Omaha Hi

Both Omaha Hi and Hold’em have roared to the top of the list of favorite poker games, with Omaha grabbing the coat-tails of Hold’em in the race for popularity. Both are key sections of the World Series of Poker and other major tournaments. The number of good Omaha players is much smaller, perhaps because it takes a different way of thinking to sort out just which hands might win, as compared to Hold’em (review the rules of Texas Holdem).

Yes, players sitting at a Texas Hold’em table and an Omaha table will see that the cards are dealt in a similar way. The truth is the initial deal should give us an indication of just how different Omaha is. Each player receives four “hole” cards in Omaha, as opposed to just two in Hold’em. Hole Cards (also known as "pocket cards") are dealt face-down, and are only visible to the player.

This detail might seem small but it actually leads to a huge difference in how the game proceeds. There will be five “community” cards on the table and each player uses those to make the best five-card poker hand possible. Each game has forced bets or blinds. These blinds and the “button” rotate clockwise around the table. But here’s the catch: the player must use two and only two of the four hole cards to make that poker hand.

In both games, players must carefully figure how the community cards will work with the hole cards to make a good hand. But the additional combinations that come with Omaha Hi can separate the good players from the contributors, so to speak. Starting-hand guidelines from Hold’em won’t work in this game. There are more possible two-card combinations in Omaha.

For beginners, hands with just two suits might be a good start. But don’t get excited when you see that your four hole cards are all the same suit. You can only use two to make a flush and you have eliminated two helping cards (they’re in your hand!). Other key starting elements: you must have two cards of a suit in your hand to make a flush; if there are three of a kind on the board you must have a pair in your hand to make a full house.

Some other basics:

  • Big pairs are not as valuable as in Hold’em
  • Even two Aces is a drawing hand in most cases
  • Position may not be as important as in Hold’em but it’s still a strong factor
  • Omaha is a “flop” game, more so than Hold’em

In Omaha Hi, players are still aiming for highest hand, of course. But the route is different.

Here is how a typical round of Omaha Hi might go:

  • Blinds – The small and the big blind post their bets.
  • Hole Cards – The dealer deals four hole cards (aka. pocket cards), face-down.
  • 1st Betting Round – Betting starts with the player to the left of the big blind. Players fold, check or raise (re-raise). Betting limits are set to the lower limit of the table stake (e.e. $5 in a $5/$10 game).
  • The Flop – The dealer deals three community cards face-up.
  • 2nd Betting Round – follows the rules of the 1st betting round.
  • The Turn – The dealer places the fourth community card on the table, face-up.
  • 3rd Betting Round – Similar betting rules as for the 1st and 2nd round, but the maximum bet is raised to the higher limit of the table stake (e.e. $10 in a $5/$10 game).
  • The River – The fifth and final community card is dealt face-up.
  • 4th Betting Round – The final betting round, with the same rules as the 3rd betting round.
  • The Showdown – Players show their hands, and the player with highest poker hand wins the pot. The first player to show their cards is the last one to have placed a bet or made a raise. In the event that no bets were made during the hand, the player to the right of the dealer button shows their cards first and the winner is determined according to the best five-card hand.

The button moves one seat clockwise (as do the blinds), and play begins again.