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Poker News | Poker Book Review

A Review of Championship Omaha

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TJ Cloutier and Tom McEvoy are two of the most accomplished players/writers in poker history.  With Cloutier already having been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and McEvoy being a strong candidate for inclusion, you can believe them when they say that their intention in their books is to “let the champions lead you to the winner’s circle.”  Recently, they published an updated edition of Championship Omaha, which was first released in 1999.  It remains an important title in the understanding of how to play not only pot-limit Omaha, but also the limit versions of high-only and high/low Omaha.

The authors begin with an overall look at the general concepts needed for successful Omaha play.  The most important thing they stress is only to play hands where the four cards work well together, avoiding what they call “danglers,” cards that don’t really relate to the other three in the hand, regardless of how good those three cards are.  So, for example, K-Q-J-2 should be thrown away, despite the presence of the running high straight cards, because the presence of the deuce really cripples many of the chances the player has of eventually making a big hand.  This is a point that they return to many times during the book, demonstrating forcefully the dangers of playing those types of hands.  They also address the types of hands that are best to play, relating them as well to the hands your opponents might be holding.  For instance, they recommend playing middle “rundown” hands, such as 9-8-7-6, against players who consistently only raise with big pairs, knowing they can win a big pot with the right flop.

After the initial chapter on general considerations when playing any Omaha variant, the authors then focus on each of the three games (Omaha high/low, pot-limit Omaha high and limit Omaha high) individually in fairly lengthy chapters, taking the reader through how to play at each stage of a hand, beginning with choosing starting hands, and progressing through the flop, turn and river.  The book is dotted with anecdotes from both cash games and tournaments in which the authors have participated, and these help to illustrate some of the concepts they are trying to get across.  These main chapters give a solid overview for a fairly tight approach to playing the games, as you would expect from the playing styles of the authors.  Both Cloutier and McEvoy adhere to pretty strict guidelines for playing these games, and anyone looking for a looser, more aggressive style of play would be better served looking elsewhere for instruction.

My favorite part of the book are the two chapters that go hand-by hand through various starting hands that one might consider playing, first in Omaha High/Low and then in Omaha high-only.  Starting with the very best hands, which the authors consider to be A-A-2-3 double-suited in High/Low and A-A-J-10 double-suited in high-only, they run through a wide variety of hands, showing when to play them and/or throw them away.  When they don’t like a hand, they explain exactly why they would never play it, and when they demonstrate one that they will play, they describe the circumstances in which it would be most profitable to proceed with it, and look at the flops that will best fit the hand, and why.  Even for very experienced players, these two chapters provide a wealth of information that will come in handy any time you are sitting at a table.

Although the book purports to teach you how to win in both cash games and tournaments, there really isn’t that much here about tournament play that goes beyond the basic strategies they are employing in a ring game.  Although they often refer to the fact that you can’t go back into your pocket for more chips once you are eliminated in a tourney, and therefore it is imperative to protect your stack in a tournament, they don’t spend much time discussing strategies for overcoming the escalating blind structure to avoid being blinded off.  This is probably the weakest aspect of the book.

Overall, Championship Omaha is a highly effective introduction to a game that has replaced Texas Hold’em as the game of choice in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe.  While many players come to this game looking for wild swings of action, and love the ups and downs of the draws and re-draws that continually take place in Omaha, Cloutier and McEvoy, while acknowledging that as part of the basic nature of the game, are much more concerned with taking as much risk out of the game as possible.  Unless you are peddling the nuts, or have multiple draws to the best possible hands, their suggestion is to stay out of the hand.  They continually emphasize the difference between a simple open-ended straight draw and a big wrap, and analyze hands where they suggest folding hands where you’ve flopped the nut straight, but have a lot of action at the table suggesting you are up against players with huge draws to full houses and flushes.  Their approach to the game is one designed to get your money in with the best of it as often as possible, and it is a style that has worked extremely well for the authors over the years.

In future editions, it would be useful for the authors to include a chapter on pot-limit high/low, which is becoming an extremely popular game right now, and was recently added to the WSOP rotation.  In addition, a chapter of actual hands from tournaments and ring games and the thinking process that went into them, along with some questions for the readers to consider, would also be a welcome enrichment of the text.  However, for those who are new to Omaha, you can’t really go wrong learning the basics of solid play from these two legendary masters of poker.  The book is clearly written, presents its arguments coherently and powerfully, and gives the reader a no-nonsense approach to how to successfully compete in what can be a very challenging game.  All Omaha players will benefit from reviewing the ideas contained within it, and using them to refine their games.

*Read Clearspine's Blog*

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