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Gavin Griffin: Poker Questions Asked And Answered

How To Popularize Pot-Limit Omaha and Pot-Limit Omaha Eight-Or-Better In A Live Setting


Gavin GriffinPeople in the poker community often come up to me and ask about whatever is on their mind. Some of these questions are good questions, and some are bad beat stories in disguise. I’ve been through quite a few things in my poker career and I like to help whenever possible, and in this new Card Player series, I’d like to share my experiences and knowledge. Feel free to ask any poker-related question, and I’ll do my best to answer it in the space below.

Question: How can we popularize pot-limit Omaha and pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better in a live setting? — Chris G.

Gavin: The internet has made pot-limit Omaha a pretty popular game. It’s still not as popular as no-limit hold’em, but it holds its own when you look at the total number of games of each being played. In addition, it’s very popular at the highest stakes since it is much more complex at a basic level than hold’em and therefore, harder to solve. People feel like the edges are slimmer whether they are or not.

There are some places in the world like the southern United States and large swaths of Europe where PLO is as popular, if not more so than NLHE. Perhaps it satisfies their thirst to gamble or they like the complicated puzzle that is PLO.

Why then, if some geographical regions and the internet have taken up the game as their own, is it so hard to get the game going in new places? In the card room where I play regularly, there is a game that goes somewhat consistently, but only once or twice per week and even then it’s the same 7 or 8 guys with an occasional interloper.

I think one of the major barriers to starting the game in a new place is the fact that it’s pot limit. The pot-limit variant can be very difficult to figure out for both players and dealers. Players have enough to think about with regards to figuring out what your hand is and what your opponent might hold and dealers have to keep the size of the pot in their heads at all times which requires concentration and somewhat difficult mental math. Limit is much easier because you can either bet x or 2x on any given street. No limit is easier because it’s simple. You can bet anything between 1 big blind and everything you have in front of you.

In live pot-limit games you have to hold some extra information in your head about the size of the pot which makes less room for the information you have to process when deciding how to play your hand. It is a large barrier to overcome and one that you don’t have to deal with on the internet because the software does the calculating for you.

Can this be fixed? Yes, but it’s perhaps an unappealing solution. The only way I can think of removing this barrier from starting up live PLO games is to have electronic tables. This is an unattractive solution because it is a large start-up cost for the poker room for an uncertain payoff. There’s no real solid expectation that the game will be spread on a regular basis and generate enough profit to make up for purchasing one electronic table.

The other barrier to the game is one of its appeals, its complex nature. Again, NLHE is beautiful in its simplicity. Two cards, use either, both or neither of them, and get to it. Omaha has more options, which can be a draw, but it can also be intimidating. There is obviously no way to fix this problem and is something that can only be helped along by veterans being accommodating of new players and perhaps offering a free tutorial on how to play on a regular basis.

One solution that I can think of in addition to adding electronic tables or free tutorials is to offer a very low buy in PLO tournament with some sort of overlay and no rebuys. This will allow new players to get into the game and learn about it without a high cost barrier and the incentive of money added to the prize pool will attract more of them. Tournaments are a good way to get players hooked on a game because they get the opportunity at a big score for a relatively low buy in and if they play the tournament enough, they may matriculate over to the cash game later.

To sum up, it’s hard to get players interested in a game they haven’t played before. Hold’em, whether played fixed limit or no limit, is a simple game to learn and adapt to. After just a few minutes of playing, you feel as though you know what you are doing and that you can beat the game. When someone new sits down to a PLO game, they have to learn the different rules about which cards they can use and a whole new system of betting that they aren’t used to. This is intimidating and can certainly turn off new players but, like everything, there is a way to lower the barriers to the game. Invest some time in your new players to get them to love the game as much as you do and invest some money in the form of overlays or an electronic table and you may hear more people saying “I bet the pot” at your local casino than you’re used to right now.

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almost 8 years ago

While I agree with this article I would like to point out one thing. Dealers are for the most part very good to great but if the poker rooms would like to spread these games why not hire better than average dealers that are able to compute basic math ? Have you seen what rooms hire these days? We already have internet poker I do not need to go to my card room to sit at an electronic table . This idea was already tried and failed . Poker Pro tables in Nevada anyways sit mostly empty .


almost 8 years ago

I tend to disagree with the whole premise of the question and/or idea here. Compared to what it was, PLO is very popular now in most places. PLO is extremely popular in Maryland. The new MD Live Casino has between 2 and 8 live games of PLO going at one time. At the peak, it has a few 2/2, a few 5/5, and a 10/10 PLO game going at the same time with a descent waiting list, and sometimes a 10/25 PLO game. At least one table always turns into a mandatory straddle as well. It is never going to be like NLHE, but it is as strong and present as it has even been.