Join A Poker Community Of 200,000+ Users!

Poker Strategy: Playing Two-Way Hands In Omaha Eight-Or-Better

Kevin Haney Continues His Series On Omaha Hi-Lo Strategy


Card Player Magazine, available in print and online, covers poker strategy, poker news, online and casino poker, and poker legislation. Sign up today for a digital subscription to access more than 800 magazine issues and get 26 new issues per year!

Limit Omaha Eight-or-Better (O8) is probably the third-most popular poker variant in the world (behind Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha) and is fundamental to learn if you ever want to start playing mixed games. As a community card flop game, it helps break up the draw and stud variants that otherwise tend to dominate many rotations.

For those of you who have not been exposed to O8, it is a split-pot game in which everyone is dealt four cards and the object is to make the best high hand along with the best ace-to-five low. A qualifying low must be an eight or better and if a low is not possible or none of the players make one, the high hand will scoop the entire pot.

The best hands to play are low oriented holdings that also have high potential and thus a greater ability to scoop the pot. For example, suppose you have AHeart Suit 2Heart Suit 3Spade Suit 9Diamond Suit on a board of 4Club Suit 5Heart Suit 7Heart Suit 10Spade Suit. Against an opponent holding AClub Suit 4Heart Suit 6Spade Suit 8Spade Suit who currently has the nut straight, you are a 60% equity favorite since you have the low side locked up and are freerolling for the high with your flush draw.

Low hands also have playability advantages on low flops (those with two or more low cards) and can often get better high hands to fold. In other words, low hands will tend to over-realize their equity relative to their opponents.

For example, suppose from early position you open-raise AHeart Suit 2Heart Suit 3Club Suit 9Diamond Suit and an opponent calls from the big blind with KClub Suit QHeart Suit QDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit. With four cards ten or higher and suited at least once, this is a clear defend, however any high holding will be greatly devalued whenever two or more low cards show up on the flop.

If the flop comes down as 3Spade Suit 7Spade Suit 8Heart Suit the KClub Suit QHeart Suit QDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit is all but forced to fold a high hand that is often currently best since a low is usually already made. The AHeart Suit 2Heart Suit 3Club Suit 9Diamond Suit only has a pair of threes; however, in this particular matchup this holding has a 43% chance of ending up with the best high hand and 72% equity overall. You probably won’t have to worry about making the best high as the big blind’s holding will often hit the muck, but you would also be delighted to see him call down with such hands.

In O8, any hand with an A-2 accompanied with some other good low cards is typically a strong starting hand. But what about a hand such as ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Club Suit 7Diamond Suit that has very limited high potential; how much value does this holding have?

The ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Club Suit 7Diamond Suit is playable from any position in a full ring “Berry Patch,” a loose passive game where there is little raising and five or more players typically see the flop. In these games, any holding with an ace-deuce is often profitable, even if the rest of the hand isn’t that hot. The lack of high potential is offset by the fact that the other players play too many hands and will often incorrectly draw to non-nut hands, including non-nut lows.

These fun and relaxing games still exist in many card rooms but have become relatively rare online. Back in the glory days of full ring O8 online, you could have a family pot with the flop somehow coming down A-A-2. With so many key cards showing up on board, it’s obvious people were coming in with all types of hands and the action was great.

Nowadays, most of the action online is six-handed or less and the players are generally more skilled and play a tight aggressive style. Live mixed games typically seat six or seven players and are often populated by competent poker players. In games where our opponents are more selective in their starting hands and don’t always chase weak one way draws, a low holding with very little in the way of high potential can be overrated.

Suppose we are playing in an online six-max game and open-raise ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Club Suit 7Diamond Suit from under-the-gun, otherwise known as the lojack position. The big blind calls and for the purpose of this example we will assume he is defending with 75% of his hands and due to our early position open, has chosen to flat his entire range.

It may be somewhat surprising that against this relatively wide range we are actually a 49% equity underdog, and what hurts us most is that ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Club Suit 7Diamond Suit only has a 40% chance to win the high side. That said, this is still a decent situation for us since we have position and the A-2 with counterfeit protection will allow us to safely barrel low boards and get our opponent off of some hands that may ultimately beat us for high.

We are, however, in a relatively shaky spot the times we get reraised and isolated by a strong hand. Against a top 15% holding we only have 41% equity, mostly due to the fact that we only have a 33% chance to win the high side. This can be a relatively difficult situation to navigate, because if we don’t flop a low or a draw to one, we will most often have to fold and tend to under-realize the little high equity that we do have.

Now let’s consider AHeart Suit 4Club Suit QClub Suit JDiamond Suit, a holding with an inferior and potentially dominated low draw but with more high potential having the suited queen along with the various A-Q, A-J, and Q-J combinations. Versus the wide 75% big blind defending range indicated above, AHeart Suit 4Club Suit QClub Suit JDiamond Suit, has 56% equity and a 54% chance to win the high. And when getting three-bet by a top 15% hand, AHeart Suit 4Club Suit QClub Suit JDiamond Suit has approximately 48% equity and is a virtual 50/50 dead heat on the high side.

So, what are the takeaways from all of this? There are a few, the first being that a one-way low hand loses value in a tight aggressive six-handed game. While ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 4Club Suit 7Diamond Suit is probably still playable from any position, it may actually be on the border, and lesser versions such as ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 6Club Suit 9Diamond Suit and ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit 2Club Suit 8Diamond Suit should be mucked with many players left to act. In O8, not having any flush potential really hurts the value of a holding, middling cards (sixes through nines) are bad, and small pairs are a handicap.

One can make a case for limping in with the weaker low hands in attempt to pull others into the pot; however, that’s not my style. While we could also limp pure high hands, our opponents will mostly envision our holding to be exactly what it is and will usually play well against us. In addition, we will more often end up in a three-way pot which is not a good result with hands with limited high potential. Others may disagree, but six-handed or fewer; my preference is to be a little more selective from early position but open-raise any hand we choose to play.

The AHeart Suit 4Club Suit QClub Suit JDiamond Suit isn’t a hand that you would be excited to play seven ways in a loose game, but has a lot more value at shorthanded and aggressive tables. While it’s true that in a loose game this hand is often better than what most everyone else is playing, you still can’t draw to non-nut A-4 low draws or queen high flush draws against a large field. On the button in a limped pot we can take a flyer and hope for a big flop; otherwise this hand should typically be folded.

In tight aggressive games where pots are often contested by only two or three players, having the ability to make the nuts is less important than having better two-way potential. There’s always a high hand awarded, but not always a low, therefore having two-way potential is important against tougher opponents. In the next issue, we will take a detailed look at the features we are looking for in our starting 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