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Stack Management in Omaha Eight-or-Better Tournaments Part II — Adjusting to Tight Tournament Play

by Ben Yu |  Published: Apr 30, 2014

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Poker players tighten up deep in tournaments. Omaha eight-or-better players love to gamble with lots of hands. These polarizing phenomenon collide on the tournament stage, where the result is somewhere between the two extremes. Rounders play more conservatively than their cash game counterparts, but still enter the pot with a variety of hands.
In the early levels, players still splash around with regular frequency, but once about half the field gets eliminated, play tightens considerably and this trend only increases as the bubble approaches.

Last time, I examined strategy for short stack and all-in situations. This time, we return to the fray and look at Omaha eight-or-better tournament strategy away from the “chip and a chair” perspective. Specifically, we will be examining this apparent contradiction of loose and tight play and suggest some optimal lines to combat it.

Raise All the Hands You Want To Play Preflop

Many players open-limp with hands that prefer multiway action such as A-3-5-6 or Q-Q-J-10 in order to encourage weaker hands to enter the pot. I’ve never liked this strategy, as it reveals the structure of your hand to everyone at the table and is difficult to balance. However, in a loose cash game where four or more players regularly see the flop, there are merits to these limps. However, late in a tournament, I would strongly advocate for open-raising for several reasons.

The first is the oldest in the book. Sometimes, everyone folds and you pick up the blinds for free. In a loose game, this never happens. While we’ve now only upgraded to it happening a small percent of the time, it is a significant victory because of how close preflop hand values are in Omaha. Even if you don’t pick up the pot for free, at least you give the blinds an option to fold and not realize their equity. This is especially relevant in short-handed play, where there is more value in chopping up the dead blinds as few ways as possible.

The later in the tournament, the more I would consider open-limping a mistake, as you will be pitted against increasingly skilled hand readers who can punish you for having “raising” hands and “limping” ones. Dividing your range can be a useful tool when playing against weak opponents, but is also a signficiant liability against skilled ones.

Prepare for Short-Handed Confrontations

Basic cash game Omaha eight-or-better strategy focuses on playing premium low hands. In short-handed pots, weaker high components become more valuable. This means that big pairs and cards are more relevant, such that hands such as A-5-Q-Q or A-4-K-J are now powerhouses. Examining the latter hand — while A-K isn’t as powerful a combination in Omaha as it is in hold’em, it still makes strong high holdings with either form of top pair/top kicker — a legitimate hand when facing only a few other players. With either its side cards or aces and kings, it will often make the best two-pair hands as well.

Utilizing this information, one is incentivized to engineer these short-handed spots by reraising and forcing those left to act out of the pot. One of my first epiphanies about the game was figuring out what hands to call and which to three-bet preflop versus a single preflop raiser. This decision is amplified in tournaments when you can expect to clear out the field of reminaing opponents. A preflop reraise will often represent a significant portion of most player’s stacks, a point you can use to leverage into more fold equity.

The converse of this is also true — you should be less excited to jump into the pot with mediocre multiway hands. If a player raises under the gun, it is not profitable to call next in with hands such as ADiamond Suit 4Diamond Suit 6Spade Suit 7Spade Suit. Doing so would rely on the power of the suited ace or trying to hit a miracle flop with both a deuce and trey in a multiway flop, an unlikely scenario. Only strong multiway hands such as K-K-J-9 or A-3-4-6 should still be played.

A Word on Bluffing

Bluffing doesn’t play a large role in loose Omaha eight-or-better cash games, but fewer opponents to the flop make it a constant reality in tournaments. Specifically, semi-bluffing, or trying to get an opponent to fold half a pot, when you frequently have the other half locked up, can be much more effective. Tight opponents won’t go so far as to fold a reasonable two-way hand on the river, but are more susceptible to letting go half the pot if they have a marginal holding only on one end. This effect is magnified on the big streets when turn and river bets represent a considerable portion of a player’s stack.

High boards also transform into stronger candidates for assault as players can’t simply rely on having hands in both directions. Also, those who tighten their preflop ranges often have a preference for playing hands with low components, making them much less likely to hit high boards that don’t have an ace on them, such as K-10-5. Against such opponents, I would be more inclined to attack a continuation bet (c-bet) with a holding as weak as A-3-J-4, sporting just a gutshot-straight draw with some backdoor low and straight draws.

The Big Picture

These are but a few of the nuances that litter Omaha eight-or-better as a result of play tightening in the mid-stages of the tournament. In a game where hand strength becomes more clear on the flop, adjustments aren’t as simple as “play looser.” As we have seen, they often have to do with setting up how a hand will be played. As World Series of Poker bracelet winner Brenden Taylor often tells me, “the flop in Omaha games is preflop. The actual preflop in Omaha is just setting up for the flop.” Entwining this idea with the awareness of tighter play in tournaments should lead you to conclusions and adjustments that will radically help your game. ♠

Ben Yu attended Stanford University but knew even before finishing that he wanted to embark on a journey to become a one of the finest professional mixed-game players. He made his debut onto the tournament scene in 2010 with a second-place finish in the World Series of Poker $1,500 limit hold’em shootout and followed it up in 2011 by leading the WSOP with seven cashes across six different games.  In 2012, he moved to Rosarito, Mexico in order to continue playing online and was enthralled to perform well at the World Championship of Online Poker, including a final table appearance at the $10,300 poker 8-Game High Roller, and a cash in the main event.