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Omaha Eight-or-Better: Playing The Small Blind Against A Button Open

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Aug 10, 2022

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Whether or not to defend the small blind against a button raise and in what manner is a difficult topic in Limit Omaha Eight-or-Better (O8), as it is in virtually any poker game.

Some decisions are easy, for example, we have a clear three-bet with strong two-way holdings such as AClub Suit AHeart Suit 3Club Suit 6Spade Suit and ADiamond Suit 2Heart Suit 4Spade Suit KClub Suit.

These hands push a nice equity edge preflop, play well post-flop, and dead money is created when the big blind folds. However, it’s more than fine when the big blind joins the party because these powerful O8 holdings also play well multi-way.

In this issue, we will focus on the trickier decisions from the small blind when we either have a good one-way holding or a somewhat marginal two-way hand where our best course of action is probably up for debate.

Defending by Calling

Suppose we are in the small blind with an ultra-pretty high hand ADiamond Suit KClub Suit QDiamond Suit JClub Suit and the action folds around to an opponent on the button opening the top 50% of their hands. We certainly are going to play; the question is should we re-raise or do we want to call and make it easier for the big blind to come in with his weaker hands?

One advantage to re-raising and often getting the pot heads-up is that we can reduce the possibility of a bad low stealing half of the pot. Premium high hands don’t just hit pure high boards; they can also make a flush, straight, trips, or two big pair on a board that ends up with three or more low cards.

In addition, this holding smashes many high boards and re-raising high-only hands such as this will give us much better coverage on HHL and HHH flops (where H is a nine through a king and an L are the aces through eights). It’s not expected that a three-betting range will often hit the high flops, so we may get excess action from an unbelieving opponent.

The main drawback to re-raising is that we often eliminate the big blind when we dominate his high hand or middling two-way holding. Another concern is that three-betting bloats the size of the pot and our equity and playability on many LLH and LLL flops usually isn’t very good and difficult to navigate out-of-position.

This appears to be a close decision where a case can be made for both actions, so let’s look at some numbers in the hope they can clarify the situation and point us in a certain direction.

If we re-raise the 50% opener and get the pot heads-up, our situation is as follows:

Equity % Scoops
ADiamond Suit KClub Suit QDiamond Suit JClub Suit 47% 46%
Top 50% 53% 54%

As we can see in the above chart, our premium one-way high holding is a slight equity underdog to a 50% opening range. The “% Scoops” is the percentage of the time that a player wins the entire pot assuming both players go to showdown and the pot is not split. Sometimes we will also refer to this as “scoop equity” and is another important metric to consider because scooping is the name of the game in O8.

Whenever our “% Scoops” is lower than our equity, it can be indication that our holding has a playing disadvantage versus our opponent’s range. When one player is a favorite to scoop it typically means they have more implied odds and thus easier decisions whether or not to continue on in the hand. In this particular example, it is very close to our equity and not really a consideration, however, in other matchups the difference may be more pronounced.

If instead we opt to smooth-call and likely play a three-way pot where the big blind defends by calling with his 15-80% range percentile, we will find ourselves in the following situation:

Equity % Scoops
ADiamond Suit KClub Suit QDiamond Suit JClub Suit 35% 41%
Top 50% 35% 33%
15-80% 30% 26%

Having 35% equity in a three-way pot is decent and the 41% scoop equity is really good, therefore it appears that letting in the big blind with the weaker part of his range that contains potential dominated highs is quite advantageous to us. The big blind is taking the worst of it, and possibly shouldn’t defend quite as wide as many players do. Also, when we miss the LLL and LLH flops, we can simply check and plan to fold without investing too much into the pot.

With a premium double-suited pair of kings such as KClub Suit KHeart Suit JHeart Suit 10Club Suit, the difference between a two and three-handed affair would be as follows:

Equity % Scoops
KClub Suit KHeart Suit JHeart Suit 10Club Suit 49% 49%
Top 50% 51% 51%

Equity % Scoops
KClub Suit KHeart Suit JHeart Suit 10Club Suit 36% 44%
Top 50% 36% 33%
15-80% 28% 23%

We fare okay heads-up with dead money in the pot, however, once again it appears optimal to just call and invite the big blind in with his weaker holdings. When the pot is played out three handed our scoop equity is 44% and our decisions post-flop will often be relatively straight-forward.

To help balance our calls with high-only hands, we should also just call with many of our low oriented holdings and with many of these hands it’s more intuitive that we want to pull in the big blind.

Consider a hand such as ADiamond Suit 2Heart Suit 4Club Suit 7Club Suit; this holding has exactly 50% equity against a button playing half of his hands, therefore we should extend an invitation to the big blind and make it easier for him to come in with his pure high hands or raggedy low holdings. A high hand can sometimes hit low boards but our holding here typically has nothing on high flops.

In addition, we are usually doing the button a small favor when we re-raise a low holding with limited high potential. With the weaker part of his range, the button would generally prefer playing a heads-up with position as opposed to a three-way pot where any deficiencies in his holding would be more exposed.

Re-raising From The Small Blind

As previously discussed, we have a slam dunk re-raise with any premium two-way holding such as AClub Suit AHeart Suit 3Club Suit 6Spade Suit and AHeart Suit 2Heart Suit 4Spade Suit KClub Suit. Other three-bets would include certain unsuited A-2/A-3 holdings accompanied by a high card (AClub Suit 3Heart Suit 5Spade Suit KDiamond Suit), some double suited hands without a premium low draw (AClub Suit 5Club Suit 10Diamond Suit QDiamond Suit), and high pairs with two very good low cards (2Club Suit 3Heart Suit QHeart Suit QSpade Suit).

Any holding containing a pair of aces with at least one low card has solid equity and with the combination of the aces and an emergency low we will often effectively realize our equity. Even the worst possible holding of this type (ADiamond Suit AHeart Suit 8Club Suit 9Spade Suit) has 57% equity against a 50% opening range.

Marginal Hands

When we are dealt a marginal holding such as AHeart Suit 5Heart Suit 8Heart Suit 9Spade Suit all three options of calling, three-betting, and folding appear to be on the table, although none of them feel particularly appealing.

Against a 50% button opening range we have exactly 50% equity and have an edge against someone opening wider, so can we really consider folding? It wouldn’t be unheard of; if we were playing Limit Hold’em I’m not sure we would be too anxious to three-bet or flat QHeart Suit 8Spade Suit against an ultra-aggressive 80% button opener just because we have 50% “hot/cold” equity. Our hand doesn’t play very well after the flop and the big blind could still enter the pot.

With AHeart Suit 5Heart Suit 8Heart Suit 9Spade Suit, the nine is just an awful card and the remainder of our holding isn’t great with the extra heart, so it seems okay to fold especially if the button and big blind both play well.

We shouldn’t feel obligated to over-defend from the small blind, especially with marginal holdings as we are out of position and the big blind may still enter the fray.
With strong one-way hands, we almost always fare better flatting as opposed to three-betting in order to let the big blind come in with his weaker holdings that may be dominated. Three-betting is optimal with our strong two-way holdings in order to get maximum value and most often getting the pot heads-up with dead money in the middle. ♠

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.