Wiesenberg (s067 poker): Sophie plays Omaha

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.

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Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie plays Omaha

“Omaha, dear boy,” a voice whispered seductively into my ear. It was not Sara, for that lissome sylph sat opposite me in the booth of the coffee shop at the Anaheim Club.

“Come on, Aunt Sophie,” I invited, without turning to confirm who it was in the booth behind me; “join us.” Sara quickly slid in next to me, and the woman who had overseen most of my formative years crammed herself into Sara’s former place. “And tell me, is it the insurance industry that interests you, or perhaps you’re wanting to talk about the livestock market?”

A waitress appeared with a pot, and Sara indicated our coffee cups, and a fresh one for Aunt Sophie.

“Such a kidder, isn’t he, Tsatskeleh?” Aunt Sophie chuckled to Sara, indicating that I was not the only one she addressed with that sobriquet. “No, dear boy,” she continued; “you know I’m referring to that game that is so popular becoming, and, since you are such a stinker for preciseness, it’s the high-low I mean, low limit, a few woids about which now I’d like to hear if you don’t mind.”

“Ah,” I offered, “so that’s what you’ve been playing lately. No wonder I didn’t see you in the middle-limit lowball games. You were in a completely different part of the casino.”

“Yah,” Aunt Sophie beamed, “a quadriple-threat player I’m becoming.”

“‘Quadruple,’” I corrected, “I think you mean, since you’re already an expert in pan, hold’em, and lowball. And soon quintuple, if you decide to leap into seven stud.”

“Quadruple, schmadruple,” she retorted. “Some good advice on cards, not the entomology of words.”

Game selection

I winced at the malapropism, but let it pass. “Okay,” I sighed. “Probably the best advice I can give you applies here even more than in most games. Game selection. Don’t play in a tight game. Watch the game you plan on joining, and if it’s tight, don’t jump in. Or, if you’re in one, get out. Ask for a table change. If you can’t find a loose game, go play hold’em or lowball. In most poker games, most of your profit comes from mistakes other players make. That’s most true of Omaha. It’s said about Omaha-8, ‘Any four cards can win.’ You want to be at a table where the players fervently believe that. Ideally you’d like to see most of the table see the flop, half or more stay for the turn, and four or five remain till the bitter end. Fewer than that, small pots, raises that drop most of the players: you don’t want that game. Fortunately, most Omaha games are not like that, particularly 3-6 and 4-8. And believe me, that’s big enough for you. I’ve seen good players win upwards of $500 in a single session in one of those games, and bad players lose that much.”

“Really?” Aunt Sophie queried. “That much I can win? How?”

“By observing,” I observed, “a few simple principles. By realizing some things that most Omaha players don’t realize. And by not making the mistakes and falling into the traps the others do.”

“And what,” she demanded, “might those be?”

“What most Omaha players don’t realize,” I supplied, “particularly first-time players, is that this is not hold’em with more cards. The most obvious difference is that in hold’em you start with one two-card combination; in Omaha, you have six two-card combinations. Many new players look for one good hold’em combination in the starting hand — whether high or low — as a justification for playing it. Remember, they’re looking for excuses to play. You should be looking for excuses not to play. The better Omaha hands have cards that work together to make multiple playing combinations.”

“And I suppose,” she interpolated, “the traps players fall into start here?”

Having the nuts

I tried to ignore the warm thigh juxtaposed to mine as I responded. “Exactly,” I said. “Many players will play a hand like K-K-8-2, which I would toss without a thought. The king-king combination has value, but there is nothing else going for the hand. But even if the hand was double-suited, that is, with the eight and the deuce in the same suits as the kings, I would most likely drop the hand. Omaha is a game of having the nuts and drawing to the nuts. The big trap lots of players fall into is drawing to less than the nuts. And in a game with lots of stayers, you rarely have the absolute nuts before the river, so it’s primarily a game of draws. That’s the seduction of the game, and what keeps players in till the end, there to lose to someone who made a better draw. If you play premium hands and watch out for the traps, you’ll be in there at the end either with the best hand for one way or both, or draws to them.”

“And the best hand,” Aunt Sophie interjected, “is ace-deuce, right?”

“Well,” I temporized, “the strongest two-card combination in Omaha-8 certainly is ace-deuce. Don’t fall in love with it, though, as many players do, or you’ll find yourself not getting any part of the pot, or, getting quartered. Undoubtedly you’ve heard the Omaha joke, ‘I hope I don’t win any more pots, or I’ll go broke.’ This happens to players who go with just ace-deuce and no backup, and then stay till the bitter end. If you are counterfeited on the flop, or only one low card flops, the ace-deuce is not enough to warrant further play. Many players will raise or reraise preflop any time they have ace-deuce in their hand before the flop. This is a mistake unless the hand has other things going for it. ‘Other things’ means cards that work together, such as one or two other wheel cards, another ace, another card in suit with your ace. Preferably all four of your cards work together, because otherwise you have only three good combinations, and probably only one, whereas someone playing good starting cards could have six times as many possibilities as you. You see plenty of pots won by less than premium holdings, but this is because so many players stay in with those combinations. You will probably also notice that those who win more than a few of those pots are also probably losers overall, so don’t you fall into that trap.”

“And that’s it?” she asked.

“Not even a small bit,” I countered. “It’s a start, though.”

The waitress appeared again, this time with a menu for Aunt Sophie, who had been eying the remains of my blueberry cheesecake. She seemed to be safely off her diet for the nonce.

The author wishes to express his thanks to Stephen Landrum for considerable help on this extremely fascinating game, here and in succeeding installments.

To be continued …

Next: 068 Aunt Sophie plays more Omaha


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