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by David Downing |  Published: Aug 01, 2009


In my continuing travels to sample every game possible, without ever seeming to settle down, I have now gone back to the first cash game I ever learned, pot-limit Omaha. Of course being able to play a wide variety of games is an advantage for any player. The problem can become that you end up a jack of all trades but master of none. You also miss out on the spikes and surges that happen in a particular game in time, simply because you are playing elsewhere.

When people were murdering their money at a rate unparalleled in no-limit hold’em, I was playing unimaginably tough pot-limit Omaha games. As these games were starting to be squeezed, I was missing out on the ridiculous free money exercise taking place in pot-limit Omaha high-low. Ho hum.

One of the challenges of switching games is you can switch mindset. Now at the highest levels, poker is poker. By this I mean, that at nosebleed stakes, nearly everyone understands the basic mechanics and concepts of the game and you are fundamentally playing a form of mental chicken, with your respective cars of intent zooming towards each other, waiting for the first blink. But away from the cliff edge, each game has its own feel and function. For example, no-limit hold’em is mostly about being right. This seems kind of obvious, but let me explain.

Because hands are normally contested between various levels of mostly nothing, play often involves gauging a pretty tight range of hands and moving chips accordingly. This is encapsulated in the mythic WAWB phrase, meaning Way Ahead (you have your foe crushed), Way Behind (your foe has his foot on your head).

Pot-limit Omaha is very different. This game is more about calculating equities. Whilst this is related to what you are doing in no-limit, it becomes very different because a hidden set is not such a sure thing in any pot, and hand values are normally much higher. This gives rise to the useful acronym, unfortunately less well known (as I invented it), of DIYDDIYD which stands for Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t. This is where your hand equities range from bad to breakeven, so the sum of them — unlike WAWB examples — ends up being negative. A classic example is of a wrap when there is a flush draw out. If stacks are moved in, and your foe has a flush draw with just a little extra, then you are in a world of hurt. If he has a set, then you are breakeven to slightly positive. So bizarrely, and counter intuitively, you want your foe to have a made hand and not a draw.

Thinking about these issues, an interesting example came up in play at a low stakes six-max pot-limit Omaha table. I had raised preflop with A-Q-9-x suited in the cut-off and the two blinds called. We had effective stacks of 70 to100 big blinds between us. The flop came A-Q-9 with a flush draw I did not have. My two opponents checked and I bet. The small blind, which was the smaller stack check-raised, and the big blind cold called.

An interesting situation to put it mildly.

Now clearly we are looking at a play where we are going to be committed for our stack if we continue. But what are the ranges we are against and what is our equity? This is a situation that Omaha players often misjudge, and it is a common one. If one of the players has a made hand, either the pairs with me, or even worse — a set, and the other has a flush draw with a wrap, then it is the drawing hand which is the equity favorite. Clearly, from the action, the cold caller is most likely to have a drawing hand rather than a made one, unless he is playing very passively or cautiously. In this situation, I am probably best calling and making my decision on the turn.

But this is where it gets interesting.  If they both have drawing hands, they will be eating up each other’s outs, and my made hand becomes the favourite. Then I will want to take my equity now and get all-in before a scare card comes that makes them pass.

So the question becomes which is most likely? Thankfully, I was using a statistical heads-up display and I could see that both were loose as the proverbial goose, and I made the correct decision to get all-in now.

Understanding how these equity ranges oscillate between the positive and the negative is a key for building a successful pot-limit Omaha game and is simply a function of that old mainstay of poker — thinking. Spade Suit

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.