How to Play (and Beat) Omaha Hi-Lo Poker
Omaha Hi-Lo, also known as O8 or Omaha 8/b, is a split pot variation of the popular Omaha poker variant. You get 4 hole-cards, and the pot is split between the highest poker hand and a ‘low’ containing 5 unique cards 8 or lower at showdown. This is not a new poker game – it has been a fixture at the World Series of Poker for many years.
This page gives you complete guide to getting started with Omaha Hi-Lo. You’ll find the rules, strategy tips and how to play O8 in different poker formats below. Here are how things are laid out:
You’ll see that the betting rounds work in the same way as Texas Hold’em. This makes starting out at Omaha Hi-Lo much easier than other poker variants. Here is a quick run-through of a hand from start to finish.
Before any cards are dealt, two players place blinds. The big blind is equal to a small bet, with the small blind half of that amount. In a $1 / $2 Omaha Hi-Lo game, the blinds are 50c and $1 (not $1 and $2 as they would be in Texas Hold’em). Blinds are posted by the two players to the left of the dealer button, which moves around the table clockwise after each hand.
Next, all players are dealt 4 cards face-down. As you will see from the showdown info below, you’ll use 2 cards from your hand, and 3 from the board to make both the high and low hands at the end.
Betting action starts with the player to the left of the big blind. This is known as the ‘Under the Gun’ position. This player can call (match the big blind), raise 1 additional small bet, or elect to fold. Action then moves around the table. To stay in the hand, each player must match the current raise (or call if there has not been one). If the pot is not raised by the time the big blind gets to act, this player can check or raise. There are a maximum of 4 raises on any betting round.
3 of the five community cards are then dealt face-up in the middle of the table. This is an important moment in a hand, as the number (and rank) or low cards will give up an idea of whether the pot will be split at showdown – or go to the highest hand only.
Betting then starts again. This time the player to the left of the dealer button starts the action. Betting is again in fixed units, and 4 raises are possible. If there has not been a bet, players can ‘check’, passing the option to check or bet to the next player.
Once betting is completed, an additional community card (the turn) is then dealt. Betting starts again, with the unit doubled. Again, players can elect to check, and there are a maximum of 4 raises possible.
River betting follows the same pattern. Some live casinos allow uncapped bets if a pot is heads-up after the river – though online sites, like Ignition Poker, will restrict you to a maximum of 4 raises. If there have been bets and raises on all rounds, the pot can get large by this point in the hand.
At showdown the first question is whether there is a qualifying low hand? This is any 5 cards 8 or lower which uses 2 cards from a players’ hand, and three from the community cards. If there are not 3 low cards on the board, then the entire pot goes to the player with the highest ranked poker hand.
If there is more than one low, then the winner has the lowest ranked cards. The nuts is A-2-3-4-5. This is known as a ‘wheel’. For example, A-2-3-4-8 would lose to 2-4-5-6-7 in Omaha Hi-Lo, as the 7 had the lower ranked top card.
The two parts of the pot are assessed separately. Both use the 2 from your hand / 3 from the board rule. You can make a high hand using your ace, as well as the low for example.
Having explained the basic rules, below you will find some strategy considerations for pre-flop, and later betting rounds.
Many players who are new to Omaha Hi-Lo make the mistake of playing too many hands. A typical player might play all the high starting hands from PLO – and add in many low-card hands on top. This is a terrible strategy and different from the starting hands in Texas Hold’Em. The very best starting hands in O8 have the potential to win both sides of the pot. Advice for players starting out is to play only hands containing aces until you get a good understanding of the strategy.
Premium Hands: If you have a pair of aces, with low side-cards like A-A-2-3 you have a very strong Omaha Hi-Lo starting hand. If there are two suits (and so the ability to make two different flushes at showdown), this is as good a starting hand as you will find. Aces with one lower card and one higher one can also win big pots. Suits make a big difference, you don’t want to be drawing to a non-nut hand.
Low Card Hands: A-2-3-4 is also a strong starting hand (again, suited cards with the ace matter). These have the potential to make lows which can stand a bad turn or river which counterfeits your existing low. 2-3-4-5 can be played for a raise, though with many opponents playing hands with aces, it is more difficult to win both sides of the pot.
High Only Hands: Premiums from Omaha Hi include A-A-K-K and A-A-J-10 – as well as ‘rundown’ hands like 9-10-J-Q. If there are no low cards on the flop, you can play these hands strongly. They are useful in spots where two opponents have the nut low, and you can get half of the pot while they get a quarter each.
You will not always be lucky enough to get premiums. Hands in all forms of Omaha work best when they work together. Suited cards can make flushes, and connected cards can make straights. Avoid hands with middle-ranked cards. 4-6-8-10 (for example) is completely unplayable.
Being last to act as the betting rounds progress is important in all poker formats. The reason is that you get more information on how much your opponents like their hand before you act. If you are going to play speculative hands, do it from the dealer button position. This means you will be last to act on the flop, turn and river betting rounds.
If you are checked to in position, you will have the opportunity to steal pots that you would not have when first to act. If you see a raise and reraise ahead of you, then you can make folds with hands that you might have bet with when first to act. Depending on your opponents, you will have a chance to match the betting to their tendencies from position – and can win more than your fair share of the pots.
Omaha, in all formats, is a drawing game. The connected nature of starting hands, and 4 hole-cards means that the flop can give a lot of players some potential to make monsters. For this reason, a good rule of thumb for beginning players in O8 is that you should only pay to draw to a nut or near nut hand. Things can get expensive by the river if you pay off bets all the way, only to find out that you were drawing to the 2nd or 3rd best hand all along.
On the flop, you are looking for 2-way potential – that is the ability to win both the high and low side of the pot. Flops with no low cards or only one will often end up going to the high hand only. When 3 low cards hit, and A-2 is not among them, then that hand will be the nut low at that point. As you will see in the strategy tips below, an ace or deuce landing on the turn or river can cause your hand to be counterfeited. With tight opponents, there is always a risk that someone else holds A-2-X-X. In this case you could be paying to draw to a quarter of the pot.
When the turn hits, the betting unit doubles. This is an important point in the hand. Continuing with most holdings here will mean the pot will be big. In this case it is easy to get ‘priced in’ to calling yet more bets on the river.
In the section above I mentioned being counterfeited and winning only a quarter of the pot. These are real risks in Omaha Hi-Lo – and you should play hands with both of these firmly in mind.
Counterfeiting occurs when you have a low, and a card matching one of your low card hits the turn or river. For example, you hold A-3-J-J with two suits, a decent, though not premium starting hand. The flop comes 2-5-9, giving you a draw to the nut low, plus an over-pair (that probably needs to improve to win the high hand).
There are bets and raises, then a 7 hits the turn giving you the nut low hand. Here the risk is that an ace or a 3 hits the river. This would give someone with different low cards (4, 5) the nuts, killing your low in the process. This shows why you should choose hands with additional low cards when possible (or better high possibilities). If the roles were reversed, you could be the one winning the low pot when those cards strike.
Quartering occurs when two players end up with identical low hands. This is most common when players with A-2 go to war. If one of them gets a flush at the same time as the nut low, they win the high part of the pot, as well as half of the low. The other player only gets a quarter.
You will sometimes find yourself in a spot where two other players are raising each other, and you are in the middle with a strong low hand. This can be dangerous. With one player holding a high hand and the other with an identical low to yours, the risk of being quartered is real. If you have more low cards that can win the pot if the current low gets counterfeited, then at least you have some insurance in those spots.
As well as these unique strategy ideas, fundamental poker concepts apply. If you find a loose and wild player in your game – then raising to isolate them is a great move. This can give you a shot at their stack when their chances might be slim to none.
While the hands play out in the same way in a tournament and cash game – there are some extra considerations for tournament play.
The first thing to note is that antes are not used in Omaha tournaments. This means there are smaller pots pre-flop, and less pressure to gamble on players. Generally speaking, the standard of play will be better in cash games – with more non-nut potential hands getting involved. This rewards a solid strategy, though not too solid – if you don’t take the chips early from the fish then you’ll need to fight for them against more experienced players later on.
As the bet sizes get bigger, you’ll need to make a stand. This means that getting quartered during the later stages can put a big dent in your stack. As with all poker games in tournament formats, you’ll need a little luck – as well as skilled play – to make the final table.
Omaha 8/b is also found in mixed game tournaments. This features in HORSE, which is used for the World Series of Poker ‘Poker Players Championship’ each year. It can also be found in mixed game cash formats online.
O8 has been a popular niche within poker for many years. The game-play is simple, with 2 cards from your own hand and 3 cards from the board making your poker hand at showdown. If there is one thing for beginners to take away from this guide, it is to play hands with 2-way potential. If you manage to ‘scoop’ both the high and low hands, you can be raking in some big pots.