Omaha Hi/Lo

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Omaha Hi/Lo

Showdown in Omaha Hi/Lo. The player on the left wins the high pot with Two Pair, Aces and Fives. The player on the right wins the low pot with 8-7-4-2-A.

Basics

An important variant of Omaha is the popular high-low split version, Omaha Hi/Lo (also known as Omaha Eight or Better or Omaha 8). The game plays out exactly like regular Omaha, but with the important difference that at the showdown, the pot is equally split between the best regular poker hand (called the ‘high’ hand) and the best Ace to Five Lowball hand. It’s recommended that you learn to play Omaha before attempting Omaha Hi/Lo.

In the Ace to Five Lowball hand rankings, Aces are a low card, and straights and flushes are ignored. The best hand is a five low, 543♠2♠A♣, which is also known as a wheel. In Lowball, hands are ranked by the highest card, followed by the next highest, and so on. For example, 7♣5432♣ is a seven low, and beats 854♠2A♠, which is an eight low.

Omaha Hi/Lo is played with a qualifier for the low half of the pot – in order to win the low half of the pot, a low hand must be at least a straight eight low – 876♠54♠ – and if nobody can make an eight or better low, then the entire pot is awarded to the best traditional high poker hand.

Omaha Hi/Lo is unusual in that it makes for a good game regardless of the betting structure. In North America, Omaha Hi/Lo is most commonly played as a limit game. On the MPN and throughout the rest of the world, it is most commonly played Pot Limit. We also occasionally offer No Limit tournaments. In this guide, we’ll mainly focus on the Pot Limit version.

Hand Reading

As in regular Omaha, the biggest stumbling block for new Omaha Hi/Lo players is reading the hands. Here is an example for practice – what does each player have for high and low? Remember that every player must use exactly two hole cards with exactly three cards from the board to make their hand. Players can use different card combinations to make their high and low hands.

The Board: 34♠57K♣

Player A: A♣A23♣
Player B: KJ♠10♣9
Player C: A♠2♠68
Player D: 994♣4

Player A uses the A2 from their hand in combination with the 357 from the board to make A7532, an Ace-high Flush for high. For low, they use the same A2 in combination with the 34♠5 from the board to make 54♠32A, a Wheel or five low.

Player B uses the KJ♠ from their hand in combination with the 57K♣ from the board to make KK♣J♠75, a pair of Kings for high. Because Player B does not have two cards eight or lower in their hand, they cannot make a qualifying low.

Player C uses the 68 from their hand in combination with the 4♠57 from the board to make 87654♠, an eight-high Straight for high. For low, they use the A♠2♠ from their hand in combination with the 34♠5 from the board to make 54♠32♠A♠, a five low.

Player D uses the 4♣4 from their hand in combination with the K♣74♠ from the board to make 4♣44♠K♣7, three fours for high. Player D cannot make a qualifying low as they do not hold two cards eight or lower.

At the showdown, the pot is divided into two halves. The high half of the pot is awarded to Player A, whose ace-high flush is the best high hand. The low half of the pot is split equally between Player A and Player C, both of whom have a five low, which is the best possible low hand. Player A effectively receives three quarters of the pot (the high portion, plus half of the low portion) and Player C receives a quarter of the pot (half of the low portion).

Again, this might seem difficult if you’re new to Omaha. Practice in small-stakes games before you move on to serious stakes!

Winning the Whole Pot

The number one objective in any split pot game is to win the entire pot, or scoop, by making the best hand for both parts. From this, you should deduce that the best type of hand to start with is one that can develop into a strong high (like a Straight or a Flush) as well as a strong low (like a five or six).

There is no game on the MPN in which good hand selection is more important than Omaha Hi/Lo. It’s not possible for a starting hand that consists of only high cards, such as KJ♠10♣9, to accidentally make a low. This is because you must have at least two low cards in your hand for it to be possible, according to the rules of Omaha. The only way a high-only hand can win the whole pot is if nobody makes a low, which in a game with so many possibilities is not something to be relied upon. But it is possible for a low hand to accidentally make a strong high. For example, a hand like A23♣4 can make a Straight or a Flush in addition to a low.

As a result, your hand selection should tilt towards hands that are strong for low. The best possible starting hand is A♠A2♠3, which has the potential to make the best low as well as Straights, Flushes, and strong sets. Also strong are other hands containing A2, which can make the nut low, especially if suited and/or containing other wheel cards – such as A24♣5. Other types of low hand, such as A♣3 and 2♣3♠ combinations, need to be played more conservatively as they rely on the board coming with a specific card (a deuce in the case of A♣3, or an Ace in the case of the 2♣3♠) in order to make the nuts.

It’s possible to play strong high-only hands, like A♣AJ♣10, if you can get in cheap or if you will be in position after the flop. This is particularly true if the pot is multi-way already, as lots of players often signifies that lots of low cards are already gone and therefore the flop is more likely to come with high cards.

Hands like KJ♠10♣9 and 994♣4 are generally not worth playing (in fact, almost all hands which contain a nine are unplayable). It’s easy to build second best high hands with these types of cards, and they have no hope of winning the low. Getting involved with mediocre one-way hands is just asking for trouble.

Post-Flop Concepts

Playing after the flop in Omaha Hi/Lo has many similarities to regular Omaha. Expect the nuts or close to it to be out there, especially for the low half of the pot where often any player holding A2♠ will have the best possible low. Be very wary of continuing in the hand without the nuts or a draw to the nuts for both high and low.

A couple of concepts that are specific to the split pot version of Omaha deserve discussion. First is the concept of freerolling. Unlike in stud games where you use the concept of board lock to determine if you are freerolling, in Omaha Hi/Lo you must use the community cards, and you are not necessarily safe against being outdrawn.

For example, let’s say you have A♠2♠K10, and the flop is 578♣. You have the best possible low already, and you are drawing to a great high hand that is also strong (any will give you a flush). You could get action from an opponent who has a worse low hand, or you could get action from an opponent who has a high hand only, in which case you are freerolling against them – you will either miss your flush draw, in which case you could bluff your opponent off their hand or win only the low half the pot; or you will hit your flush draw, in which case you will have the best hand at showdown and win both halves of the pot. Clearly this situation has a significant upside.

There are however two downsides. The first is when your opponent holds something like A♣3♣4Q, and the turn comes a 2. This counterfeits your hand and gives your opponent the nuts – they have 753♣2A♣ which beats your 8752♠A♠. The chances of getting counterfeited are not insignificant – six of the remaining cards will pair either your ace or deuce, making a better low possible. For this reason, starting hands which include a ‘backup’ or ‘emergency’ low card are notably stronger than hands without. For example, A♠2♠3K is protected against counterfeiting – if an ace or deuce arrives, you will still have the nut low.

If you are counterfeited, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are losing, but it does mean that you should play much more cautiously.

The second downside occurs when your opponent also has A2, giving them the nut low also, but they have a better high hand than you do. For example, given the same 578♣ flop, your opponent may hold A24♣6♣. This gives them the same nut low as you, but an eight-high Straight plus a better Flush draw for the high half of the pot. In this case, not only are you already losing the high, but even making your draw will not save you.

In this situation, you will lose the high portion of the pot and only win half of the low portion. This is known as getting quartered. In a heads-up pot, this is an extremely unpleasant thing to happen, as you are putting in half of the money in the pot but only getting a quarter of it back.

It can sometimes be correct to fold the nut low if you are sure that you will get quartered. For example, if you have only the nut low and nothing for high in a heads-up pot on the river, and your tight opponent makes a pot-sized bet, you should consider folding. At best you rate to win half the pot; at worst a quarter. If there is a good chance that your opponent is betting with the nut low as well, then a fold could be the best play.

In summary, Omaha Hi/Lo can be a complex game, but the rewards are certainly there if you can exercise proper hand selection and if you have good post-flop judgement. Play smart, and reap the rewards!

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