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Pound Stretcher

by David Downing |  Published: Dec 31, 2008


These are stringent and difficult times. The credit crunch is chomping down and even gamblers are starting to feel the jaws squeezing. Now, more than ever, a good gambler should be looking for good value. For a long time, in gambling and especially the world of poker, there's existed the concept of "getting value." To be frank, this is more often an excuse for an atrocious play, that is, "I had to call for that backdoor-flush shot. I was getting good value." What good value should actually mean is that the price you need to pay in terms of the current bet, and future ones, is favourable in terms of the return of the pot, or the potential pot. And by favourable, we mean those nebulous things called odds. The maths stuff. What is interesting, and surprising, is that the concept of value changes from game to game, and taking some concepts from, say, no-limit hold'em and applying them to limit high-low Omaha is a tasty recipe for disaster. Let us look at some examples:

Hold'em Schooling and Long Shots

Many players are familiar with the concept of drawing for long shots in no-limit holdem. For example, if you know your opponent is very strong and will stack off with his hand, it may be worthwhile taking off a card to hit a disguised hand like a middle-pin straight. As long as you are getting more than 10-to-1 "implied odds," that is the total money that can be won, this is a reasonable play. Less well-known is the so-called "schooling effect" in limit hold'em. This is the mathematical explanation of something that drives big-bet hold'em players wild. Basically, if by calling, you will provoke other people to call, calling very thin on the flop cannot be a big mistake, and the last person to call, normally with the worst outs of the lot, is surprisingly right to do so. Passive, seemingly "dumb" value.

High-Low Omaha Anti-Schooling

Four-Color Wheel CardsHaving just defined the term schooling, we quickly see that it has almost no value in high-low Omaha, especially the popular limit version of the game. This is because it is pretty common for only a hand or two to have all the effective outs on the flop. Everyone else is either calling for half the pot or simply drawing dead. When one guy has the nut low and the nut-flush draw, and the other has the nut-low wrap, there simply are not a whole lot of useful outs left. If you are drawing to the second nut-flush draw and a bad low draw multiway, you are not really drawing at all. You are the value.

Better Pot Odds, Worse Lowball

A game like razz has almost anti-value. Let's say you are the bring-in with something like A-J-2. If you get raised by something like a 6 you would much rather be heads up if you are going to defend with your hand, as opposed to picking up another low-card straggler. This is because although you get better pot odds with the third player, for you to be able to proceed, they both have to hit bad and you hit good, which is a considerable parlay compared to just heads up, one player hitting bad and you good. The extra money is good, but not good enough. More money equals less value.

Pot-Limit Un-Implied Omaha

Of all the games under the sun, pot-limit Omaha is probably the one going through more changes in style and approach than any other. The game I am playing now is almost completely unrecognizable from that which I played over a decade ago. Shorthanded games just did not exist, and now they are by far the most popular variety of the game. However, one thing has not changed. The implied-odds scenario described in our first section is at best a tiny part of the game.

Although implied odds are always an important factor in any big-bet game - will I get paid if I hit my draw? - drawing very thin for the chance to stack someone is much less important. Firstly, when a draw hits, pot-limit Omaha being pot-limit Omaha, opponents are automatically more cautious. It may have been just a middle-pin draw for you, but from the perspective of your foe, you may have had a wrap and hit that. It is rare to stack someone when a straight comes for any massive amount, and if he is prepared to put in many multiples of the pot in such a bad spot, you do not need to draw to four-outers to catch him. Secondly, and crucially, pot-limit Omaha being pot-limit Omaha, your opponent may actually have the hand, as well, and if he had a wrap, potentially freerolling you to scoop. Drawing thin to hit half the pot at best is not the kind of value we were hoping to achieve.

Value takes many forms. Train your poker senses and instincts to identify it, both away from and at the table. To paraphrase a U.S. Supreme Court judge when talking about pornography, I may not be able to define value, but I can recognise it when I see it.

David has played poker all over the UK for the better part of a decade. Originally a tournament player, now focused on cash play and almost entirely on the Internet for the last three years, he makes a healthy second income playing a wide range of games. David is also an Omaha instructor for, a leading source of online poker instructional videos.