Poker Coverage: Poker Tournaments Casino News Sports Betting Poker Strategy

Poker Strategy: Omaha Eight-Or-Better Fundamentals With Randy Ohel

by Steve Schult |  Published: Dec 04, 2019


The World Series of Poker is the one time of year where all of poker’s variants are on display at the highest level. Randy Ohel is a regular in the high-stakes mixed game scene, both in tournaments and cash games.

Ohel has a WSOP bracelet from his victory in the $2,500 2-7 triple draw in 2012 and has cashed in several other variants, including runner-up finishes in the 2018 $10,000 2-7 triple draw, the 2016 $10,000 seven card stud eight-or-better championship and the 2014 $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. championship.

The Florida native and Las Vegas resident has more than $2 million in live tournament earnings, almost exclusively in mixed events. Ohel has delved into the world of poker coaching and is currently taking on students who wish to learn non-hold’em games. You can contact him on Twitter @RandyOhel.

In an effort to provide readers with a solid fundamental strategy of mixed games, Card Player sat down with Ohel to break down a hand from the 2019 WSOP $10,000 Omaha eight-or-better championship.

The Hand

The Action

Owais Ahmed raised from the cutoff, Frankie O’Dell called out of the small blind, and Nick Guagenti called out of the big blind. On the flop, O’Dell checked, Guagenti bet, Ahmed folded, and O’Dell called. On the turn, O’Dell checked, Guagenti bet, and O’Dell check-raised. Guagenti made it three bets and O’Dell called. On the river O’Dell bet, and Guagenti raised. O’Dell called and was all in.

Steve Schult: Before we dive into the actual hand, let’s just get an idea about what premium starting hands in this game are. How important is it to have A-2 in your hand as opposed to A-4 or A-5? Just give me some overall preflop hand selection advice.

Randy Ohel: The key card in Omaha eight-or-better is the ace. Hands with the ace are always better than the hands without one because it’s both the highest card and the lowest card. After that, the next most important cards to have are deuces, threes, and kings. Having A-K is a lot stronger than people realize. Particularly to a lot of newer players. A-K matters more short-handed. That’s what is going to happen more in tournaments and high-stakes cash games.

In a game where eight people are seeing the flop, then A-K is nowhere near as important. Having A-2 is a lot more important. The A-2 is obviously important at any stakes, as you always want to have A-2 or A-3.

If we look at the hands that our players have, Nick’s hand is quite good. If he was on the button against Owais’ cutoff open, he would definitely three-bet. Actually, it’s a really good hand to three-bet because of the A-K, and that hand will play better heads-up.

Since Frankie’s second-highest card is an eight, it doesn’t play as well heads-up and he doesn’t mind having more opponents in there, so he just calls and entices the big blind in.

SS: What characteristics should we look for in a hand to three-bet as opposed to wanting to take it multi-way.

RO: The concept is called push-pull. Hands that want to make it heads-up are going to be hands like aces, hands like kings, hands that have A-K in them. Hands that have better hot and cold equity.

Hands that are going to want to keep multiway are going to be hands that have a lot of potential to make the nuts. With a hand like A-K, you’re kind of looking to make top pair and a good low or something like that. It’s easier to beat one person with that hand. Whereas, if you have something like A-2-3-4, that’s like the ultimate candidate to keep a lot of people in, because if it hits, you’re more likely to hit it really hard and beat any number of people. If it misses, you can’t win anything because it has to have a low board.

Just look at a hand like A-K-J-3. It can hit high boards, it can hit low boards, and it can hit top pair and stuff like that, so it’s better to have fewer players. If you’re not as likely to hit, those are the types of hands where you want more people in the pot.

SS: What about high-only hands like A-K-Q-10?

RO: It’s super dependent on the position you’re in. In this case, we are looking at a tournament, and tournaments are different. If we were talking about a full-ring cash game, you can make a case for almost anything. Some people limp them, some people raise them. You’re never going to be three-betting with them because you can’t make a low hand. It’s like the opposite of A-2-3-4. You need a high board to come. If the high board comes, you have a monster.

SS: In this particular hand, when Owais raises from the cutoff, is that a possible holding for him there or does he need to be on the button to raise that?

RO: There’s not a ton of combinations of those hands. It’s not that easy to pick up high hands that are good enough. But the premium high hands are definitely possible. His fold on the flop indicates that he probably had something like that.

SS: On the flop, Nick leads out into the preflop raiser. In hold’em, everybody generally checks to the preflop raiser. In Omaha, that doesn’t seem like it’s the case.

RO: There’s definitely less continuation-betting. In addition, equities don’t change as much in hold’em. The person who was ahead preflop is likely going to be ahead on almost any flop texture in hold’em. The stronger range in hold’em is ahead almost invariably no matter what the flop is. Obviously, there are exceptions, but that has to be the case.

In Omaha, it’s much more flop dependent. A top 10 percent hand in Omaha is not going to be very strong on a board of Q-J-9, whereas the wider range is going to have more hands that hit that board. The top 10 percent will hit it occasionally, but it’s a very poor flop for that hand and it will have a lot of check-folds. If the action checked to Owais, he would never bet with nothing because he’s never going to take this down three ways on a flop of 7-6-5.

SS: With boards like this and other boards that have three low cards, what types of hands would you even be thinking about putting multiple bets in since you immediately have to worry about both halves of the pot?

RO: You’re looking for hands with two-way potential. You’re looking for situations where you can have a low with a high and maybe knock someone out and get heads-up. Maybe you have top pair with a low or you have a straight draw with a pair.

Nick’s hand is a perfect hand to lead out with because he has A-4, which has value and the 8-4 has a ton of value because there aren’t going to be a lot of 8-9 combinations that you are up against. He could end up freerolling against something like A-2 or A-3 without much of a high because a deuce or a three comes, He could also get heads-up and he can’t lose to those hands potentially because they don’t have a high. It’s a rare situation where the better high hand can actually freeroll against a low.

In this case, against Frankie’s hand, he’s not freerolling. But what if someone had A-K-J-2? Nick would be completely freerolling that hand. In this case, Frankie’s hand is stronger because Frankie can scoop with a nine. A nine comes and Frankie makes a nine-high straight and Nick only has an eight-high straight. And he could three-quarter him with an eight or a four. Frankie only gets scooped with a three.

SS: Is Frankie’s hand strong enough to check-raise?

RO: It depends on the field. You could even lead out with that hand. But yeah, it’s quite strong. It’s very hard for him to be very behind. In this case, is it strong enough to check-raise? To a certain extent, it’s nearly a moot point because they end up all in for about a third of a bet at the end. He’s not going to really go wrong unless he check-folds.

With Nick’s hand, I really like his lead on the flop because he really doesn’t want this to get checked back by Owais. Also, suppose Owais has something like A-A-2-X or something like A-2-K-7. If he has a hand like that, Owais will raise the flop to try and knock out a lot of Frankie’s hands. Not this exact hand, but now Nick is freerolling some of those hands that Owais hands. And if not freerolling, then way ahead.

Ideally, he’d like to get heads-up against a guy with a strong low and a marginal high. It’s very easy for Owais to have a hand like that.

Imagine this. Imagine if Owais had A-K-4-3. It looks like a super strong hand on this board, but when Nick bets and Owais will certainly raise with it, then Nick is freerolling Owais.

SS: That was one of the hands I was thinking of on this board that seems like you could get yourself in a tricky spot. Not those exact four cards, but the 3-4 combination in general. I know it’s a straight, but should you even be raising with it?

RO: Owais will only have 3-4 if it were K-K-4-3, A-3-4-X, or like 2-3-4 with like a 5 or a 6. Those are going to be the only types of hands that Owais will have with a 3-4 in them and all of those types of hands will be hands that he will raise the flop with.

Not so much because it’s so strong, although the A-3-4-X is, it’s because he wants to force Frankie out. Frankie can have a lot of hands that can have a decent amount of equity, like an A-4 that will call some bets on the end. And Owais can knock him out with something like K-K-4-3 and pick up a lot of equity.

Nick defended out of the big blind, so Nick will have the highest proportion of 9-8 combinations in his range and because of that, maybe Owais can have the only low or something. There are many good things that can happen by knocking Frankie out. A-3-4-X is very strong, but it just so happens that it gets obliterated by the hand Nick happens to have. Nick’s hand is a total freeroll against A-3-4-X because it can’t make an eight-high straight, and would lose if a three comes. And, that hand can’t ever win the high.

SS: I did want to ask you about the 8-9 possibilities. Obviously, nines are one of the worst cards in this game so I didn’t think anybody would have 8-9 in their hands.

RO: Remember, you get four cards. Anyone can have it. The question is how often do you have it. The person that is going to have it the most often is Nick because his range is the weakest. He’ll have some of the high and intermediate rundowns that the other players can’t have. And everyone could have A-2-8-9, A-3-8-9, or A-A-9-8. But only Nick can have some of the other ones.

SS: On the turn, Frankie check-raises, and Nick three-bets. Is this too aggressive of a play since his hand isn’t as strong anymore?

RO: Well, they’re just getting it all in. The betting action is almost irrelevant.

SS: How about for debate’s sake. Let’s say they were deeper stacked.

RO: Then Nick would never do that. Nick will be getting freerolled very often, or he would be chopping. He rarely has an advantage.

SS: So then by that same logic, I guess if they were deeper, Nick wouldn’t be raising the river either then? It would likely go bet-call?

RO: Nick would raise this particular river because he can’t lose very often. He can win three-quarters sometimes because he has a live ace with an eight-high straight. Live ace is the second nut low on this board. He only loses to 9-8 with a wheel. A-3-9-8 are the only four cards that can scoop him. Those exact four cards.

He could get three-quartered by A-3-9-8 or A-3 with an eight-high straight, which is really hard to have. It really required a lot of really specific combinations to win more than half against Nick’s hand there.

SS: So this is kind of a cooler then?

RO: Yes. Frankie had one of the few hands that could win more than half. The turn is pretty gross. The turn just wins a quarter of the pot for Frankie and then the river comes and forces Nick to put in extra action.

That being said, I don’t think Nick needed to bet the turn. I think Nick might be able to check it back since they weren’t as close to all in as I initially thought. I don’t love it. I think you can check this turn, especially when there is a flush draw that you don’t have.