

In Omaha, players are dealt FOUR cards facedown. We emphasize four because most players come to Omaha after having cut their chops playing Hold ‘em, and this is the first big difference you will come across if that is the case.

You will notice that with four cards as opposed to two, getting dealt pairs and suited connectors happens much more frequently. Don’t get too connected to those four cards, however, because the rules of Omaha limit your use to only two of them. Not only are you limited to using only two, but you HAVE to use two. Furthermore, the two you are using might change from street to street as the hand continues to unfold.

Prior to the deal, the game follows the same format as Texas Hold ‘em. There is a rotating dealer button with a forced small blind and big blind and action that continues to the left. Players may tend to take a few more moments when deciding on their action in Omaha as with two extra cards there’s a bit more to think about.

The Flop

After all of the pre-flop action has commenced, the dealer will put out the flop. In Omaha, while you were dealt four cards, you can ONLY USE TWO. As mentioned previously, not only can you only use two cards, but you HAVE TO USE TWO cards. We will touch on this a bit more in-depth when we talk about the showdown.

Now that the flop is out it is your first chance to look at the makings of any hand you might have. The action begins with the first live player to the left of the dealer and continues to the left.

After the flop is fanned out, players still in the hand have a vast array of possibilities before them. On one hand, there is their current best hand of the flop combined with their two out of four cards that create the best possible hand.

That’s just the beginning, however.

In Omaha draws are huge. So while you might be using two of your cards on the flop that gives you two pair, you might also have a straight or flush draw that would require the use of one or two different cards, depending on what you’re holding.

After betting has commenced, the hand continues.

The Turn

After the turn card is dealt action once again continues with the first live player to the left and continues to the left from there. At this point your hand strength can change greatly, but so too can your opponent’s.

The likelihood of you now using at least one, if not two, different cards in your hand can be quite high. With still one more card to come, that can all of course change once again.

The River

The river card is dealt and action continues in the same fashion to the left. At this point, your hand is finalized. You are using two, and only two, of your hole cards to combine with the flop to make the best possible hand.

So how does it all work?

Showdown

At showdown, the players are asked to table their hands. Let’s look at some of the key things to consider as it pertains to Omaha at the completion of a hand:

  • There is absolutely NO playing the board. In Texas Hold ‘em, if there is a spade flush on the board, for example, and your two hole cards are diamonds, you can simply play the board and have a flush. In Omaha, if there is a spade flush on board and your hole cards do not contain any spades, it is not possible to play the board and have a flush. You MUST play the two cards that give you the best possible hand in combination with three, and only three, cards from the board.
  • Additionally, if the board is Q-Q-Q-Q-5, no player has four of a kind with Queens. Again, because you MUST use two of your cards.

Betting Limits in Omaha

Omaha Hi can be played in a few different ways as it pertains to betting limits. Pot Limit Omaha is not only the most popular form of high hand only Omaha but is one of the most popular variations of poker period.

In addition to Pot Limit Omaha, or PLO as it is more commonly known, there is also Limit Omaha, and very rarely if ever, No Limit Omaha. Pot Limit Omaha is a very action heavy game and as such makes the need for No Limit Omaha all but non-existent.

While that’s not to say that you will never see a game of No Limit Omaha, we just suggest you don’t hold your breath while waiting to do so.

Now that you know the basic rules of the game and how it flows, let’s take a closer look at the different betting limits of high hand only Omaha.

Fixed Limit

If you have played Limit Hold ‘em before than you are familiar with how this works. However, if limit poker is something that is new to you then pull up a seat.

Fixed limit, or just limit, simply means that, you guessed it, there is a fixed limit to how much you can bet at any given point in the hand.

Sure it makes sense,
but how exactly does it work?

Let’s use the example of a cash game (the same applies in tournaments) with a limit of $20-$40. The hand starts like any Omaha hand, with the players putting out a small blind and big blind. In the case of a $20-$40 limit Omaha game the small blind would be $10 and the big blind would be $20 (the amount of the first betting limit).

As action takes place to the left of the big blind, a player may of course call or fold, but if they choose to raise they can only raise it another $20. Should a player after that choose to raise they can also only do so by another $20. Hence, the fixed limit amount.

To look at an example of that, let’s say the first player to act raises $20. The next player now must either call $40 (the $20 big blind plus the $20 raise), fold or raise. The next player also raises it $20. That means whoever is next to act is now facing a bet of $60. The betting increments are only $20 at a time.

I know what you’re thinking:

“Where does the $40 limit come from?”
Good question.

As you saw in the above example the pre-flop betting was in increments of $20. When the flop is dealt,  that fixed limit amount stays in play at $20. On the turn and river, however, the minimum initial bet is $40, and any raises after must be in increments of $40.

So it breaks down as so…

$20-$40 Limit Omaha

  • Pre-flop initial bet and raises in increasing increments of $20.
  • Flop initial bet and raises in increasing increments of $20.
  • Turn initial bet and raises in increasing increments of $40.
  • River initial bet and raises in increasing increments of $40.

Fixed limit games are very straight forward in their betting approach. Easy to understand and simple to implement, when first learning a new game it is a great way to do so while being able to keep the amount being wagered somewhat manageable.

Luckily, when you’re playing online, the buttons to bet or raise are pre-set so it is not possible to make any mistakes interns of amount when attempting to raise in limit poker online.

Pot Limit

Pot Limit Omaha is a whole different beast entirely from Limit Omaha. It is one of the most, if not THE most, action heavy games in all of poker.

While No Limit Hold ‘em may seem like the king of action because of the no limit betting nature of the game, perhaps no game entices more action than Pot Limit Omaha.

So how does the betting in Pot Limit Omaha work?

The game itself is no different in terms of its rule set, it’s just the betting limits and how they’re structured that are different. Let’s take a look…

Let’s say we’re taking a seat in a $1-$2 Pot Limit Omaha cash game (again, the following will also apply to tournaments). The small blind is $1 and the big blind is, of course, $2. The first player to act has the same actions as always – bet, fold, or raise.

Here is where Pot Limit Omaha gets tricky for first timers.

How much is the maximum amount you can raise?

If you’re playing online poker, you can simply press the “Pot” button and the software automatically puts out a pot sized bet for you, no mathematical thinking involved.

However, it definitely pays to know how the math got there.

So let’s look at a few simple examples that will help to break that down.

Examples
  • There is $10 currently in the pot and a player makes a bet of $3. The action is on you and you want to calculate the maximum amount you can bet. First you need to pretend that you’re calling the previous bet of $3 to begin assessing the pot. This now looks like $10 + $3 + $3 = $16. So $16 is your maximum raise in this instance. That means that with your $3 call your total bet would be $19.
  • There’s $10 currently in the pot and a player bets $3. The next player to act raises it to $10 and now the action is on you. Again you have to first pretend that you’re calling the last bet of $10. That would make the pot $10 + $3 + $10 + $10 = $33. This means that your pot size raise is $33, plus the $10 call, making your maximum raise $43.

To simplify, you can raise the amount that is in the pot after you have called the previous bet.

If you’re playing in a brick & mortar casino it can be tough to keep track of the pot when the bets start flying, but luckily in the online world the software takes care of everything for you and you always know not only how much is in the pot, but how much a pot sized bet is by clicking the “Pot” button.

Because of the draw-heavy nature of Omaha, the pot limit betting format creates a ton of action. Players often have a number of different ways their hand can go after the flop and then the proceeding streets and as such players will find numerous reasons to continue with the hand as the action is heating up.

On every street of betting the minimum bet always remains equal to the big blind, but the maximum bet is always changing depending on the size of the pot.

No Limit

No Limit Omaha is a very rare game. You will almost NEVER see the game spread as no limit given that pot limit is so action heavy and often reaches all-in situations much like you would find in a no limit game.

For that reason, an Omaha game where there is no limit to the betting is something that 99 times out of 100 you just will simply not see. In the event you come across one, however, we want to make sure you’re covered on how the game would play.

Again, the basic rules in terms of dealer button, blinds, and four hole cards always applies to all variations of Omaha. When it comes to the rules of no limit betting it is pretty straight forward.

You can bet as much as
your chip stack will allow.

The minimum bet will of course always be equal to whatever the big blind might be at the time, while the maximum you can bet is your whole stack. There is no need to calculate the pot or make a fixed bet amount.

You can just simply push all your chips into the pot as you see fit.

Overview

By now you should have a good grasp on the specifics of how to play high hand only Omaha and the rules regarding the different betting limits that the game can be played with.

Here’s a quick recap:
  • The game’s orientation follows that of Texas Hold ‘em, where there is a rotating small blind and big blind with action continuing to the left.
  • Each player is dealt 4 hole cards.
  • Of those 4 hole cards, a player MUST USE 2 of those cards no matter what the board texture is.
  • You cannot play the board in Omaha. 5 spades on board does not equal a flush unless you have 2 spades in your hand.
  • Omaha can be played either as a fixed limit or pot limit game. In very rare cases a game of No Limit Omaha might be spread.
  • In a fixed limit Omaha game, betting is done in increments related to the big blind. Pre-flop and flop betting are in increments equal to that of the big blind while the turn and river betting are in increments double that of the big blind.
  • In Pot Limit Omaha the maximum sized bet a player can make is equal to the size of the pot.

Rules of Omaha Hi-Lo

One of the great things about the game of Omaha is the amount of variety that comes with the game. As we’ve already mention, there are various ways in which you can structure an Omaha game based on betting structure.

In addition, there are other variants of Omaha as well. Omaha Hi-Lo is a great variant and thoroughly enjoyed by any player that tries their hand at it. With high hand only Omaha we discussed that there are often a number of draws that you can be sitting on.

In Omaha Hi-Lo that number drastically increases as you can be drawing to a low hand in addition to your high hand, or to just a low hand on its own.

Let us now take a look at the rules of Omaha Hi-Lo to get a better understanding of how this wrinkle of a low hand affects the game.

The Format

The first things worth noting, as it pertains to the rules of the game, is that they are exactly the same as in an Omaha game that is only playing for a high hand. Let us ignore the low aspect of the game for a moment.

The structure, deal, and four card capacity are exactly the same. Nothing changes in that regard.

So what is different about Omaha Hi-Lo compared to its high hand counterpart from a rules standpoint?
Quite a few things actually.

Splitting the Pot

When discussing the rules of Omaha Hi-Lo it is best to start by explaining how the pot works. Everyone is used to playing a hand of poker where the winner with the best hand wins the pot. That still holds true in Omaha Hi-Lo but with one MAJOR caveat.

The low hand wins half of the pot.

That’s right, Omaha Hi-Lo is a split pot game. Meaning the pot gets split between the high hand and low hand. Sometimes that pot is split between two or more players, and sometimes both the high hand and the low hand are held by one player and they get the entire pot. This is known as “scooping” the pot.

Here are a few important components as it relates to splitting the pot…

  • Scooping
  • As mentioned, scooping the pot is when you win both the high portion and the low portion of the hand and are awarded the entire pot. This is the absolute ideal situation in any Hi-Lo split pot game.

  • Quartering
  • Where scooping is the ideal way to win, “quartering” is the worst way to get a piece of the pot. On a hand where the pot is to be split and there are let’s say 3 players in the hand, and two players tie for the low portion, they effectively chop the low. So in this instance, the player that wins the high hand takes their half of the pot, and the low portion of the pot is then split again to be shared among the two players that held the same low, giving each of them a quarter of the pot. The only thing worse than quartering a pot is flat out losing.

  • No Low
  • In the 8 or Better format of Omaha Hi-Lo there is not always a low hand. If there are not three cards on board that are 8 or lower than it is impossible for anyone to have a low hand, and as such, there is only a high portion of the hand just like in regular Omaha.

What is a low?

When it comes to Omaha Hi-Lo you might actually see two different variations. In some instances, and it is much more rare these days, you will see an Omaha Hi-Lo game with “no qualifier”.

The more popular variation of Omaha Hi-Lo is typically referred to as Omaha 8 or Better, or in short, O8.

So what’s the difference between these two types of formats?
  • No Qualifier
  • When there is no qualifier in an Omaha Hi-Lo game that simply means that there are no restrictions on what makes for a low hand.

  • 8 or Better
  • When playing Omaha 8 or Better, to “qualify” for a low hand you must have 5 cards that are 8 or lower. If you can’t put together two of your hole cards along with three cards from the board that are an 8 or lower than you do not qualify for a low hand.

For the purposes of discussing the rules, we will stick with Omaha 8 or Better since that is the vastly more popular variant of the Omaha Hi-Lo games.

Making a Low

So we know that to make a low we need to have five cards that are 8 or lower, and that we MUST use two of our hole cards. Here is the important part – you can make both a high hand and a low hand at the same time.

There are two major keys to making a low hand:

  • You MUST have two cards in your hand that are 8 or lower.
  • There MUST be three different cards that are 8 or lower on the board.

With that in mind, let us get an understanding of the hand rankings as it pertains to the low portion of a hand. Before doing that however, there are two things to point out as it relates to low hands.

  • Flushes do not matter. If your five lower cards are all the same suit that does not mean that your hand is not low. In fact, this is actually a VERY strong hand in a split pot game because you have a flush for the high portion to go along with your low hand. So to repeat, 5 low cards all of the same suit still constitutes a low hand.
  • Likewise, if your 5 low cards happen to make a straight, your hand still qualifies as low and is once again a VERY strong hand as it has both high and low capabilities.

Low Hand Rankings

We’re all familiar with poker hand rankings at this point. There is a flip side to that, however. In Omaha 8 or Better, the hand rankings for low hands can be a bit confusing at times for new players. So let’s dive into some important notes in regards to the hand rankings.

  • The strength of your hand starts with your HIGHEST low card.
  • Ace is the LOWEST low card.
  • Straights and flushes are not relevant
  • The strength of your hand continues in descending order.

To better understand this let’s take a look at the strongest and weakest low hands. The weakest low hand you can have will be 8-7-6-5-4. A strong hand in that it is both a straight and a low hand, but when chasing a low draw this will be the weakest low hand you can table.

The strongest low hand you can table is 5-4-3-2-A, more commonly known as a “wheel”. Again, it’s a very strong hand in that it also gives a straight for a high hand, while also being the best possible low hand.

So we know that the strength of your low hand is based on your weakest low card. If you table the 8-7-6-5-4 you have an “8 low”, basing it on your weakest low cards as we’ve mentioned.

What if someone else also has an 8 low?

We then look at each player’s next weakest low card. So in this instance, you would be holding an “87 low”, and if your opponent tabled 8-6-5-4-3 they would have an “86 low” and win the low portion of the pot as their 8-6 is stronger than your 8-7.

Many beginners incorrectly think that holding an Ace is the be all end all and that the strength of the low goes in the opposite direction. This is not the case, you always start from your weakest low card.

Using Your Two Cards

We have stressed enough in the rules by now that you HAVE to use two of your hole cards in Omaha no matter what. When it comes to Omaha Hi-Lo there is a new wrinkle added to that rule. Of the four cards in your hand, if you have a hand that is able to make both a high hand and a low hand, the two cards used to make your high hand can be different than the two cards used to make your low hand.

With that said, there is a lot happening in an Omaha 8 or Better hand and a lot to keep track of. It is very possible, and often likely, that you are using different combinations of your four hole cards to come up with both a high and and a low hand.

If two of your cards give you three of a kind while your other two give you a low hand, then you table your cards as such.

Pots can grow rather large in Omaha 8 or Better when players are chasing low hands in pots. That being said, it is important to note that you can simply play just a low hand. The rules do not dictate that you have to be holding both a low and a high hand.

You can simply have one or both, it all depends on the makeup of your holdings.

Betting Structure

The betting structure in Omaha 8 or Better is exactly the same as in high hand only Omaha. Limit Omaha 8 or Better and Pot Limit Omaha 8 or Better are the two main variations of the game you will see.

You will pretty much never find a game of no limit Omaha Hi-Lo as the pot limit variation is high action enough.

Overview

At this point you should have a good understanding of how to play Omaha 8 or Better, and in turn any variation of Omaha Hi-Lo whether there is a qualifier or not. Of course, when you’re dealing with hi-lo there are a few more bells and whistles that go along with the game as you have just learned.

So let’s recap the rules of Omaha 8 or Better, and by extension Omaha Hi-Lo:

Recap:
  • All structural rules of high hand only Omaha apply.
  • Straights and Flushes do not negatively affect the value of a low hand.
  • Strength of a low hand is based on your weakest hole card and descends in order from there.
  • You can play both a high and a low hand in the same hand.
  • Of your four hole cards, you can use any combination for a high and a low. You can use two cards to make a high and the other two or any combination to make a low.
  • “Scooping” is when you win both the high and the low portion of the pot.
  • “Quartering” is when you win only half of a half of a pot.
  • Ace is the lowest low card.
  • If two players share the same weakest low card, you look at the next weakest card for each player to determine the better hand and so on.
  • There WILL NOT ALWAYS BE A LOW HAND when a qualifier like 8 or better is needed.

Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo Rules Recap

As you’ve come to learn, the rules of Omaha and all of its variants, are not overly difficult. If you have been playing Texas Hold ‘em, as is the case with most poker players than you will have a pretty solid understanding of Omaha.

Now that you have the rule set under your belt it’s time take a seat at the table.

If you want to expand your Omaha knowledge a bit further before doing so, however, we suggest checking out our Guide to Omaha Poker section where we cover some of the basic strategy plays as well as clue you in on which sites offer the best Omaha games.