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Omaha Eight-Or-Better: Playable Low Hands From Early Position

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Mar 09, 2022

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In earlier installments on Omaha Eight-or-Better (O8), we introduced a framework for thinking about starting hands and the development of detailed standards by position. Our end goal is to figure out what hands fit into the strategy of playing the following percentage of hands by position in a six-handed game:

Opening Frequencies
Lojack 15-20%
Hijack 20-25%
Cutoff 30%
Button 40-50% or more

These frequencies are based upon stats shared from successful online players who have logged an enormous number of hands. The focus will be on six-handed games as most online games and live mixes seat six or seven players. If you are in a game with more opponents, you would simply tighten up a little in the earlier positions.

In a six-handed (or less) game, my preference is to come in for a raise with any hand that I choose to play. Some players have advocated a limping strategy with mostly one-way holdings such as ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Diamond Suit 5Club Suit and ADiamond Suit KDiamond Suit JClub Suit 10Heart Suit; a strategy that has merit as it pulls in more players and also reduces your investment when you whiff the flop.

While there are pros and cons, I choose to open-raise because with so few players at the table our limp won’t often create a large multi-way pot and keeping the pot short-handed with any hand has merit. Against one opponent we can make a continuation bet with relatively little and/or escape with a weak holding for one side of the pot, but against two or more we are more or less forced to make a hand.

In addition, when I’m in the big blind, I enjoy playing against opponents who limp and give me free expectation with hands that would have folded to a raise. With mediocre hands that can defend profitably, I still prefer getting infinite odds to see the flop for free as opposed to calling getting decent odds. So my preference is to open-raise, deny the happiness of free equity to the big blind, and make whoever may want to contest the pot put in extra money to do so.

In this issue, we will focus on the playable low hands from early position; the first two players to act otherwise known as the “lojack” and “hijack.” And for this discussion we will make the distinction that any low holding must contain at least two wheel cards (aces through fives). While AClub Suit 6Club Suit KHeart Suit QHeart Suit is a fairly strong hand and can make lows, it’s more of a high hand accompanied by an emergency low.

The following opinions on playable holdings are based upon analyzing the features of the starting hands, playing experience, consultation with other players, and rankings produced by ProPokerTools (PPT). As discussed in the last O8 article, the PPT rankings are more useful than others you may find in that they are based upon performance against good starting hands, not just a table full of random hands.

Throughout our discussions, the PPT rankings will be shown in parentheses; however, they are meant to simply act as a guide. While these rankings are better than most they are still based upon “hot/cold” simulations assuming all good hands contesting the pot get to showdown. Therefore, with all of the holdings under consideration, we must also consider playability factors such as the ability to effectively realize your equity and reverse/implied odds.

Two Aces With Any Wheel Card

When accompanied with another premium low card and a suit, e.g. ASpade Suit AHeart Suit 3Heart Suit 10Club Suit [r 1], you have one of the strongest hands you can be dealt. The worst possible aces hand with a wheel card is ASpade Suit AHeart Suit 5Diamond Suit 9Club Suit [r 3], and although this hand is much weaker, it is still too good to fold in a six-handed game. While it’s true that we will sometimes end up in a few difficult post-flop spots, this hand just has too much value six-handed or less and also effectively blocks our opponents from picking up strong hands.

A-2

The A-2 is powerful not just because it will often make the best low but also because it plays quite well after the flop. You will often be able to pressure a single opponent with a made low or simply just a low draw in order to deny him his equity, and in a multi-way pot you can raise a lead and knock out slightly better highs.

Having an A-2 also allows you to remain in the hand and realize your equity with more marginal high hands. When you are drawing to or have the nut low you will often make it to showdown and see if a pair of sevens is good for high, something you may not be able to do with non nut low draws.

Therefore, when examining rankings based upon “hot/cold” equities, it’s appropriate to give the A-2 holdings extra consideration and play them even when they fall slightly outside of our criteria. For example, according to PPT ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Diamond Suit 6Club Suit [r 21] is not a top 20% holding but is worthy of an initial open in virtually any game and situation.

In a full ring nine-handed “berry patch” you can limp from under-the-gun, and in these soft games virtually any holding with an A-2 can be profitable. However, from the first two positions in a tight aggressive six-max game there are some dry A-2 hands that we can fold. These would be holdings that have very weak high potential such as ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit 9Club Suit [r 26] and ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 2Diamond Suit 8Club Suit [r 38] where the lack of flush potential and the presence of a nine or small pair put a serious dent in their value.

Right now, there are probably people falling out of their chairs at the prospect of open-folding an A-2 in a six-handed game, and perhaps they are correct that even the worst of these hands can book a profit. It’s probably impossible to prove one way or another but both ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit 9Club Suit and ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 2Diamond Suit 8Club Suit are equity underdogs against just simply a top 50% holding and the power of A-2 can only do so much.

A-3

A-3 is also a very good start on the low side, however, it’s always possible that an A-2 may be out that has your potential lows notched. When holding an A-3 there is around a 5.7% chance that each player left to act is holding either A-2-3 or A-2. When you are dealt an A-3 in the lojack, this translates to an approximate 25% probability that one of the five players left to act has your low draw dominated.

Since there may be an A-2 lurking, we must be a little more selective in the A-3 holdings that we choose to play. For example, while ASpade Suit 3Heart Suit 5Diamond Suit 8Club Suit [r 34] has three wheel cards, it’s not even within the top 30% of holdings and should be folded from the first two positions.

However, if we give ourselves a small flush draw and change the eight to a seven (e.g. ASpade Suit 3Heart Suit 5Heart Suit 7Club Suit [r 18]), we now have a hand with enough value and playability that is worthy of an open. From early position, A-3 holdings require at a minimum at least a small flush, a big pair (tens or greater), or two broad-way cards such as ADiamond Suit 3Club Suit QHeart Suit 10Spade Suit [r 15].

This may not be enough if our hand is relatively weak and contains either a nine and/or a small pair. While we can always play any A-3 hand with a suited ace, hands such as AClub Suit 3Heart Suit 7Heart Suit 9Diamond Suit [r 21] or ASpade Suit 3Heart Suit 3Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit [r 23] have their limitations and can be losing early position opens in tough games.

A-4 and A-5

There’s quite a big drop-off when your best low cards are either an A-4 or A-5 as opposed to an A-3. When holding A-4, each player left to act has around a 17% chance of holding one of the following combinations: A-2-3, A-2-4, A-2, A-3-4, A-3, or 2-3. This means that when you are dealt A-4 in first position, there’s a greater than 60% probability that one of the other five players left to act is holding a better low draw.

While some opponents are capable of folding weaker holdings containing a 2-3 or even A-3, it’s not often they do, and it’s a problem to be dominated on the low side so frequently. We therefore won’t fully realize the low equity of A-4 or A-5, and all things considered the rest of the hand must be strong in order to open from early position.

It’s very important to be suited to the ace and having another big card helps as well. For example, AClub Suit 4Club Suit 6Heart Suit QDiamond Suit [r 10] is probably strong enough to play but the AClub Suit 4Club Suit 6Heart Suit 9Diamond Suit [r 21] where the queen is replaced with a nine, should be mucked..

Also, since A-5 is an even weaker low start, AClub Suit 5Club Suit 6Heart Suit QDiamond Suit [r 12] may be a fold but AClub Suit 5Club Suit 6Heart Suit KDiamond Suit [r 8] is more playable due to the king. So why would we suggest folding AClub Suit 5Club Suit 6Heart Suit QDiamond Suit [r 12] when our target frequency is 15-20% and it is ranked so highly by PPT?

Once again, the rationale is that the A-5 component of the holding may not effectively realize its equity and/or experience some reverse implied odds and we need to consider these playability aspects. However, in the aggregate we can still expect to play approximately 15-20% of our total hands from the lojack because we are playing hands such as the aforementioned ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Diamond Suit 6Club Suit [r 21] and good high hands like ASpade Suit KDiamond Suit 10Spade Suit 10Heart Suit [r 24].

Other Low Hands Without An Ace

There aren’t many holdings that we want to play from early position without an ace, however, we can feel relatively good playing hands like 2Club Suit 3Spade Suit QSpade Suit QHeart Suit [r 12], 2Club Suit 3Club Suit 4Heart Suit 6Heart Suit [r 19], 2Spade Suit 3Diamond Suit QSpade Suit KDiamond Suit [r 16] or 2Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit 4Club Suit KClub Suit [r 14] from any position. Notice that all of these holdings are suited at least once and when an ace flops often have both high and low possibilities.

From early position, it’s relatively important to specifically hold 2-3 as opposed to 2-4 because when an ace flops you want to have the nut low draw, however, it’s not a deal breaker if the remainder of the hand is otherwise quite strong.

None of this is an exact science and most assuredly opinions amongst players will vary. Lines have to be drawn somewhere and having a set of default openings is useful in any form of poker. In the next installment on O8, we will discuss late position opening standards with the low hands. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary of MetLife but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. He is co-owner of Elite Fitness Club in Oceanport, NJ and is a certified personal trainer. With regards to poker he got his start way back in 2003 and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. If interested in learning more, playing mixed games online, or just saying hello he can be reached at haneyk612@gmail.com.