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Omaha Eight-or-Better: Playing The High Hands

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Nov 16, 2022


One-way high hands can be quite profitable in Omaha Eight-or-Better (O8), assuming of course that we play them well, both before and after the flop. Usually when thinking about the high hands in O8, we are mostly considering holdings where we have four cards nine or greater.

A holding such as 10Spade Suit 9Spade Suit 8Heart Suit 7Heart Suit is quite good in pot-limit Omaha high, but decidedly subpar in O8 since many of our nut straights will make a low possible and we can easily lose to higher straights and flushes. ASpade Suit JSpade Suit 10Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit also doesn’t have four cards nine or greater, but the 7Diamond Suit is far from a useless dangler as it provides some flush and straight potential in addition to a possible emergency low.

Suppose we are playing in a tight aggressive six-max game and are dealt AHeart Suit KHeart Suit QClub Suit 10Club Suit under the gun. This is certainly a hand worth playing, but is it best to just limp in or should we come in for a raise?

Many players would advocate for a limp since we are an underdog to hit a high flop, but when we do we will usually crush it and therefore want to pull in others as well as limit our investment for the times we miss. There’s definitely some merit in this line of thinking as the flop will only contain two or more high cards (where an ace is considered low) around a third of the time.

However, there are some strong counter arguments that can be made. If we consider the ace to be high, which will also frequently be of benefit to the high hands, the board will contain two or more high cards approximately 44% of the time. And on a flop containing an ace and another high card, a high hand will often have a low holding in bad shape.

Suppose instead of open-limping the AHeart Suit KHeart Suit QClub Suit 10Club Suit, we opted to raise and got the pot heads-up against an A-2-4-J. If the board ended up as AClub Suit KDiamond Suit 2Club Suit 6Diamond Suit 9Spade Suit the A-2-4-J may pay off the entire way and it’s hard to fault them given the way the board ran out. Limping may have allowed a raggedy hand containing a ‘3-4’ to come along and split the pot with us, and if the turn was instead a five, we would have been scooped.

This may seem like a cherry-picked example, but it’s not that infrequent in heads-up that an ace pairs both players, and in this occurrence the high hand will typically have the higher kickers and thus the advantage. Also, when the board makes a low possible it’s not a guarantee that the low-oriented hand will make one, but against a few players the odds go up dramatically that someone will make a low and take it to showdown.

Around 41% of the time the flop will come down with one high card and two low which isn’t a great situation, but a high hand that flopped top pair still has value. If the pot is heads-up we can check-call the flop and then lead out on most, if not all, high turns. But against two or more opponents we might get jammed out of the hand on the flop.

Therefore, with a good high hand we won’t be left completely out in the cold too often. However, when two high cards flop, most low hands have very little value, and if they call the flop it’s mostly due to backdoor equity.

Lastly, if we limp in we are often giving the big blind a free look at the flop and if he’s a reasonably good player he won’t usually return the gift of infinite odds that often by putting too much action post-flop with the worst of it. All things considered, in a six-max game my preference is to open-raise any hand deemed worthy of playing. Live full-ring games are a completely different animal, one where limping in has a lot more merit, especially from the first couple of positions.

So what high hands are worth playing? From under-the-gun or the hijack in a six-max game our holding needs to be relatively strong. It’s hard to come up with precise guidelines, but generally these holdings need to contain all four cards ten or greater and need to be suited at least once.

Hands such as ASpade Suit QSpade Suit JDiamond Suit 10Heart Suit, KDiamond Suit KHeart Suit QDiamond Suit JClub Suit, KDiamond Suit QHeart Suit JDiamond Suit 10Heart Suit, and AHeart Suit QDiamond Suit QSpade Suit JHeart Suit are certainly good enough to play. According to ProPokerTools (PPT), the QDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit QSpade Suit JSpade Suit sneaks into the top 15% of hands, however, due to playability considerations it may be slightly too loose from early position.

While we will flop a set around 23% of the time, we aren’t going to be able to continue on many flops where the high pair is actually the best hand and are in some danger of making second-best flushes. The PPT rankings assume that all hands involved go to showdown and thus probably overrates QDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit QSpade Suit JSpade Suit. We can, however, open the QDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit QSpade Suit JSpade Suit from the cutoff along with QSpade Suit JSpade Suit 10Diamond Suit 9Diamond Suit and those suited ace holdings with an emergency type low card such as the aforementioned ASpade Suit JSpade Suit 10Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit holding.

And while we should certainly loosen up in the later positions, it’s still important to be suited at least once and to only play hands that can make many strong holdings without putting a low on a board. KDiamond Suit QHeart Suit JSpade Suit 10Club Suit may look too good to fold, but lacking a suit it’s at best a marginal button open. And 9Diamond Suit 8Diamond Suit 7Spade Suit 6Spade Suit should virtually never be played, save for a unique situation where the blinds are playing really tight. It’s close to a bottom 10% hand as most of its straights can lose to higher straights or make a low possible.

In the next O8 article we will discuss the play of high hands when someone has already opened for a raise before the flop, and also introduce some important concepts in how to best proceed post-flop. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. The certified personal trainer owned a gym in New Jersey, but has since moved to Las Vegas. He started playing the game back in 2003, and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. Learn more or just say hello with an email to