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The Nuts?

Pot-limit Omaha can be a tricky game to learn. There are enough similarities to no-limit hold'em that I'm prone to confusion from time to time. I'll sometimes find myself playing questionable hands simply because they look like good hold'em hands. For example, a hand like A♥ K♦ 7♣ 6♣ seems like a reasonable hand. You've got an AK and a suited connector: two pretty good hands in hold'em. Unfortunately, this hand is near-trash in PLO (for beginning players anyhow).

Another point that gets me in trouble occurs when I try to figure out whether or not I'm holding the nuts. And if I happen know that I'm not currently ahead in the hand, I have a real bitch of a time counting my outs. I'm sure I've got a noticeable tell whenever I flop any sort of straight draw. It can take me upwards of 10-15 seconds to figure out how many nut outs I have before deciding on a course of action.

And then there are hands like the one I played on Friday night. In my defense, I was already three beers in and just trying to have fun. See if you can spot my mistake in the hand below:


Full Tilt Poker $0.10/$0.25 Pot Limit Omaha Hi - 4 players
The Official DeucesCracked.com Hand History Converter

BB: $28.55
Hero (CO): $44.90
BTN: $24.85
SB: $10.60

Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is CO with AA of diamonds 77 of hearts QQ of clubs TT of clubs
Hero calls $0.25, BTN raises to $0.50, 2 folds, Hero calls $0.25

(Table is extremely passive and I'm tipsy so I make the call. I'd prefer that my Ace be suited but we're short-handed and I have 3 cards to the broadway straight.)

Flop: ($1.35) 22 of clubs KK of hearts JJ of diamonds (2 players)
Hero checks, BTN bets $1.35, Hero raises to $5.40, BTN calls $4.05

(I see the flop and proudly tell a friend that I've just flopped the nuts. He turns to look at my screen just as I check-raise the Villain. For the record, Villain is a pretty tight player.)

Turn: ($12.15) 66 of spades (2 players)
Hero bets $12.15

(As a blank turn card hits, my friend starts to tell me something but I'm not listening. I'm too busy betting my nut straight against a hopelessly overmatched opponent. Unfortunately, Villain folds leaving me a small but welcome profit.)

Did you happen to catch my mistake? Yep - that's right: I was stupidly thinking that I could use the A-Q-T from my hand to make the nut straight with the board's K-J. Pretty brutal. I'm just lucky that the Villain was good enough to put me on a hand that he couldn't beat and fold to my K-high. I wonder how badly the Villain would have tilted had he called only to have me hit an A, Q, or T on the river.

Of course, poor play always gets rewarded. Five minutes later, I got rewarded for my sloppy, drunken play at another table:

Full Tilt Poker $0.10/$0.25 Pot Limit Omaha Hi - 6 players
The Official DeucesCracked.com Hand History Converter

UTG: $30.95
Hero (MP): $26.65
CO: $50.15
BTN: $17.25
SB: $10.00
BB: $33.95

Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is MP with QQ of clubs QQ of diamonds JJ of hearts 33 of clubs
1 fold, Hero calls $0.25, CO calls $0.25, 2 folds, BB checks

(At the higher stakes, I'm sure this is a raising hand. At $25 PLO, I don't mind just calling with a weak big pair hand and hoping to hit the flop hard.)

Flop: ($0.85) AA of hearts QQ of spades QQ of hearts (3 players)
BB checks, Hero checks, CO checks

(I turned to my friend and asked him to verify that I did indeed have the nuts this time round. I was worried that I'd mistaken some random cards on the flop for two Queens giving me quads. With my nut hand well and truly verified, I decided to slowplay. Given that there were no raises pre-flop, it was doubtful that I was up against anyone holding Aces full. With my opponents drawing dead, I had to give them a chance to catch up.)

Turn: ($0.85) 22 of spades (3 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $0.85, CO raises to $2.25, BB folds, Hero raises to $4.90, CO calls $2.65

(That's enough slowplaying for me: time to build the pot or move on to the next hand. When the CO raises, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a little action. CO was a loose and very passive player. For him to raise in this spot, I put him on either KKxx, 22xx, or a flush draw with the A♠. I decided to make a small 3-bet  hoping to induce a shove from the CO.  No luck...)

River: ($10.65) 88 of clubs (2 players)
Hero bets $7, CO raises to $17.50, Hero raises to $21.50 all in, CO calls $4

(The spade flush doesn't come in on the river. If I check, Villain may well check behind with a hand like KKxx in this spot. So I decide to put out a 2/3 pot bet and hope to get called. When CO instantly raises me, I can only assume that he's holding the underfull or that he's grossly overplaying a pocket pair. I shove and Villain insta-calls.)

Final Pot: $53.65
Hero shows QQ of clubs QQ of diamonds JJ of hearts 33 of clubs (four of a kind, Queens)
CO mucks AA of diamonds AA of spades 99 of clubs 77 of diamonds
Hero wins $51.00
(Rake: $2.65)

It's always funny to realize that both you and your opponent were slowplaying each other.  I can only imagine how badly I might have tilted had the case Ace hit on the turn or river. I'd have had to give up on PLO entirely, I think.

From the imagined nuts to the real deal, pot-limit Omaha is providing me with hours of entertainment. Over the past nine days, I've played 2,029 hands and have done pretty well. I'm actually running about 8 BB/100 higher than my equity-adjusted win rate. I'm still happy with this assessment because:
  1. Running better than expected means that I'm making more money regardless of my actual skill level.
  2. My expected win rate is still higher than my overall goal of 8 BB/100.
  3. My overall "Won Without Showdown" statistic shows a positive BB/100 win rate.
Even though I am running well according to the score sheet does not mean that I'm happy with my game. I've identified five major issues in my pot-limit Omaha game that I'd like to address or improve upon before I hit the $50 PLO games:
  1. I keep making one very costly mistake by continuing to draw to non-nut flushes. Whether I'm drawing to the K-high flush or drawing to the nut flush on a paired board, I find myself losing pot after pot in this fashion.
  2. I constantly overvalue two-pair. I think my opponents' losing ways are rubbing off on me. It's very hard to toss top two-pair on the river when you've seen many pots won with this mediocre PLO holding.
  3. I consistently underestimate my opponents' passivity in hands. I can't believe the number of times that my opponents have hit straights, flushes, or boats on the river and then checked to me. Why call pot-sized bets on the flop and turn if you're not going to bet your hand on the river when you get there? I usually make a river value-bet only to be called (and not raised) and shown the second or third nuts.
  4. I'm not aggressive enough pre-flop and I probably give up too easily post-flop. In my defense, much of my hesitation to bloat pots or peel cards is due to my complete inability to put my opponents on hands. It's far too easy to bloat the pot pre-flop and find myself out of position in a four- or five-way pot. As for my post-flop play, how am I supposed to judge the strength of my hand when my opponents are either too weak or too good to telegraph anything about their hands' strength? When opponents refuse to bet flopped boats but will go to war with bottom two-pair, how the shit am I supposed to know where I stand?
  5. I don' t give my opponents' shows of strength enough credit.  When I get check-raised or raised on the river, I've got to realize that I'm in a bad shape against most micro-limit PLO players.
In any case, I'm enjoying the challenge of learning a new game. And I think that the current state of online pot-limit Omaha games really enhances the learning experience by rewarding my good play with exaggerated positive results. I'm not sure how I'll fair at the $50 PLO games but I'll worry about that when the time comes. For now, I've got 3,000 more hands to play the $25 buy-in games and loads of work to do on my game before I look to increase my table stakes.

Have a good one!

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