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When Two Play the Same Game

An Omaha high-low lesson

by Michael Cappelletti |  Published: Apr 29, 2011


In the early stages of a $110 buy-in pot-limit Omaha high-low tournament, in the small blind of 50, I picked up the A♦ 3♦ Q♥ 9♠. The other chip leader at our table (he and I each had about 6,000 in chips) made it 250 to go. Two other players and I called.

A very nice flop for me hit the table, Q♣ 5♦ 2♦, giving me the nut-flush draw, the nut-low draw, and top pair. Normally, I would bet such a nice flop, on the theory that I really belonged in this pot (and to see who else was willing to pay to play).
But the preflop raiser was very aggressive, and could absolutely be relied upon to bet. So, because of his very aggressive image, I checked to him, expecting that he probably would get more callers than I would.

Sure enough, he bet 300, but one of the other players folded. In three-way action, the turn card was the J♠. Again, I checked to him, and he bet 400. The third player folded, and I just called. The river card was the 6♠, which gave me the nut low. Again, I checked to him.

He pretended to think a little, then said, dramatically, “It will cost you 1,800,” and pushed his chips into the pot. I had been watching him carefully, and knew that he often made a large bet on the river. I thought that he probably had my pair of queens beat for high, but because I had the nut low, the worst I could do was get a quarter of the pot.

Could I smoke him off a slightly better high than mine? I thought it was worth a try. So, I said, “Well, actually, it will cost you about another 4,000! I’m all in,” and I pushed my stack into the pot. I felt fairly sure that if he had been pushing a medium-strength hand, such as two high pair, he would fold rather than risk his entire big stack.

He thought about it for at least a minute, then said, “I gotta call you. I have the second-nut low (A-4) and jacks for high.” He slapped his head and cursed when he saw my A-3 and queens.

Apparently, he made the bet of 1,800 because he was looking at the second-nut low and trying to get me to lay down a better high — the same game plan as mine, except with slightly worse cards.

So, are there some lessons here, in addition to the shocking revelation that two people might be playing the same game? Although his 1,800 “tactical poker” bet might have worked on a luckier day, it was a bit extravagant and unsound (do not risk big money on a small hand).

But clearly, his biggest mistake was calling my raise with a dubious hand. He could have backed off, and kept a good-sized stack of chips. So perhaps an even more basic lesson in Omaha high-low is this: When you bet your tournament life, it is wise to have the nuts or a very likely winner in at least one direction. ♠
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._