The Story of Omaha, Poker’s Most Action-Packed Game

The combinations are endless. Four cards instead of two? Oh, the possibilities. The game of Omaha is an action junkie’s dream, and you don’t have to look much further than the upcoming World Series of Poker to understand its raging popularity. Of the 61 confirmed events to date for the 51st running of poker’s marquis showcase, 12 of them are Omaha-centric or at least involve the variant as part of a larger mix.

Less than four months away now, the series is slated to run from May 26 to July 15 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and will culminate with the $10,000 world championship main event. Serious and recreational players from around the globe will soon be making the pilgrimage to Las Vegas in search of fame, fortune and a coveted gold bracelet. Last year, the World Series of Poker attracted an astounding 187,000 entrants from 118 countries, generating a massive prize pool of $293,000,000. Almost $300 million!

It’s not just about Texas Hold’em though. While most players concentrate their efforts on NLHE (No-Limit Hold’em), what two-time world champ and Poker Hall of Fame member Doyle Brunson calls the ‘Cadillac of poker,’ many others will have their sights set on the game of Omaha.

Neon sign featuring cards for Ace, King, Queen, Jack above omaha

Origins of Omaha

Robert Turner knows a thing or two about poker. The 72-year old’s playing career spans five decades and, in 1993, he won a WSOP bracelet in seven-card stud. He has cashed in the world championship main event numerous times and even reached the final table in 1994, when he finished 6th, the year Russ Hamilton infamously claimed the title. One of the game’s elder statesman, Turner has amassed close to $3 million in winnings playing card tournaments. He has also been employed as an executive host by some of the world largest poker rooms, and today is still posting regular poker content on his Twitter and his blog.

Turner also knows a thing or two about Omaha poker as well. He should, he invented it.

“I was in Las Vegas playing at the Golden Nugget and I met a girl named Gwen,” Turner recalled, conjuring up memories of that day in 1982 when Omaha was brought to life.

“I had played versions of Omaha Hold’em and Greek Hold’em, all these crazy games people like to play in their home, and she liked to play a similar game where you got four cards but could only use two. So, I went to Bill Boyd (Poker Hall of Fame member), manager of the Golden Nugget at the time, and asked if we could run a new game, a four-card game where you could only use two.”

Nugget Hold’em?

The rest they say is history. The Las Vegas Gaming Control Board examined the game, didn’t find any problems, and approved it.

“The timing was perfect too. The World Series of Poker started two days later and that new game ran non-stop, around the clock, for 30 straight days. We started playing at $5/$10 blinds and before too long it became a pot-limit game. Mr. Boyd liked the game so much he changed the name to Nugget Hold’em and spread a $2/$4 game after the series. Years later, when the poker room at the Nugget closed, the game moved to the Horseshoe and it became a four-card high game.”Robert Turner

Omaha was introduced as a tournament variant in 1983, when the Stardust Hotel offered it as part of its Stairway to the Stars event. In the mid-1980’s, Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn included Omaha as part of his prestigious Grand Prix of Poker at the Golden Nugget.

“I think it was one of the best tournaments in poker, if not the best. He was trying to compete with Binion’s and the WSOP at the time. Unfortunately, it only ran for a few years. Steve Wynn did a lot for poker. Both he and Jack Binion loved the players. He had fashion shows for the women, his food was just as good, if not better, and he moved out all the slot machines and put the poker room right in the middle of the Golden Nugget. He gave away boats and cars too. It was a first-class event.”

Turner, by the way, won the first two Grand Prix of Poker Omaha championships.

Similarities & Differences to Hold’em

The two most commonly played formats of Omaha today are PLO, or pot-limit Omaha, and Omaha Hi-Lo. PLO, where the high hand wins and the maximum bet can only match the size of the pot. While Omaha Hi-Lo, is where both a high and low hand can win, each laying claim to half the pot.

Omaha and hold’em are similar. The betting rounds and layout of community cards are exactly the same, in that each player gets their own down cards, then shares five community cards (three on the flop, one on the turn and then one on the river) and at showdown the best hand wins. The main difference between the two games, is that in Omaha, players are dealt four cards instead of two. And, the rules state that two of the four cards must be used at showdown. This means only three of the community cards can be inserted to make up your best hand, unlike Texas Hold’em where all five community cards can be utilized.

Full house laid out on table with poker chips

Omaha at the 2020 WSOP

One of the most prestigious events at the Rio this year, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship, is widely regarded as one of the toughest tournaments to win. The field is elite and comprised of the world’s best gamblers. The structure features a nine-game mix to determine the best all-around player. With surging popularity, it’s no wonder two of the nine games involve Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo and Pot-Limit Omaha.

Year after year, the WSOP schedule continues to reflect the demand for Omaha and this year is no different. At this point, there will be 12 events that solely focus on Omaha or have it in rotation:

  • June 3: $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better Championship
  • June 8: $600 Pot-Limit Omaha Deepstack 8-Handed
  • June 10: $1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed
  • June 13: $10,000 Dealers Choice Championship
  • June 16: $600 Mixed No-Limit Hold’em / Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed
  • June 17: $25,000 High Roller Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed
  • June 19: $2,500 Nine Game Mix
  • June 20: $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed Championship
  • June 22: $50,000 Poker Players Championship
  • June 26: $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better Championship
  • July 6: $5,000 Mixed No-Limit Hold’em / Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed
  • July 7: $50,000 High Roller Pot-Limit Omaha

Lastly, one thing you want to remember when playing the wonderful game of Omaha; with more cards in play, it takes a stronger hand to win. Straights, flushes and yes, even full houses, are routinely toppled and that’s why people love it. It’s a game of action and there will be loads of it in the heat of the desert this summer.

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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