It can be tempting to play a lot of hands in Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or better games – after all, high-only hands will win the pot some 30% of the time! This can be even more temping when you can see a flop relatively cheaply after a number of limpers… now the cold, hard facts – the quickest way to lose your bankroll is to play too loose in Omaha/8 poker. In fact you should be playing less starting hands than in other forms of poker, after all hands which can hit both the high and the low side of the pot with the nuts do not come along too often.
This guide will look at the various starting hands for Omaha Hi-Lo poker including PLO8. We start with the strongest hands of all and then drill down to speculative holdings. Your objective with every hand you play in Omaha Hi-Lo are twofold, to ‘scoop’ both the high and the low sides of the pot and to avoid being quartered – these objectives must be considered every time you enter a pot if you are to be a long-term profitable player.
The very best PLO8 and O8 starting hands are known as ‘suited babies’, that is to say small suited cards with an ace suited with at least one other card. These hands have the very best chance of scooping both sides of the pot. They can make ‘nut low’ hands with the small cards, and the ace + flush potential gives a great opportunity to win the high side of the pot also. A double suited (2 cards of each suit) hand will add to this strength still further. A pair of aces double suited with 2 babies is a potential monster in Omaha 8 or better – the potential to scoop here is huge.
Very Strong Hands
In this category come hands with both low and high potential that can not quite be considered premiums. Small cards are still favored, especially with an ace included as this gives high possibilities. Ace hands which contain 4 ‘babies’ are considered strong as they have both low and low straight potential. Hands with and ace-2 and another small card can be played where they have ‘backup’ for the high, for example a king suited with one of the small cards. K-K-A-X where X is a card 4 or below can also be played strongly in many circumstances.
Since the flop will not make a low hand possible 30% of the time there is a place for high only hands. However, these need to be played only when it is cheap to see a flop and where you are prepared to fold quickly should you not hit a nut hand (or very strong high draw with no low possible). High only hands should be the strongest possible, A-A-K-K or A-A-J-10 double suited being the very best – play these from late position and with caution!
While playing only hands with aces will keep beginning players out of trouble there are playable hands which do not contain these. The best would be 2-3-4-5 or 2-3-4-6 which give you a combination of low and straight possibilities, if betting gets heavy and there is no ace on the board then you may be beaten for the low when holding non-ace hands.
The worst hand to make in any form of poker is the 2nd best hand, especially in a game such as PLO8 where finding out you are behind can be very expensive indeed. Hands with A-2 and 2 medium cards can be considered marginal, you are unlikely to make a high and are in danger of being quartered when you make the nut low. Cards with some backup in the form of an additional low card A-2-4-9 for example are a little stronger a suited ace and weak opposition could push these hands into the ‘playable with caution’ category from later position. See our article on Ace-2 errors for more on this important subject.
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