PLO Starting Hands Part #2 – Starting Hands Assessed

In part #1 of this article series we looked at how the ‘combinations’ in Pot Limit Omaha Starting hands were a critical factor. Here we will expand our discussion with a look at the various types of starting hands you should play – looking at their pre-flop strength and noting some basic guidelines for post flop play.

There is some debate among expert PLO players as to which is the best starting hand of all. Some argue this is A-A-K-K double suited, while others prefer A-A-J-10 double suited (the double suited refers to having only 2 suits, with these hands these would necessarily be to the ace – giving the hands ‘nut flush’ potential).

In terms of combinations the A-A-J-10 does better, having all 6 of the 2 card hands working for it in addition to the flush possibilities. The A-A-K-K hand has the ability to make top set (and thus full house potential) in 2 ways rather than one, and also has the flush potential. The best way to look at this debate is to be happy that you are dealt either hand – and also to remember that when facing a bet on a low-card flop that is not your suit, you may need to discard them post-flop when things get heavy!

Hands Containing 1 Pair

A-A-x-x hands are strong in PLO, however the extra help given by the additional cards (along with your table position) is a critical factor in how aggressively you can play them. If the side cards offer no help, and your stack is ‘deep’ they can in fact be trouble hands. That is to say that unless you can get a good proportion of your stack into the pot pre-flop is can be better not to re-raise if you would not ordinarily raise a wide variety of hands in a simiar situation. Since aces unimproved will rarely win a showdown in Omaha you need to have some backup. Even a small amount of help from side-cards for example A-A-J-3 with 1 suited ace is stronger – now you have a small amount of nut flush and nut straight potential to go with your high pair, of course 4-cards working together which include ace-ace is idea.

K-K-x-x and Q-Q-x-x hands follow the same guidelines, these hands need backup from the side cards to a greater extent – as you will not always be making top set those times you do hit the flop. You may also be drawing to the non-nut flush when these hands are suited with their side cards. Kings and queens are strong hands in Omaha, however caution is advised when otherwise tight players want to build a big pot after the flop. When these hands contain a single ace it is less likely an opponent holds ace-ace in their hand (there are less aces left in the deck!), adding to the playability of these potentially dangerous hands.

All other paired hands without backup must be played cautiously. Top set is a great hand to flop in Pot Limit Omaha, however any draw combination may leave you vulnerable to both the flush or straight and the fact that any over-card may give an opponent a higher set. Think of it this way. You have 10-10-7-2 and see a flop of 5-6-10 with 2 opponents. You could easily be facing a combination of 7-8-Q-Q and 3-4-A-A here – that is a lot of cards that destroy your set, with deep stacks this is a potential trouble hand.

Connected Cards

Hands which contain 4 connected cards are very strong in Pot Limit Omaha, due to the large number of combinations working for you. If these are high and double-suited then this makes them even stronger.

Double-suited broadway hands such as 10-J-Q-K, J-Q-K-A and 9-10-Q-J are monsters and only a very slight under-dog to A-A-x-x hands before the flop. These should be played strongly before the flop, especially from position. The strength in these hands is the variety of straights and flushes they can make. With a flop containing 2 of your suit and straight working both ways you could have 17 or more outs to a nut hand – making you a solid favorite over flopped trips.
Smaller connected cards and those with no suits can also be considered strong – and double suited ‘rundowns’ are premium. If you suspect an opponent is raising with a high pair then a hand such as 6-7-8-9 makes an excellent calling candidate, especially since the kind of flop that will hit these hands hard will not look ‘threatening’ to most opponents.

With gaps in your connected combinations these hands begin to lose some value, though can often be used to call. Be cautious when the gap is large or at the top end of your hand. For example 5-6-9-10 is really just 2 connectors and 6-7-8-J has the downside that many of the straights you hit will not be the top straight – and in PLO that is very dangerous indeed!

Mixed Draw Combinations

From position or when closing the betting there are many other playable combinations. For example a hand such as 10-10-J-9, especially double suited can hit a flop in a variety of ways. This type of hand will need to hit the flop well in order to continue. A-5-6-7 is another example that becomes playable when the betting is light pre-flop, assuming that the ace is suited with another card. New players should probably avoid the weaker end of these hands until they have gained experience in post-flop play in PLO.

Two Pair Hands

The good news with 2 pair hands is that you will make a set a little over one in 4.5 times when holding 2 pairs before the flop. The problem is that, unless your pairs are high and the flop contains no draws, you would actually make a very expensive second best hand. High-cards (and preferably double suited cards too) are critical when playing 2-pair hands, making middle or bottom set can be dangerous in PLO as often as it is profitable.

Future articles here at Omaha Planet will put various starting hands under the spotlight, looking at how they play on different flops and against different types of opponent. In the meantime why not check out our article on Beginners PLO Pre-Flop Strategy.

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