Most people who have watched a little bit of televised poker are familiar with Texas Hold’em, even if they’ve never played. It’s a game where you get two hole cards, then share five more cards with the other players.
Any combination of your two cards along with the five community cards on the board can make up your final five-card hand, even if you don’t use either of the cards in your hand.
The biggest difference between Omaha and Texas Hold’em is the number of hole cards. You get four hole cards in Omaha instead of two.
This one big difference has multiple ramifications for the game, and I list and explain those seven big differences below.
1 – Omaha Is Often Played “Hi-Lo”
In Texas Hold’em, the showdown determines who wins the pot. A showdown only happens when you have two or more players still in the pot at the end of a hand. If everyone folds except one player, that players wins the pot by default.
When there is a showdown, the player with the better hand wins the pot. The hands are ranked according to the standard rankings of poker hands. A royal flush is the best possible hand, followed by any lower straight flush, followed by four of a kind, and so on…
This is how showdowns are handled in Omaha, too. But Omaha is often played as “eight or better” or just “hi-lo.” Here’s what that means.
At the showdown, the pot is split between the player with the best possible hand and the player with the best qualifying low hand.
A low hand must consist of five cards ranked eight or lower. The lower the highest card is, the lower the hand is. And in the event that the lowest high card is tied, you settle that with the next highest card.
The easiest way to understand this is to treat the hand as a numeral starting with the highest card in the hand and working your way down.
For example, you might have 87654, which is the worst possible low hand you could have. Someone with 87653 would have you beat.
The best possible low hand is often called a “wheel.” It consists of 5432A. For purposes of calculating the qualifying low hand, flushes and straights are ignored. And yes, it’s possible to win both the best possible high hand and the best possible low hand at the same time. This is called “scooping the pot.”
This change in who gets paid off at the showdown has dramatic effects on Omaha poker strategy.
2 – You Don’t Get to Use Combinations in Omaha
In Texas Hold’em, you can use two, one, or none of your hole cards along with three, four, or five of the community cards to make up your final hand.
In Omaha, though, you must use two (and exactly two) of your hole cards and three (and exactly three) of the community cards to create your final hand.
This can create some confusion for new Omaha players.
For example, if you have four cards of the same suit in the hole, you have a lower probability of having a flush because two of your outs are actually in your hand. You can’t use them.
3 – People Play Omaha Hi-Lo for Higher Stakes
Since Omaha Hi-Lo involves splitting the pot, it’s often played at higher stakes to stimulate interest.
For example, a $3/$6 Texas Hold’em game is about the same as a $6/$12 Omaha Hi-Lo game. That’s because your share of the pot (after splitting it with the low hand) in Omaha Hi-Lo is about what it would be if you were playing $3/$6 Texas Hold’em.
Don’t be intimidated by these higher limits at the Omaha poker games. As long as you know how to play, the higher stakes are no big deal.
4 – Omaha Hi-Lo Is Less Volatile for Skilled Players
New Omaha players always see lots of potential in their hole cards because they have twice as many hole cards as they have in Texas Hold’em. Many times, they play more hands than they would in Texas Hold’em. In fact, many new Omaha players participate in almost every hand and stay in almost every hand too long.
These players find justification for this, too, because they get lucky pretty often. After all, they have so many possible starting two-card hands to choose from because of their four hole cards.
They lose more money than anyone else at the table, though. You just need to have more skill than these new players.
All you need to do is learn how to play tighter than usual. This is hard for a lot of players because they think with the extra cards and extra possibilities they should loosen up.
The opposite is the case. The more cards in the game, the tighter you should play.
5 – Hand Values in Omaha Are Different From Hand Values in Texas Hold’em
In Texas Hold’em, I’m usually thrilled with top pair and a big kicker. I even get more excited about two pairs. Those are great hands in a Texas Hold’em game.
I’ve won more money with those hands in Texas Hold’em than any other hands I can think of.
But in Omaha, with the extra cards, you need stronger hands on average to win. Top pair with a great kicker isn’t even something I’d play all the way down to the river.
I don’t get excited about two pairs in Omaha, either, and neither should you.
Think about it like this. You’re probably playing Omaha with eight other players. Each of those players has four hole cards, which is the equivalent of having six different two-card starting hand combinations. That’s basically like playing in a Texas Hold’em game with over 50 other players.
I think you’ll have more fun learning how to play Omaha, because you’ll have more potentially good hands every round. You’ll also get to chase more outs, since you’ll have so much more potential.
You’ll either have the nuts given what’s on the board, or you’ll be drawing to a hand that’s better than the current nuts. That’s fun.
6 – Raises Aren’t as Powerful in Omaha
Since you have so many possible outs, many of your opponents will call your raises. Raising to force people out of a pot just isn’t as effective a strategy in Omaha as it is in Texas Hold’em. It’s tricky to “thin the field” at an Omaha table.
It’s not hard to see why. Every player at the table has the equivalent of six Texas Hold’em starting hands, so they’re going to see that a lot of the time. They’re getting good pot odds and implied odds to call your raises.
You’re not going to eliminate anyone preflop with a raise unless they were going to fold anyway. If your opponent wants to see a flop, your raise isn’t going to scare him off.
And you’re also less likely to eliminate players by raising on the flop. Your opponents will often have completed a big hand. If not, they’ll often have at least one draw to a flush or a straight. They might also have a draw to the low hand.
The only opponents who will fold in the face of a raise on the flop are the ones who completely missed the flop.
For the same reason, you won’t be as likely to get a free card on the turn because you raised on the flop. You have so many potential hands in everyone’s cards that someone is likely to bet into the pot even if you raised on the flop.
I’m not a fan of bluffing all the time in general, either. Bluffing is even harder in Omaha, though. The best reason to raise in Omaha is to build the size of the pot and scoop it.
7 – Slow-Playing in Omaha Is Usually the Wrong Move
A lot of players slow-play their Texas Hold’em hands as a deception technique.
In Omaha, you can’t afford to slow-play. You can’t give away free cards to your opponents, because you need to get your money in the middle of the table when you’re a favorite to win the pot.
This is a major difference between Texas Hold’em and Omaha.
Personally, I enjoy playing Omaha better than Texas Hold’em. But it took me a while to get to that point.
I still enjoy the differences between Omaha and Texas Hold’em. They’re not limited to these seven distinctions, either. In fact, there are more differences than just these.
But you’ll only know for sure how you feel about these differences when you’ve experienced real money poker in action. So, don’t be afraid to try out both options and figure out which one you like best! Either way, it’s always good to be flexible when it comes to your poker knowledge. It just might help you make better moves in future games!