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Two-Way Hands — Part I

Safest times to make big moves

by Michael Cappelletti |  Published: Jun 11, 2010


One of the frustrations that we all experience in tournament poker is when we patiently wait for a big hand, go all in, manage to catch a caller in our trap, and then lose on an unlikely last card. But have you noticed that in Omaha high-low, you can often survive these disasters?

While playing in a pot-limit Omaha high-low online tournament, I picked up the AHeart Suit 6Heart Suit 6Spade Suit 3Spade Suit in my 200 big blind. An early-position player made it 400 to go, and there were two callers to me. I just called, since it is usually unsound to raise with an A-3 holding, which is often a second-best hand. In a 10-handed game, when you hold an A-3, one or more of your opponents will hold an A-2 about half of the time. And in this hand, I would be acting first.

Two-Way Hands -- Part 1I had about 5,000 in chips. In four-way action, the flop came 10Heart Suit 7Heart Suit 4Spade Suit. I checked to the preflop raiser, who bet 500. Both of the other players folded, and I called. The 5Diamond Suit turned, giving me both the second-nut low and the second-nut high, and I still had the nut heart-flush draw. Since there was 2,600 in the pot and I had about 4,500 left, I checked. My opponent bet 800. Thus, the pot was now big enough for me to raise pot and get all of my chips in.

Although my opponent might have had the nuts one way, I thought it was quite unlikely that he would beat me both ways. And by raising some 3,700, I might well get him to fold a draw or something that might tie or beat me for half the pot. He said, “I gotta call ya,” and showed his JHeart Suit 9Heart Suit QSpade Suit 8Spade Suit. So, he needed a 6, 8, 9, or jack to win half the pot. I had the hearts covered, except for the 8, which would give him a straight flush. A king came on the river, so I scooped the whole pot.

I was still thinking about that hand a half-hour later when a similar situation occurred. In the small blind, I picked up the QDiamond Suit 4Diamond Suit ASpade Suit 4Club Suit. After two crawlers, the button raised to 600. I called, and the big blind and one of the crawlers folded. In three-way action, the flop came 9Diamond Suit 5Heart Suit 2Diamond Suit. Thus, I had the second-nut low draw with my A-4, and a queen-high flush draw. Again, I checked my non-nut draws to the preflop raiser, who bet 800.

I called, and the third player folded. The turn card was the 8♦, which made both my low and flush. Since I expected my opponent to bet, I checked. And, bet he did; he bet the pot. Once again, since I felt confident that I would win at least one way, I raised the rest of my chips.

He slowly called, making the pot about 26,000, and showed the AClub Suit AHeart Suit 5Spade Suit 2Spade Suit. So, unless the river was a 2, 4, or 5, I would win the whole pot. Unfortunately, the river was a 4, counterfeiting my 4, so he tied my low and I ended up winning three-quarters of the pot.

Note that both of my big all-in bets in these two hands were actually about as safe as it gets in tournament poker (except for very rare stone-cold locks). Even if my opponent had happened to hold or draw the nuts, I probably would have won the other half of the pot, since it was really quite unlikely that I would be beat both ways.

Thus, the moral of this story is simply this: When you have good prospects in both directions against one opponent, it is one of the safest times to make your big move. Two ways to win are much better than one. This concept also applies when the flop makes it appear to be a high-only pot (for example, A-K-J), but then two low cards make a low possible. Then, it is much safer to bet or raise aggressively with a non-lock high hand if you also have an “emergency low.” So, when you are trying to survive in a high-low tournament, these are the preferred “smart-money” situations in which it is safest to make your big moves. Spade Suit

Formerly a career lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, Mike Cappelletti has written numerous books on poker and bridge, and is considered to be one of the leading authorities on Omaha. Mike has also represented the U.S. in international bridge competition, and he and his wife were featured in a four-page Couples Section in People magazine. His books include Cappelletti on Omaha, Poker at the Millennium (with Mike Caro), and Omaha High Low Poker.