Omaha Poker Game Guide
Have you ever wondered if every poker game developed after 7 Card Stud has to be named after a place? The most popular current poker game is Texas holdem, and another popular version is named after another place, Omaha.
Though games aren't as easily found as no limit Texas holdem, Omaha can be more profitable for good players.
The first part of this page includes a complete run down of the rules and how to play. If you've never played Omaha or haven't played for a while take a few minutes to read through the rules before moving to the next section.
The rest of the page is filled with information to help you learn how to be a winning Omaha poker player.
This page covers Omaha holdem high only. See the Omaha Hi Lo page for information about the split pot variant.
How to Play – Omaha Rules
Omaha holdem uses the same poker hand structure as most popular poker games like Texas holdem and 7 Card Stud. The highest hand is a royal flush, followed by a straight flush, four of a kind, etc. The following table shows the hand rankings in full.
|High Card||A hand with no other combination. Valued by it's highest ranked card.|
|Pair||Two cards of the same rank|
|2 Pair||Two pairs combined|
|3 of a Kind||Three cards of the same rank|
|Straight||Five consecutive cards|
|Flush||Five cards of the same suit|
|Full House||A pair and a three of a kind combined|
|4 of a Kind||Four cards of the same rank|
|Straight Flush||Five consecutive cards of the same suit|
|Royal Flush||A straight flush that runs from the 10 to the Ace|
When a game starts from scratch each player is dealt one card face up and the high card starts the game in the dealer position. In a casino or poker room the house provides a dealer who takes care of the cards, but a player is always designated as the dealer for playing purposes.
If you join a game in progress the dealer has already been chosen and is in play. Depending on the house rules, you may be able to start playing right away, may have to place a bet equal to the big blind to get started, or wait until your turn in the big blind to start playing.
A white disc, called a button, is placed in front of the player designated as the dealer. After each hand is completed the dealer button is moved one player to the left.
Playing in the dealer position is the most advantageous because you get to act last on every round except the first. The dealer button also tells the actual dealer where to start dealing. The first card is dealt to the first active player to the left of the dealer button. Many poker players call the disc the button and refer to playing last as being on the button.
The player to the immediate left of the button is the small blind and the next player located to the left of the small blind is the big blind.
The player in the big blind must place a forced wager equal to the table specified requirement or the lower amount of the two limits in a limit Omaha game. In a 20 / 40 limit game the big blind is 20. The small blind places a forced bet that's usually half the amount of the big blind. Different tables have different rules, so check with the dealer when you get ready to play.
A pot limit or no limit game will have a designated amount for both blinds. For example, a pot limit Omaha game with a maximum buy in of $1,000 may have a big blind requirement of $10 and a small blind requirement of $5.
The blinds are in place to make every pot have something worth fighting for. Games would have action if they didn't have blinds, but the action would be less than with the blinds.
Once the dealer button is set and the small and big blind positions have made their forced wagers each player, starting with the small blind and going around the table to the left, receives four cards face down. The cards are dealt one at a time around the table until the fourth card is dealt to the button.
The first round of betting takes place now, and it's known as the preflop betting round. The first person to the left of the big blind makes the first decision, and has three options.
- Fold (throw away their cards)
- Call (bet an amount equal to the big blind)
- Raise (increase the size of the bet)
In a limit game the raise can only be the size of the lower betting limit, which happens to be the same size as the big blind. In the 20 / 40 game mentioned above, for example, to raise in the first position to the left of the big bind you'd place $40 in the pot. The reason you put $40 in the pot is because your first $20 is the amount to call and the second $20 is the raise.
You should always announce you want to raise before moving your chips forward to avoid any confusion. In most poker rooms and casinos you aren't allowed to push a bet forward and then go back and get more chips to raise. You often see Hollywood movies and television shows that show a player saying they call and then raise. This is called a string bet and isn't tolerated in most games.
In a pot limit game if you want to raise you can raise any amount from the amount it takes to call up to the amount of the pot if it contained a call.
This can be a little confusing the first time you play, but it's really pretty simple.
Let's continue using a 20 / 40 blind structure, so the small blind puts in $10 and the big blind puts in $20 for a total pot of $30. The house collects a rake of course, but forget about the rake until you understand how raises work.
If you want to call it costs $20. If you want to raise the lowest amount you can put in is $40. This is $20 for the call and $20 for the raise.
The most you can raise is determined by figuring out how much would be in the pot if you called. A call of $20 would make the pot $50, so you can raise up to $50. To raise $50 you actually place $70 in the pot. This is the $20 for your call and the $50 raise.
After each player takes action the next player to the left folds, calls, or raises until each player at the table has either folded or placed an amount equal to the highest wager of the round into the pot. In an un-raised pot the small blind may either fold, place enough with their forced bet to make a full bet, or raise. The big blind may raise or check.
After the first betting round all of the other rounds start with the first player to the button's left who is still active in the hand.
Once the initial round of betting is completed the dealer burns a card and then deals the next three cards face up in the middle of the table, forming the community cards or board. Most poker players call these three cards the flop.
Community or board cards are displayed face up in the center of the poker table and players use them to form their best five card poker hand. In Omaha, each player must use exactly three community cards and two of their private hole cards to form a poker hand.
Once the flop is made the second round of betting begins with the first player to the left of the dealer position still active in the hand. The player has two options.
- Check (make no bet but stay in the hand)
Play continues to the left with each player checking if no bets have been made, calling if bets have been made, raising if bets have been made, or folding if bets have been made. The betting round continues until all players remaining in the pot have called all previous wagers.
After all betting has been completed on the flop the dealer burns another card and the fourth community card, called the turn, is dealt face up beside the flop cards.
The third betting round is conducted just like the second one described above. The only difference is in a limit game all bets and raises on the third and fourth round of betting are conducted using the higher limit. In a 20 / 40 game all bets on the turn and river are $40.
When the turn betting round is finished another card is burned and the fifth and final community card is dealt face up beside the turn card.
The last round of betting is conducted just like the third round.
Once all wagers have been completed the remaining players reveal their cards and the pot is awarded to the player with the best high hand.
In the event that two players tie for the best five card high hand the pot is split equally between the players who tie.
We mentioned this above, but because it's different from Texas holdem we need to make sure you understand. In Texas holdem players can use any number of the board cards, but when you're playing Omaha you must use exactly two of your four hole cards and exactly three of the five community cards to form your five card poker hand.
Variations of Omaha
Omaha can be played in three different variations or limit structures. Pot limit and limit are the two most popular, but some poker rooms offer no limit play.
Texas holdem players are often used to playing no limit and many of them are hesitant to try a pot limit game. In most cases pot limit plays the same as no limit. The only difference is usually found early in the hand if you want to move all in. You're maximum wager is based on the amount in the pot so you can't get as much early hand leverage as in a no limit game.
Most players adapt quickly to pot limit play.
Our article on the different betting structures in poker explains all about limit, pot limit and no limit in more detail.
Omaha Math – Why it's Better than Texas
Besides the ability to win more often, can you think of any other advantages offered by a poker game that's more mathematically straightforward?
The two biggest advantages of Omaha over Texas holdem for good players is you'll have less short term variance in Omaha and you don't need as big of a bankroll.
Short term variance is what most players call luck. Good poker players know there's no such thing as luck at the poker table. Every situation has a set number of possibilities and over time each possibility will happen the correct number of times.
When you're dominating an opponent and he only has two outs on the river he'll hit one of those outs 2 out of every 40 times you play the situation in Omaha. He has 2 outs and there are 40 unseen cards. 52 minus the four in your opponents hand minus the four in your hand minus the four community cards. 2 out of 40 can be reduced to 1 out of 20, so 5% of the time your opponent will hit his two-outer on the river.
All you can do is keep putting yourself in the best situation and let the math take care of the cards in the long run.
Omaha has less variance than Texas holdem because you know more card values every step of the hand.
As far as needing less bankroll than a Texas holdem player at the same level, because the short term variance is reduced your bankroll swings won't be as severe if you're a good player.
Omaha offers the opportunity to see more cards than Texas holdem so you have fewer unknown cards to track and figure odds for.
You start with four cards instead of two so you start every hand with twice as much information than when you play Texas holdem.
In Omaha you also have the luxury of ruling out weaker hands as possibilities on the river because weak hands rarely win. Because each player has four cards the odds of an opponent having one of the best two or three possible hands is much greater.
In Texas holdem hands are won with a high pair sometimes and many low flushes are able to win fair sized pots. In Omaha a single pair almost never wins and low flushes are usually beat by a higher flush.
The ability to rule out weaker hands or potential draws helps narrow the possible holdings of your opponents. The more you know the easier it is to guess what your opponent holds and/or is drawing to.
In order to take advantage of the mathematical advantages Omaha has over Texas holdem you need to combine the extra information with solid strategy decisions.
This section includes everything a beginning Omaha player needs to advance from losing to break even to winning on a consistent basis.
Start with the starting hands section because it forms the basis that all the other strategy decisions need to be effective. Once you feel you fully understand the starting hand considerations advance thru the basic, intermediate, and advanced sections.
The most important decision you make in every hand of Omaha is whether or not to enter the pot willingly. Most Omaha poker players start playing Texas holdem so when they transition to the Omaha table they play too many hands. Because they have twice as many starting hands they think they can play more hands than at the Texas holdem table.
Do you know why this isn't the proper strategy?
It doesn't work because the average winning hand is better in Omaha than in Texas holdem. So you need to have a better final hand to win on average, and the way to have a better hand is starting with a better hand than your opponents.
The average winning hand is better because every player starts with four hole cards instead of two.
When you consider the best Omaha starting hands they generally have four cards that work together in some way or all stand on their own.
A hand of works together because all four cards can work to form a high straight, you have two different flush possibilities, and any flop with high cards will give you plenty of draws to improve.
Compare the previous hand to . You still have three high cards but you don't have any flush possibilities and the 6s is almost worthless. It won't combine with anything else in your hand.
Not all hands with only three strong cards should be folded, but a fourth card that doesn't help is something that should make you consider just how strong the other three cards really are.
Hands with two high pair don't necessarily work together but they offer two opportunities to hit a high set and turn into a full house. is an excellent starting hand, and it's fairly easy to get away from after the flop if you don't hit a set or land a big draw.
Why would I mention a hand being easy to get away from after the flop?
Your play after the flop determines a great deal of your profit and loss at the Omaha table. We cover more post flop play in the advanced strategy section below, but the main thing we want you to learn here is every dollar you lose after the flop because of staying in a hand you should fold is one less dollar profit.
It's also one less dollar you have to commit to the pot later when you have a monster hand. So not only do you lose the dollar now, you lose the opportunity to win another dollar later. This creates a compound effect where you lose two or more dollars for every one you lose now chasing a bad draw or losing hand.
One key thing to remember while playing Omaha is every starting hand has to improve in order to win. It doesn't matter if you have the best possible starting hand, the odds of winning the pot without improving is very low. In other words, just because you have a great starting hand, don't fall in love with it. If the flop doesn't improve your hand or give you a draw to a strong hand you should usually look for the fastest way out of the pot.
Here are some examples of strong starting hands. They can't all be played in every situation, but they all can be played in some situations.
Almost any hand that has four high cards is a strong starting hand. Four high cards with a flush possibility is even better. The 9c is fairly weak, but it can be used with the Qd and Jc to make a straight and it will form a flush with the Jc. You need to be careful with flushes that aren't ace high, but you can win hands with them at times. They're much better as back up hands when you have a straight but can still have a chance to win if the flush hits.
Two high pair hands are nice when they hit but won't hit as often as you'd like. The difference between high pairs and low pairs is even when you hit a set if it's not top set you might still lose. The higher your pocket pairs the fewer possibilities of a higher set. You can play medium and smaller pairs but you have to play them more cautiously after the flop when you hit a set.
Hands that have three cards working together with the possibility of a nut flush can be quite profitable. Most of your profit will come from having a well concealed hand when a low straight is possible instead of when you hit a flush. Everyone can see a possible flush and they know they don't have the ace so it's possible you have it. But if a 3, 4, and 5 or 4, 5, and 8 are on the board when you have a hand like this not many players will give you credit for a straight.
Most of the time hands like these won't turn into winning hands so you have to fold them when you don't hit. Even if you hit a pair on the flop you probably need to get out of the hand unless you have a good draw. You have to win a big pot with these hands when you hit to make up for all the times you don't win the hand.
We're sorry to disappoint you if you're looking for lists of hands you can play, but every hand and situation is different. Start with the hands and ones like them that we listed above and add other ones in situations where they can be profitable. But don't do anything until you read the next section. It has a great deal to do with starting hands as well.
Once you understand the difference between good and bad starting hands you're ready for a few basic strategy lessons. The important ones are covered here and they include the following.
- How many starting hands you play.
- How to use your position at the table to your advantage.
- How to manage your bankroll correctly.
We've already touched on this a little, but you need to play fewer hands in Omaha, not more. We suggest only playing 15% of the hands in a full ring game while you're learning how to play. As you improve your abilities you can start playing a few more hands, but we don't recommend going over 25%. Most strong players land somewhere between 20 and 25% when it comes to starting hands played. You can find a few pros that can play more hands, but they're really good after the flop.
When you master post flop play you can play as many hands as you want. But if you're already at that point you don't have anything to learn here. Until then, play fewer hands instead of more.
Your position relative to the dealer is one of the most important things in every hand, but most players ignore it. The later you have to act the more information you have about your opponents. Even if they just check you know something that you wouldn't if you have to act first.
Some hands are strong enough to play anywhere at the table, but some can only be played profitably from late position. If you don't think about your position on every decision you make before the flop you aren't considering it enough.
It's important to have proper bankroll management so you have the opportunity to play in every profitable situation that presents itself. If a game opens up with eight players who play worse than you it should be quite profitable. But if you don't have the money to play it doesn't matter how profitable it can be because you can't play.
As you're learning to play never play with more than 5% or your total bankroll at any one time. This helps you maintain a safe amount of bankroll even in a down swing. As your game improves you can play with 10% at one time if you're comfortable doing so, but we'd never play with more.
There are three points we're going to discuss which fall under intermediate strategy, and these are as follows.
- Pot control
- Free roll play
- Table selection
One of the most important things winning Omaha poker players do is plan the hand so they can control the size of the pot. This is especially important in pot limit games.
As the pot builds in a pot limit game the maximum raise goes up. When you have or draw to the best hand you want to be able to maximize your potential winnings so you want to build the pot early if possible. But when you're drawing to a better hand but aren't necessarily the favorite you may want to keep the pot as small as possible to keep your opponent from making larger raises.
Just one extra wager on each round of betting can make the maximum bet much larger on the river.
Here's a chart showing how much higher the maximum bet can be.
1 bet per round
1 bet per round
2 bets per round
2 bets per round
The chart uses a $20 wager per player. As you can see on flat bets a single extra wager per round doubles the amount of a pot sized bet on the river.
One of the keys is determining when you should be building the pot and when you should be trying to keep the pot as small as possible. It might seem like it's pretty straightforward, but if you want to maximize your profits it's important to know the best times to build a pot.
- If you have a nut flush draw should you build the pot?
- If you have a nut flush draw and an open end straight draw should you build the pot?
- If you have a set should you build the pot?
The answers to all three questions are it depends. It depends on everything else happening in the hand and if you'll win more money in the long run by building the pot or keeping it low.
Take any hand and consider how playing it each way 100 times will turn out. In the short run almost anything can happen, but when you play the exact same situation 100 times you get a pretty good idea of the expected profitability or value every time it comes up.
Here's an example.
You have an open end straight draw after the flop and predict you'll win every time you hit and you'll lose every time you miss. You also won't be calling any bets on the river when you don't hit and predict your opponent will call a pot sized bet on the river 50% of the time when you hit your hand.
Let's use the chart above and assume only you and one opponent are in the hand.
You'll hit your open end straight draw roughly 36% of the time.
36 times out of 100 you'll hit your straight and 18 of those times you'll collect on a bet of either $120 or $240 on the river. The other 18 times you'll win a total pot of $120 or $240.
64 times out of 100 you'll lose a pot of $120 or $240.
The 18 times you collect the pot sized bet on the river the total pot size will be either $360 or $720.
We realize that only half the money in the pot is yours, but for our comparison purposes the amount of the winning hands that you put in and the amount of the losing hands you put in are each half, so the numbers are accurate for telling us the best way to play.
When you keep the pot small by only calling a bet on each round you win $6,480 in 18 pots, win $2,160 in 18 pots, and lose $7,680 in 64 pots. Your total win over the 100 hands is $960. If you divide $960 by 100 hands your average win per hand is $9.60.
This shows that using the parameters we set out this is a profitable way to play the hand.
But what happens if you build the pot with a second wager every round?
You win $12,960 on 18 hands, win $4,320 on 18 hands, and lose $15,360 on 64 hands. This makes a total win of $1,920, or $19.20 per hand.
In this situation you're better off in the long run building the pot.
The problem is making all the correct guesses when it comes to how often you'll win when you hit your hand and how many times and in what amount you'll get paid off when you win.
The number and uncertainty of variables makes it difficult to make these calculations, but the profitable players make the right decisions more often than not. You learn how to do this through experience and calculating these problems while you're not playing.
Start keeping a small notebook and pen with you so you can write down situations like this when they come up. Write them down and run the numbers on them later. The next time the situation comes up you'll have a good chance of remembering the correct decision based on your calculations.
Then start running calculations based on different variables.
What would happen if you only got paid off 25% of the time in our example?
What about of you got paid off 75% of the time?
What if you only won the hand 90% of the time you hit your straight? This could happen if the board pairs and gives an opponent a full house or if you hit the low end of the straight and an opponent has the high end.
See how complicated it gets to figure out whether you should build the pot or keep it small?
You'll rarely be able to predict all of the variables with 100% accuracy. But with experience you can learn to get close enough to make the best play.
In the example we looked at above, it's clear building the pot is the right play if you'll get paid off anywhere close to half the time. Open end straight draws are usually well hidden so often when you hit it your opponent won't realize it. If you go ahead and run the numbers at being paid off 25% of the time you'll have a better idea, but it looks like building the pot will be the correct play in the long run in this example.
The next intermediate Omaha strategy you need to learn about is free roll play. Most poker players are familiar with free roll tournaments where you get a free entry into a tournament and can win a cash prize if you finish high enough.
That isn't the type of freeroll we're talking about here.
When two players have the same best hand after the flop or turn but one has a chance to improve and the other doesn't, it's often easy to build a large pot quickly. Many times the pot will be split, but when the player who has a chance to improve hits her hand she wins a big pot.
Here's an example.
You and an opponent both flop an ace high straight on a flop with two hearts. You have the ace of hearts and another heart, so if a third heart lands on the turn or river you'll win with a flush, so you want to get as much money in the pot as possible. When you don't hit the flush you'll split the pot, but when you hit the flush you'll win a huge pot.
You need to keep an eye out for free roll possibilities and put yourself in position as often as possible to take advantage of them. A single big pot can turn an average or losing session into a winning one.
On the other side of the coin you have to be careful you don't get in a situation where you're being free rolled. If a flush draw is possible when you flop a nut straight be careful building the pot too much. You might be getting free rolled.
The final intermediate strategy you need to learn is table selection. Would you win more money playing with a table of professional poker players or a table filled with first time Omaha players?
You'll always win more in the long run by playing with players who play worse than you do.
Every time you make the correct decision you win more money and every time an opponent makes a mistake it costs them money in the long run.
Find tables and games filled with poor players. Don't let your ego make you pay in games with better players because your ego will cost you money.
Most players are capable of learning good starting hand selection, table selection, position, and bankroll management, but the best players are able to carry over their strong play throughout every hand.
Notice that most things have dealt with pre flop play so far. Though they aren't easy, the decisions you make before the flop are easier than the ones you make on the flop, turn, and river.
As each hand advances you have to constantly be trying to determine your chances of having the best hand, your chances of improving to the best hand, what your opponents hold, and the proper amount to bet or call. None of these decisions are easy, but as you gain experience you can learn to make the right decision more often than not.
To reach the level where you make the right decisions after the flop on a consistent basis requires a great deal of experience, study, determination, and willpower.
You have to be willing to pay attention even when you aren't involved in a hand and determined to do whatever it takes to be the best player at the table. You have to work out every imaginable situation until you know what to do every time. This can take thousands of hours, but the reward can be a great deal of profit at the Omaha tables.
This all leads into the one thing we think sets the advanced players apart from the amateurs.
Advanced Omaha poker players have a plan for every single hand and each part of every hand. They think about how they'll play every possibility before it happens.
Before you even see your starting hand you already need to know as much as possible about the other players at the table and how your position relative to the button will change how you play your hand.
You should already know if you plan to fold, call, or raise based on the strength of your hand before you see your cards. You also need to know what you plan to do if one of the players before you makes a raise.
Most beginning players don't think about anything before it happens. Don't make the mistake of dismissing the advice in this advanced strategy section because it isn't as specific as that found in the basic and intermediate sections.
Start thinking ahead on every hand you play. At first this may be difficult, but your mind will quickly expand as you practice. Keep working until you can quickly run through every possible outcome at each stage of the hand in your mind before it happens.
You'll find that you can eventually do this while carrying on conversations with other players and the dealer and still pay attention to the playing tendencies of your opponents.
Once you reach this point while mastering the basic and intermediate strategies listed above there isn't much more you need to learn.
Omaha is a great option for Texas holdem players if you can find games. Most players make the same mistakes over and over, creating a situation where you can profit from their mistakes.
Don't play too many hands, use the simple mathematics discussed above, and follow through with all the strategies you just learned and you'll be able to reach a profitable level of play much faster than in Texas holdem.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: October 2015
Related Poker Articles