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Pot-Limit Omaha: The Nut Straight Freeroll

Where's the edge for good players?

by Jeff Hwang |  Published: Apr 09, 2008


Editor's note: This column is largely an excerpt from Jeff Hwang's book, Pot-Limit Omaha: The Big Play Strategy.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Pot-limit Omaha (PLO) is not a 50-50 game.

When the average player thinks about pot-limit Omaha, the first thing that comes to mind is the classic all-in confrontation between one player who has flopped a set and another who has a massive straight draw with a flush draw. And it's true that there will be times when you will flop a hand like top set and be forced to gamble with your whole stack against a big drawing hand. It's also true that in these spots, you may be only a small favorite – or even a dog – against such drawing hands. But while these situations are fairly common and you do have to have some gamble to play PLO, it is a pure fallacy that you have to be in a gambling situation when the money goes in.

So, where's the edge for the good players in this game? What are we trying to accomplish when we see the flop?

The truth is that in PLO – or any Omaha game, for that matter – the distance between a good player and a great player is not nearly as great as the distance between a good player and a bad player. And in PLO, there is a variety of situations in which inexperienced players – or merely poor players – can and frequently do make extremely expensive mistakes. These situations are far from coin flips; one player is often getting way the worst of it.

Occasionally, a player will be holding the nuts and commit his entire stack, only to find that not only does he have zero chance of winning the whole pot, but that he is also getting freerolled by an opponent holding the same straight plus a redraw to a better hand. Other times, a poor player will jam the pot with the underfull, middle or bottom set, or a non-nut flush – hands that competent players know to be sucker holdings – only to run into the overfull, top set, or the nut flush. And even more often, indiscriminate players will draw to non-nut hands and then pay off big bets when they make their second-best hands.

When the losing player commits all of his chips in these spots, it is more often not bad luck, but bad play.

Ultimately, the object of the game is to win our opponents' entire stacks. To achieve that, we want to be in the dominant position when the big pots get played. This involves first identifying those situations that most frequently result in big pots, and figuring out what holdings have the advantage in these spots.

Namely, our goal is to hit the following:

1. The Nut Straight Freeroll

2. The Nut Full House Freeroll

3. Overfull Vs. Underfull

4. Set Over Set

5. Flush Over Flush

6. Top Set-Plus

7. Dominating Draws

In this column, we are going to take a look at the Nut Straight Freeroll.

The Nut Straight Freeroll

Most of the big pots in pot-limit Omaha tend to involve either one or more players with a big straight draw or two players holding the same straight. The latter case is often the source of all-in confrontations on the flop – and, as you will see, the money tends to go in more often than is fundamentally sound.

Let's say the flop comes 9 6 5, and there is $20 in the pot. Tom holds the A K 8 7 for the nut straight. David holds the 10 9 8 7 for the nut straight with a spade-flush draw, backdoor club draw, and straight redraws. Tom bets $20, David raises to $80, Tom reraises to $240, and after a couple more raises, both players eventually get all in for $1,000 each.

Which hand do you like better here?

Clearly, David's hand is vastly superior, as he has multiple redraws: a 7, an 8, any spade, running clubs, or running full house or quads will improve his hand to win the entire pot. Tom has merely the nut straight but no improvers. As a result, David is on a total freeroll. Basically, Tom has defended half of a $20 pot with his entire $1,000 stack, and on a hand that he has absolutely no chance of winning outright. In this case, David will scoop the entire pot roughly 56 percent of the time at no risk, and is nearly a 4-1 money favorite.

While it is true that David may have caught a freak flop, there are several hands that have Tom freerolled here. Any 10-8-7-X can hit an 8 or a 9 to make a bigger straight; any 8-7-X-X with two spades can make a flush to win the pot; 9-8-7-6 can hit a 9 or a 6 to make a full house; and 9-9-8-7 or 8-7-6-6 for the nut straight with a set can hit seven cards on the turn and 10 more on the river to make a full house.

Now, in reality, the weaker player isn't always drawing completely dead. But, the point is clear: We aren't looking to flop merely the nut straight – we want to flop the nut straight with redraws.

On the flip side, Tom easily could have gotten away from this hand. Whenever the stacks are deep and you hold the bare nut straight on the flop without a redraw, it is imperative that you proceed cautiously – especially when there is a two-flush on the board. In that case, you should often smooth-call when bet into, or fold when facing a raise.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 1: Flopping the nut straight doesn't necessarily entitle you to the pot.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 2: The biggest culprit for getting freerolled is playing a hand with a weak structure (for example, a hand that can't physically flop the nut straight with either straight or full house redraws); the second-biggest culprit is poor decision-making after the flop.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 3: When you flop the nut straight, and the board shows a two-flush and you don't have a flush draw, you should proceed cautiously when bet into or raised. One clear exception is when you have the nut straight with a set for a full house redraw.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 4: In PLO, sometimes it may be correct to fold the nut straight on the flop.

PLO Big Play Concept No. 5: Play hands with big play potential only. Most such hands have the ability to flop the nut straight with either a redraw to a bigger straight or a redraw to a full house. Virtually 100 percent of these hands should also have flush redraw potential (for example, the hand is at least single-suited).

Jeff Hwang is a semiprofessional player and author of the recently released Pot-Limit Omaha: The Big Play Strategy. Jeff is also an investment analyst who writes about casino stocks for the Motley Fool at For a list of live PLO games near you, check out Jeff's website at