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Counting Pot-Limit Omaha Outs

You must learn to do these numbers

by Lee H. Jones |  Published: Jan 03, 2007

Jenny, I got your number …

Suppose that you are the parent of a small child, and for the first years of that child's life, you ensure that the only flavor of ice cream she tastes is chocolate. Oh - it would be very good chocolate ice cream, to be sure, perhaps Ben & Jerry's. But Ben & Jerry's chocolate ice cream is the only ice cream that will pass through young Susie's lips. Occasionally, she might ask about the other kids who are eating ice cream. Susie, being a bright girl, notices that her friends are eating ice creams of different color and consistency than her chocolate. It seems, in fact, that some of those ice creams contain nuts and chunks.

You, however, are adamant. You point out that most of the other kids are eating chocolate ice cream, and that, well, chocolate is …, chocolate is …, chocolate is …

Chocolate is the Cadillac of ice creams!

I'm not sure what that story was about, but I would like to point out that there are versions of poker other than no-limit hold'em, and I'm going to discuss one of them here. It's Omaha, but not even the Omaha eight-or-better that most of you are familiar with. It's pot-limit Omaha ("PLO" - all jokes aside). That is, you're playing Omaha high only, in a pot-limit betting format.

Now, if you're a hold'em player, counting outs is generally fairly straightforward. For instance, the flop is 9spade 4spade 2club. You have the Aspade 7spade. You think that your opponent has two red jacks. Heck - let's say that he shows you two red jacks. To a first approximation, you have 12 outs - the nine remaining spades and three aces. [Note: If you didn't read that last sentence and think, "Sure, of course," review it until you do.] Numbers such as these are bread-and-butter to any good poker player, and the serious hold'em crowd has all the important ones memorized; flush draw: nine, straight draw: eight, straight-flush draw: 15, flopped underpair: five, and so on.

But PLO, with four cards in the players' hands, makes these calculations more difficult, and if you're going to be successful at the game, you must learn to do these numbers.

Now, you may say, "OK, fine. But why did you mention the thing about pot-limit?" Here's why: In limit Omaha, as in most limit games, you can often stop counting outs pretty quickly, because it becomes blatantly obvious that you've got however many you need. If you're getting 10-1 pot odds to make a call, four or five outs are plenty. But here's a very common scenario in PLO: There's $100 in the pot, and your one remaining opponent bets $100 (the maximum that she can bet). To simplify the calculations, let's say that $100 is exactly as much money as you have. So, the betting will end here. In short, you're getting 2-1 pot odds, all in. Do you call?

Let's look at some of the more common (and problematic) out-counting opportunities in PLO.

The flop is Kclub 5diamond 4heart. You have the 8heart 7heart 6diamond 3club (let us hope that you saw a flop for free, or close to it). How many outs do you have? A hold'em player might quickly glance at that and say, "Open-end straight draw - eight outs." But this is a straight draw on steroids. Any 2, 3, 6, 7, or 8 gives you the nuts; that's five ranks of four cards each - 20 outs. Of course, you have four of those outs tied up in your own hand, leaving you with "only" 16 outs. Even against a set of kings (which has no other backup), you are only about an 11-9 underdog.

Going back to our previous question, suppose that you have the hand described above and your opponent bets the pot ($100), which is exactly how much money you have left. Can you call? Well, you're getting 2-1 odds ($100 in the pot plus the $100 your opponent bet, against the $100 you have to call), and you're only an 11-9 dog (assuming that you give your opponent credit for exactly a set of kings with no backup). It's a no-brainer to call.

Suppose that the flop goes check, check (for whatever reason), and the turn is the Qspade. Now your opponent bets $100, which would put you all in. You still have the same 16 outs that you did before. Whether that card helped your opponent is immaterial; it's a fair assumption that you need to hit a straight to win. So there are 44 unseen cards; 16 of them give you the winning hand, 28 do not. You are a 28-16 (7-4) underdog; 7-4 is better than the 2-1 that you need, so you call.

Now, here's an important caveat: It's not as easy as just counting outs and working the math. You also must ask yourself, "Are all of these outs good?" "Which of these outs are to the nuts?" If there's more money on the table: "If I hit my card, can I collect more from Deborah over there?" Conversely, "If I hit my card, is it going to give me the second-best hand and all of my chips will end up in front of Deborah?"

Here are more problems:

1: You have the Aheart 6heart Jclub 10diamond. The flop is Kheart 9diamond 7heart. How many outs do you have? Estimate your odds all in against the Kdiamond 9club 8diamond 7club.

2: You have the 8club 7club 6diamond 5diamond. The flop is 10club 9heart 5club. How many outs do you have? Estimate your odds all in against the Kheart Qdiamond 10diamond 10spade. Estimate your outs against the Jclub 9club 8diamond 7spade.


1: A hold'em player would count 15 outs: nine hearts plus three other queens and three other eights. An Omaha player would know better, suspecting (correctly, in our example) that the 9heart would give his opponent a full house. That makes 14 outs. You're about 6-5 behind with two cards to come. If a blank comes on the turn, you're just a hair worse than the 2-1 you need to call a pot-sized bet. If your opponent's bet is even marginally less than the pot, it's a good call for you.

2: You have an apparent monster here. It's tempting to count all jacks, eights, sevens, sixes, and clubs as your allies. That's 20 outs! The truly optimistic would argue that another 5 on the board would help you. Against a hand like the Adiamond Aheart Kspade Kdiamond, that would be true. In fact, while you're technically "behind" against that hand on this flop, you're a 3-1 favorite to win the pot. However, against moderately competent Omaha players, you are more likely to be up against hands like the ones I showed in the question. Against the first, only the non-pairing clubs are good, and a jack hits your opponent's gutshot. You are 53-47 behind. If the turn's a blank (for example, the 2spade), you're now a 63-37 underdog - which is just barely enough if you're getting 2-1 pot odds. The situation against the second hand (Jclub 9club 8diamond 7spade) is truly nightmarish. Your straight draws are tied against hers and your flush draw is dead against her higher flush draw. Your only real hope is a freak two pair or trips, or a 4-3 combination, completing the low straight. You are an almost 6-1 dog on the flop, and about 8-1 on a blank turn. To paraphrase Alan Greenspan, unbridled optimism is not a good trait in an Omaha player.

8-6-7-5-3-0-9 … spade