Omaha Starting Hands

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I’ve been playing quite a bit of Pot Limit Omaha (high only) lately and have developed my own system for evaluating the strength of starting hands. It’s completely mathematical: Every starting hand evaluates out to a value from zero to 24. The value provides a guide to the best way to play each and every hand preflop in PLO.

Step One

Break down your four starting cards into the six Hold’em two-card hands. To do this, match the highest ranking card with each of the three other cards; match the second highest ranking card with the two lower ranking cards; and match the two lowest ranking cards. For instance, AsKcQc3s breaks down to:

AsKc
AsQc
As3s
KcQc
Kc3s
Qc3s

You will now evaluate each of these two-card starting hands and add number values accordingly to what I call the Starting-Hand Strength Value (SHSV).

Step Two

Add the following numbers to your SHSV if any of the two-card hands meet any one or more of these criteria (use the higher value if it fits more than one):

Ace with Ten or better: +2
A pair: +2
Double paint: +2
Connector that includes a Ten or better: +2
Suited connector: +2
Suited one-gapper: +2, or +1 if you also hold a blocker to the straight flush.
Suited gapper that includes paint: +2, or +1 if you also hold a blocker to the straight flush.
Suited Ace: +2

From the example above:

AsKc: +2 (Ace with King)
AsQc: +2 (Ace with Queen)
As3s: +2 (Suited Ace)
KcQc: +2 (Double paint; also a suited connector, but we don’t add twice for a single two-card hand)
Kc3s: 0
Qc3s: 0
Total SHSV so far: 8

Step Three

Add the following numbers to your SHSV each time one of the two-card hands meet any one of these criteria:

Top 10% hand: +1
AA or KK: +1
Suited connector: +1
Unsuited broadway connector: +1
Pair lower than eights: -1

From the example:

AsKc: +2 (Top 10% hand and Unsuited broadway connector – count both)
AsQc: 0
As3s: 0
KcQc: +2 (Top 10% hand and Suited connector)
Kc3s: 0
Qc3s: 0
Total: +4
Total SHSV so far: 12

In case you need it, here is a list of all the top 10% hands (best to worst):
AA
KK
QQ
AKs
JJ
AQs
KQs
AJs
KJs
TT
AKo
ATs
QJs
KTs
QTs
JTs
99

Step Four

Add the following numbers to your SHSV each time the entire four-card hand meets any one of these criteria:

Double suited: +1
Two or more broadway cards (except 2 pairs): +1
One pair and all four cards within a 4-card straight range: +1
No pair and all four cards within a 5-card straight range: +1
Three cards of one suit: -1
All four cards under 10: -1
Three or more wheel cards (not counting pairs): -1
Rainbow: -1
Four cards of one suit: -2
Three of a kind: -4
Three of a kind Ten or higher with an Ace: -6
Four of a kind under Ten: -9
Four of a kind Ten and up: -14

From the example:

Double suited: +1
Two or more broadway cards (not counting pairs): +1
Total SHSV for the example hand: 14

The four steps give you the total SHSV for each starting hand. Most hands fall under 10. 0 to 4 hands are complete junk; 5 to 9 are only good for cheap flops; 10 to 14 are playable in most situations; 15 to 19 are strong hands; and 20 to 24 are the cream of the crop. It takes a little practice to get the hang of applying the math during play, but it will eventually come naturally. Here are some more sample hands with their SHSV. Try doing the math to match the values as practice. Practice with a real deck of cards, too.

AAKK double suited: 24
AKKQ double suited: 23
KKQQ double suited: 22
AKQJ double suited: 20
KKTT double suited: 18
AQTT double suited: 15
A3KQ double suited: 14
KKQ9 suited Q9: 13
QJT9 double suited: 13
KKQ9 suited KQ: 13
AQK3 double suited: 12
AQ99 double suited: 11
T998 double suited: 11
QJT9 suited QJ: 11
QJT8 suited QT: 10
QJT8 suited QJ: 9
9887 double suited: 9
A234 double suited: 7
A445 double suited: 6
A445 rainbow: 0

Guide to Preflop Action

Using the SHSV for each starting hand, here is a general guide on the best way to play them preflop:

0-4: Fold, or limp to mine for a set, straight wrap or the nut flush.
5-9: Limp or call a raise when in late position, fold to a reraise.
10-14: Raise or call a raise, call a reraise.
15-19: Raise or reraise, call a reraise.
20-24: Raise or reraise, raise a reraise.

You should adjust these actions in accordance with your position relative to the button and the playing style of the other players. For instance, against loose aggressive players, you can call more often with weaker hands; against very tight players, expect them to show a 22, 23 or 24 hand if they reraise your raise; etc. You should of course also bring into play other general poker principals, like isolating with pocket aces, changing up your play, reading tells, pot odds, battle of the blinds and so forth.

Keep in mind that the SHSV does not apply at all after the flop. Most of the time you should assume that there is a player with or drawing to the nuts. Remember that in PLO at showdown most hands are won by a straight or better, and you want to at least be holding a nut straight or nut flush.

Using this guide, I have boosted my win rate. I thought I already had a good handle on how to play my hands before developing this method, but putting it into practice showed up a lot of misplay in my preflop hand selection and play. There are a lot of pretty hands when you are holding four cards that are actually of low value. Try following the guide for a while and see how it works out for you. I hope you have as much success with it as I. Let me know.

Note: The math might still need some tweaking. I’d be happy to have your comments and feedback.


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