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Poker News | Poker Book Review

A Review of Omaha High-Low for Low-Limit Players

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For years, Omaha has been the game of choice in card rooms across Europe.  In the United States, it has evolved into the second most-popular poker game, behind hold’em.  The high-low variation of Omaha, in addition to being spread by itself, is also a component of HORSE, the five-game rotation that is played for the highest buy-in of any tournament at the World Series of Poker, the $50,000 Event.  There have been a number of books on this game that have come out in recent years, most of them based strictly on the experience of the author.  In Omaha High-Low for Low Limit Players, Bill Boston has taken a different tack.  In addition to his years playing the game, both live and online, Boston based his book on extensive simulations of every possible hand that a player could be dealt in this game, which involves an analysis of 5,728 separate hands.

Having already written a book on this game for higher limits, which tend to be tight, aggressive games, Boston looked at lower-limit tables with an eye to them being quite a bit looser, and started his analysis from that point.  Working with the Wilson Omaha high-low software, he created a player who sees every flop regardless of what he is dealt, but plays a solid game from that point until the end of the hand.  He then populated his theoretical table with two tight, four average, and three loose players from Wilson’s player roster, simulating a typical low-limit game found either live or online.  Once the table was set, Boston ran at least 100,000 outcome simulations on each of the 5,278 possible Omaha high-low hands.  He then ranked each hand from best to worst, with the expected win or loss rate, the percentages for how often the hand won high, low or scooped, and the total percentage of times the hand at least shared the pot.  The charts detailing this analysis make up the bulk of the book, and are, in themselves, an invaluable reference tool, especially playing online, where you can have them on hand while you become more familiar with the intricacies of the game.

The rest of the book is dedicated to using the data to instruct a low-limit player how best to play Omaha high-low profitably.  Boston himself is clearly a tight player who recommends rarely raising pre-flop regardless of how good your starting hand is.  His advice is based on just how many combinations of winning hands can be created once the flop appears, and how radically even that information can change on the turn and the river.  For example, the hand that ranks #1 on the list of best hands, A-A-2-3 double-suited, still wins or shares the pot only 45% of the time.  Boston’s suggestion is simply to call pre-flop, since a raise will usually not chase people out of a loose game anyway, and save raises for later in the hand, once the bets have doubled.  He also demonstrates through a further simulation how, with a top hand, there is actually more profit to be made on average by keeping additional players in the hand for a longer period of time.

Although the importance of holding at least one ace in Omaha high-low has been a key point made in every book I’ve read about the subject, the true impact of this statement is made very clear when Boston demonstrates that only 12 of the top 500 starting hands do not contain an ace.  Interestingly, those 12 hands contain only one low-oriented hand, the 2-3-4-5 double suited.  The others are mostly two high pairs (usually with kings being one of the pairs) double suited, which are also fairly simple hands to play post-flop.  Boston spends quite a bit of time looking at a variety of different hands that contain an ace (or two), analyzing which hands are best to play, which are marginal and which should just be thrown away.  

One of the more valuable and simple concepts in the book is Boston’s discussion of what he calls “problem cards,” those ranks that tend to devalue a hand.  These include all cards from 3-9.  There are only five hands that contain four of these cards that have any positive value at all (based on at least 100,000 simulations), and even that positive value is minimal.  In addition, even a hand that begins with two cards as strong as A-2 become greatly weakened when combined with cards in the 6-9 range.  While it is fairly obvious that 3s, 4s, and 5s are much better backup for the A-2, I found it enlightening that face cards which helped the hand on the high side actually create a more positive outcome for the hand than additional weak, low cards.

While most of the actual text focuses on starting hands.  Did you know that of the 5,278 possible hands, there are only 1,071 that have a positive expectation, and of those, only 463 have an expectation of at least $4 at a $4/$8 table? Boston does spend some time on post-flop play.  Most of his advice centers on knowing when to get out of a hand that has suddenly gone south.  It is important to understand, he says, that the flop creates six possible five-card hands for each player (each of the six two-card combinations in the player’s hand combined with the three on the board), but that number increases to 24 on the turn and a whopping 60 on the river!  It is this increase in the number of possible hands available that makes the game so volatile.  This is why it is so essential to either have the nuts or be drawing to it in Omaha, because more often than not, someone will have the best possible hand.  In Boston’s evaluation of the game, he stresses saving bets when it seems clear that your straight has been beaten by a flush, your flush has been beaten by a full house and/or your nut low has been counterfeited.  

Omaha High-Low for Low-Limit Players is an important book for players at these stakes to read and own, if only for the extensive statistical charts.  While I would have preferred that Boston go into much greater detail about play after the flop (only 14 pages are devoted to turn and river play combined), much of the play of the hand becomes a lot clearer once you have decided to play hands that have a much better chance of making the nuts to begin with.  Before writing this review, I decided to use the book as a guide in playing two lengthy online sessions.  I played only hands with positive expectations, and followed Boston’s advice to release hands quickly when the situation suggested I was beaten.  The results?  Both sessions yielded small, but solid profits.  I expect that I will do some more extensive testing of his ideas in the weeks and months to come.

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