Understanding Winning Play
Author William Jockusch
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Synopsis of Pot-Limit Omaha: Understanding Winning Play
Pot-limit Omaha to the untrained eye looks similar to Texas hold ’em except that you start with four cards instead of the standard two. But this complex form of poker has many differences and it continues to grow in popularity as the poker boom matures.
This book starts with the fundamentals of hand valuation and continues up through advanced concepts. Topics include preflop hand strength, short stack play, wrap hands, blind stealing, marking aces, playing on the flop, which flops are good for bluffing, position and check-raising, pot size manipulation, blockers, and much more including numerous sample hands.
This book is a discussion of winning play, and more importantly, winning thinking on all streets. It should be of value to almost all pot-limit Omaha players from the beginner to the more advanced, and every effort has been made to give you the best information possible, with nothing held back.
Two Plus Two Publishing and William Jockusch are proud to bring you Pot-Limit Omaha: Understanding Winning Play.
Excerpt from the Book Pot-Limit Omaha: Understanding Winning Play
In pot-limit Omaha to play the flop skillfully you need to be able to accurately evaluate how well you have flopped. We discussed this somewhat in the “Introduction” to this book under “Good Flops” starting on page XXX. You are urged to review this material now.
The earlier material mostly related to evaluating nut holdings and draws. Of course, these are the kind of flops you want, and the recommended preflop hand selection is related to this. But it is a fact that we sometimes flop non-nut made hands and non-nut draws and in order to play the flop well, you need to be able to value these situations accurately.
Let’s look at some examples. First, suppose your hand is the 9
If the flop is the KQ2 you have a bare non-nut flush draw. In a deep-money situation, this is garbage. Even against a lone opponent, you should not call a single bet. The reason is that for your hand to be good, you need to catch another diamond, and you need for your opponent not to have a bigger diamond draw. With four cards, it is easy for your opponent to have two diamonds. And since your diamonds are small, it is likely that your opponent, if he has them, will have larger diamonds. Furthermore, if another diamond does come, you will not know how to proceed since you will have no way of knowing if your opponent has a bigger flush. So throw this hand away. (In a heads-up situation, you might bet it as a bluff. But even this is problematic.)
How about a weak made hand? Suppose you get a free play in the big blind in a six-way pot holding the Q843 and the flop comes the Q74, giving you top and bottom pair. In a deep money situation, this is also garbage. You should not dream of betting, or of calling even a single bet. It is very likely that the bettor has something significantly better than you do, such as a set, or even top two pair. The only exception to folding is if it is heads-up. Now you have a middle-strength heads-up hand (which is tricky to play).
Another reasonable holding for your opponent would be a hand such as the A765. With the nut heart draw, open-ended straight draw, and draw to a higher two pair (with the ace), this hand is favored to beat you even though you have the better made hand at the moment. Furthermore, it has significant playing advantages over your hand on the turn and river, as your opponent will know if he has made something good, and you will not.
What if you have a weak made hand, combined with multiple non-nut draws? For instance, assume you have the 8765 and the flop comes the K87. You have bottom two pair, the bottom end of an open-ended straight draw, a non-nut flush draw, and a non-nut backdoor flush draw. (Notice that only three of the fours will make you the nuts.) Does this motley collection of non-nut hands and draws amount to anything?
The answer is that it depends on the situation. If you can get all-in against a single
opponent, this is a good hand. For instance, suppose that you and your opponent see the flop
heads-up with $200 in the pot. Your opponent has $800 left, and you have him covered. Your
opponent, acting first, bets $200. You should be delighted to raise to $800, putting him
all-in if he calls. First, sometimes your opponent will fold to this raise. But if not, it
is very unlikely for him to have a better made hand, a better straight draw, and a better
flush draw. Usually, your opponent will have some of these holdings, but not all of them.
For instance, he would call your raise with any set, but no straight or flush draw. Against
this holding, you will win about 46 percent of the time. He will also call if his holding
consists of good straight and flush draws, but no pair — a hand like the AJT9 which
gives you pot equity of about 70 percent. These are typical calling hands for your opponent.
Overall, if he calls your raise, your average pot equity is somewhat over 50 percent. Therefore,
you are correct to go all-in.
On the other hand, let’s look at what happens when you cannot get all-in. Suppose you are playing a heads-up $200 pot as before, but the effective stack is now $20,000. Your opponent bets $200. Now what? If you raise and he calls, it will be difficult for you to play the turn. Unless one of the three fours that give you the nuts arrives, you will not know where you stand. If you call your opponent’s flop bet, you have the same problem. Your hand is difficult to play. Folding doesn’t feel good either, but it may be the right play. Raising is reasonable as long as you realize that you are basically bluffing. If you get reraised, throw the hand away.
However, in this case the raise is actually a reasonable since you have blockers. That is, your holding makes it more difficult, but not impossible, for your opponent to have a monster hand. We will talk more about blockers in “Part Five: Miscellaneous Concepts” starting on page XXX.
Next, consider the same holding and flop in a multiway pot. That is, let’s assume you have the 8765, the flop is the K87, it is a five-way pot, an opponent bets, two players call, one player folds, it is your turn to act, and you have $800 in front of you. What is your play?
The problem in this spot is that with three opponents, it is likely that most or all of your draws are beaten (except for those three nut fours). That is, there is a good chance that one player has top two pair or a set, making your bottom two pair no good. It is also likely that one of your three opponents has a better club draw. Finally, it is likely that someone has jack-ten or ten-six. This player may be calling because he has a wrap such as QJT9. If a nine comes, you will make a straight, but he will make a higher straight and beat you. For this reason, you have a clear fold.
If there is a bettor and a single caller, your hand should also be folded for essentially
the same reasons. It is less clear-cut, but it is likely that you are beaten too often,
We can summarize by saying that this collection of non-nut made hands and draws is worth playing if both of the following are true:
1. The showdown is likely to be contested heads-up.
2. The money is not too deep. (A bet and a raise are fine. More than that is questionable.)
If either of these conditions fails to hold, this hand should be folded.
What You Must Avoid
When playing non-nut holdings out of position, you must avoid getting caught in a big pot on the turn with a large amount of money left to bet. The problem is that on the turn you will generally have no idea if your hand is good or not, and will be out of position to boot.
Here’s an example that illustrates this principle.
Play is heads-up. The effective stack size is $2,950. Our hero had the Q995 in the $25 small blind. His opponent had the $50 big blind. Notice that our hero did not have a great hand, but it’s definitely better than average, so he raised to $150 — a pot sized raise. This is perhaps a bit on the aggressive side, but not unreasonable. His opponent called. The flop was the 742. Our hero liked this flop as he has an overpair and a nine-high spade draw and decided to go for a check raise. His opponent bet $200. Our hero now raised $700 more to $900 total, and was called. The turn was the K and he check-called his opponent’s all-in bet of roughly $1,900, and lost to the AK56.
Our hero’s big mistake was checking the flop. He should have led out, planning to fold if raised. By leading, he will win a lot of pots right there. If raised, there is a good chance he is up against a higher spade draw and should fold. If called, the pot is still not that large. If he makes spades (which may or may not be good), and it turns out he is losing to a higher flush, he will probably lose one more bet. But he is not doomed to end up all-in. In a game with pot-limit betting, this is an enormous difference.
Let us look at how this hand would likely have played out if our hero had played the flop correctly. Suppose he led on the flop. It would have been quite reasonable to bet $250 into the $300 pot. His opponent (whom we shall henceforth call the villain), holding the AK56, sees a $250 bet. He also sees that his hand includes a nut spade draw and an open-ended nut straight draw. This is a powerful holding. (Neither player knows it, but against our hero’s hand , the villain will win roughly 70 percent of the time.) So with this holding, the villain should usually call, but occasionally raise to mix up his play. If he raises, our hero folds as discussed earlier, and loses a total of $400. This is a far cry from the $2,950 he actually lost.
If the villain calls, let us assume that a spade comes on the turn, just as it did in the actual hand. Our hero will now probably lose an additional bet. In this scenario, the pot on the turn is $800, and a typical bet might be $650 or so, bringing our hero’s total loss on the hand to $1,050. But now our hero has a good chance to get away from the hand on the river, saving his last $1,900.
If the turn card is not a spade, it is again likely that more money is going into the pot. But this is not so bad for our hero since his chances of winning are improved by the fact that the turn card did not hit his opponent’s flush draw.
Some readers may be tempted to lead the flop, and if raised, to go all-in for an additional $2,550. Let us see why this is not correct. Against the actual opposing hand, our hero has roughly 30 percent equity. Now 30 percent of the resulting $5,900 pot is $1,740. But going all-in cost $2,500, so this is worse than folding by $810.
$810 = $2,2550 - $1,740
But we have to ask, if the villain chooses to raise, what else might he have? Here are some likely possibilities:
- A hand containing a seven and a bigger spade draw. A typical example might be the AJT7. Hero’s equity is 35 percent.
- A hand containing an overpair and a bigger spade draw. Other than eights, all of the available overpairs will beat our hero. A typical example might be JJ83. Hero’s equity is 15 percent.
- A hand containing a set. A typical example might be 44**. On average, our hero’s equity is 33 percent against such hands.
- A hand containing two pair. A typical example might be 72**. On average, our hero’s equity is 45 percent against such hands1
Looking at the overall situation, it is clear that our hero’s average equity will be only slightly better than the 30 percent he has in the actual matchup. This is why folding to a raise is the right play.
It is also interesting to note that the play of this hand strongly depended on stack size. If a raise to $1,000 would have been enough to put someone all-in, then our hero’s check-raise would have been absolutely correct. When the turn card arrived, there would have been little or no further betting to hurt him.
1 If you run this on ProPokerTools, you will see 43 percent. We’ve arbitrarily added 2 percent because the wildcards could be cards that give the villain a set, but such hands should not be included in this part of the calculation.