Poker is a complicated game. Truth be told, there's no game called just "poker." It's a family of games using similar props - playing cards in various combinations and series. While poker games in casinos are often played against the house, a certain kind of poker player will always crave head-to-head action against other players. Omaha is one of those games - a head-to-head contest of wits and strategy with just a touch of luck thrown in to keep things interesting.
You may have heard of Texas hold'em, but you've probably never heard of Omaha. The two games are kin, sharing rules, features, and a common pool of players. It's common for US poker rooms, game rooms, and online casinos to host both Texas hold'em and Omaha, while all other games are optional. If you've never played Omaha before and you have no confidence in your ability, we've got your back.
This page is designed to teach a person how to play Omaha in just a few basic steps. We've put together a page that will turn you from a total novice to a seasoned Omaha veteran in about a half hours' worth of studying. We start with a simple FAQ, then offer a crash course in the basics of the game and how a round of Omaha works. The next major point is dedicated to explaining Omaha strategy for beginners. We then toss in a brief history of the game, which in turn makes it easy to see why we've titled this article as "A Crash Course in Omaha Poker."
Omaha is a variant of poker in the hold'em family. It's a community-card game played with two to ten players competing head-to-head around a table. The goal is to win chips. You win chips by winning rounds of play. You can win a pot in one of two ways: by being the last player standing when all other players fold their hands, or by having the most-valuable hand at the end of a round of play, called a showdown.
Omaha is remarkably similar to Texas hold'em. In fact, Omaha's full name should be Omaha hold'em, but that name never stuck. The game is almost always referred to as Omaha, just Omaha. The games are similar because they share a common history and plenty of common features. The difference between Omaha and Texas hold'em is two-fold. First, the number of hole cards. In Omaha, players are dealt four hole cards, compared to two in Texas hold'em. The other difference - players have to use two of their hole cards along with three community cards to form a winning hand. In Texas hold'em, players aren't forced to use any number of hole cards.
Poker games are often named for some interesting characteristic of the game, or for a person or place associated with the game. Texas hold'em got its name because it was invented by a bunch of guys in Texas. We have a crash course on the game's history further down the page, and we go into more detail about the game's name and its association with Omaha. But suffice it to say that Omaha was NOT invented by a bunch of card players in Nebraska. The truth is stranger than that - read on for more information.
No federal law in America makes betting on poker illegal. Some US states have harsh anti-gambling laws that make almost all forms of gambling illegal. Some states also outlaw online betting on games of poker. There's really no standard in America and no way to now if poker or other forms of gambling are illegal without doing some research or consulting with a legal professional. But we thought it was important to let people know that it is not illegal across the board to gamble on anything in America. Check state laws for more information.
Omaha is said to be the "second most popular poker game in the world," a nod to the popularity of Texas hold'em. The two games are close cousins. They're similar enough that once you learn how to play one game, it won't take but a few minutes to learn the other. We think that's a big reason for this game's popularity - it's similarity to the world's most popular poker variant. But Omaha is also a game in which luck plays a smaller role than in Texas hold'em. It rewards strategy at an even greater rate than its more-popular cousin. Since Omaha is a big part of a few popular mixed games (HOSE, HORSE, HA, etc.), it'll always be popular among a certain segment of poker player, namely the tournament junkie.
First, a short list of terms to learn before you learn the game of Omaha:
Below is a step-by-step guide to the way a round of Omaha works:
The first step to playing a game of Omaha is to determine who will be the first to act as dealer. This is typically done by cutting a deck or playing a dummy round of the game. Once a dealer has been determined, the dealer button is placed in front of his position. The dealer button is usually a white or light-colored disk or special chip used to help players keep track of the current dealer. Each round's dealer shuffles the cards and deals them according to the game's rules. The button moves to the left after each round of play.
The dealer button also helps keep track of player blinds. A blind is a type of forced bet. Each round of Omaha requires two blinds, called the small blind and the big blind. An example would be a 5c/10c game, where the small blind is $0.05 and the big blind is $0.10. Games of Omaha are often referred to by their blind structure, and the big blind is almost always double the small blind. Before any cards are dealt, the two players whose turn it is to pay blinds have to put their ante into the pot. How do you know who pays the small blind and who the big blind? The player to the dealer's immediate left will always pay the small blind, while the player to the small blind's immediate left will always pay the big blind.
Once the pot is started by the two blinds, it's time for the dealer to hand out cards. Cards are dealt starting with the player to the dealer's left (the small blind), and the deal moves clockwise around the table, so that the big blind is the last to be dealt his cards. Each player is dealt a total of four face-down cards.
The game's first betting round, called "pre-flop" because it occurs before the round known as the flop, starts when all players have four hole cards, and it ends once two conditions are met. Once all players have had a chance to act, and once all players who haven't folded have wagered the same amount, the pre-flop betting round is over, and we move into the next betting round.
But it's not all that simple. Play starts with the player to the left of the big blind. This player can choose from three options. He can fold, paying nothing to the pot, getting rid of his cards, and waiting for the next round. He can call, matching the amount of the big blind wager. Or he can rise, increasing the bet by double the big blind. In some games, players are allowed to raise even more than that.
Play moves clockwise, so that once the player to the left of the big blind has made his decision, the decision falls to the player to his immediate left. Each of these players has the same three options: to fold, to call, or to raise.
Remember that the amount you can call or raise depends on the size of the most recent bet placed. The first player to call has to match the size of the big blind. If he raises, it has to be double that size. The next player to raise has to add the full amount of the big blind plus the amount of the raise in order to call.
Remember also that the player in the big blind position is always the last to act when you're in pre-flop mode. Once the game gets back around to the small blind position, he can fold, call, or raise, just like every other player. Once everyone, big blind included, has had a chance to act, and everyone still in the game has bet the same amount, the round is over.
The flop is slang for the reveal of the first three cards and the betting round that follows the reveal.
In community card games like Omaha and Texas hold'em, five cards will be dealt that anyone can use to build the best five-card poker hand. The flop represents the reveal of the first three of these five community cards.
The flop works like this - first the dealer discards the top card on the deck face down, in what's called a "burn," and he then deals the next three cards face up in the center of the table. At this point, all betting rounds begin with the player to the left of the dealer. Take note that this puts the player to the dealer's left into the same position as the big blind at pre-flop. This player can either check or bet, but isn't required to add anything to call, and isn't required to fold. Bets here are usually still equal to the big blind.
Play moves to the left of the first position.
Once the flop round is finished, the dealer deals what's called the turn. The turn is the reveal of the fourth of five community cards, and a betting round afterwards. Once again, the top card is burned and one card is dealt face up, next to the flop in a line. A typical betting round occurs. Once this round is finished, another card is revealed and another round of betting commences.
The river is slang for the reveal of the final community card and the betting round that takes place immediately afterward. The river round occurs right after the turn, and like before, the dealer burns the top card and deals one card face up. This is the final community card. The betting round that occurs after the river round is identical to the previous two betting rounds.
Any players left in the game at the reveal of the river card enter the showdown. In the showdown, the player with the best hand wins the pot.
How do you determine the winner?
The first thing you need to know is poker hand hierarchy. Here's a ranking of all hands in Omaha, from high to low:
Some things to keep in mind when determining winning hands in Omaha:
In order to form a winning hand, Omaha players have to use exactly two of their four hole cards and exactly three of the community cards.
If all remaining players have no formal hand (meaning they hold no pair and nothing stronger than that), the winning hand is the hand with the highest-value single card.
Landing a straight can be tough in Omaha, because you have to use two of your hole cards. If the board shows a straight (something like ace-2-3-4-5, you'll need to have two cards that fit into that straight in your hand in order to win with a straight.
You'll never use suits to determine a winner or fix the strength of a hand.
Once the winner is determined, the chips in the pot are pushed to him, and the hand is complete. The dealer should pass the dealer button to the left. Two new players are assigned blinds. Omaha play can begin again.
The main thing separating Omaha from Texas hold'em is the difference in the strengths of poker hands in the two games. Texas hold'em players can often turn a top pair into a win at the showdown. In Omaha, every player has six two-card combinations to work with, compared to one in hold'em. Hands get strong much faster, and you'll be playing against lots of multi-way pots.
ABC poker is slang for a conventional (conservative) approach. With ABC poker, you're going to head into every multi-way pot assuming somebody has a better hand than you. Following the tenets of conservative poker play, you should always be reluctant to get involved in a showdown unless you have a draw to a top hand. Omaha is all about evaluating hand strength and acting accordingly, especially for the ABC player.
Every hand offers players a vast number of possibilities, and very few truly powerful starting hands exist in the game, meaning few people have hands with massive amounts of equity over other players. Omaha games are notoriously loose, especially pre-flop, further rewarding an ABC style of play.
Omaha's starting hands have a lot more equity than starting hands in Texas hold'em. This is especially true per-flop. In Texas hold'em, pocket Aces have a solid chance of winning when you go all-in before the flop. In most cases, pocket aces in that situation in Texas hold'em have about an 80% chance of winning. Compare that to Omaha - the best hand in the game is paired double-suited aces and kings, and even that "best hand" gives you about a 60% or 70% chance to win. Because it's easy for a starting hand to get beat, some think of Omaha as a game of high variance. But don't take that too far and assume that you can start and win with any old hand.
The thirty hands below are the best to start with in Omaha, assuming they're double-suited, meaning the hand represents two different suits and not a matched set:
Since it's so hard to make up ground after the flop in Omaha, you (as a beginner) should probably start by avoiding playing any hands that don't appear on this list. It'll be extremely limiting, but it will get you a good foundation in the game without exposing you to too much risk.
In line with playing ABC Poker, it's important to develop a separate pre-flop strategy to avoid difficult decisions that can set you back big-time in your chip stack. In the game of Omaha, these difficult decisions most often arise from playing large pots pre-flop, especially when those large pots are of the non-all-in variety. The goal for newcomers is to gain as much information as possible about your opponents' hand before you have to make a decision. That means, during pre-flop play, you should avoid medium-sized pots. Small pots are fine, huge pots are fine - just never medium-sized.
How do you do that? By hoping for (and trying to force) one of two things to happen. The first is that you get into a pot cheaply by limping to the flop before committing a huge amount of money. This is the easiest and cheapest way to limp to the flop, and it works most often in games against passive opponents. Since you're practicing high-level hand selection strategy, you'll find yourself in favorable post-flop game situations more often with this tactic. The other option is to put your whole stack in before the flop, with favorite status. This works best against aggressive opponents, if you're holding a strong hand and can confidently re-raise. This tactic will quickly narrow the field and give you an easier post-flop decision tree because you're committed to the pot already.
It's also crucial that you develop a post-flop strategy, a way to deal with your hand in a post-flop game situation. We've found that in Omaha if the flop doesn't improve your hand, your hand probably isn't going to improve significantly. The conservative thing to do is to play these hands with enormous caution.
One of the most common mistakes made by newcomers to Omaha is that they get attached to a strong hand pre-flop that is not improved by the flop. This is especially true for players used to Texas hold'em. Often, a player will get attached to pocket aces, regardless of how the flop improves that hand. That's where so many new Omaha players go wrong, get frustrated, and abandon a great game.
Watch out for trap hands - like pocket aces, bottom and middle two-pair, bottom and middle sets of all types, and even the deadly weak full house, all of which are regularly beaten in Omaha by better hands. In Omaha, these sorts of hands are notorious for winning small pots (if you can limp into the showdown with them) but losing big pots. At this stage in your Omaha ability, it's best to stay out of big-bet situations if you aren't holding a top hand.
Like many gambling games, the origins of Omaha are a little bit mysterious. That's unusual for a poker game. We know exactly who invented Texas hold'em. We know plenty about the invention of mixed poker games and other popular tournament contests.
Part of the confusion about Omaha has to do with the name. People assume Omaha was invented on the American frontier. After all, it's got Omaha right in the name, and everyone knows that Omaha was the Las Vegas of the 19th century. Omaha must have been invented by a bunch of rough and tumble gamblers who spoke as often with their pistols as their mouths, right?
Wrong. Not only was Omaha not invented in Omaha, Nebraska, it actually has nothing at all to do with that city. Omaha is one of the newer poker variants, having been invented in 1982 in Las Vegas.
Community card games have been around for a while. Before we had an official version of the rules of Omaha and Texas hold'em, community card games were common, if a bit more bizarre. The earliest game that can be recognized as an Omaha-like poker contest was invented and played mainly in Detroit and Chicago. This game forced players to take five hole cards, not four, which limited the number of players. As people began to bet on the game, and see the wisdom in fitting more players around the table, the number of hole cards was reduced to four, and the modern game of Omaha was ready to be born.
These games were called different names by different people. Midwesterners called it Twice Three. Once the game switched over to four hole cards, it caught on like wildfire, and could soon be found as far away as New Jersey and Dallas, with names like Nine Cards, Fort Worth Poker, and Oklahoma Poker. Though it's not known why, eventually poker players in Las Vegas settled on the name Omaha. Some writers have jokingly suggested that Omaha earned its title because of its proximity to the center of the country, and served as a good compromise among all the divergent places that wanted to claim the game. No longer was the game called High/Low Split, Sixes, or Split Poker - by 1982, the game was called Omaha, everywhere it was played, and for the first time, it was available in a codified and standardized format in the card rooms of Las Vegas.
To this day, Omaha is a popular poker game, long playing second fiddle to Texas hold'em. Omaha is an ideal game for poker tournaments, and its depth of strategy makes it the perfect choice for poker players looking for a bigger challenge than Texas hold'em. The addition of extra cards and additional information makes it a strategically-rich game that makes it easier for players to form powerful hands. In short, the excitement inherent in Omaha, and the increased challenge to players, has made it a staple in the card rooms of the United States.
Omaha is easy to learn. It's easy to play. It moves at slower pace than Texas hold'em, and requires and rewards strategy even more than that richly-textured game. Omaha is action-packed, with a natural similarity to a hugely-popular variant, something that always turns a game into a winner. If you know how to play Texas hold'em (and, odds are, you do, more or less), learning Omaha will be a cinch. Omaha tends to be more interesting to Texas hold'em players that become obsessed with game strategy. But with its slower pace, it also appeals to older players and newcomers to gambling looking for something with a more statelier structure.
Whether you came to this page to learn how to play the world's second-favorite poker game, or to bone up on your Omaha skills before an upcoming tournament, we hope we've presented information in the ideal crash course format. You still have much to learn - our goal was to inspire and prepare you rather than fully inform you of all the ins and outs of this complex poker contest. What you do with this new knowledge is totally up to you.