Going High & Low in Omaha

Laurence Peter, the late Canadian educator and “hierarchiologist,” once said, “the problem with temptation is that you may not get another chance.” Best known for his 1969 publication of The Peter Principle, he most certainly wasn’t talking about the game of Omaha Hi/Lo, where second chances sometimes come in handy. If you don’t win the high hand, you just might grab the low. And, in a perfect world, you’ll have the best hand in both and scoop the entire pot. How’s that for temptation?

The Peter Principle states, “in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence,” and that in time, “every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.” The book suggests that all the work is accomplished by those employees who have to not yet reached their level of incompetence. Again, this does not apply to Omaha Hi/Lo. If you want to reach the top of this game, and stay there, you have to be more than just competent. You have to be an expert in managing risk and temptation, second chances and all.

Omaha hi Low

What’s in a Name?

Example:
If there is an Ace and a three in your hand, and the board runs out with a two, four, and five, then you have struck gold by making the perfect low hand, a five-low, which cannot be beat. The nuts. Straights and flushes do not count against the low. You would have a straight, though, which would be good for the high hand a large percentage of the time. The ‘Wheel,’ or the A, 2, 3, 4, 5 combination, is a very powerful hand because it will often times scoop both the high and low hands.

One of poker’s more popular variants, the actual name of this game is Omaha Hi/Lo Split Eight or Better. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘Omaha 8’ or ‘O8.’ The ‘Hi/Lo’ and ’Split’ parts are self-explanatory. One half of the chips in the middle are awarded to the best high hand. The other half go to the strongest low hand. Therefore, you have split the pot fifty-fifty.

The ‘Eight or Better’ stipulation needs to be delved into a little further. It applies to the low hand only, and it’s a requirement. While there is no qualifier to win the high hand, to claim the low, a player’s hand must contain five different low cards all ranked eight or lower, hence Eight or Better.

Rules of Omaha Hi Lo

Have you played Pot-Limit Omaha, also known as PLO? The two games are quite similar in that players are dealt four cards and must use two of them in combination with three of the community cards on the board in order to make a five-card hand. The betting patterns, of both Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo, mirror that of the more widely recognized Texas Hold’em. There are bets made before the flop, after the flop, on the turn, then again on the river.  If the final bet is made and everyone else folds, the player who made that bet wins the hand without having to expose their cards. If it does get called, players will expose their cards to see who has the better holding.

Again, half the pot goes to the high hand, and half the pot goes to the low hand at showdown. Should one player have the best of both worlds, they win all the chips.

Here are some other things to think about:

  • If there is no qualifying low (five non-duplicated cards below an eight), the player with the best high-hand is awarded the entire pot.
  • You can use the same or different two-card combination to win one or both halves of the pot.
  • You are not required to declare which half of the pot you are vying for.
  • Aces count for both high and low hands.

Strategic Advice

Ideally, you want to be dealt A, A, 2, 3, which is the most powerful starting hand in Omaha Hi/Lo for obvious reasons. Not only do the pocket aces play extremely well for the high hand, the A, 2, 3, are the best possible cards to start with for the low.

“Generally, you want to limp in as much as you can, see a bunch of flops, and make decisions accordingly from there,” says Calen ‘Big Wheel’ McNeil, a Canadian businessman who’s captured glory at the World Series of Poker.

Calen McNeil WSOP

McNeil has won more $600,000 playing tournament poker. In 2013, he pocketed $277,274 for winning Event #20 at the WSOP, a $1,500 buy-in Omaha Hi/Low event that attracted more than 1,000 players. He was also awarded the coveted gold bracelet. The next year he finished fourth in the same event. So, he knows a thing or two about the game. He’s one of the best at it.

“You want to enter into pots with a couple of broadway-type high cards and a couple of wheel-type low cards. Hands like A, K, 2, 3, or A, Q, 2, 4, because the low cards provide extra backup against being counterfeited. The ace plays both ways, so it’s a very important card. I tend to play aggressive. So, I’m in there a lot, and I’m not afraid to play hands like 7, 8, 9, 10 or 9, 10, J, Q. Especially when there are multiple people in the hand. Someone’s going to have an ace, deuce. Someone else will have an ace, three. So, the board texture is important. You have to know where you stand, but if the board runs out with middle to high cards there’s a good chance you can scoop all the chips by winning the high.”

Counterfeited & Quartered

So, what’s a counterfeit? If you played a hand like A, K, Q, 2, and the flop came 4, 6, 8, you would have the best possible low hand at that time. If the turn card is a deuce, however, your hand would be counterfeited, because someone holding A, 3, would now suddenly have best hand. You are still sporting an eight-low, A, 2, 4, 6, 8, while your opponent has improved to a six-low, with A, 2, 3, 4, 6. Remember, you must use two cards from the four you were originally dealt.

Person hiding cards

Getting ‘quartered’ is easier to understand. If you are trying for one side of the pot, either the high or the low, and you end up tying an opponent with an equally ranked hand, you have been quartered. You would split one side of the pot. This effectively means you only get back a fourth of all chips in play. Always a losing proposition.

Beware of the Omaha Hi Lo Tilt

Many things can happen in this game. The best hand can change, and often does, from card to card. You might be dealt A, A, 2, 3, a so-called ‘monster,’. Only to watch it shrivel up to a teddy bear as an 8, 9, 10, J rolls off the deck. Omaha Hi/Lo has knack of leaving its participants exasperated.

It’s one of the most frustrating parts of the game. Things always change. When I was at the final table in 2014, four-handed, going for my second bracelet, I was dealt A, A, 2, or A, A, 3, three times and I lost all of them. I was crippled and eventually busted in fourth,Calen McNeil

It’s true, bloating the pot with aces isn’t always the best strategy in this game. If your stack is short, you’ll want to get in cheap with aces and a low draw. And hopefully you’ll hit the flop hard. If you’ve got a ton of chips, though, you’ll want to take the lead and be aggressive. You are holding key blockers.  The chances of someone else having ace, deuce, are drastically reduced. That’s because you’ve got two of the aces they could potentially have.

If all else fails, just think of the game like you would the cereal Raisin Bran. You always want two scoops, the high and the low raisins.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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