Omaha Poker is the second most popular poker variant in the world. While Texas Hold’em still reigns supreme, Omaha has proven to be a respectable alternative. A lot of Hold’em veterans play Omaha as main variant, as it’s a great way to spice things up with the depth of strategy and range of possibilities.
If you’re interested in learning how to play Omaha with a Hold’em background, you’re in luck. This guide will break down the mechanics of Omaha compared to Hold’em, along with a review of the resulting differences in strategy. Let’s get started!
Omaha & Hold’em: Shared Mechanics
Omaha and Texas Hold’em are incredibly similar, sharing almost all mechanics save for two major differences. They’re both community card poker games, where players use a combination of hole cards only they can see with public community cards to make the best hand possible.
The rounds are the same, with four betting rounds leading to the showdown. The first betting round is the pre-flop, when each player receives their hole cards. The second betting round is the flop, when the first three community cards are revealed.
The third and fourth rounds are the turn and river, each bringing another community card. The showdown contains no betting; instead, any players left in the pot reveal their cards, with the best hand winning the pot.
During betting rounds, players have access to the same five actions. When there’s no active bet, you can check or bet. Betting is staking money and adding it to the pot, forcing others to respond to it; checking is betting nothing and passing the action to the next player.
When there is an active bet, players can respond in three ways. They can call, matching the exact amount of the bet and passing the action to the next player. They can fold, leaving the hand and giving up their cards. Finally, they can raise, increasing the bet amount and forcing players to respond to the new bet size.
Hold’em and Omaha both use the same forced bet format to discourage conservative play and ensure there’s always money in the pot. They have “blinds,” the forced bets made before players get their hole cards. Generally there’s the small and the big blind, with the big blind being twice the small one. The blinds rotate around with every hand, ensuring everyone pays them equally.
The Differences: Hole Cards
The first major difference between Omaha and Hold’em is the number of hole cards each player gets. While Hold’em gives you two, Omaha doubles that to four.
This makes it much easier to make a strong hand. But Omaha also has limitations on how you make your hand. You must use exactly two of your four hole cards and three of the five community cards to make a hand, whereas in Hold’em, you can use any combination of your hand and the community cards.
The Differences: Pot Limit versus No Limit
The betting format is the other major difference between Hold’em and Omaha. Hold’em is almost always played with a No Limit betting format, while Omaha usually uses a Pot Limit format. You can find Pot Limit Hold’em games and No Limit Omaha, but they’re scarce online and practically nonexistent offline.
The No Limit betting format means you can bet or raise as much as you want, as long as you have the chips for it. This makes the format much more conducive to aggression and big bets, as players can overbet the pot in an attempt to bluff.
The Pot Limit betting format means that at all times, your bets are limited to the size of the pot. For normal bets, it’s simple – you can’t bet more than the current pot size. For raises, there’s a bit of calculation you need to do. The maximum a raise can be is the total amount in the pot plus what you would have to put in to call.
Here’s an example: Player A puts in the Small Blind of $5, Player B puts the $10 Big Blind and Player C raises to $20. If Player D were to raise again, their maximum size would be: $5 + $10 + $20 + $20 = $55.
Relative Hand Value and Draw Focus
With four-hole cards, making strong hands is much easier. In Texas Hold’em, you can find some hand matchups like AA vs. 34s, where AA comes out on top a whopping 80% of the time. In Omaha, the worst matchup is barely a 60/40 split. With so much draw potential available to players, relative hand value greatly changes. For example, even if you flop a flush, there’s a decent chance someone has a better one.
This makes Omaha’s strategy particularly complicated post-flop. There are no simple hand matchups like Hold’em, where one hand dominates the other. You have to consider how each new community card can completely change the hand, which is a lot rarer in Hold’em.
Strategic Differences: Lower Aggression
This strategic difference comes from Omaha’s Pot Limit betting format. Due to the structure of Pot Limit, you can’t overbet the pot so big that your opponent is forced to fold, so it’s a lot harder to bluff. Instead of the pre-flop aggression that Hold’em is known for, Omaha emphasizes careful post-flop play.
Since the betting limit is capped at the pot size, it’s unlikely that the pot will spiral out of control pre-flop. Almost everyone can afford to see the flop, but it’s the later rounds, like the turn and river, where players start making huge bets.
Because of the four hole cards and potential draws, Omaha requires tighter play. If you don’t have the absolute nuts (the best possible hand), you aren’t guaranteed the pot thanks to the lower relative edges hands have over each other.
In Hold’em, if you flop a flush, you won’t stop value betting because they might have a stronger hand. However, that’s a genuine possibility in Omaha, so you have to tighten up or you’ll lose a lot of pots that you thought you’d win.
Finally, the last major difference is the barrier to entry. Make no mistake, while Omaha is the world’s second-most popular form of poker, Hold’em is more popular by a mile. This means that the barrier to entry is higher for two main reasons.
The first is that Omaha has more regular players. Not many casuals try it out as their first poker variant, so expect to have tougher competition when starting out. The second is that there are less poker strategy resources for Omaha. You can find tons of Hold’em guides online, but Omaha guides, especially advanced ones, are a lot rarer.