Saturday, February 6, 2010

Oh, Mother, Ha!

I've been playing a lot of Omaha these past few weeks, and I'm slowly figuring out the game. Very Slowly. Very, Very Slowly.

For those new to it (read: this bug), Omaha looks like Hold'em played with four starting hole cards instead of two, and with the normal 3-card flop, 1-card turn, and 1-card river betting streets. Unfortunately, that's where the similarities end. You have to use two (and only two) of the cards in your hand, and also use three (and only three) cards on the board to make your 5-card hand. For a beginner like me, just reading the board is tough. I see four hearts on the board and one in my hand and think for a minute that I've got a flush... wrong. In fact, unless you have two of a suit in your hand, it's impossible for you to hit a flush.

Speaking of flushes, they are very common on Omaha. Straights also abound... and can be highly disguised. Full houses are also routine. Hell, in the two dozen or so sessions I've played over the last two weeks, I've seen quads probably eight or nine times. And don't even get me started on set over set scenarios. Hoo boy, is that a new skill to master: folding bottom set on the flop to a four bet. Yikes!

Said another way: Omaha is a game of the nuts. If this were the whole story, it would make it an easy game to master. Unfortunately, Omaha is also a drawing game, where the nut hand on the flop may actually be a big dog to an unmade hand held by your opponent. Wraps and redraws are often da bomb, while made straights on draw heavy boards can signal doom. Position is also incredibly important; one expert I've read says that position is roughly twice as important in Omaha than it is in hold'em.

Omaha is a tough, tough game to learn, but, like hold'em, I think it's ultimately beatable. There are a lot of hold'em players making the switch to Omaha these days, so I believe it's filling up with fish who are bored with normal hold'em (read: this bug). The trick, of course, is getting in lots of hands and making the game second nature. In Texas hold'em (even in games as high as $100NL) I've played enough hands that I usually have a pretty good idea where I'm at by the time the river is dealt (Yes, I've been dabbling at the higher stakes a bit on Full Tilt. And yes, this is in direct violation of Commandment #7, Thou Shall Protect Thy Bankroll). In contrast, in Omaha I often am confused where I stand. Is my made second nut flush a probable winner? When a fourth heart hits on the river, does this make it more or less likely that the villain has a better flush than me? I've got the second nut straight, should I fold to heavy opposition on the turn? The board paired, so do I continue drawing my open ender with flush draw? Wow, there are three nines on the board and I've got two aces, do I call the big river bet by the aggressive villain? How likely is it he has quads? And don't even get me started on trying to put the opp on a range of hands...'s learning all these little fundamental things that are going to take time. In other words, seat time... lots and lots of seat time....

....and speaking of seat time, this brings me to an interesting number I calculated today: Come March, I will have been playing online poker for four years. In the early days, I averaged a hundred hands or so a day, but over this past couple of years, thanks to the miracle of multi-tabling, I often get in 500 or more hands a day in just cash games. If I count SnGs and MTTs, the number of hands I've seen is fairly substantial. How substantial? Try more than half a million hands substantial. That's right, I've played over 500,000 hands of poker in the past four years. And now, with the increase in my multi-tabling abilities (I played a thirty minute session of twelve $10NL tables today for a $20 profit), combined with the insane 1000-hands per hour rates possible by four-tabling Rush, I expect to hit a million hands within the next two years. Seriously. How's that for stamina? How's that for perseverance? How's that for pathetic? Or, said another way: I seriously need to get a life.

All-in for now...


  1. I think it's ultimately beatable. There are a lot of hold'em players making the switch to Omaha these days, so I believe it's filling up with fish who are bored with normal hold'em.
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