Learning the Great Game of PLO

PLO is not known as The Great Game for no reason, but No Limit Hold ‘Em (NLHE) players looking to play more Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) should be aware of the potential pitfalls faced in transitioning to the four (or five!) card game.

Starting hand selection 

This is the first skill you need to master. With four cards instead of two, it can be easy to make a case for playing almost every hand. After all, there’s likely to be a couple of high cards  or some suited connectors - in short, out of your four cards you can probably make a two-card hand you would play in NLHE.

Being tempted to play these hands is a classic mistake, and one likely to send you heading back to the hold ‘em tables with your tail between your legs.

Think of it like this: with four cards, you have six two-card combinations to proceed in a hand. If all you can make is one decent two-card combo from your four cards, you’re putting money into a pot armed with one hand against opponents playing six, like going into a gunfight armed with a water pistol.

Types of Hands

Ideally you want all four cards connected and working with each other. The best starting hands are A-A-K-K double suited and A-A-T-J double suited.

A-A-K-K gives two opportunities to make top set, plus chances to make the nut straight, and two nut flush draws.

A-A-T-J has the top set draw, two nut flush draws, and a combination of Broadway straight draws. Importantly, all the draws are to the nuts - drawing to the nuts is an essential aspect of good Omaha play.

On a K-Q-9 rainbow flop, a hand like A-A-T-J is perfect, as we have the nuts. But it’s not unusual for someone else to make the nuts at the same time. However, if their holding is something like 6-6-T-J, the strength of our hand really comes to the fore.

It is difficult for our opponent not to like their hand, they have the nuts after all, so if we bet it’s likely they’ll raise. In NLHE, we would be saying chop it up now. In PLO, this is not the case.

A-A-T-J, presuming two backdoor nut flush draws on this rainbow flop, is actually 26% to win the whole pot, against 2% for the 6-6-T-J, with a 72% chance of a split pot.

This is because our nut straight has an extension (any 10 or Jack gives us the new nut straight and we win the pot), and turning one of our suits gives us a freeroll flush draw on the river. Any running pair up on the turn and river, K-K, Q-Q or 9-9 gives us the top full house as well. Our opponent's only way of winning the full pot is a 50-1 shot on the turn and river giving them a six  and a pair up to make sixes full.

Giving your opponent a 26% chance to felt you is not ideal, hammering home the idea that playing strong starting hands is imperative.

Top-10 Starting Hands
 Our top 10 starting hands are all double suited. They are: 

  • A-A-K-K
  • A-A-J-T
  • A-A-Q-Q
  • A-A-J-J
  • A-A-T-T
  • A-A-9-9
  • A-A-x-x
  • J-T-9-8
  • K-K-Q-Q
  • K-K-J-J.

There are other hands - such as big rundowns with lots of straight possibilities - that are very playable, and while not premium, we would happily call a raise with 6-7-8-9 or Q-J-T-9.

Avoiding playing two or three-card hands with danglers (unconnected cards not working with the rest of your hand), however, is a skill every successful PLO player learns at an early stage.

Mastering starting hand selection is the foundation to becoming a successful PLO player, and without discipline and patience, even the most skilled player will struggle without that essential building block.