Monday, July 23, 2007

Plotting a PLO Strategy

Pot limit Omaha -- the 'Action Game'Been kind of a quiet summer for me as far as my own poker playing goes. During the 47 days of the WSOP I played much less than usual. Looking back through the records, there were nine days I didn’t play a single hand, and many other days when I played a half-hour or less. On the days I did play, usually it was just for one brief session of PLO25, often just 25-30 hands or so. Ended up ahead overall for that period (about 100 clams, overall), though my sporadic schedule means I have little feel for how well I’m playing and/or running at the moment.

There have been times when I feel very smart about pot limit Omaha, and other times when I feel completely at sea. Like most players of average skill, I’m probably a bit too “results oriented.” Nevertheless, I am aware enough to know that some of my best sessions profit-wise haven’t been my best in terms of play (and vice-versa). Such is the case in any game, but I think the disconnect between “level of play” and “results” will appear exaggerated (sometimes) in PLO since the outcome of a session can be affected so dramatically by a single pot.

Partly from big swing fatigue, partly from simple ennui, I’m thinking of moving back over to the limit tables. For a while, anyway. I’m also very interested in learning more about split games -- specifically Stud 8/b -- for which purpose I’ve been reading (very slowly) Ray Zee’s High-Low-Split Poker.

Since I have been fairly immersed in PLO for a while now (nearly 22,000 hands since mid-March), I thought I’d take a moment and record a few thoughts about the game here before moving on. These are basically ideas I wrote down somewhere along the way as reminders to myself -- not that I always was successful at following my own guidelines. Kind of helped, though, just to keep certain basics fresh as I went.

None of these ideas is terribly original, by the way. For better advice, go read Bob Ciaffone’s Omaha Poker (about half of which concentrates on PLO), Lyle Berman’s chapter on PLO in Super System 2 (which advocates a pretty tight approach, mainly for beginners), or even just go spend some time perusing the Omaha High forum on 2+2. (I’ve yet to look at Rolf Slotboom’s book yet, though I mostly hear good things.)

A couple of reasons why I’ve decided to set these ideas down here. For one, I have been winning at a modest enough clip -- I’m presently sitting a little over 15 big blinds/100 hands. (For me, the big blind has usually been a quarter.) Not phenomenal, but not too bad. So perhaps something here might be worth a tiny bit to the person thinking about wading into some low limit PLO games. The main reason, though, is to solicit feedback. If anything here sounds out-of-bounds, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment correcting my misjudgment. (By the same token, if any of these ideas ring true to you, let me know that as well.)


1. Try not to call preflop raises out of position, especially with marginal hands. Sometimes you’ll be sitting there in the big blind and someone in early position will raise and get five callers. You’ll be looking at some sweet odds -- like 6-to-1 or even better -- to make the call, but you’re holding Qd7c4s2h or some such crapola. Only a miracle flop puts you in the lead, and even then you’ll be out of position (and at risk to be outdrawn). Let it go.

2. Don’t overvalue pairs that aren’t also working well with your other two cards. I almost simply typed “don’t overvalue pairs” -- which might be even better advice here. Even two aces turn to mush following a lot of flops. And flopping a set with your JJ is still usually a pretty vulnerable situation. (Just ask Phil Laak.) Stay out of harm’s way unless that JJxx hand is also double-suited and/or you’ve got a K and a Q sitting beside ’em (or something else that makes your hand coordinated).

3. Try not to play hands with “danglers.” The difference between, say, QhJdTd9h and QhJdTd2c is considerable. Think twice before playing hands with danglers from out of position and/or calling preflop raises with these hands.

4. Suited cards without an ace are just about equivalent to non-suited cards. In such cases, suitedness should really be a secondary (or tertiary) consideration. You really don’t want to be hoping to hit a queen-high flush in order to win a hand. Rather, you hope you hit something else good (trips, a straight, etc.), and that queen-high flush redraw might subsequently turn the tide in your favor if you’re heads-up at showdown.

5. Position is more important than just about anything else in PLO. True after the flop as well, of course. Goofball raises under-the-gun just won’t cut it here. You’ll get five callers, and even if a good flop comes you’ll be mighty vulnerable. Tighten up in EP (including the blinds).


6. Don’t unthinkingly call draws and/or bet made hands. I like to open bet big draws (e.g., when the flop gives me more than 12 outs), as that often ensures action later if I hit. I also don’t like to call draws that might not get paid off if I do hit. Let’s say the board comes 9d8d5h and I’m deciding whether to call a pot-sized bet with my AdKd7c7s. It’s 2-to-1 to call, so pot odds should make chasing the flush seem a bad idea. And I’ve no implied odds, really. If the flush hits, my eager flop-betting opponent (who more than likely has a straight here) probably won’t be paying me off. All circumstances (and opponents) are unique, of course, so you have to look at the situation. Still, I generally don’t like this call.

Additionally, let’s say we have the same flop -- 9d8d5h -- and I have something like AcKc7s6s in my hand. There are a couple of reasons I might not be too eager to bet this flop hard, even though I hold the current nuts. I have no redraws -- not even of the backdoor variety -- to improve my hand. There are a ton of turn cards that are going to make me uncomfortable here: any diamond, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, or 5. That’s something like 23 cards, over half of the unseen cards for me. I’m probably just going to sit tight here and if a friendly 3c rolls off on the turn, then I’ll push. Side benefit: by waiting to the turn, it isn’t necessarily obvious to some players I have the straight.

7. Beware of low/middle sets & the “underfull,” as you could be drawing dead. Easier said than done, sometimes. But getting too randy in these situations is a terrific way to lose your stack. An “underfull” is a full house that is among the lower full houses possible; e.g., having two fours on a board of 884QK. There are five different full houses (KKK88, QQQ88, 888KK, 888QQ, and 88844) that top your fours full (not to mention quad eights). A lot of times if you are sitting there with your underfull, the only action you’re gonna get will be from the guy who has you completely dominated. Better to be cautious and win small, than reckless and lose big.

8. Flopping bottom two pair = missing flop (usually). Puts you in all kinds of uncomfortable situations, including turning not-so-wonderful underfulls. Bob Ciaffone says that “bottom two at limit Omaha is just one more hand that missed the flop!” I tend to carry that idea over to PLO as well, treading very carefully after flopping bottom two. (Especially from EP, where I’m almost always uninterested in this flop.)


9. If you have the nuts and your opponent has draws to beat you, time to push! And I mean hard. You might be up against one of those supah-monstah-killah, 20-plus out draws (in which case you might only be 50-50), but more often than not you’ve got a decent advantage here if you hold the nuts. And if you yourself have a redraw, even better. Bet now!


10. Bluffing is rare. When people bet the river, they almost always have the goods. Don’t talk yourself into calling with a so-so hand because you think (or hope) you are up against a bluff. Great way to bleed chips. There will be situations when an unexpectedly large river bet looks suspicious, and you will have to use your best judgment regarding the player and situation. But more than 9 times out of 10 that person betting on the river is going to have your less-than-the-nuts hand beat.

I’ll bluff occasionally if it appears obvious my opponents aren’t interested in an orphaned pot, but usually won’t risk too much to do so. Another move I like is to make a huge (pot-sized or slightly less) bet on the end when I have rivered the nuts -- the kind of bet that looks a lot more like “please-don’t-call-me” than a properly-sized value bet. I’ve won some big pots that way, where I’ve made the nut flush and the guy with two pair decides I couldn’t possibly be so dumb as to make a pot-sized bet on the end.

* * * * *

That’s all. Like I said, those of you with some PLO experience, please let me know how far off-base I am with any of these here shots in the dark. For those of you who haven’t played a lot of PLO, I hope these thoughts might be worth a little something to you. Do keep in mind going in that the swings can be fairly huge, particularly if you have trouble disciplining yourself to leave a bad situation.

And also -- you can turn a profit in PLO by simply playing the role of “nut-peddler,” particularly at these low limits (I think). Gotta be patient, but don’t worry -- you will find plenty of folks who think two pair is automatic gold. And they’ll pay you off, I promise.



Blogger Unknown said...

Good summary, Shamus. I just started reading and learning about PLO and checked out Super/System 2, and am going to be reading Rolf's book as well. One small point: in item 7, you refer to quad 9's when you meant quad 8's =)


7/23/2007 1:51 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Kelly! (I corrected that quad 9s snafu.) Let me know what you think of Slotboom.

7/23/2007 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very, very good and insightful points, both what you say on tactics and on the mental part of the game.

When I want to cool down from PLO (either after a big winning or big losing session) I play Stud (Hi, Hi-Lo and Razz, preferrably Hi-Lo) or H.O.R.S.E.
Stud variations are great because the ante structure allows for more patience. And once in a while I play no limit holdem for a bit, different reasons, same goal: cooling down, because the game tends to suck me in like a black hole on steroids.

7/23/2007 2:23 PM  
Blogger Aquaman said...

Really good advice triple S!

Quick question: What are your card smilies/images. I've been looking for small card smilies that fit well with text. Haven't found nice clean ones like yours.

7/26/2007 9:23 PM  

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