Exploring Omaha High Only

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Omaha is not necessarily a high-low split game; you can play it as a high-only game, too. You'll find Omaha played as a high-only game in some casinos, although it is not nearly as popular as its 8-or-Better cousin.

Omaha High-Only is often played pot-limit in card casinos. Betting can escalate extremely quickly in these games, and the last thing we'd ever advise a beginning player is to play pot-limit or no-limit poker.

Much of the time, Omaha High-Only makes an appearance during a major poker tournament — the kind that takes place over a week or longer — and the game is usually played as pot-limit.

Omaha High-Only is very popular in European card casinos, but in England, Ireland, and much of continental Europe, pot-limit games are the rule rather than the exception.

The mechanics of Omaha High are identical to those of Omaha/8. Each player receives four cards in his starting hand. After a round of betting, three communal cards are flopped. A betting round, a fourth communal card, and another round of betting follows. Then a fifth community card is placed on the board. A final betting round follows and the best five-card hand wins the pot. As in Omaha/8, a player must use precisely two cards from her hand and combine them with three of the community cards to form her best poker hand.

So far, so good. Everything looks the same. But if you play Omaha High-Only, you can expect some major differences in strategy.

V Ditch low hands: Because low hands won't win a thing in this game, why play low cards? A hand like A-2-3-4 is a powerhouse in Omaha/8, because it can easily make the best low hand and capture half the pot. But this low hand is a real dog in Omaha when it's a high-only game.

V Mid-range is okay: In Omaha/8, you rarely play a hand like 9-8-7-6. If you make the best possible straight, you probably have to give up half the pot to a better low hand, and if you make the lower end of a straight, such as 8-9-10-J-Q, you face a very good chance that someone has a bigger straight. But if you're playing for high only, you never have to worry about a lower hand snatching half the pot out from under your nose.

V Wrap it: When played for high, Omaha is often a game of straights and flushes. Because each player is dealt four private cards that can combine to form six distinctly different two-card combinations. Making a straight or a flush is not quite the rarity it is in Texas Hold'em, where each player has only one two-card combination to work with. Wherever there is a possible straight due to the array of communal cards, an Omaha hand is much more likely to have the right two-card combination than a Hold'em hand.

Of course, whenever the board is paired, someone may have a full house or four-of-a-kind. But beyond those possibilities, straights and flushes are the name of the game. No one can possibly make a flush without three community cards of the same suit. That's where wraps come into play. If you have four sequenced cards, or four cards with a small gap, you can make a straight in any number of ways. Here's an example of a hand that requires "wrappped" attention.

In Omaha, you can have as many as 20 opportunities to make a straight. If you began with J-l 0-7-6 and the flop was 9-8-3, you'd make a straight with a queen, jack, 10, 7, 6, or 5. Four of those cards are in your hand, but with two more board cards to be dealt, you can expect to complete a straight more than 70 percent of the time. By comparison, in Texas Hold'em the maximum number of cards you can have that will complete your straight is eight.

Big flushes: If you're going to make a flush, you may as well think big. There's nothing more frustrating than making a flush and losing to a bigger one. For obvious reasons, you'd much rather make a straight with a hand like 9-8-7-6 than a flush.

You may want to introduce Omaha High-Only as well as Omaha/8 into your home games to see which version you prefer. But if you're in a poker club or casino, you won't have the luxury of becoming acquainted with a game before you enter serious play. The best way to learn Omaha High-Only under these circumstances is to find an inexpensive tournament. Even if the tournament event is pot limit, you can afford to play and learn as long as the cost to enter the tourney is within your poker budget.

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