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Head Games -- Preflop and Flop Play in Pot-Limit Omaha

Brandon Adams, Andreas Torbergsen and Tri Nguyen Weigh In

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Brandon AdamsSometimes it’s hard to get a straight answer from a professional poker player. Ask three players a question, and you’re liable to get three different answers. Why? Because it depends on the situation, opponent, stack sizes, table image, and many other variables.

Head Games will peer deep inside the twisted minds of today’s top players. We’ll reveal why they do what they do in sticky situations. Let the games begin.

The Pros: Brandon Adams, Andreas Torbergsen and Tri Nguyen

Craig Tapscott: What’s the optimal preflop strategy for playing big pairs such as A-A-X-X or K-K-X-X?

Brandon Adams: With A-A-X-X, if you can get 60 percent of your stack in preflop, you should reraise, regardless of the situation. With weak A-A-X-X hands (stuff like A-A-7-3, no suits), you should tend toward just calling if you can’t get a high percentage of your stack in preflop. If someone three-bets behind you, of course you can get it in. Strong A-A-X-X hands should be three-bet the vast majority of the time. That said, you should be three-betting A-A-X-X only if you are also sometimes three-betting your premium non-aces hands (stuff like J-10-9-8 double-suited and Q-Q-J-J double-suited).

For both A-A-X-X and K-K-X-X, suits increase the value of your hand dramatically. A-A-X-X double-suited plays infinitely better than A-A-X-X with no suits, even more so than equity calculations would suggest. K-K-X-X plays much worse than A-A-X-X, and it’s in awful shape if you happen to find yourself up against aces. I like just calling with this hand preflop, although with fewer than three opponents, I’d raise it maybe half the time.

Andreas TorbergsenAndreas Torbergsen: I think that in today’s super-aggressive online games, it’s mostly a big mistake not to three-bet A-A-X-X a lot, especially if you don’t have more than 100 big blinds. The reason is that people have started four-betting both K-K-X-X and A-K-X-X hands more and more, and getting it in against those types of hands preflop is obviously great. When deep-stacked and out of position against good players, I’m fine with flat-calling with bad A-A hands. K-K-X-X is a much trickier hand to play. Unless dynamics and position dictate it, I’d rather flat-call with most kings, in and out of position. Good examples for being aggressive with kings preflop are when playing from the blinds and a loose player opens from the button, and from the button when facing the cutoff’s open.

Tri Nguyen: It depends on stack sizes and position. If you can get 25 percent or more of your stack in preflop with A-A-X-X, you should do it, regardless of position. For K-K-X-X, it’s a little different. Against tight opponents who are likely to have A-A-X-X when they reraise preflop, you should consider calling or even folding preflop if the stacks aren’t deep enough (100 big blinds), or if your K-K-X-X isn’t coordinated, such as single-suited K-K-7-5 or K-K-9-6.

Against looser opponents, good coordinated K-K-X-X hands such as K-K-10-9 and K-K-A-J are good candidates for putting the majority of your stack in. In deeper-stacked games, I would generally call preflop with mediocre A-A-X-X/K-K-X-X hands, such as A-A-7-5 and K-K-9-6, and hope to flop a set and cooler my opponent. If my A-A-X-X/K-K-X-X are premium hands, such as A-A-9-8 and K-K-J-10, I would reraise preflop, although calling is fine in this situation, especially if you are out of position.

Craig Tapscott: For newer pot-limit Omaha (PLO) players, what are the key elements to think about on the flop against one opponent and against multiple opponents, in and out of position, if you were the initial raiser preflop?

Brandon Adams: There are two key lessons. First, as the number of opponents increases, the probability that someone has a strong hand increases dramatically, and the value of bluffing goes way down. If you open with a strong hand like A-A-X-X and don’t connect with the flop, you usually should not continuation bet if up against two or more opponents. Second, card removal turns out to be very important in PLO; the main consequence of this is that straights are out there far more often than new players suspect.

If the board comes high and coordinated (think KHeart Suit 10Heart Suit 9Club Suit), card removal works against someone having a set (K-K-X-X, 10-10-X-X, 9-9-X-X are less likely, given the cards on the board) or a flush draw, but strongly in favor of a player having a straight (people tend to play high cards preflop, and the absence of a jack and a queen on the board makes it more likely that those cards are in a player’s hand).

Andreas Torbergsen: People don’t fold draws easily, so drawing to the nuts is a very simple rule that new players break all the time. This is oversimplified, and, obviously, there are exceptions. In many cases, if you are out of position, I would strongly advise being tight on the flop and not betting without a plan. Also, taking free cards with draws can be very deceptive in position in multi-way pots.

The nut-flush draw on a KSpade Suit JClub Suit 4Spade Suit flop is a prime example, because you are very unlikely to win the pot with a bet on the flop. When you are heads up, though, you can bet much more liberally, especially in position. Lastly, hand strength and draw strength go way down in multi-way pots, so much so that an easy stack-off in heads-up play can be a fold in a four-way pot.

Tri NguyenTri Nguyen: Against one opponent, if you are out of position as the initial preflop raiser, you have to consider how often your opponent may bluff-raise or float you on a flop such as 8-7-5 or 10-9-8. If the frequency is high, you should consider check-folding unless you have a strong draw or two pair or better that enables you to continue your aggression on the turn. If you are in position, you should bet if it is checked to you.

Against multiple opponents, unless you have two pair or better (or a strong draw that will dominate other draws if you make your hand), you should consider check-folding. There’s not much you can do, because it’s more likely that at least one of your opponents has a hand, and it will take a few barrels to move him off the pot. It is important to note that having bottom two pair in a multi-way pot is almost as good as having top pair, which means that it’s a very weak hand in a multi-way pot.