Omaha Poker can be tricky when it comes to starting hand evaluation, especially for Texas holdem players. With four cards to evaluate, you have to consider more possible combinations and outcomes while playing Omaha.
One of the most important things to remember when evaluating Omaha starting hands is that the best ones have many things working together. I cover three different qualities to look for below, but the best hands usually have at least two of the properties listed, if not all three.
After reading this, you should feel ready to take on the mighty Omaha poker rooms in Las Vegas and feel confident in your game. Let’s get started!
1 – Flush Possibilities
If you’re a first-time Omaha player, one thing you should know is that a flush is one of the weakest complete hands in Omaha. When you have a flush and the board pairs, you can end up losing a big pot to a full house. When there isn’t a possible full house, a flush limits your opportunities to build a pot because it’s obvious to everyone that a flush is possible.
I never play an Omaha hand based only on the possibility of a flush. Having a possibility of a flush is valuable, but it’s more of a secondary value than a leading value. And you should never make the mistake of believing your second or third-best flush is good.
When the possibility of a flush is present, in addition to a straight or full house possibilities, it greatly improves the value of your starting hand. You still aren’t going to put much money in the pot with second or third-best flushes, but with a king high flush, the ace may land on the board, giving you the nut flush.
With a queen high flush, if an ace lands on the board, your flush is still the second best. But the odds are lower that an opponent has a suited king than a suited ace. Players value suited aces much higher than suited kings, as should be the case, so the suited kings get folded before the flop more often.
2 – Straight Possibilities
Straight possibilities aren’t as flashy and popular as flush and full house possibilities, but they’re just as important to winning Omaha players. Most of the value in straights in Omaha Poker is because they’re often harder to spot by your opponents than flushes and full houses. You can usually extract extra bets with the nut straight that you won’t get with the nut flush.
The higher the straight, the better. But on many boards, the nut straight isn’t ace or king high. A nut straight that’s nine or 10 high is often ignored by your opponents, which makes it more valuable than a nut flush most of the time.
You still have to be careful when considering which hands to fold and which ones to enter the pot with. A hand like 10, nine, seven, and five is still a terrible hand. But a hand of 10, nine, eight, seven, with backup weak flush possibilities is playable in some situations.
The backup flush possibilities offer almost no value as flopped or turned flushes because you don’t win many contested pots with weak flushes. The value of them in this situation is when you flop or turn a nut straight and get all in, or close to all in.
Sometimes, when you get all in with a straight, an opponent is drawing to a flush. Other times, a card lands on the river, completing both a higher straight and a flush. The backup flush draw can save you when this happens.
3 – Full House Possibilities
Full house possibilities come from having a pocket pair, or two pocket pairs, in your four-card hand. Full house hands are strong in Omaha and often win the hand when you hit them. But when you complete a full house and don’t have the nut full house, you still need to play with caution.
Most good Omaha poker starting hands include high cards for a good reason. The higher the cards in your hand, the better your opportunities are of completing a higher full house. This might seem like common sense, but some of the biggest pots I win in Omaha are full house over full house.
Here’s an example of a full house over full house hand.
You start the hand with queen, queen, jack, 10, and the flop is ace, queen, seven. The turn is another seven, and the river is a two. You have queens full of sevens, which seems like a big hand. But at the showdown, your opponent turns over ace, ace, jack, 10 for aces over sevens.
While this isn’t a scientific observation, I’ve only had quads two or three times that I can remember while playing Omaha, and I’ve played at least tens of thousands of hands.
When I have the best possible full house, I always get as much money in the pot as possible. If someone has quads, I simply lose the hand and move on to the next hand. It happens so rarely, and you have to maximize your profits when you have a strong hand that it costs you more in the long run to slow down with a strong full house than playing aggressively.
Putting It All Together
The best Omaha starting hands have multiple things going for them. A hand like ace of clubs, ace of spades, king of clubs, and queen of spades is a good example. The pair of aces is a good starting point, with a chance to improve to the best possible full house. When a flush in spades or clubs is possible, and the board doesn’t pair, you have an ace high flush.
The only way to lose with an ace high flush when the board doesn’t pair is if an opponent has a straight flush. This hand also has the makings of a nut straight, with an ace, king, and queen. As you can see, all four cards work together and give you multiple ways to hit a good flop.
While Omaha Hi Lo isn’t as popular as Omaha Hi in real money gambling, the best starting hands in Hi Lo work together in the same way. The best hand is usually believed to be two aces, each paired with a two and three suited to the respective ace.
This hand offers the three lowest cards. In most cases, if there’s a low, you have the best possible low. The only time you don’t have the best possible low is when the board has two of your three low cards, which is rare.
The pocket aces are strong and can improve, and you have flush possibilities in two suits. While you still need to have the nut hand to win most high pots in Omaha Hi Lo, when you have the nut low and the second or third best high hand, you can bet aggressively and occasionally scoop the entire pot.
Here’s an example in Omaha Hi Lo.
You’re on the river and have the nut low and an ace high flush. The board paired, so you know you might lose the high half of the pot to a straight, but you can afford to jam the pot because you have a nut low.
Of course, there’s a possibility that your low can be quartered, but in this situation, the chance of winning the high half far outweighs the possibility of being quartered. In this example, your most profitable play is to get as much money in the pot as possible.
In the three sections above, you learned the three main ways to evaluate Omaha Poker starting hands.
Of course, sometimes you still win with a flush or straight when the board pairs, but if you get much action after the board pairs, it’s a good sign you’re behind. You also need to be careful when you hit a full house but it isn’t the nut full house.
Evaluate all of your starting hands looking for the three things listed above. The best hands have all three possibilities present, and the other playable hands have two of the three present. Rarely is it profitable to play a hand that doesn’t have at least two possibilities present.
The only type of hand that comes to mind, that you can play profitably in some situations which only has one of the possibilities listed above, is four high cards with an ace. Hands like ace, king, queen, jack, or ace, king, jack, 10. And when you play a hand like this, you need to get away from it whenever a flush is possible or the board pairs.
When you’re learning to evaluate Omaha starting hands, look for straight, flush, and full house possibilities. The more possibilities a starting hand offers, the better your chances to flop a good hand. Fold most hands that only have one of the three things going for it, focusing most of your resources on hands that have two or all three possibilities.