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PLO Basics

13/02/2020 by Steve Blay
Strategy
D&B MAGAZINE

A year or two ago, I got really into Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO). Why PLO? Well, many of the higher stakes games here in Florida are PLO. In PLO, you always flop something, so the pots get huge, and that attracts the gamblers. Oh, and did I mention that most people are terrible at the game? If there are better reasons to love PLO, I can’t come up with any.

There was one more reason I got really into PLO. Over the last ten years while running my No-Limit Hold’em training site Advanced Poker Training, I’ve gotten at least 1000 emails asking for a (PLO) training site. How hard could it be, right? (Answer: Very Hard!) The result of my efforts is the new Omaha Poker Training. Although it doesn’t have quite the extensive feature set yet, the core product is a 9-max and 6-max simulator against virtual opponents who give you advice along the way. Check it out.

I’ve had the unique experience of being somewhat of a beginner at the game and yet at the same time I jumped right into working with PLO professionals and GTO solvers, creating virtual opponents (bots) that play the game at a high level.
I want to tell you about some of the things I learned last year, because I think my struggles will be useful to you if you’re thinking about making the jump from No-Limit Holdem (NLHE) to PLO.

First of all, I want to point out that D&B Poker has a number of wonderful books on the subject. A good primer is Strategies to Beat Small-Stakes Pot-Limit Omaha by Matthias Pum (creator of the PLO Visions solver). I’ve also heard that Fernando Habegger (you probably know him as JNandez) is coming out with a book entitled Mastering Small-Stakes Pot-Limit Omaha this summer, and you can pre-order it using that link. From the few conversations I’ve had with Fernando over the years, I get the impression he’s a true world-class expert at the game.

So let me start by telling you the three most basic things you need to know about PLO, and then in future articles I’ll expand into some complex topics. (By the way, I’m not going to cover the basic rules of the game, but here’s a link to a video covering all the basic rules of the game, but here’s a link to a video covering all the basic rules of pot limit omaha).

Multi-Dimensional Hands

While in Hold’em you have 1326 different starting hands (if you include suits), in PLO there are over 270,000. Some of these will be multi-dimensional, meaning they can flop all kinds of possibilities. For example, take a “double suited” hand A5A4 . This will flop a nut flush draw twice as often as a suited connector in NLHE, plus nicely-disguised wheel draws to go with it. Oh yeah, and it has pocket aces in it too! Or, consider the hand JT98. This is known as a “rundown” in PLO. This hand can flop so many outs that it can actually be favored over the nuts on the flop (keep reading for an example).

That’s something that can never happen in NLHE. If you flop the nuts in NLHE, you’re always a favorite if you get your money in then. (Lest I get emails, I’ll clarify that it’s occasionally possible for your opponent, in NLHE, to also flop the nuts and have a redraw on you. For example, you might both flop the nut straight, but he also has a flush draw. But this is a rare case. In general, it’s safe to say that if you flop the nuts in NLHE, you’ll be a favorite. This is quite often not true in PLO.)

Pre-flop Equities

As you probably know, in NLHE a hand like A -A is nearly a 90% favorite over 7 -2 . You’ll never have that kind of pre-flop edge in PLO. The strongest of starting hands vs. the weakest are often only 70-30 favorites and most are closer to 60-40. This is good news actually, because it comes from the fact that even the worst of PLO starting hands always have the chance to flop something. That means that bad players can find an excuse to play any two cards, and get themselves committed to second-best hands after the flop. As for you, playing tight is the way to go, especially as a beginner. You can get yourself into a lot of trouble playing hands that look pretty, like 6 - 6 - 3 -3 (bottom set is NOT what you’re looking for in PLO), or 5 - 4 - 3 -2 (makes lots of garbage non-nut straights).

It’s All About Drawing

Plain and simple, PLO is a drawing game. Fortunes can change with the turn and river card. You might have a strong hand on the flop, but the flop texture is such that you’re terribly vulnerable. I mentioned earlier that I would give you an example of a hand that was the nuts on the flop, but was an underdog. Let’s take the flop KT8 . In NLHE, if you held KK , you’re guaranteed to be a favorite. In PLO, you could be up against AQJ9. Look at all the outs that massive draw has. It has 9 outs to a flush (one of them a royal flush), and in addition (be sure not to double count the flush cards):

  • 3 sevens to make the straight 7-8-9-10-J
  • 2 nines to make the straight 9-10-J-Q-K
  • 2 Jacks to make the straight 10-J-Q-K-A
  • 3 Queens to make the straight 10-J-Q-K-A
  • 3 Aces to make the straight 10-J-Q-K-A

If I did my math right, that gives us 22 outs. So while the player with AQJ9 only has Ace-high at the moment, a PLO odds calculator will tell you that they are still a 58% favorite over top set!

Conclusion

If you try it, I have a feeling you’ll enjoy PLO as much as I have. In my next article, I’ll talk more about the basic strategy you need to be a winner.