Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy
by Jeff Hwang
“…nowhere in poker literature was truly useful instructions on where to start. Everybody says the same thing: Play four cards that work together, A-A-J-T and A-A-K-K are the best hands, and four connecting cards are playable. But what else is playable and what am I trying to do when I see the flop?”
The resulting book is far from the definitive word on PLO strategy, but it is an excellent introduction to the game, which, as Hwang points out, was a market niche badly in need of filling.
The author proposes a simple but effective strategy geared towards the low-stakes, full-ring PLO games primarily found in brick and mortar casinos. Echoing the advice of other Omaha authors, Hwang argues that PLO is a game of straights. In other words, the winning hand at the river will often be a straight.
But PLO is also a flop game, even more so than Hold ‘Em, and that is where most of the fireworks happen. Although big pots emerge most frequently when a monster draw runs into the flopped nuts, Hwang refutes the common misconception that PLO is primarily a game of luck and gigantic post-flop coin flips. Instead, he claims,
“there are a variety of common big-pot situations where not only does one player usually have the other one smashed, but in some cases will be on a total freeroll. Our goal is to be the one on the dominant end when the big pots get played: this involves first recognizing what those big-pot situations are, and then identifying the hands that have the potential to put us in the position to get the edge in those spots.”
This is exactly what he goes on to do, beginning with a discussion of the most common profitable flop situations in which an Omaha player may find himself. Just as the Hold ‘Em player is accustomed to winning big pots when he flops an overpair versus top pair top kicker or a set versus an overpair, the PLO player has his own set of dream flop scenarios, such as the Nut Straight Freeroll (nut straight with re-draws to a flush, full house, or higher straight versus the same straight without redraws) and the Dominating Draw (a 16-out draw to the nuts versus a lower draw to non-nut hands, or a pair and a wrap draw versus a bare wrap draw, for instance).
Having laid out these profitable situations on which one’s sights should be set, Hwang next considers which starting hands are most likely to produce such situations: combinations containing suited Aces and four connecting cards (gaps at the bottom only, if at all), and pairs accompanied by either of these. Higher is better, in all cases. These hands form the core of Hwang’s pre-flop strategy, which unfortunately cannot be laid out quite as clearly as can its hold ’em equivalents, given the much larger set of possible Omaha starting hands.
Hwang gives some consideration to how to play these hands pre-flop as well, such as whether to enter with a call or a raise, what can be played from which position, and what is still viable when the pot has already been raised. Frankly, this isn’t the strongest part of the book, and the advice here sometimes feels haphazard and a little weak. Still, the reader does accumulate a feel for what works by studying Hwang’s many examples, and this should be enough to get him started at the table, where he can work out his own answers to these questions.
Returning to the discussion of ideal flop situations, Big Play Strategy next discusses how much heat different kinds of hands can handle post-flop. Hwang devotes quite a lot of pages and examples to what is really a fairly simple strategy: only draw to the nuts, play big draws aggressively, don’t slowplay, bluff when your opponents show weakness. It’s not quite fair to call the many quizzes and example hands “filler”, but I’d rather poker books stuck to content and left the study aids to high school textbooks. A lot of the material is repetitive or downright irrelevant.
Hwang’s strategy is a good one, especially for relatively passive and straight-forward full ring live games. I don’t imagine it would adapt well to the short-handed games that are more popular online or to games with tricker and more aggressive opponents. One weakness in particular that shows up in some of the sample hands is an eagerness to bet big and take down the pot in situations where a hand is likely to be way ahead or way behind of an opponent. Though Hwang’s admonitions against slow-playing are generally well taken, it may not be best to bet pot again with AQQ8 on an AA6K board after getting called on the flop.
When I saw that Hwang included sections on O8 and PLO8, I was more than a little skeptical that he could cover three games adequately in one book. After seeing how little space he required to offer some excellent insights into PLO, though, and how much space he devoted to review, reiteration, and even the occasional bad beat story, I had renewed hope. As it turns out, he does an admirable job with both of the other games.
His approach is similar, identifying the most profitable post-flop situations and then working backwards to derive a pre-flop strategy. His recommendations concerning starting hands and how to play them is generally solid in both cases, though his bias for post-flop play occasionally leads him to disregard preflop edges. With A-A-3-x or A-A-4-x in O8, for instance, he advises a limp “in a ‘zoo’ game where everybody is going to call your raise.” Even if it will be necessary to give up on many flops, it’s hard to see a reason not to make a raise that will be called by so many hopeless hands that will both lose equity pre-flop and connect with fewer flops than this relative monster. Hwang also seems a bit too willing to give up on non-nut high hands for a fixed limit game where most opponents are playing primarily low cards.
Aside from these shortcomings, though, the O8 section is nearly as strong on post-flop play as on pre-flop strategy. It contains good advice on value betting, raising to clear the field and promote hands, semi-bluffing, and ‘demi-bluffing’ the river with the nuts in one direction in hopes of knocking an opponent off of half the pot.
Demi-bluffing plays an even larger role in the pot limit version of the game, where the bets are bigger and the bare nuts in one direction must sometimes be folded. In PLO8, high hands with any kind of low potential, like K-K-3-2, gain a lot of playability from the demi-bluff.
Hwang clearly highlights this and other differences between PLO8, O8 , and PLO. On the other, he makes good use of the similarities between the games to cover all three in a single book. Of course, none is covered in all its intricacies. But Pot Limit Omaha: The Big Play Strategy does a surprisingly good job of introducing all three of these games by orienting new players not just to the nuts and bolts but to the guiding objectives, the profitable situations towards that game’s strategy is directed.
Perhaps more importantly, Hwang’s fondness for Omaha shines through on every page, encouraging readers to recognize that it can be both fun and profitable. His book will certainly contribute to his dream of seeing “small stakes PLO games… become standard in card rooms across America.”