(Don't play poker? Don't bother reading.)
So I'm back to playing exclusively online again, thanks to yet another pointless NYPD raid that shut down my excellent regular club, the Fairview. (I wasn't present this time, thankfully.) Online poker is comparatively tedious—chat boxes don't really do it for me, camaraderie-wise—but with my 60GB iPod on random shuffle or downloaded WPT episodes running in a separate window, I can endure about four hours a day, which makes for a nice little supplemental income (which I deliberately lose back every year on 31 December, IRS auditors).
Trouble is, my hourly win rate has shown a marked downslide ever since Congress passed its anti-gaming bill last fall, making it much more difficult for the donkeys to get funds onto the major site I frequent. After a couple of weeks duking it out, I concluded that the average skill level at their $2-4 NLHE tables is such that I'm probably break-even at best in terms of my expectation. In which case there's really no point in continuing, since I'm not having the recreational good time that brick-and-mortar play affords. One option was to move down a limit or two, in the hope of finding less experienced competition. But before doing that, I decided to investigate some of the other games being offered, just in case all the donks were elsewhere.
They are. They're playing pot-limit Omaha...or, as I like to call it, "i win u lose k thx cya."
(NOTE: Most of what I'll be addressing below almost surely applies equally well to Omaha 8-or-better. I prefer Hi simply because Omaha-8 gives bad players too many opportunities to back their way into half the pot. But while primo starting hands for the two games are radically different, the basic principles are almost identical.)
What makes PLO such a gold mine is the staggering number of players—usually at least 2/3 of any given table, in my admittedly limited experience—who mistakenly assume that it's basically the same game as Hold'em, only with twice as many cards. If they even bother to think about how the percentages change, they likely imagine that running into the nuts with your excellent but vulnerable hand is maybe twice as likely as it would be in NLHE. These people are literally giving their money away, and you'd be foolish not to step in and take it.
For example, if you have 2♣2♥ on a K♣ J♤ 2♤ flop in NLHE, you're in hog heaven, already plotting how you can sucker your opponent into stacking off. In PLO, 2♣2♥9♦Q♦ on that same flop is very close to being worthless. I wouldn't have played that hand to begin with unless it got checked to me in the big blind, but if I did find myself seeing this particular flop with it, I'd try to check it down the whole way unless I caught the case deuce. Certainly I wouldn't call more than one pot-sized bet with it, even heads-up. Heads-up is a meaningless concept in PLO—pretty much the same as being in a seven-handed NLHE pot, since any decent holding you're up against can make as many as six separate playable hands. Here, you could easily be up against, say, J♣J♥Q♤10♤, drawing nearly dead. Even if you fill up on the turn or river, you need to be plenty worried. But the number of players who seem to understand this—at least on my site, at the $2-4 level—is lip-smackingly small.
Players who come to PLO from NLHE without studying the game tend to make three horrific errors, all of which are potential double-ups for those who know how to take advantage of them.
1. Overvaluing big pairs. You'll frequently see people shove in all their chips with AAwhatever, raising and reraising, playing their overpair as if it were close to unbeatable. This isn't a brilliant idea even in NLHE cash games, but in PLO cash games it's pretty much suicidal. Unless you flop top set or have some kind of draw involving your other two cards, your hand is dogmeat. I've never seen an Omaha pot over about $10 won by a single pair, outside of tournament play.
2. Drawing to non-nut flushes. If you can get in cheap with any suited Ace, do so. It's much, much more likely, should you make your flush, that one of your opponents will have a smaller one, and will pay you off with it. (However, under no circumstances should you draw to a flush on a paired board, and if the board should pair later you need to slow way down, and most likely fold to a pot-sized bet.)
3. Not heeding the freeroll. Freerolling is my absolute favorite part of PLO, and most of my monster pots have resulted from freeroll situations. What usually happens is that you flop the nut straight, and it's clear from the action that somebody else has flopped it with you. If you also have a flush draw or a set, never stop raising. Most players will refuse to fold the nuts, even if you tell them you're freerolling (which I've actually done a couple of times, just for fun). I suppose you need to be a bit cautious if your flush draw isn't Ace-high, since it's possible that it's actually your opponent who's freerolling. That hasn't happened to me yet, though, and I suspect it's the Omaha equivalent of set-over-set in Hold'em—so rare that you just need to pay off when you're unlucky enough to be on the short end. Usually, though, you're guaranteed half the pot and have a good 30-40% shot at scooping your opponent's entire stack.
In general, this is a fantastic game for nits like me who are content to just fold and fold and fold while patiently waiting for that one big double-up hand. Not only are you more likely to make the nuts than in Hold'em, but you're much, more more likely to be up against the second nuts, held by a player too ignorant to know that it's a trap hand.